Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tis the Season

Swan cygnet,
Monksville Reservoir, Long Pond Iron Works State Park, West Milford, NJ

(Photo from Wild Life
by Jan Barry)

A snowstorm has turned this area of New Jersey into a sparkling winter landscape. The rumble of highway traffic and freight and commuter trains that surround the village of South Bound Brook fades into the background just looking at the spectacular view from my garden apartment. A tree-lined section of the Delaware & Raritan Canal flows by just steps away. The canal is a favorite feeding and rest stop for migratory ducks and geese. Last winter, a flock of Merganser ducks took a liking to the stretch of waterway behind the garden apartments and entertained me for hours as they dove underwater for fish and paddled around in excited circles.

During a bike ride in the fall, a rambunctious doe galloped through an opening in the forest and ran up nearly beside me, cocking her head toward me with a look that clearly conveyed “hey, wanna race?” Last summer, a friend and I were kayaking and lost track of how many turtles we saw sunning themselves on logs, rocks and fallen trees.

I moved here to have a handy place to kayak and ride my bike and walk along the canal towpath, which stretches nearly the width of New Jersey and then runs parallel to one of the most scenic sections of the Delaware River. This 70-mile-long ribbon of state park provides a wonderful wildlife corridor as well as a great getaway for humans. It is also a vivid reminder that in the densely developed Garden State, such corridors are all that’s left in many places for wildlife and close encounters with nature.

A great holiday gift was provided by New Jersey voters in November who approved a $400 million Green Acres bond referendum. It was the 12th time since 1961 that voters approved borrowing millions of dollars to buy forests and farmlands to preserve open space in a state popularly defined by the industrial-strength commercial corridors lining the New Jersey Turnpike and other major highways. In recent years, every county and nearly half of the towns and cities in NJ have created open space trust funds that were approved by voters. Other lands have been preserved by private donations to nonprofit conservation groups and by gifts by families and individuals who deeded their beloved homestead or farm for the public and wildlife to enjoy.

In the spirit of honoring nature’s role in the winter holiday season, I created photo books for family and friends this year that feature wildlife I’ve encountered, usually in parklands in New Jersey and other states, while biking, hiking, kayaking, or just gazing out the window. You can see my Wild Life photos here.

For more information:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Veterans Campaign on Environmental Issues

Mike Breen speaking
in Scranton, PA
(photo credit:
Operation Free)

After Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Captain Mike Breen is on a new mission—seeking to convince fellow Americans that our addiction to fuel from Middle Eastern oil wells is a dire threat to our soldiers in combat and our security at home. Breen, a former infantry platoon leader, contends that the shadowy insurgents our troops have been battling in two military campaigns are largely financed by oil-rich Islamic groups that profit from America’s insatiable demand for gasoline but oppose our military actions in Islamic nations.

“When you pay at the pump… we are literally putting the bullets in the magazines that are being fired back at our guys in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Breen said recently during a bus tour sponsored by Operation Free, a coalition of veterans and national security groups working to counter what they see as a growing threat from dependence on foreign oil supplies. Citing military experiences, Breen and his buddies are determined to add red, white and blue to the green banner of the environmental movement.

“We don’t have to make a choice between our lifestyle and an independent energy policy that promotes a clean energy environment and keeps us safe,” he added, in comments reported by the Times Leader of Scranton, PA.

Breen, an ROTC graduate who is now a law student at Yale University, was part of the Veterans for American Power bus tour that traveled to dozens of communities in 21 states last month.

“As we spoke in Pennsylvania’s steel towns and rolled through the wooded hills of New Hampshire, I began to realize just how ready most people were to hear what we had to say,” Breen reflected in a blog on the Operation Free web site. “In small towns and state capitols, Americans young and old seemed to intuitively understand that dependence on foreign oil and pollution that threatens our climate both pose a danger to our security and way of life. More importantly, they seemed ready and eager to stand up and do something about it.

“In Pittsburg, the leaders of a local union showed us a training program that prepares workers for a renewable energy economy. In New Hampshire, state legislators explained how weatherizing homes in the state could create jobs. In Maine, Bowdoin College was packed with a new generation of student leaders ready to commit to putting America’s energy future back in American hands,” he continued.

“As the bus rolled on, I watched with humility and excitement as my fellow veterans mastered the skills of a new kind of service. Glenn Kunkel, a decorated Marine rifleman, spoke eloquently of wind farms as the victory gardens of a new greatest generation. Robin Eckstein told hushed town meetings of the perils of logistical convoys in Iraq, dodging insurgent attacks to supply petroleum for Army generators. Andrew Campbell brought a crowd of his fellow Mainers to their feet at our last event, with a call to stop funding both sides of the war through foreign oil.”

Meanwhile, a second bus-load of energized vets was touring Midwestern and Southern states. Rolling into Florida, the group’s “first stop was in the American Legion Hall Post 6 in Deland, FL,” noted Rocky Kistner on a campaign blog. “In a room appointed with military memorabilia and a wall-mounted M16, the vets mingled with fellow veterans of wars dating back to World War II. Many in the room agreed with their message: we need to find other sources of clean energy here at home to keep American armed service members from having to deploy and fight in wars over oil and other energy sources. It’s the best way to avoid future conflicts fueled by the increasing threats of climate change.”

Besides public education, a major focus of the bus tour was to build support for a bill in Congress, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. That bill was released by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee earlier this month for consideration by the full Senate. Introduced by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, the bill aims to “cut carbon pollution and stimulate the economy by creating millions of jobs in the clean energy sector,” according to a Senate press release. A companion House bill was approved in June.

"This is a security bill that puts Americans back in charge of our energy future and makes it clear that we will combat global climate change with American ingenuity," said Kerry, the former presidential candidate and a Vietnam veteran long active on environmental issues. "Our health, our security, our economy, our environment, all demand we reinvent the way America uses energy. Our addiction to foreign oil hurts our economy, helps our enemies and risks our security.”

Fueling this bill and the concerns of vets on the bus tour were national security issues raised in federally funded studies and Congressional testimony by retired senior military officers.

“Global climate change presents a serious national security threat which could impact Americans at home, impact United States military operations and heighten global tensions, according to a new study released by a blue-ribbon panel of retired admirals and generals from all branches of the armed services,” states a summary of “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” a 2007 study by the Center for Naval Analyses, based on research by nearly a dozen admirals and generals.

“Climate change is occurring at a much faster pace than the scientists previously thought it could,” noted General Gordon Sullivan, a former Army Chief of Staff. “Military professionals are accustomed to making decisions during times of uncertainty… Even if you don’t have complete information, you still need to take action. Waiting for 100 percent certainty during a crisis can be disastrous… The US has the responsibility to lead [on global climate change]. If we don’t make changes, then others won’t.”

Noting these concerns, support for addressing these issues has come from some Republicans as well as Democrats.

“As a conservative S.C. senator, a Marine and former chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s campaigns in South Carolina, I have always regarded national defense and economic development as top priorities,” state Senator John Courson wrote in a recent guest column in the Orangeburg (SC) Times and Democrat. “America’s dependence on foreign oil hurts our economy, helps our enemies and puts our security at risk. Together, we can protect our national security, keep our brave men and women out of harm’s way, strengthen our economy and take control of our energy future.”

Changing ingrained attitudes, and countering powerful economic interests, remains an uphill struggle. Courson was coming to the defense of U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who is under fierce attack by power utility groups for backing proposed legislative changes on energy use. Yet Captain Breen remains upbeat. “The bus tour may be over, but the mission continues,” he wrote. “I’m looking forward to reuniting with my fellow Operation Free veterans, and working together to meet the great challenge of our generation.”

For more information:
Mike Brean: Why I'm Fighting for Clean Energy
Vets have energy message
National Security and the Threat of Climate Change
Kerry, Boxer Introduce Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act
Foreign oil puts our security at risk

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Think Green, Go Green

America is in the midst of massive change as sweeping as the transformation in daily life from horse-drawn wagons to horseless carriages, candle light to electric lights, and farm work to factory work that swirled through the nation a century ago.

A cutting edge of 21st century change is the spiraling use of computers and cell phones, which have morphed from curiosities for techies to hugely popular gadgets for instant communication among people in far flung places. Amid the flurries of texting and emailing, a sea change is also taking place in what Americans do for a living. This is a transformation—slowed down, but also highlighted by the worst economic downturn since World War II—from fast fading industrial jobs and stagnant service jobs to a rising wave of green jobs.

Wary of the boom and bust cycles of previous eras, advocates of the sustainability movement are trying to direct the energy of the trendy green wave to safer shores.

“Something that’s unsustainable undermines the very system on which it depends,” notes Jaimie Cloud, head of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability in New York City. She cites the example of overhavesting popular seafood—such as the long gone oysters that once thrived in New York waters—to the point of extinction. She often challenges school groups and other audiences to come up with a long-range plan for sustainable fishing. “If we want different results,” Cloud argues, “it begins with a change in thinking.”

Cloud was keynote speaker at a “Think Green…Teach Green Conference” this week in the epicenter of New Jersey’s most populous county. More than a million people live in Bergen County amid remnants of farmland that during the past 50 years was turned into wall-to-wall housing subdivisions, sprawling but now abandoned or struggling factories, and infamous traffic jams amid gleaming signs advertising luxurious pleasures at hard-sell, high-turnover shopping malls.

For Kathleen Sawryt, the key to doing things in a sustainable way is “adding green skills sets in all jobs.” Sawryt heads the Green Career Pathways program at Bergen Community College. The conference was sponsored by the college, The Record of Bergen County and several large industries including Konica Minolta and Verizon. The college, Sawryt said, is developing a training center for students, workers, homeowners and business owners to learn the latest techniques in construction and renovation with recycled materials and energy-efficient elements that incorporate solar, wind or geothermal heating and energy devices.

A nearby example is the state of the art Center for Scientific and Environmental Education at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission headquarters, constructed on the side of a massive trash landfill that looms beside a sparkling expanse of tidal marshes. When it opened in 2008 to host environmental education programs run by Ramapo College of New Jersey, the $5.8-million center was the first public building in the state to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum standards. It offers a working model for school groups and businesses in the region to study. Visitors “get to see and feel what a green building is like,” Meadowlands Commission Executive Director Robert Ceberio said at the conference at Bergen Community College.

So what’s the wave of the future look like out beyond the buzz on campus? According to a recent issue of Time magazine, a “report by the RAND Corporation and University of Tennessee found that if 25% of all American energy were produced from renewable sources by 2025, we would generate at least 5 million new green jobs.”

For example, Time continued, “hundreds of employees … now work for the Spanish wind company Gamesa at its new plant in Fairless Hills, Pa. — a plant built on the site of an old U.S. Steel manufacturing facility. If you make wind turbines or solar panels, your job is reliably green.” Looked at more broadly, “a green-collar job can be anything that helps put America on the path to a cleaner, more energy efficient future. That means jobs in the public transit sector, jobs in green building, jobs in energy efficiency — even traditional, blue-collar manufacturing jobs, provided what you're making is more or less green. (Building an SUV? Blue-collar. Building a hybrid? Green-collar.)”

I’d add another green collar category—farming. There are good models of turning abandoned city lots into community gardens in New York, Detroit and other cities. The pay’s not great, but sustained gardening can help cut grocery bills. And as older farmers retire, there’s a chance to turn gardening skills into a farming career, furnishing food to city farmers’ markets. Or perhaps launch a career as a designer of rooftop gardens. At the conference at Bergen Community College, student Nirva Singh described how the Environmental Club and the Green Team turned cafeteria leftovers into compost used on a community garden on campus. Another project they want to tackle next, he said, is to create a rain garden on the roof of the student center.

For more information:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back to the Future: Wind Power

Sometimes a good innovation comes from an old idea—such as windmills. Invented more than 1,000 years ago in Persia, their whirling sails and spinning blades harnessed wind power to draw water and grind grain from China to Holland to farms across America. Replaced by electric motors powered by high-voltage electric grids, the ancient windmill is making a comeback as a 21st century source of energy.

Enormous windmill farms generating megawatts of electricity have popped up in California, Texas, New York and several other states, as well as in Europe, China, India and many other countries. Innovative uses of small scale windmills have also grown.

My favorite is a farm-type windmill that spins atop a cell phone relay tower next to an interstate highway in New Jersey. Imagine if every cell phone tower sprouted a windmill to generate electricity to run its relay equipment. That could be the very model of modern energy self-sufficiency.

Another innovative use of wind power caught my eye on a trip this summer: At a newly renovated rest stop on an interstate highway in Missouri, the state highway agency is using a Windspire—a lattice-work cylinder that reminded me of the efficient tines of an electric eggbeater—to power the lights for the visitors center.

Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, some quick Internet research found, is installing 25 of these wind generators to power outdoor lights around the campus. “We have designed many state of the art initiatives on this new seminal ‘green’ campus for Quinnipiac University, but the wind turbine terrace will be the most prominent and exciting statement about the University’s commitment to sustainable practices,” said Jeff Riley of Centerbrook Architects, which is lining the main walkway with the spinning aluminum devices. “The technology and vertical axis design of the Windspire allowed us to place wind power right in the center of campus."

The compact size of these wind-catchers, created by Mariah Power of Reno, Nevada, could make them an appealing alternative to lining every scenic ridge and ocean front with humongous arrays of giant windmill propellers.

“Some green energy advocates say the Windspire, a power turbine that spins in an upright position in a confined space, could represent a major breakthrough for wind energy. Instead of using towers 100 feet tall or higher for conventional windmills, the Windspire is just 30 feet tall,” Raleigh, North Carolina News and Observer reporter John Murawski noted in a recent feature story. “The Windspire—with its comparatively low price tag and a design that works on office rooftops and in suburban open spaces—also offers a potential solution for those who just want to supplement their power supply.”

Besides contributing to the replacement of more expensive, environmentally hazardous sources of electric power such as burning coal and oil, coming up with new windmill designs must be fun.

For more information:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Reuse as Art

Recycling bottles and cans and other stuff can be darn boring. Yet a new use for an old building took an exciting turn in Amarillo, Texas. A former shopping mall, sitting forlornly in a sea of cracked asphalt, was transformed into a thriving arts center.

Air-conditioned hallways that sat empty after department stores and specialty shops closed or decamped for bigger malls are now lined by artists’ galleries and studio spaces, as well as the Amarillo Arts Institute, the Panhandle Arts Center, and the West Texas A&M Gallery and Studios. Replacing a big swathe of the old parking lot is a sculpture garden. Lively casts of frolicking children, bathing women and a buckaroo on a rearing horse arrayed amid flower-fringed pools greet visitors to the main entrance of the Sunset Center, near the corner of Plains Boulevard and Western Street. The recycled mall is in a commercial area along the historic Route 66 corridor that got bypassed by the nearby interstate highway, I-40.

“I’m an artist and I couldn’t have found a more enjoyable place,” Marsha Clements, a native of Amarillo, a small city on the vast plains of the Panhandle region of Texas, wrote in the current issue of Route 66 Pulse, a newspaper for history-minded motorists. “I love to stroll through art galleries and visit with artists about their work. It inspires me to paint something new, just be creative.”

The galleries, workshops and special events at the Sunset Center have become “a hub for the art community of our region serving artists from the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma,” Clements noted.

The faded 1950s-era mall was transformed by Ann Crouch, a local businesswoman with a vision, and the creative work of numerous artists. Many area residents drop by during the day to stroll the hallways, chat with artists and check out the displays of paintings, photographs, pottery, jewelry, woodwork, metalwork and other forms of art. During a visit this summer, an aunt and I were greeted by B.J. Smith, who fashions gourds into a fascinating array of painted, beaded or otherwise bedecked artwork, and invited in for a tour of her studio.

“A fellow artist and friend (Ann Crouch) had a dream and purchased (the mall) several years ago,” artist Bob “Crocodile” Lile said in a recent interview in Route 66 News on the opening of his new gallery in the arts center. “Personally I never thought it would be a success, but with time and effort it has grown into about 46 galleries and is the premier place to teach and learn as well as show and sell art in the tri-state area.”

The arts center grew in stages, noted a recent article in amarillo.com on the arts scene in the city. It began with the 2001 opening of the Panhandle Art Center, an exhibit area for artists set up in a wing of the sprawling mall. The Amarillo Art Institute offered art classes in 2004, followed by artists opening individual galleries in 2005. The sculpture garden opened last year.

First Friday Art Walks, held the first Friday of each month, “now draw thousands of visitors,” Crouch said in a recent article in Amarillo.com. “We have a growing art market,” she said. “We're starting to get attention from people driving through on the interstate."

For more information:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

National Defense: Saving the Environment

One of the biggest forces of destruction of the natural world are military actions in wars and training exercises, such as extensive explosions at bombing ranges and pollution of groundwater from leaking gasoline storage tanks, chemical and nuclear wastes. Imagine if “national defense” missions were reconfigured to fully focus on saving the environment that sustains life on earth. A germ of that idea is contained in a current advertisement on the Military Times website, placed by Colorado State University.

The Sustainable Military Lands Management (SMLM) Certificate program is a one-of-a-kind online educational opportunity that trains current and future professionals in the breadth and complexity of military land management to provide you with knowledge of the rapidly evolving practices, technologies, and analytical tools necessary to support this national defense mission. Civilian and military land management professionals learn the key concepts for conservation and sustainable management of natural and cultural resources on Department of Defense lands. The knowledge and skills gained can be used by a wide array of United States and foreign, federal and state land management agencies.

This certificate will help you understand the importance of military lands management and the cultural and ecological significance of sustaining these lands. You will learn the general practices and the theory of land management as well as cultural anthropology. You will also study the ecological principles of military training and testing areas and the impacts of disturbances caused by these activities. Topics covered will include an overview of military lands in the United States in historical, geographical, and environmental contexts, cultural resources laws, policies, management, and preservation as they apply to military lands.

Imagine if every soldier, sailor, marine, airman, secretary of defense, member of Congress and president had to take this course. Under a law signed by President Eisenhower in 1960, the Department of Defense—which oversees 30 million acres of often prime wildlife habitat—is obligated to develop and follow a natural resources management plan. The purpose of these management plans is “to provide for the conservation and rehabilitation of natural resources on military lands,” according to an agreement signed in January 2006 by the Department of Defense and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Under other laws, the Department of Defense is obligated to clean up contaminated sites it owns or that were used by military manufacturing contractors, including some of the most heavily polluted Superfund sites in the nation. This is a mission that may require an army of well-trained experts to do right.

For more information:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Clearwater Legacy

When folk singer Pete Seeger and some friends launched the Clearwater project in 1969, the Hudson River was an open sewer for industries, cities and towns along its majestic sweep from the Adirondack Mountains to New York Bay. In the years since, the full-sail sight of the Clearwater sloop tacking up and down the river with a pickup crew of excited kids and adults has been paced by outbursts of activism on shore that has prodded cleanups and publicly targeted the major sources of pollution.

The inspiration for this hearty brand of environmental activism is a 90-year-old guy who still tramps around with a banjo singing old-fashioned folk songs. In recent weeks, Seeger has energized hand-clapping, standing audiences of all ages in singing grassroots movement songs at a jam-packed high school auditorium in White Plains, NY; the annual Clearwater Festival/Great Hudson River Revival in Croton Point Park; a 90th birthday bash and star-studded Clearwater fundraiser at Madison Square Garden in New York —not to mention, leading the television-watching nation in singing “This Land Is Your Land” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration celebration for President Obama.

“I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been before,” Seeger said at an Earth Day fair at Columbia University’s Teachers College in April, where he was the keynote speaker/entertainer. He said his optimism is fueled by the computer-generated “information revolution,” which has sped up the process of exchanging good ideas. “I now speak with people I never used to speak with—some on the left, some on the right. I think, I believe, we will see more miraculous things happen,” Seeger said. And then he launched into his trademark patter of story-telling songs with an activism hook.

One of these chestnuts is Seeger’s infectious channeling of Martin Luther King Jr. and the hymn-based anthems of the civil rights movement. The refrain goes:

Don’t say it can’t be done
The battle’s just begun
Take it from Dr. King
You too can learn to sing
So drop the gun.

Seeger, a World War II army veteran, is an ardent peace activist as well as an environmentalist. In his view, the two issues are not unrelated. When the Clearwater campaign began, a major polluter was the US Military Academy at West Point, which flushed raw sewage into the river at its picturesque site in the Hudson Highlands. In his war protest songs, Seeger prodded the Pentagon to clean up its act in Vietnam, as well. The Clearwater campaign provided potent ammunition for Congress to pass the 1972 Clean Water Act, which forced West Point and Hudson River cities to build modern sewage treatment facilities.

Pete Seeger has long been more than a singer with a protest message. He relentlessly organizes people to change things from the way they are: Build a replica of a 19th-century river sloop. Take people out on the river and show them the pollution and where it’s coming from. Raise money to hire scientific experts to testify at public hearings. Mobilize crowds of people to attend public meetings. Organize festivals where musicians and activists can energize each others’ work.

At the recent Clearwater Festival at Croton Point, happy concertgoers tramped through mud and rain puddles to hear a baker’s dozen of musical acts—including Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Taj Mahal, and the Hudson River Ramblers—and to also check out the wares at scores of tents set up by activist organizations, handicrafts merchants and food vendors. A Veterans for Peace contingent was setting up its display early Saturday morning when Seeger wandered by, sipping a cup of coffee. Throughout the weekend, he dropped by various events with his banjo and joined in for a song or two.

Behind the scenes, Seeger was also overseeing the next step in the Clearwater campaign. Earlier this year, his Hudson River Sloop Clearwater organization announced its “Next Generation Legacy Project.” The first stage is the Clearwater Center for Environmental Leadership, a youth education camping program opening this summer in Beacon, NY.

“Clearwater youth education programs presently reach over 15,000 people each year. At Camp Clearwater, it is planned that several hundred students will be in the ‘leadership pipeline’ at any time, experiencing life-changing programs at camps, seminars, retreats, demonstrations and green jobs programs,” Communications Director Tom Staudter said in a news release. A longer range goal, he said is “the establishment of eight Green Cities / Green Jobs Satellite Centers in Environmental Leadership along the Hudson River in partnership with local environmental and community groups. This is to ensure that eight targeted cities / communities—New York City (Harlem), Yonkers, Peekskill, Newburgh, Beacon, Poughkeepsie, Kingston and Albany—have powerful connections to their waterfronts through environmental education programs that will, in turn, support green job development and training programs for young people from the region’s inner cities.”

There’s still a state advisory warning about eating fish from the Hudson River. But a major source of contamination is finally being reduced. In May, General Electric began dredging PCBs from a heavily polluted stretch of the river after a decades-long battle with environmentalists. “This has always been a classic grassroots effort, achieved in large part due to the tireless and scientifically-based work of past and present Clearwater staff members and volunteers, our collaborative partners in the Friends of the Clean Hudson Coalition, and the hundreds of thousands of people who wrote letters, signed petitions and cared enough to take action,” said Manna Jo Greene, Clearwater’s environmental director.

Meanwhile, the Clearwater campaign fired warning shots in another battle. In March, it filed a contention with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board “focusing on United Water New York’s application to build a desalination plant to extract water from the Hudson River for use as municipal drinking water for Rockland County.” The Clearwater’s stance is that if river water just downstream of the Indian Point nuclear power plant is to be used as a source of drinking water, the plant owners and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must re-assess the environmental impacts of the power plant’s license renewal application. That stance sparked an investigative project into the potential for radioactive contamination of the river and area ground water, conducted by environmental students at Ramapo College of New Jersey. The student report concluded that an effective energy conservation program combined with wind and solar power could replace the aging nuclear power plant and negate its potential dangers.

At the Clearwater Festival in June, a group of New York City high school students proudly showed their newly learned skills in boat building and offered tours on the river in hand-made, wood reproductions of classic sailboat tenders. Nearby, Pete Seeger slipped into a rain-drenched tent and joined in a round of sea shanties with a crew of bearded old salts. Embracing a 60ish singer wearing a Vietnam Veterans Against the War cap, Seeger coached the audience to chime in on an old Irish ballad. Then he was off to the next gathering, joining a stage full of folk song luminaries and belting out one of his favorite tunes:

Don’t say it can’t be done
The battle’s just begun...

For more information:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Revive the Civilian Conservation Corps

Faced with millions of Americans out of work, including an army of roughly 154,000 homeless military veterans seeking shelter every night, President Obama and Congress should quickly revive one of the most successful government actions during the Great Depression. That action was creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which the Roosevelt administration convinced Congress to support within weeks of FDR taking office in 1933. Over the next several years, the CCC hired more than three million young men to plant three billion trees in over-logged forests, repair 40 million acres of soil-eroded farmlands and create 800 state parks, according to the US Forest Service web site.

While billions of dollars are being promised to bail out banks and Wall Street firms nearly sunk by reckless investments, the Obama administration should make better use of lessons to be learned from studying how America climbed out of the last big fiscal collapse that sank the national economy. “Today, we drive on roads laid out by the Works Progress Administration, drop off our children and pick up books at schools and libraries built by the Public Works Administration, and even drink water flowing from reservoirs constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority,” among other public services provided by workers funded by the federal government in the 1930s, notes author Neil M. Maher in Nature’s New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement.

Indeed, he argues, the CCC was the pioneer project in lifting a bankrupt, dispirited America by its bootstraps. “The immediate popularity of the CCC … helped the new president [Roosevelt] to jump-start the New Deal,” writes Maher, a history professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology-Rutgers University. “During the Great Depression, the CCC continually linked the outdoor labor performed on its conservation projects to an increased sense of national pride.” Another legacy was that many CCC participants got hooked on environmental causes, “thousands of whom took jobs with conservation agencies and became actively involved in a host of environmental groups across the country.”

Modeled on a conservation program Roosevelt had championed as governor of New York, the CCC tackled big issues, from reclaiming Dust Bowl farmlands and fighting forest fires to providing a new start for jobless veterans.

“Several thousand World War I veterans had taken part in the ‘Bonus Army’ marches on Washington in 1932 and 1933. The earlier march in Hoover’s administration was dispersed by the U.S. Army, while the latter march was dispersed by FDR by offering to allow them to enroll in the CCC,” the Forest Service notes. Nearly 250,000 veterans enrolled alongside more than 2 million younger men, aged 17 to 28, who were guided by military officers and woodsmen recruited from the surrounding area of the hundreds of CCC work camps, located in every state. About 8,500 women were also enrolled in the program.

Vital work that a revived CCC could do includes: clean up abandoned industrial waste areas, many of which are in public parklands and at former and current military bases; restore and reforest blighted mountaintop mining areas; retrofit government buildings, including schools, with solar panels and windmills to generate electricity; create a network of marked bicycle paths along city streets, rural roads, greenways and unused railroad corridors; restore or create greenway wildlife corridors along streams and rivers; clean up polluted streams and rivers and coastal areas.

Experience in working on such vital projects would provide a trained workforce for the green economy that President Obama and others are promoting.

A current program that can provide additional ideas is the California Conservation Corps, created in 1976 along the lines of the original CCC. It hires 3,300 young men and women annually at the minimum wage. The state agency does projects “for more than 250 local, state and federal agencies each year,” the California CCC web site states. Its members are trained as emergency responders and clean up crews at forest fires, floods, earthquakes, oil spills. They also maintain hiking trails and a nursery that has produced more than 3 million trees for reforestation and stream bank restoration. “Many recruits start out as unemployed high school dropouts and end up moving on to jobs in the California Department of Fish and Game, state and national parks, and forestry and fire departments,” the San Francisco Chronicle noted in a recent article.

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposal early this year to close the agency to save $17 million as he faced a $40 billion state deficit stirred a wave of public protest; the funding was restored by the state legislature. "Not only did we get restored, but with all the [federal] stimulus money, I see us expanding," Jimmy Camp, communications director for the Conservation Corps, told the Chronicle. "They are coming to us and really looking to put some of that stimulus money into projects for us.”

Many in California saw a ready-made opportunity for the federal stimulus fund to invest in conservation projects. “Indeed, far from being cut, the corps should be a model for other states,” the Redding (CA) Record Searchlight stated in an editorial.

For more information:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Energy Conservation: Challenges, Rewards

Imagine a light bulb wearing a sweater. That’s the clever image Time magazine displayed to illustrate its current cover story about energy efficiency. That’s a catchy way to call attention to what the newsweekly describes as “those pigtailed compact fluorescent lightbulbs that use 75% less power than traditional bulbs.”

And that’s the kind of idea sponsors of the Igniting Creative Energy Challenge contest hope to spark among elementary and high school students across the U.S. and Canada. Grand prize winners get a trip to Washington, DC, home to the incoming Obama Administration, which pledged to make energy conservation a major issue—starting with cutting “15 % of all energy use by the Federal Government, the world’s largest consumer,” according to Time.

Meanwhile, college students at Rutgers University in New Jersey are being challenged to devise “creative and innovative solutions in reducing energy wasted” on campus. First prize award is $2,500. Priming the pump with a big feasible idea, the state university is building the largest solar power array in the Garden State. “The 1.4-megawatt (MW) solar energy facility at Rutgers will consist of more than 7,000 solar panels and will generate approximately 10 percent of the electrical demand of the school's Livingston Campus,” saving the university more than $200,000 in its first year of operation, noted Renewable Energy World.

This is just a sampling of programs and projects that are targeting what Time’s cover story calls “Wasting Our Watts.” The newsweekly argues that “A nationwide push to save ‘negawatts’ instead of building more megawatts could help reverse our unsustainable increases in energy-hogging and carbon-spewing while creating a slew of jobs and saving a load of cash.” One energy efficiency expert estimates that “today’s best techniques could save the U.S. half our oil and gas and three-fourths of our electricity.”

Hint: “even our new consumer electronics—the fastest growing segment of power demand—slurp alarming quantities of juice,” Time notes. For instance, “video-game consoles devour two fridges’ worth of electricity when your kids leave them on, which they probably do, because manufacturers ship them with the auto power-down disabled.”

So kids and adults have plenty to think about as to how to save energy that’s just going to waste. Adults can save money on electric bills. Kids with good ideas might win a prize. “The Challenge to students is simple,” state the Igniting Creative Energy Challenge guidelines, developed by Johnson Controls Inc. and the National Energy Foundation.

"Step 1 - Learn how an individual's own wise energy choices and environmental stewardship can help reduce energy consumption and improve the community in which we live.
Step 2 - Ignite your creative energy to explore new and creative ways to make a difference in the way you use energy.
Step 3 - Use your creative talents to communicate your energy ideas and actions to others."

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(This article was also posted at Opinion-Forum.)