Monthly Archives: August 2010

Neighborhood Farming Cocktail Hour This Sunday

Photo came with the invite!

Has the massive salmonella egg recall piqued your interest in “food activism” and the growing urban farming movement? Well, here’s an invitation I received today that perhaps appropriately combines foodie activities — sampling locally made (or at least organic) snacks and libations — with learning more about something called the Neighborhood Farm Initiative.

Tastings:  Sample a variety of organic wines and samples of locally grown snacks
Topic:  Getting Your Hands Dirty: Food Acitvism in Metro DC, a discussion with the Neighborhood Farm Initiative (NFI)
Date/Time:  Sunday, August 29th  from 2:30-5:00 PM
Place:  Fountain Framing, 3311 Rhode Island Avenue, Mount Rainier, MD  20712
Cost:  No charge

What is the alternative food movement and what are people in our area doing to support food activism? Maureen Moodie and Bea Trickett of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative will discuss food access and food security in the metro DC area.  NFI recognizes our concern for food security, food access and healthy living and will also discuss ways to successfully grow organic gardens at home.   They will bring in produce grown from farms at Fort Totten and Fort Dupont for your sampling. Tax-deductible donations to the organization are greatly appreciated. For more information about NFI, please see their website at or contact


Morning What if …

What if … Pakistan’s flooding, the BP spill or the Bhopal chemical spill … happened here?

The BBC has posted a page full of “what if?” interactive maps using Google technology that show what various natural and human-made disasters would look like if they happened where you and I live. Pretty sobering stuff.

Until seeing this map, I had no idea the area effected by this month’s flooding in Pakistan was so large that it would stretch from Montreal to Georgia if it had happened here. For more on the situation in Pakistan, here’s a video by Huma Beg, a Pakistani journalist who is traveling through the effected areas.

And there are more maps on the BBC site. For instance:

The cloud of deadly toxins let loose by India’s Bhopal chemical spill would have pretty much engulfed Washington D.C. The BP spill gushed enough oil to slime all of London, and the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch is large enough to float over the entire United States … from sea to shining sea, so to speak. Sheesh!

Around here, we spend a lot on housing + transporation

According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, we spent a lot of our income on housing and transportation. Check out this new “H+T Affordability Index” to see how different U.S. cities compare. You can also zoom in your particular neighborhood, right down to a few block radius. My particularly neighborhood: 24 percent of income is spent on housing but when you add transportation to that it comes to a whopping 39 percent. But it could be worse. Just outside D.C., some people are spending more than half of their income on H + T combo.

Climate v. Weather

As temperatures in the District of Columbia climb passed the 90-degree mark again today, it seems a fitting time to point out that the climate v. weather debate is heating up again too, fueled not only by this summer’s East Coast heatwave, but unprecedented flooding in Pakistan, forest fires in Russia stoked by usually hot, dry conditions there, and other extreme weather around the globe as this year shapes up to become the hottest on record.

Of course, these things taken individually don’t necessarily say much about climate change. Experts on both sides of the argument warn, “Don’t  confuse ‘weather’ with ‘climate,'” though I notice that this advice is seldom heeded here in the District.

Only last winter, after our first blizzard in decades, Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe’s family built an igloo and dedicated it to climate crusader Al Gore, declaring the record snowfall a sign that global warming really is a hoax. Now, different folks are speculating that our current heat wave means climate change is for real, a view only bolstered last week when an iceberg more than four times the size of Manhattan broke off a Greenland glacier and floated away.

With all this fighting over the weather, it seems noteworthy that the calving of the iceberg is seen by experts as a surer indication of rising global temperatures. But that view may be changing (or perhaps it’s not the view that’s changing so much as scientists’ willingness to publicly wade into the debate.)  Here are a few news stories quoting scientists about the possible links between individual weather events and global warming.

ClimateCentral says: “Scientist Explores Links Between Extreme Weather and Climate Change”

The New York Times reports “In Weather Chaos, a Case for Global Warming”

The Guardian reports: “Climate Scientists in Race To Predict Where Natural Disaster Will Strike Next”

NY Times Barringer Dismissive of McKibben’s Call for Grassroots Uprising

The New York TimesFelicity Barringer takes a swipe at Bill McKibben, the author who some describe as the most prominent environmental activist in the country these days. In her post, “Think Globally, Compromise Locally,” she starts off by dismissing McKibben’s anger over this summer’s climate bill debacle and call for a grassroots uprising. Then she heaps praise on local partnerships between corporations and environmental groups, trotting out two recent deals as proof that “whatever the merits” of McKibben’s critique, it has “less traction” at the local level.

She is referring to the leader’s recent shift into openly criticizing the country’s most powerful environmental organizations and urging their leaders to rethink the longtime strategy of making nice and cutting deals with power brokers in Washington.

But Barringer undermines her argument with this quote from Duane Zavadil, a senior vice president with Bill Barrett Corporation, which just made a pact with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance that will allow the company to drill for natural gas on the federal Bureau of Land Management’s land on the West Tavaputs Plateau in central Utah without having to fend off opposition from the group:

“We honestly think it’s the only way you’re going to be able to do business on public lands going forward. There’s the public ethos regarding these issues that has reached a tipping point over the course of the last decade.”

Leases to drill on federal lands are already a great deal for any commercial enterprise. The law that oversees them was passed in the 1860s at a time when the government was intent on settling the West, and as an incentive handed out sweetheart terms for lucrative mining concessions. As unbelievable as it sounds, that law still dictates lease terms today.

Still,  if Barrett Corp. is doing the right thing in West Tavaputs, it deserves some praise. It’s great that corporate America is starting to step up to the challenges of global warming. If humanity is going to head off the worst of climate change, corporations will have to play a big role.

The greening of corporate America, however, doesn’t mean we don’t need watchdogs.  It’s no substitute for a vibrant grassroots movement.  As Zavadil underscored, companies feel public pressure to improve their stewardship of our environment and will respond to protect their profits. That’s what companies do. What environmentalists must do is make sure the public interest in a sustainable economy is protected.

Now, more than ever, we need outspoken environmentalists who are independent of corporate influence. Nonprofit groups don’t necessarily have to swear off all corporate donations. But corporate ties should be carefully structured and continually monitored, so as not to give executvies too much of a say. That can be tricky at perennially cash-strapped organizations vulnerable to becoming depended on the handouts. Once that happens, the watchdogs too often become lap dogs. Time and again corporate money co-opts environmental organizations and leads them astray of their mission.

Bottom line: The corporate-environmentalists deals that Barringer finds so admirable make for facile “success stories” but they have limited impact, while perhaps further discouraging  Congress from addressing climate change. What might be more convincing is a new uprising along the lines that established the movement 40 years ago, when millions of people took to the streets to demand action from Washington.

After decades in which “professional environmentalists” have run the show, signs abound that the grassroots are growing again. Public protests like the Spill into Washington march planned for Labor Day weekend, Appalachia Rising, and the Oct. 10 worldwide actions planned by McKibben’s group,, as well as new recruits to the ranks of the activist/performance artist/clown are just some examples.

D.C. Gets its First Bike Traffic Light

DDOT Photo

This news just in: The District Department of Transportation has installed the District’s first bicycle traffic singles at the intersection of 16th Street, U Street and New Hampshire Avenue N.W.  Pretty cool. When I was in Berlin in the spring, these quirky little lights were directing traffic all over the downtown though not all bikers respected them. I saw tons of people riding the lights on their bikes without so much as tapping the brakes. And they were Germans! What can we expect of D.C. residents, who may not share that Germanic love of order?

Can Today’s “Environmentalists for Life” Deliver on Climate Legislation?

Is time running out to slow global warming?

After about a gazillion article on the death of the climate bill, someone finally got around to asking why heads aren’t rolling at environmental groups that pushed for the legislation.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund and a coalition of dozens of other groups that teamed up to form Clean Energy Works, and spent millions of dollars on an advertising campaign aimed at pressing recalcitrant senators to signing on to the Kerry-Lieberman bill.

Well, we all know by now that the bill crashed and burned, setting off an unseemly round of finger-pointing. Besides the usual villains — Republicans, President Obama, the so-called Blue Dogs and the Senate Democratic leadership — an unnamed administration source took aim at environmentalists, saying their multimillion dollar campaign hadn’t even managed to convince a single Republican Senator to sign on.

But only this morning, Politico reporter Darren Samuelsohn finally got around to asking the impolite followup question: Why aren’t these groups now cleaning house of the enviro-operatives who led the failed lobbying effort?  The upshot: The country’s top environmentalists aren’t blaming themselves.  In fact, at least one operative, Steve Cochran, who ran EDF’s national climate campaign, has been promoted. Here’s an excerpt from the story that helps explain why the country’s most powerful environmentalists aren’t being too hard on themselves:

“The reason why I’m not looking around, hearing a lot of people scared for their jobs, I think the general view within the environmental community is consistent with mine: We ran a very effective, well-coordinated effort,” said Dan Lashof, director of NRDC’s climate center.

“We fell victim to much broader politics that were beyond our control that really didn’t have to do with the specifics of either the issue or the campaign,” Lashof added.

Would the same sanguine view prevail under similar circumstances at the Fortune 500 companies that today’s largest environmental groups so often emulate? It’s hard to imagine it would. Even Tony Hayward lost his job over the BP Gulf spill debacle.

But today’s leading environmentalists don’t face the kinds of pressure Hayward has faced. While they are supposed to represent the public, they are remarkably free of public accountability.

On the one hand, they have restructured themselves like corporations. Fred Krupp is the “president” of EDF, for instance, while former investment banker Mark Tercek is both the president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy. Actual corporate executives sit on their boards. In a way, it’s the best of both worlds: They use corporate rhetoric and extol the virtues of running their organizations with the bottom-line mentality of corporations, while their nonprofit tax-exempt status and reliance on donations shields them from market realities that can make or break a company and a corporate leader.

Real CEOs have to worry about what shareholders and customers think, another harsh reality with no parallel at nearly all of today’s largest groups. With the exception of the Sierra Club,  these organization no longer have rank-and-file members like you and me who have a say in how they operate.

Perhaps that’s why Lashof, Cochran and company aren’t feeling a need to polish their resumes.

But what does this environmentalist for life mentality say about the movement’s chances for getting Congress to act on climate change and other environmental concerns? Author and activist Bill McKibben crystalized these concerns in his comments in toward the end of the Politico story:

“We weren’t able to credibly promise political reward or punishment,” McKibben said. “The fact is, scientists have been saying for the past few years the world might come to an end. But clearly that’s insufficient motivation. Clearly, we must communicate that their careers might come to an end. That’s going to take a few years.”

The big question: Do the same environmentalists for life, who lost the latest round of climate politics, have what it takes to play hardball with lawmakers they’ve cut deals with for decades?

WeatherizeDC Meetup in Takoma Tomorrow Night

Photo via WeatherizeDC website

Sick of the hot humid air leaking into your house this time of year and the winter cold seeping in the rest of the time? The non-profit WeatherizeDC is holding an information session to talk about energy efficiency and environmental issues tomorrow night.

According to the invite sent out via several neighborhood listservs, attendees may sign up for “the FREE volunteer energy assessment service.” No word on exactly what that entails. But, what the heck! The drinks and snacks will be FREE too!

Thur., Aug. 5, at 7:30 p.m.
Takoma Park Neighborhood Library
416 Cedar St. N.W. Washington, DC 20012

Please RSVP to

Energy Audit video brochure from WeatherizeDC

In a Nation of Fatties, D.C. Looking Svelte

The New York Times has a surprising story today bout the rapidly expanding waistline of the average American. Three in ten people admitted to telephone interviewers that they are fat (which means probably a lot more are hefty, considering that, as the Times points out, people are notorious for describing ourselves as taller and thinner than we really are!)

OK. So, the country’s growing obesity problem isn’t very newsy, but here’s the curious part: Residents of Washington, D.C. and Colorado are doing better in the battle of the bulge. Obesity rates in both places are under 20 percent. This news has baffled researchers. Why are we svelter inside the Beltway? Theories include the following possibilities: We may take the Metro and walk more. We eat more fruit and vegetables than the national average. More District residents were breastfed, which is known to cut down on obesity.

Click here to read the story and find out which state clinched the dubious title of number one.

We’re No. 3! — In Renewable Energy Usage

Photos via Washington Gas Energy Services

The D.C. government has zoomed to the number 3 spot in the U.S. EPA‘s Top 20 Local Government list of “green” power purchases.

The city’s government gets half of its total energy consumption, or about 244. 3 million kWh a year, in the form of wind power, according to the federal agency. Only Houston and Dallas beat D.C.’s overall kilowatt-hours, coming in one and two, respectively, in the ranking. But D.C. gets a higher percentage of its energy from renewables than either of those larger cities. So, how big is the impact? Here’s what the EPA has to say:

“The District’s green power purchase of more than 244 million kWh is equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of nearly 34,000 passenger vehicles per year or the CO2 emissions from the electricity use of more than 21,000 average American homes annually, according to the EPA press release. You can read more here.

While lawmakers on The Hill have failed to pass legislation to rein in greenhouse gases that cause global warming, municipal and state governments, businesses and universities have moved on their own to switch to wind and other renewable power sources in the last few years. And more and more city residents are going solar too.

City programs to reward energy efficiency measures and renewable energy usage can be found here.