Guest Blog: Rebecca Ruggles on the Bay Watershed Agreement

What does it mean when a public entity holds a two hour public comment session and it is over in about an hour?  Not a good sign!

Those of us who went to speak at the Chesapeake Bay Program’s public session on the final draft of the Bay Watershed Agreement had time for reflection after the meeting.  It only took about an hour.  We had blocked from 10 to noon, and about a dozen of us did speak.  But as one commenter noted, “There should be people creating a traffic jam on Forest Drive this morning and standing in a line down that hallway.”

The reason they were not, we think, is because they know this Agreement is not worth their time.

What are its flaws?

Claudia Friedetzsky of Maryland Sierra Club asked the Management Board to add a focus on climate change and measurable goals related to climate change adaptation.  Failing to mention such a massive threat showed the Bay Program lagging behind scientists and the public consensus.  We need your leadership on this, she said.

Jill Witkowski from the Choose Clean Water Coalition explained why senior Chesapeake Bay Scientists and policymakers developed an alternative, the Citizen’s Bay Agreement with 25 action steps.

Ruth Berlin of the Maryland Pesticide Network asked the Commission to address toxics, citing human and environmental threats and the full documentation of the toxic contaminants in the Bay, from the EPA’s December 2012 report.

I added that the Maryland Environmental Health Network has recently done a brief assessment of best practices for reducing pesticides in urban waterways.  “The experts agree we need more information, and the field is thin.  The goal you rejected last summer is so reasonable and minimal.  MdEHN asks that you reconsider and add this to the Agreement.”

Then I read a synopsis of the very simple proposed addition they had considered last summer and rejected: “Assess research to improve knowledge of effects of contaminants by 2015 so future strategies can be considered.”

Such an extremely modest thing to propose – but shot down as not needed!

Perhaps the most striking assessment of the Final Draft of the Bay Watershed Agreement, which is supposed to establish a basis for collaboration across the political boundaries of watershed, was given by Ray Sullivan of Save Your Annapolis Neck.

I didn’t write down his exact words but his point was powerful.  “Why are no real estate developers, no one from agriculture or the chemical industry here today commenting on this agreement?  It’s because they already got everything they want.  They know this is a toothless agreement!”

Next time when I’m sitting through a long hearing or waiting my turn to speak on a long list, I’ll remember this experience at the Management Board meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  Better to be part of a noisy throng fighting to get the future right, than working on something that has no chance of making a difference.

 

rebeccaRebecca Ruggles is Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. She was formerly Director of Special Projects at Baltimore Medical System (BMS), a community health system serving Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Rebecca consults to the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers as the coordinator of the Green Funders affinity group. She sits on the Board of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (formerly Chesapeake Covenant Community), a network of congregations and people of faith pursuing better stewardship of our natural world. She is a member of the Health Care Sustainability Leadership Council and an active member of the Greater Baltimore Asthma Alliance.

 

 

#StopCovePoint

Does anyone really buy the incredibly thin arguments in Dominion’s Cove Point advertisements?  One ad in particular, that continues to pollute my radio and Pandora airwaves (see what I did there?), attempts to use large numbers to distract the audience from the LNG expansion’s impact on public health and the environment.

Terry Eno of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community said it best, “Dominion bombards our community daily with high priced ads because they knew if the public really understood this project that we would oppose it.”  I know this is a shock.  Why on earth would a fossil fuel company use numbers and dollar signs to manipulate the public?

tumblr_inline_n28k5nq2Gn1qeqisdApparently this is “another great solution for Southern Maryland.”  I’m curious what do they really mean by a great solution?  Do they mean the significant public health impacts?  Asthma? Cancer?  Is a great solution the amount of pollution this facility will emit and the accumulative impact on climate change in Maryland? Is the great solution the threat of an environmental disaster in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?  Is the great solution creating the largest greenhouse gas emitter in Maryland?  Dominion, please use your thin arguments to explain to me how this is another great solution for Maryland.

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They glamorize the project for creating over a thousand jobs, but fail to mention only 75 of those are permanent.  Of that, how many will be filled by Calvert County residents?  How does the tax revenue for the county hold up when public health issues rise and high priced clean up efforts are required because of contaminated water, facility accidents, or extreme weather?

This is a “great solution” because it is great for Dominion, not because it is great for Maryland.  This is an opportunity for Dominion to increase their profits at the expense of the health, safety, and environment of Maryland.  If this expansion happens, do you really think fracking will not take place in Maryland?  We are not just talking about fracking in Western Maryland, there are shale basins across the entire state.

If we really want to talk about another “great solution” for Southern Maryland we should be talking about clean energy projects not a 3.8 billion dollar expansion to a facility whose total operation will become the largest greenhouse gas emitter in Maryland.  A real solution would be supporting projects that increase Maryland’s use of renewable energy and achieve the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals; without the expense of the public’s health or surrounding environment.  That would be a real solution.

Dominion should not even be allowed to use the term “solution” because all this project will do is exacerbate climate change and fossil fuel dependence.  The LNG expansion of Cove Point is not another great solution for Southern Maryland, it is a profitable opportunity for Dominion, and anyone that believes otherwise needs to seriously reevaluate their life choices.

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Food without Borders: Reporting from Future Harvest-CASA’s 15th Annual Conference

At Future Harvest-Chesapeake Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s 15th Annual Farming for Profit and Stewardship Conference on January 17-18, 2014 in College Park, MD, there was no shortage of enthusiasm or delicious, healthy, locally sourced food. How many conferences do you go to where the chefs get a standing ovation from the conference participants? And did they ever deserve it. The offerings were diverse –a curious person could hit a technical session on sustainable potato growing, then geek out in a food policy council discussion.  The crowd was decidedly younger and urban.

Sam A. Calgione, founder and President of Dogfish Head Brewery gave the opening keynote address. His talk, peppered with stories about how he got started (with a loan from his dad and his orthodontist!) seemed to encourage the smallness of sustainable agriculture operations.  Even though Dogfish Head Brewery grew to be much larger than he ever imagined, the small operation philosophy prevails in Calgione’s business.  The way Sam tells it, using the finest quality local ingredients, making plenty of space for creativity, and staying true to the company’s “off-center” culture, are qualities that can be best maintained in small operations.

Perhaps Future Harvest-CASA can carry Sam’s thought forward into its next evolution –keep its local connections vibrant, while expanding its reach and hopefully impact.  At the member’s meeting portion of the conference, the organization’s board announced its plans to merge with Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture. The two organizations have been partnering and exchanging board members for years.  They’ve decided that now is the time to take this difficult, but important step towards becoming truly regional about food.  Scaling up, but not forgetting their roots, I heard.

One of the sessions I attended was packed with about forty folks listening to panelists from several food alliances and policy councils around the region (of course I geeked out!). The session stirred up some great discussion about the importance of bridging the “doing” part of sustainable agriculture to the “action” part of being in a movement. The panelists highlighted some impressive examples of how they are working to improve policies, build connections with people working on critical issues like childhood hunger, and cultivate channels for making progress on local and statewide policy.

Big change is afoot in 2014 for our friends at Future Harvest-CASA, a small organization that has provided a great source of technical help and comradery for people trying to grow and eat sustainably grown, local food. These changes seem to reflect of a growing understanding of the need to connect into something bigger, with perhaps a more rigorous idea about what our food system could be moving towards.

Guest Blog: 3 New Year’s Resolutions by Joelle Novey

The following is the first (of hopefully many) guest posts!  We see our blog as a platform for exploring ideas and are excited to share this space with our grantees.  If you are interested in submitting a blog, please contact our Program Assistant, Megan Milliken at mmilliken@towncreekfdn.org

We would like to mention that the views of the guest blog do not speak on behalf of the Town Creek Foundation.

A Modest Proposal: Three New Year’s Resolutions for Our Organizations

An invitation to pursue our green ends through slightly greener means.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye
and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” Luke 6:41

I am standing in line outside the EPA on a weekday morning, waiting with dozens of environmental advocates to go in and testify on behalf of the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution. All down the long line, in almost every hand, is a single-use disposable coffee cup. Inside the hearing room, four earnest EPA employees receive our testimony, from behind a row of plastic water bottles and disposable cups. At a press conference organized that afternoon by a major environmental organization, volunteers pick up box lunches provided by the organization, many with ham and beef sandwiches.

A group of national environmental groups trying to stop the Keystone XL pipeline gathers for a meeting at a table (strewn, again, with disposable cups), and plan a “fly-in” of people from across the country to testify against the pipeline.

There is a row of disposable cups, too, at the opening panel at a state governor’s climate conference, in front of a panel including a climate activist, a scientist, and the governor himself. For lunch, attendees are treated to a lunch including bacon-wrapped meatloaf.

Does any of this matter?

Of course, we know disposable cutlery and bottled water produce garbage and disinvest the public from public water sources. We know eating lower on the food chain reduces our carbon footprint, and that air travel and other fossil-fueled transit is warming the climate.

But our organizations have so much work to do and so few people to do it in such a short time. We just try to get our work done as cheaply and conveniently as possible, and tell ourselves that our organizations’ direct day-to-day contribution to environmental problems is small.

In any case, the work we are doing is so much more important.

As a climate activist in the nation’s capital, I have been honored to participate in coalitions of strategic, passionate environmental activists who are doing critical work on national and state-wide challenges. Being part of that work is an honor, and its real and lasting consequences for our environment far exceed the environmental impact of the garbage we generated, the food we ate, or the flights we took while doing it. Even when we fly in people to speak out against the Keystone pipeline, and feed them red meat on disposable dishes, we’re doing far, far more good for our climate than harm.

But as a climate activist who works with religious communities, I’ve concluded that, in 2014, I want us to be reflective not only about the good work we are doing, but about how we are doing it.

All spiritual traditions invite us to bring our hearts and personal behavior into alignment with our highest purposes. Wisdom from our Christian neighbors invites us to stop ignoring the “plank” in our own eyes.

The congregations I work with aren’t choosing between greening their facilities and taking action, between serving fair trade organic coffee in reusable mugs at fellowship hour, on the one hand, or speaking out in local clean energy campaigns on the other. They are doing both; one is a spiritual practice that deepens and reinforces their commitment to the other.

What might our environmental organizations have to gain if we took their example this year?

All of our groups, in one way or another, are asking people to imagine a more sustainable world in which they will live differently. And people weren’t just irked by hypocricy in the time of the Gospels; they continue to by hyper-sensitive to perceived hypocricy by those who are asking them to change. If our organizations imply that it’s too much trouble for us to even try to bring our own mugs or wash our dishes, it compromises our credibility when we ask the public to be open to make changes with the environment in mind.

And greener choices will enhance the impact that our organizations have in the world. In almost every category of organizational purchasing and operations, there are green alternatives and wonderful green businesses offering to sell them. Any one environmental organization’s purchasing decisions are small, but they are decisions made about donated funds that were given to advance the environmental mission of our groups. When we spend organizational funds on greener products and services, we’re extending the reach of our donors’ dollars by having them do green work twice: once in the programming we spend them on, and again in the greener vendors with whom we spent them.

We have a lot of other (important!) things to do in 2014. We’re not all going to be able to make sustainability a core value in all of our organizations’ purchasing and practices tomorrow.

So I want to offer three ideas.

Just three. Below, I’m proposing three straightforward ways every environmental organization, including mine, can “green” our practices in 2014, regardless of how much energy or staff time we have to commit to more substantive changes:

1. Avoid bottled water. Minimize disposables. (Especially on panels!)

There are many ways to reduce waste in our organizations, but if you have to pick just one, ditch plastic water bottles. Single use plastic water bottles contain water that isn’t any cleaner or safer than tap water, creates mountains of plastic garbage, costs thousands of times more than tap water, and accelerates corporate privatization of public resources. (Click here for more information)

Many environmental organizations organize panels with speakers, and then stock the panel table with plastic water bottles. The result is that every photo and every video made of the presentation conveys not only the environmental message the speakers wish to send, but also models using plastic water bottles to everyone who is listening.

If it feels daunting to eliminate plastic water bottles from an entire conference or other large event, start with speakers and panels. It would be a small but meaningful step if every environmental organization decided, starting now, that any panels they organize will provide cups and a pitcher of tap water to their speakers in this highly visible forum, so the important environmental messages we’re trying to convey will not be compromised by plastic garbage.

Given a little advance planning, many organizations can shift away from disposables to reusable dishes in the office as well, by stocking the cupboard with a set of mugs and plates. (PreserveProducts.com are a great source of affordable reusables tableware.) Many of our colleagues may have extra mugs, cutlery, or cloth napkins at home to donate to the cause, or we can assemble a previously-loved set at a second-hand store. And if someone at work already has a home compost bin, then establishing a bin in the workplace that they take home can be a way of reducing food waste from our organizations.

But for now, if we’re planning a panel, let’s put a pitcher filled with tap water and four reusable cups on the table.

2. Treating folks to lunch? Order vegetarian.

There are so many ways to improve the environmental impact of our food choices, and people can be very sensitive about being told what to eat. But our organizations frequently provide free meals to staff, or meeting attendees, or groups of volunteers. And an easy way to reduce the climate impact of the food our organizations purchase — by nearly a third (28.7%) — is simply to leave meat off the menu.

Our organizations could take this much further, of course: we could strive to choose food that is organic and local; to select fair-trade certified items; and even to minimize animal products like eggs or dairy (a vegan meal has a 41.7% lower climate footprint).

But this second resolution doesn’t ask anyone in our offices to learn a lot about food sourcing, or even to work with a different restaurant or caterer. It just requires an organizational policy that food paid for by the organization doesn’t include meat or fish. Planning the menu for a conference? Ask the caterer about vegetarian menus. Ordering pizza for phonebankers? Leave off the pepperoni. Even people who do eat meat themselves are unlikely to complain if they’re being treated to a delicious meal that happens to be vegetarian. They might not even notice!

3. Booking flights? Buy carbon offsets.

By far, the thing most of our organizations do that has the single greatest direct carbon footprint is paying for air travel, for our employees or our volunteers. Many times, there simply is no other practical way to get people where they need to go to advance our environmental work in the time available for them to do so. But I invite all environmental organizations to commit to making some kind of financial recognition of the climate impact of the plane travel they are purchasing.

If every environmental organization paid, say, $12 a ton to offset the climate impact of air travel, it would provide a slight financial incentive for the organization to consider alternatives for short trips, and, even if the organization did just as much flying people around, such a policy would direct a stream of funds to clean energy projects in proportion to our air travel.

Our organizations can do our own research into offset organizations that are reputable and certified, and whose carbon-reducing projects are most aligned with our missions. (I personally offset my travel with Native Energy).

This resolution, too, doesn’t ask our organizations to do anything all that differently, for now. But it would be significant for every environmental organization to begin taking an accounting, as a matter of policy, of the climate impact of our air travel. There are many calculators online, one of which is here.

May 2014 be the year we achieve our green ends through slightly greener means.

Maybe your organization already does some of these things; maybe you have some ideas to add to the list (please do so below!)

It’s the right thing to do, it will align our hearts with our work, it will enhance our credibility, it will extend our donors’ impact, and none of these three suggestions are hard or expensive. Over time, it might lead to even more, but in any case, it’s a worthwhile place to start.

It’s a brand new year, folks! We’ve got a planet to protect, and a plank in our eye. Let’s do this.

 

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Joelle Novey is the director of Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA), which works alongside dozens of fellow environmental organizations in the Maryland Climate Coalition, DC Environmental Network, the Maryland Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment, and the Virginia Climate Action Campaign.

Half of the Story is Missing Here

Commercials in support of non-renewable energy drive me absolutely bonkers.  1. for all the mis-construding that takes place and 2. the thought of everyone believing what the commercial says.

The above commercial is one I happened to catch on the benefits of LA public transit operating on natural gas.  The video does a good job (at least I think so) of evoking a sense of responsibility to support natural gas for its environmental and public health benefits.  And while that may all be true, the video is framed as if natural gas is the solution, instead  of a bridge to the solution.

The commercial is only half of the story.  Of course when you compare natural gas to energy sources, like oil and coal, it will depict natural gas as the cleaner/healthier energy option.  However, that picture drastically changes when you transition the comparison to one between natural gas and renewable energies and better planning.  The second comparison is an important piece of the energy picture missing from this story.

Side note:  I watched a number of commercials from the same natural gas interest.  The video below is a 30 second clip focused on farmers and natural gas.  The video opens with the opinion “I think farmers care more about the land than probably anyone else.”  As the clip opens with that statement, a clip plays of a red angus wading into a stream.  I’ll just let that one sink in.

*Application Process Changes*

Over the last year we have surveyed our grantees to generate feedback on our application process.  We would like to thank everyone who took the time to fill out our survey and participate in our focus groups.

Our survey responses reinforced our beliefs in the redundancy between the Letter of Inquiry and proposal, the idea that a “one size fits all” proposal as an obstacle for groups, as well as the most useful part of the application process lying in our one-on-one conversations with applicants.

In response to this feedback, we will be implementing the following changes to our application process.We will retain the Letter of Inquiry template in its current form.  Unfortunately, we cannot leave the LOI without some sort of text restraint, as it becomes a capacity issue for our grant software system.  The LOI deadlines will remain the same.  Spring 2014: November 8, 2013     Summer 2014: March 7, 2014

We will review the submitted LOI’s and identify those applicants with fair to good prospects for receiving Town Creek funding.  We will schedule one-on-one conversations with these applications to learn more about their proposed work.  These conversations will help us to focus our subsequent requests for additional information and will result in a set of questions and observations to which we will ask the applicants to submit written responses.  Along with any relevant budget information, these written responses will constitute the full proposal.  We will no longer require applicants to complete a standard proposal template.

For the Spring 2014 Grant Cycle

  • The invitations following the November 8th LOI deadline will be issued on or before November 22nd.
  • Conversations will take place between December 2nd and December 20th
  • Written responses will be due 2 weeks after our meeting.

For the Summer 2014 Grant Cycle

  • The invitations following the March 7th LOI deadline will be issued on or before March 21st.
  • Conversations will take place between March 31st and April 18th.
  • Written responses will be due 2 weeks after our meeting.

Following receipt of these written responses we will initiate follow up conversations for further clarification if and as appropriate.

We believe these changes will make more efficient use of everyone’s time and effort, without compromising the integrity of our review process.

If you have any additional questions, please contact our Program Assistant, Megan Milliken at mmilliken@towncreekfdn.org or 410-763-8171 ext. 14

Upping Our Social Media Ante

From donor engagement to public action, social media has permanently disrupted traditional advocacy efforts.  So often I get frustrated by those who “like” something on social media, but do not take action beyond the comfort of their own computer.  I originally thought inaction was attributed to the state of our society, but after a little bit of reading, I’ve learned it is more of a facet of the efforts of the organizations generating the posts.

For organizations with a social media presence, incorporating this platform within their donor engagement models and developing useful metrics around online organizing will cultivate a more robust impact that can eventually move offline.

Social media has permanently disrupted the traditional donor engagement model.  Donor engagement is no longer linear.  There are new entry points to supporters (e.g. online giving and viral video campaigns) and more opportunities for them to not only be influenced, but be influential as well.  Groups need to develop new engagement models that account for peer-to-peer influence and diversify their calls to action.  If supporters are only asked to donate then that will be all that they think they can do.

Organizations are enabling the online “slacktivist” dilemma.  Diversifying calls to action will move online supporters into more active rolls that can eventually be moved offline.

Slacktivism is used to describe easy, “feel good,” actions on an issue that have little to no practical impact beyond personal satisfaction.

Groups should look at “likes” as people raising their hands on an issue.  If all you care about are the number of “likes” you get on a post, then that is all you will accomplish – one-dimensional, surface level progress.  You have to follow up with further action items to really leverage and mobilize this constituency base.  Groups are enabling “slacktivism.”  They are not asking the right questions and are tracking the wrong metrics, which is in turn allowing the slacker tendencies of the public to exist.

I encourage everyone who tries to mobilize and/or fundraise on social media to take a few minutes out of their day to read the following pieces.  I have found them incredibly insightful to the world of online organizing and the role of social media in the once traditional advocacy space.

It’s Food Day!

The happiest day of the year is here!!! Okay that might be a little much.

But today is Food Day - a national day dedicated to celebrating the movement to transform the food system.  In the face of a complex system that comes with a powerhouse of industry support to keep it this way, activists have made progress across the country toward a transformed system.  It might seem at times onerous, but the food victories I see popping up across the country and the foundations and organizations dedicated to this issue remind me that it is possible.

As food activists use today as an opportunity to celebrate their work and raise awareness around food, I wanted to use this space to highlight issues with the food system rhetoric that I look forward to finally putting behind us with a systemic transition.

We continue to hear that  industrial agriculture is needed to feed the world.  That argument could not be any more false, so can we please move on from it?  Those that blast the “feed the world” argument are usually advocates of corn and soy, who are not exactly concerned about hunger in developing countries.

The following Food Mythbuster’s video explores this myth and brings to light the falsities of the industry’s arguments.

With a global population of over 7 billion people, is a systemic change in our current food system really possible?  Relationships will be key to preventing the unintentional re-industrialization of the system.  Within the food movement in the Chesapeake, there is real collective action happening amongst groups to leverage their impact, avoid duplication, and ensure the greatest impact is achieved in the region.  Our current system is depersonalized and distant.  The natural synergies and collective action around food system reform are essential to permanently breaking the current template.

The industry uses the idealized image of small family farms to their advantage.  That is not the reality of our current system.  We can get back to that idealized image, but it will require a systemic shift to a more local and sustainable model.

Take a few minutes and check out food system reform work we are supporting in the Chesapeake.  I know you want to procrastinate a little bit longer.

#GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday was created last year on the heals of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  It is a national day to kick off the giving season and is a great opportunity to raise donation support before the end of the year.  New York’s 92nd Street Y catalyzed the first #GivingTuesday last year.  This year #GivingTuesday will take place on December 3rd.

On the first #GivingTuesday more than 2,500 partners in all 50 state participated.  Donations increased by more than 50%.

The 2nd annual #GivingTuesday is less than 60 days away.  Now is the time to state planning if you want to participate in this national day of giving.  The key is to start building an online buzz now and utilize the resources providing on the #GivingTuesday website to develop an effective online presence.

I encourage everyone to participate and bring this national day to their local membership.  Lets bring the #GivingTuesday buzz to Maryland!

Happy Fundraising!

Additional Resources:

 

Can We Move Past the Voluntary?

I was lucky enough to stumble across an article by Sami Grover on Treehugger on climate change, Eric Holtaus, and the problem with voluntary strategies.  Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who has covered climate for the Wall Street Journal, made a drastic lifestyle change in light of the latest IPCC report.  The IPCC reported that climate change is rapidly becoming irreversible and dismissed many geo-engineering strategies as viable solutions.  Leaving drastic emissions reductions as the only viable option.

Holthaus flies approximately 75,000 miles a year.  He has now made the conscious decision to stay grounded.

When calculating your carbon footprint the areas with the most opportunity for emissions reductions are flying, meat consumption, and electricity use.  Reacting and adapting to climate change requires lifestyle changes.  Your ability to reduce your carbon footprint lies in your current lifestyle and if those areas of your footprint are high it is most likely because you like them or need them.  To these points Grover pointed out the unfortunate reality that “relying on personal, voluntary lifestyle changes is never going to be a winning strategy.

The issue with a voluntary strategy is not just felt with climate change, but Chesapeake Bay restoration as well.  These are not winning strategies, and yet, groups continue to advocate for them.  Look how far the voluntary has really gotten us with the Chesapeake Bay in the last 30 years.  We have made some progress, but was that all we really could have done?

Add to this – our political reality.  Environmental issues are a pawn in the political game.  On top of that, we are in the middle of a government shut down.  How does this impact our restoration and advocacy strategies?  It might not effect the state’s ability to continue implementing WIP efforts, but our whole federal structure is for the most part missing.  We are without important agency staffers who work closely with states to address climate change and Bay pollution.

Grover went on to conclude “…climate doesn’t give a damn about your personal carbon footprint.”  And to that I would add the Chesapeake Bay and the environment as a whole does not give a damn about our politics.  It does not care about our voluntary attempts.  If your child was sick would you take a voluntary approach?  I am pretty sure that answer would be no.  So why is it acceptable now?