What We Are Doing Is Not Enough

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

If Aldo Leopold were around today I feel like we would be best friends.  Mostly because he would not have a choice if he wanted to be my friend.  I would just pester him until he told me something insightful and profound that I could apply to my work.  I am a professional pesterer, you should ask my parents.  But since being friends with Aldo Leopold is not really possible, unless I went to a medium, I will just have to rely on his writing.  (But seriously we would be like best friends forever. Friendship bracelets and all).

Today in trying to think of what I wanted to write about for this week’s blog I decided to see if Leopold had anything to contribute.  So like any intelligent, well-read person, I googled “Aldo Leopold Quotes.”  I know what you all are thinking. “Wow. I never would have thought to google that.”  I came across the above quote, which I could not have found at a better time.

I graduated from college knowing about various environmental issues within my state, across the county, and across the globe.  What I did not graduate with was a realistic understanding of these issues.  I knew of the general problems, but I did not realize how challenging it would be to fix these problems.  I never expected to have to learn the lesson that just because we may be right on a particular issue, does not mean we will win.  Or that sometimes we have to concede and compromise to the political game at hand.

Now that I am a year out of school and a year into learning about, and working in, the realm of Maryland’s environmental issues, I am constantly gaining perspective of the reality in which we work.  I have observed effective coalitions form within the environmental community to take on an issue.  These coalitions and collaborations have made progress, but they are certainly not enough to create the real systemic change we seek to achieve in Maryland.  We need to begin forming partnerships outside of the environmental community.

Think of how influential we could be if we began investing in relationships outside of the environmental community, if we got involved in issues like the Dream Act or Marriage Equality.  These issues are obviously not environmental ones, but their activists are likely to be supportive.  Most environmental groups tend to have their own rational for not being able to form these alliances, but someone answer me this.  If we cannot support issues outside of our own priorities how can we expect others to support our own causes?

I do not want to write this as if the entire environmental community is at fault, because that is definitely not the case, but they are most certainly not in the majority.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review published the article, “The Permanent Disruption of Social Media,” which explores the impact of social media on the relationship between nonprofits and their supporters/donors.  Nonprofits incorporated social media into their traditional donor engagement model with the mindset of what the donor could provide for the nonprofit.  The problem with this is that the traditional model of donor engagement is not applicable today.  It is not so black and white.  The article illustrated the need to develop a new model of donor engagement, which focuses on what the nonprofit can provide for the donor, strengthening the relationship between the two and increasing the influence of the nonprofit.  This article was obviously written about donor cultivation in the age of the internet and social media, but I think the basic lessons learned can be applied to building relationships outside our environmental community.

If we approach relationship building from the mindset of what I or my organization can do for another cause we can build trust, we can reach a potentially new constituency, and we can provide strength to help achieve a social win.  The time you spent helping this cause developed trust and strengthened your alliance with another organization(s), who in turn, will be available to help achieve your initiative.

We can only achieve so much working within our own community.  Diversifying our collaborative base strengthens our influence and cultivates the power to achieve the real systemic wins and really tackle “the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”


The Need for a Transformed System

To say I like the website BuzzFeed would be an understatement.  With everything from the deeply unsolvable mysteries of ’90s Hanson to 60 fabulous moments of Seattle’s first day of marriage equality, it is an extremely informative and entertaining website.

This morning during my usual perusing of the site I came across, “11 Horrifying Facts About Your Fresh Groceries.”  Which, by the way, is a GREAT read while you are eating lunch.

The industrial food system we are dependent upon is in need of a serious overhaul.  Our food system comes with a significant carbon and ecological footprint, as well as public health implications as identified by the BuzzFeed post.  Shifting to a more locally focused food system, where farmers can subsist in the market on their own, beyond industrial contracts, and where the destructive “footprints” of the current system can be minimized is essential.

There is a lot of great energy building around food system transformation in the Chesapeake Bay Region.  Below is a list of some of the food work we have supported over the last year.

Real Food Media‘s Food Mythbusters Project:  a collaborative project that uses online videos, grassroots events and workshops, and a web-based action and resource center to inspire, educate, and grow the movement for sustainable food and farming.

Real Food Challenge‘s Real Food Chesapeake project: to build a sustainable food movement in Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay region through university and college campus advocacy.  They work with student activists to secure commitments from their college and university administrations, shifting 20% of their institutional purchases to local, sustainable sources by 2020.

Center for Emerging Media‘s Sound Bites on Delmarva (“Sound Bites”) series, a weekly radio series that investigates the current food system on the Delmarva Peninsula and Chesapeake Watershed, to educate and engage the public in discussions around transforming this food system to one that is more sustainable, healthy for the environment, and allows for accessible nutritious food to all persons regardless of income or location.

Future Harvest – CASA: sustainable farming education and advocacy work and project support for its Food Shed Initative, involving a feasibility study for conducting regional food system vision.

Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment’s Chesapeake Food Leadership Council to begin shifting health care facility food purchase to local, sustainable sources.

A Congratulations Are In Order!


to all those involved in the passing of the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013!!!

I do not believe there is anything I could say about this bill, that has not already been said.  I started following the campaign as an intern for the Maryland League of Conservation Voter‘s 3 years ago.  This time last week I was glued to the Foundation’s twitter feed, monitoring the updates activists were providing as the bill was being debated on the Senate floor.

This is a significant win for the state of Maryland and a step forward in meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals.

THANK YOU to all those who worked throughout this campaign and CONGRATULATIONS on your win!!!

Now it is time for the implementation of this bill and for the achievement of another renewable energy win.

***Check out Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s blog for a summary of the campaign for offshore wind in Maryland.

An Effective Reality Drop?

A few months ago I blogged about Bill Nye the Science Guy and his argument that media outlets are giving climate change believers and deniers equal weight and air time.  The problem? The two sides are not equal.

There is a new social media website called “Reality Drop” that is tackling this very issue: spreading the truth on climate change and combating the lies and confusion spread by climate deniers.  Reality drop uses game dynamics to fight, and win, the conversation on climate change.  This website aggregates climate change related news and data and turns the dialogue of climate change into a game.  You can spread the truth on climate change on your social media and fight the myths and confusion of climate deniers on comment threads.  The more active you are in changing the dialogue on climate change, the more points you earn.

Our society is dominated by online content and social media, so this type of project only makes sense.  People gravitate to liking a post or spreading an alert online; it’s easy, it’s simple, and it’s something you can do in the comfort of your house, behind your computer, with little to no effort.

On paper this idea seems great.  It’s fresh, it’s new, and it’s not a report sitting on a shelf collecting dust.  That being said, I have so many questions about the impact of this project.  Is it enough to win the dialogue on climate change?  Will this make a difference and reach the audiences that matter?  Will this mobilize people into more active roles on climate related issues?

In thinking of all these questions, I immediately think back to the explosion I observed on my own social media sites around KONY 2012.  Will this reach the level of attention that KONY 2012 received?  Only time will tell.