Somerset Levels is at the center of the climate debate undesirably. This British region can easily be described as marshy, low-lying and dotted with farmland and villages, crisscrossed by rivers. Unfortunately as has been reported by multiple news sources, thousands of acres have been under water for weeks.
“A really carefully constructed landscape which works quite well, which has worked for 800 years, has suddenly been left untended,” said Andrew Lee, founder of a ‘Stop the Floods’ advocacy group. “There are fields I can see from my house that were underwater for 11 months between 2012 and 2013. The anger around here is that it has taken another major disaster for it to get any attention at all,” he said.
Last I checked, the petition that Andrew Lee created to stop the flooding on the Somerset Levels has 5,296 signatures. Andrew Lee isn’t caving under the accumulated pressure built up from drastic changes in the environment, unhappy citizens, and a reportedly underfunded and inept environmental bureaucracy. Even as some villages have been cut off for a month, residents continue resiliently by making long detours or taking boats to destinations.
Andrew Lee isn’t waiting for Superman or Wonder Woman or Harry Potter. He’s an everyday hero, living an ordinary life, making sure that he isn’t sitting by. He launched the Stop the Floods campaign in 2012. Their Facebook page is updated daily and Andrew is moving ahead with the Stop the Floods advocacy group, garnering citizen support every where he can to do what the Environment Agency has failed to do. The Environment Agency hasn’t dredged the rivers in the Somerset Levels for 25 years. While news reports state that Dutch engineers could be called in to sort out the Somerset Levels flooding among accusations directed at the Environment Agency boss Lord Smith that they have too many posts and jobs to handle distracting him from this critical climate change related issue. Stop the Floods Advocacy group has recently on February 8th on their Facebook page busted some myths surrounding the flooding.
“Can we try and bust some myths here.
1. This is NOT A NATURAL FLOODPLAIN. It is manmade. It was made in the 12th century. It is not natural and never has been (well unless you go back to Henry II).”
To read more of the mythbusting visit here and scroll to February 8th.
In preparation of Lord Smith’s first visit in 18 months to the area early in February (2014), Stop the Floods publicized that his absence had shown his contempt. His leadership over a bloated bureaucratic dysfunctional organization, from their perspective, has failed the people of Somerset. They describe how the last time he visited in November 2012, he assured the rivers would be dredged and they have not.
Stop the Floods isn’t the only group that is left unimpressed by an unapologetic Lord Smith. News reports say that he ducked questions about quitting as he finally made it to the flood-stricken area. He didn’t impress the locals who were looking for real and clear answers about their homes and livelihoods.
He met with families who were flooded out of their homes and farmers who lost the land they harvested for almost two centuries. They had to move cattle out of rising water. The Royal Marines sandbag while Smith spent half an hour in a converted storage shed trying to convince people that his organization is on top of the situation. He just couldn’t apologize, but he made more promises of government millions to be used to dredge the rivers Parrett and Tone. A farmer’s reaction mirrors Andrew Lee’s Stop the Floods views: JIm Winkworth, farmer and landlord of the King Alfred pub in Burrowbridge,
“Bloody mad. We thought that’s the least he could do today and he’s not apologising or admitting any liability. He hasn’t come down here to apologise, which is what he should be here for. If you apologise it means you’re admitting you got it wrong, I made a mistake, I’m sorry, I messed up.”
Andrew Lee is also the Editor and Founder of Langport Leveller, a newspaper based in Picts Hill in the heart of Somerset. Local efforts that he highlights in his work with Stop the Floods include referring locals heavily impacted by the floods to small loan lenders for flood-crisis needs with no waiting period and fundraising for victims of flooding.
Sources: AP, Washington Post, Jamaica Observer, Facebook
Imagine a world where political activism has been distorted, because the authorities protect big money interests. Instead of avoiding spin, they decide to call anyone who calls out socially and environmentally irresponsible business practices, policies, and citizens pejorative terms. Examples: hippies, alarmists, anti-business, and more. Eric Moll has gotten his fair share of abuse. Eric Moll is a volunteer with the Tar Sands Blockade. He is a freelance journalist and activist who writes about sustainability, climate change and activism. He’s published some of his work in PolicyMic. One of my favorites is “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Planet.”
I love the intro,
Do you agonize over the little venial eco-sins of everyday life? Every gallon of gas, every extra minute of a hot shower, each flush?
I was the same way. Yet somehow, despite constantly policing myself, I was never satisfied. Instead of feeling like I was doing anything to stop climate change, I just felt tired and hopeless.
The authorities have been brutal to the Tar Sands Blockaders, a nonviolent direct action group determined to stop the expansion of Canadian tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline. They obviously aren’t interested in what NASA’s James Hansen has said about the XL Keystone and they don’t seem that impressed by people who are questioning its completion using their constitutional right to petition and assembly. James Hansen believes that the completion of the XL Keystone pipeline would be game over for the climate.
Eric described that fateful day when he got arrested on theecologist.org
While he continues to describe the use of force, he describes how the landowner had originally given permission for the blockaders to be on the land, but later, and under pressure from TransCanada, withdrew permission. By then, a crowd of 120 locals and blockaders were there to support tree sitters. He reveals that none of the blockaders have any illusions about what they’re up against.
When mainstream media didn’t sufficiently cover the March 2013 Pegasus pipeline rupture in Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling over 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude into a residential neighborhood, Eric Moll went behind police lines and documented the extent of the damage. Other citizen journalists also did. Eric’s video later got picked up by major news networks and became evidence of corporate malfeasance in the case.
Sources: Ecology, Ecologist, PolicyMic, Yes! Magazine
Strengthening ties between organizations and activists. Really? So many people put them in totally separate camps, what do you mean TIES? Ties, as in, collaboration, cooperation, coalition, and we, those kinds of ties. Maybe you have spent umpteen hours in a policy class or been around folks who throw around the term environmental health justice. If you haven’t, here’s a primer. It’s the impact a failing environment has on human health. It’s a fact. It’s true.
Michael Heimbinder figured what the world needed was a platform designed to maximize the impact of community voices on city planning and strengthen ties between organizations and activists working to build green cities. The birth of HabitatMap, an online mapping and networking platform, occurred in 2006.
During the spring of 2014, student operators took air samples using the latest prototype from HabitatMap. The air samples measured fine particulate matter, most notably dusts and pollutions from diesel engines. The difference in this early prototype from other air pollution sensing technologies was the inability to make sense of the date collected. HabitatMap was a move toward more reliable data. At this early phase, community members were invited to start adding data to the HabitatMap system with their own mobile devices.
Now the HabitatMap is streamlined and fully functional and is distinguishable from its early beginnings, because what was once HabitatMap is now AirCasting and HabitatMap serves a different community purpose. AirCasting, a project of HabitatMap, does what the early prototypes of HabitatMap did plus some. It can capture, humidity, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, temperature, noise pollution, and heart rate. Each time you participate, AirCasting lets you capture real-world measurements, share it on CrowdMap and tell your story. To begin, you download an app to your smartphone. It’s an open source project.
On HabitatMap, all you need is to start a profile and you can contribute to the map or communicate with other participants. You can add your marker on a map. Once you’ve started your profile, you can become an advocate for your community and join the worldwide movement for just and sustainable cities. You’re wondering about what kind of marker to add? The answer is anything that enhances your neighborhood and improves your quality of life. Maybe a farmers market or a cool public park. Or, add something that really concerns you, say, local toxic cleanup site that should be recommended for Superfund application, contaminated property or a local brownfield.
Michael Heimbinder was a little dismayed that HabitatMap did not take the path originally envisioned. The way that the tool began to be used by people, in fact, turned out to be more about exchanging best practices, like a compost map and what it is described as today.
He is however happy with the project. He believes in the power of the group to change policies and thinks that they can get good measurements to use as evidence to make policy reviewers do something.
Any web tools that support grassroots environmentally focused organizing are worthy!
Sources: Epoch Times, CUNY, NY Times, Fast Company, Technically, Investigative Post, Changemakers
Rosemary has a list of credentials a mile wide. In 22 years, she’s published over 40 technical/ policy papers. She has published in the field of Geology, Tourism, Water, Climate Change, Gender and Environmental Management/Education. After a string of interesting Since 1998, she has worked in a number of organizations focusing on water issues, education and the environment. She is currently the Executive Director of Ikra Educational Training Centre (IETC) Tanzania. She is a delegate across Africa, at the grassroots level, looking at sustainable development and environmental management. She believes that there is “No Climate Justice without Gender Justice.” She is also the Director, Community Rights Program, for the Women’s Environment Climate Action Network (WECAN). As a Gender and Water Ambassador she aims to promote efforts to fulfill international commitments made on water and water-related issues by 2025, placing emphasis on involvement of women in these efforts.
Working at the grassroots level, she established Women Environment and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Centre in Tanzania to bolster the capacity of women at the grassroots level to do something about climate change adaptation and mitigation. They assist women in undertaking Clean Development Projects within their communities. This allows them to promote the building of resilient communities, for sustainable livelihoods and development.
Beyond her community focused work, she works with the African First Ladies under the First Ladies Action on Climate Change (FLACC) Africa Initiative. They promote climate action and environmental leadership amongst the wives of African Presidents.
If that isn’t enough she promotes education for sustainability in schools since she runs the Green School Program She is very inspired to build an inter-generation alliance working with women, children and youths. She believes that from her African woman’s perspective, women are the care takers of the community, family and the sick.
“They are the natural resource managers but often at times are left out these important processes that affect their lives and that of their family.”
Here she talks about how Mt. Kilimanjaro used to have a lot of snow and it used to melt down to various mountain foothill communities, where women would gather the water. The impact of climate change has rearranged their lives.
At the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit in September 2013, she relayed that the problem isn’t the availability of information, but who has access to it or aren’t given the tools to understand so that everyone can help toward overcoming the problem.
A tireless advocate, she is putting climate change on Africa’s agenda and bringing lots of fantastic projects to life to empower women in society in finding ways to mitigate the impact of climate change. Part of her inspiring work really stems from her commitment to seeking effective ways to adapt in the coming years and promoting efforts to fulfill international commitments by 2025.
Sources: 1Million Women, WordPlus, Changemakers, Renewables100, National Geographics
A few years ago, I ran into a guy fresh out of college who had some big ideas. Really? Straight out of college lots of us wanted to apply our knowledge and zeal right away, right? Right. He considered that he was going to try to work as a facilitator with corporations that defend policies and practices that resist sustainable voluntary improvements and mandatory regulations supported by environmental campaigns and advocacy groups. In the face of opposition and advocacy, businesses must have hired some people who weren’t just sold on defending special interest company lines or arbitrarily defy consumer awareness. He believed that he had the skills to go between the two sides to try to find some acceptable way forward. I supported his interest, because it’s a niche that many could and should pursue whether as a business model or in conversations within people’s networks.
I never found out if that sustainable business graduate ever pursued that avenue, but he came to mind as I read about Seandra Pope. She’s been tackling critics of the recent Clean Power Plan and is the CEO of Rooted, LLC., a consulting group that offers strategy development and authentic engagement to move beyond outreach and towards true engagement and relationship-building in policy development, lobbying and stakeholder engagement. While the level of awareness on environmental issues has increased significantly in recent years and communities empower themselves with the knowledge to gain the benefits to their health and well-being, there are still those who are unwilling to acknowledge the disadvantages in some communities and the fix to these problems.
To demonstrate community awareness and how important it is to speak up, in one of Rooted, LLC.’s projects, a short film “What Clean Air Means To Me,” features young African American children who poignantly answer this important question. They illustrate how difficult it would be for them to pursue their interests and daily activities. All these children shouldn’t suffer because their neighborhood has to endure worse climate pollution and suffer the consequences of poor policy decisions that are ignoring the long term impacts of reduced public health. Who could look these children in the eye with our increased environmental awareness and say it’s just too much of a burden on business to ask us to support environmentally-friendy practices that consider your health? Please.
Before we focus on the current debates, it’s always interesting to me to read a little bit about precedent — ah and good fortune, I found it! Tremendous opposition existed in 1970 when the Clean Air Act passed. It was signed when it became very clear that despite misinformation and false claims made by oil and gas industry protectionists of entire industries collapsing that clean air is essential for well-being and good health. The Act improved public health and the environment and diminished the social costs of non-renewable sources of energy, while preventing thousands of premature deaths and millions of cases of respiratory illnesses. It’s not difficult to find pictures and accounts of people who experienced the dirty air in the 1970s and before the Act passed, by the way.
Electric companies and other industries in the 1970s forecasted huge utility rate hikes from the then new clean air law, but in fact, the Congressional Budget Office, in 1982, concluded that the change in cost was low. In 1974, the hysteria was so well advertised that an American Electric Power Company ad warned everyone who had a light switch and liked it that, “Just about this time next year lots of people may be asking, ‘What time is the electricity on today?'”
The crack down on polluting plants gave the advertiser a case of hysterics and a woeful mouthpiece for ‘doom and gloom’ that electricity shortages were a foregone conclusion. Some car manufacturers went so far as to say that the standards to cut vehicle emissions would mean the death of car production. To me, it’s like blaming the hall monitor for telling you to walk to the bathroom in school so that you didn’t slip and saying it would lead to the death of running shoe companies, since obviously any attempt to stop you from running would stop shoe manufacturers from making shoes dead in their tracks.
Meanwhile, as we consider the sort of arguments that pro-coal groups, businesses, strategists, armchair controversialists and individuals use today in fighting clean power regulations, plans and efforts, you wonder if this is a gif playing over and over again. Today, despite efforts to prove the detrimental effects of coal burning on air quality and the benefits (both socially and economically reinforcing) to increasing the energy mix, pro-coal defenders still claim that utility rates will skyrocket, because cheap coal is the only way that working families can keep their non-discretionary utility costs down AND that efforts are not providing alternative affordable options. Oh, well of course, dismissing the need for clean air is that easy.
The average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was an average of 909 kWh per month in 2013 and according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, about 800 utilities nationally offer voluntary green power programs that add a slight premium every month, but again voluntary. Thousands across the country subscribe. Some utility companies explain that the programs do not reduce the amount of traditional sources of energy generated, but instead increase the amount of energy from renewable sources available into the regional power pool.
About 67% of the 4,093 billion kilowatt hours of electricity generated in the US in 2014 was generated from fossil fuels with coal being the highest, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Coal obviously didn’t disappear despite its history of hysteria on full display since the 1970s, when cleaner air regulations required that public health become a higher priority in the system that provides residential and commercial consumers energy. The cost of implementing new technologies to remain in compliance on pollution controls increases pressure on coal plants, but it’s not a war on coal, it’s implementing regulations to protect public health without hurting electric reliability. It’s a matter of interpretation.
It’s also interesting to note that it’s not the fault of new regulations, or the EPA, or the current implementation of old regulations that is driving down coal use. It’s competition from natural gas lowering price, according to Congressional Research Service, US News & World Report, Bloomberg and Union of Concerned Scientists.
Seandra Pope works toward building participation and buy-in at the community level. She does this despite what she has observed as a conversation that has too narrowly focused on the concerns of some members of the African-American community that their electricity bills will increase if they support reducing air pollution today and limiting the long-term impact of climate change by demanding clean energy. She highlights the importance of fighting the negative health effects that coal has on lower income neighborhoods. She argues that the conversation should focus on the fact that there is no such thing as cheap coal given its health effects and contribution to climate change.
The very community that is worried about their electricity bills is paying a much higher cost by not demanding that coal plants that ruin the air in their communities be held to the appropriate standards for the community’s health benefits. Higher medical bill costs and lost productive days add a greater cost to individuals living in these communities. That’s not acceptable. She thinks the conversation needs to consider the larger issues affecting the African-American communities which include health disparities, climate impacts, and jobs, not just about how coal proposals can hurt vulnerable families. Many are not filtering in the savings in costs from long-term health issues and the benefits of prevention that help those same vulnerable families.
She also actively reaches out to the Atlanta community to engage on the issue, contact representatives, and stay informed and involved in the discussion to raise their voice and concerns.
With the recent unprecedented Obama administration Clean Power Plan and its significant cuts on carbon over the next fifteen years, she believes clean energy is here to stay. She advocates that limiting the use of coal and fossil fuels will benefit minority communities and that these communities are underrepresented in the conversation about climate. According to her research, minorities do have an interest in climate change and energy policy. She thinks that some environmental organizations just haven’t traditionally drawn the parallel to some of the issues that African-American community and minority communities face.
I feel encouraged that she’s going to try to engage more voices to speak up and consider how clean energy can improve their lives and that they shouldn’t just rely on representatives from the community who don’t consider the larger issues that clean energy address. A child that plays soccer outdoors in a polluted community deserves better.
Sources: New Republic, The Economist, Mother Jones, Climate Progress, Center for American Progress, Media Matters for America, Congressional Research Service, US News & World Report, Bloomberg, Union of Concerned Scientists, Grist, Atlanta’s WABE
Air pollution is still a problem today, but the Clean Air Act has helped ease the problem. This year,