Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Some Perspective from Eric Clough

When was the last time you met someone who really made you pause and re-set your perspective? It must have happened at least once when you fell in love, right? Many times I remember meeting individuals who I knew were special. I remember one man, named Barry. I was youngster, probably 18 or 20. I met Barry working at a small printing press company. He was older with a mostly gray beard, wire rim glasses, and a ludicrously friendly smile. His face and whole demeanor radiated a yogi-like serenity. I knew he had something to offer me. I was drawn to him. I needed his sense of strength and peace. The truth is, I never got to know Barry very well. I didn’t need to though. I learned enough about him to know that, in fact, he was a student of transcendental meditation. Barry re-set who I was with only a few brief moments in his presence once or twice a week. My job at the printing press didn’t last very long but ever since that day, almost 30 years ago now, I recall his presence when I need a calming influence. It is marvelous how plastic we can be as human beings – how easily influenced we can be.

In October 2008, at the USFWS National Conservation Training Center, I met 39 human beings that completed a grant application to Audubon for what is called the TogetherGreen Conservation Leadership Fellowship. Like myself, I don’t believe any of the other fellows had more than a vague idea of what was coming. We all knew we would get $10,000 dollars for what was called a Conservation Action Project but I really don’t think any of us knew we would be stopped in our tracks, paused, re-set, and influenced the way were. It has been fantastic. Humbling and inspirational. So I wrote this poem.

Green springs the bracken from the sodden coastal hillside
Ocean tempest beaches heavy swells upon the rocks
Humanity comes to watch the epiphany
Watching days move in and out
Away from grasping hands
It happens so quickly

My children grown
My parents passed away
The rains have come and gone again
Grains of sand litter the salty agate beaches
New friends bloom into the soil of my stuttered life
New family is born into the web of our human struggling

Now I think of the fellows I have met. You never would have guessed at such diversity all carefully aimed at the same broad target. Conservation leadership, sustainability, diversity. Ah, diversity. Again, I don’t think any of us 2008 TG Fellows were quite prepared for what came to us in the name of diversity. I know it reached deep into me. How lucky I was to be introduced to Iantha Gant-Wright and Angela Park. Our discussions of privelege humble my heady thoughts of accomplishments – there are so many others who do so much more with so much less. The diverstity sessions in particular humbled and inspired me at the same time. So I wrote this poem.

Gulls and their curvaceous wings beat the wind slicing and arcing
Pelicans lumber over the surface gulping their baggy beaks
Pinnipeds bark against injustice in the world
We simply can’t keep track of the time
Birthing and dying again and again
Passing the tides and the skies

And yet the magic continues
Cycles and time evolving over eons
There are no worries time can not erase
Memories of those we love and those we hate
Those we fear and those who fear what they do not love
From our place now we can only go forward into a future that we own

And while I have the floor it is my time to say thank you to you all. Though our time together has been brief and connected by high altitude slip stream travel across the continent, I want you to know that you have re-set me. You and the Audubon staff that forged and coordinated this rather unlikely alliance with corporate Toyota. Yes, corporate Toyota deserves great thanks as well for funding this multi-year conservation leadership effort. I am not one to be easily won over by global powerhouses like Toyota but surely they do deserve recognition for their generous financial support of these deeply personal and important causes we dedicate ourselves to. Thank you to Anne Ferguand Judy and the rest of the Audubon staff – I wish you the best of success with your remaining fellowship classes. You and the fellows and Toyota are accomplish 40 feats of personal and community benificence every year. And so I wrote this poem…

Seething and striving for greater and greater hieghts of achievement
Pressing ourselves diligently ahead of the sunset in front of us
Stomping boots crushing the little things beneath
Diatomacious plankton tossing about the sea
Smallness building Cetacean greatness
Together we green the seas

Together we green our home
We bring urban creeks back to life
Brownfields converted to avian productivity
Community gardens, solar power, rain water barrels
Power for the disenfranchised, justice to the trampled on
All this and so much more from the fellows and leaders and followers

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Making it Everybody’s Movement

It’s been great to be part of TogetherGreen this past year. For me it was very validating to have National Audubon Society and Toyota signal that reaching out to diverse audiences is not only a good idea, but one that they would put their resources behind in the form of grants, training, staff and in particular focus on diversifying the environmental movement.

To me, diversifying the environmental movement is about moving from an un-sustainable monocultural movement to a multicultural movement that is adaptable, resilient and strong enough to succeed in addressing the most pressing issues of our times. To some extent, I believe, this is about broadening our vision to stop focusing so narrowly on environmental issues per se and recognize the interconnectedness we all recognize in natural systems but fail to recognize when looking at social systems. For example, climate change represents an opportunity to address poverty and inequality at the same time that we address carbon emissions. This is the précis of Everybody’s Movement, a wonderful new report from Angela Park of Diversity Matters, who provided us with a training last October.

The report looks at this disconnection between the mainstream environmental movements’ efforts to address climate change and how low-income people and people of color associated with the environmental justice movement perceive the same issue. It’s not surprising to me that there is a Grand Canyon of a chasm between these two communities, but I want to share the insights that Angela reports because they offer some great things to think about in terms of outreach but more importantly going beyond outreach to reconfiguring the ways we engage in conservation to build a broader movement.

The report interviews twenty-three activists and leaders like Mateo Nube of Movement Generation who says, ““The climate crisis is a symptom of a deeper systemic problem. It is the symptom of an economic model that is based on intensive resource extraction. We could arguably end up in a scenario where we find a way to reduce carbon emissions but are still on this treadmill of intensive resource extraction and the exploitation of people. Our goal politically is that long-term we have to rethink how we live on this planet.” This is a recurring theme of the report, that low-income people and people of color get the need to protect the planet, reverse climate change, restore habitat, etc., but link the need for these activities with the need to end exploitation of people, protect human rights, and create equity in education, income and access to healthcare. For many low-income people and people of color there is anger and frustration, that, once again, some more pressing issue (e.g. climate change) comes before the long-standing issues they have been fighting for over the last 500 years in this country.

You might say, “if we don’t fix the climate, there will be no planet to inhabit.” Angela’s report makes it clear though that for many people living in poverty or having few opportunities at good paying jobs because of institutionalized discrimination, this isn’t much of a planet to inhabit. And for many, there is a real sense that it is upper and middle class whites who have brought us all to this environmental crisis. In fact, low-income communities and people of color communities have borne the brunt of the fossil fuel economy since its inception, suffering the most and benefiting the least, whether it be extraction, production, usage or waste of fossil fuel-related activities. Think cancer alley in Louisiana and, for example the PVC industry which has poisoned people and wildlife for decades, yet only late in 2009 got the first regulations over a dirty fossil-fuel related industry.

One of the main points that Everybody’s Movement makes is that people of color, in particular, view environmental protection efforts as very important – significantly more so than whites. And yet the climate change movement remains highly homogenous by race, class and gender. For the most part, the efforts over climate change do not reflect the view that we can address stubborn issues like poverty in addressing climate change. Those two aspects alone – changing the face of our movements and taking more holistic views in addressing conservation issues – can, over time, transform our movements from appearing to be the provincial domain of upper middle class whites serving themselves to broad-based movements serving a truly progressive purpose of protecting the planet and all its inhabitants.

The report offers useful suggestions from the environmental justice’s approach to climate change that I believe are useful to all of us, regardless of our issue.

Analyze the connections between the abuse of the environment and the oppression of people with the least power, including the poor, immigrants, women and people of color.
Lack of interest from people of color in a particular environmental issue usually has to do with messaging and content rather than inherent disdain. Look for ways to demonstrate how your work can alleviate social and economic circumstances as well as environmental ones.
Try, try and try again. Recognize that for over 100 years, low income people and people of color have been explicitly not welcome in the environmental community. John Muir kicked the Maidu Indians out of Yosemite Valley, the EPA turned a blind eye to siting of hazardous waste facilities and many hunting and fishing organizations excluded people of color, instead advocating for costly licenses and creating preserves for the exclusive use of the wealthy. Engaging diverse audiences won’t come easy and will involve hard work of diversifying internally, creating programs that have real outcomes that have real benefits for the communities you wish to engage and making it business-as-usual to incorporate the broader concerns of low income and people of color communities in environmental protection efforts. (This is where we all – TogetherGreen – have a leg up. Keep at it, this is market advantage over time for constituency and funding!)
Setting the bar where low income people and people of color live vis-à-vis an environmental issue is likely to be the most protective place to get to.
Use people-oriented outcomes, not technical-oriented outcomes to engage more people and achieve stronger results. Interviewees criticize the climate change movement’s narrow focus on 350 ppm as un-engaging to low income and people of color communities because, while those communities strongly agree that climate change is a serious problem that needs addressing, it isn’t clear that achieving 350 ppm will have any positive benefit for their communities in reducing health problems, creating jobs that they can get, etc.
Increase community groups’ capacity to be part of efforts to protect the environment alongside their work on economic and social issues. In my own personal experience, I have seen how segregated we have become movement-wise. A local environmental group tackles the problem of stormwater runoff in a community while a low-income community group addresses the lack of jobs. Yet neither group has the capacity to advocate for the others’ issues when in fact there are clear interconnections (reducing stormwater runoff requires new jobs like outreach to disconnect downspouts or build new infrastructure). While coordination is one obvious answer, having the capacity to advocate for those issues inside the two organizations would facilitate richer outcomes for the community as a whole from the get go.
Language and messengers matter. Use language in outreach materials that resonate with these broader constituencies. Think carefully about whom is the best messenger for diverse audiences.
Make every environmental issue everyone’s issue. We have become specialized as a movement and that ultimately will be our downfall. It’s the oldest trick in the book, more people equals more power and more success in advocacy or education.
Much of this is hard work and requires new ways of thinking about old and new problems we all face in our work. It is, like most environmental work, going to be thankless, invisible work. But it’s necessary to create more participatory, inclusive efforts with the full engagement of poor communities and communities of color. I look forward to continuing this journey with you.

Tony DeFalco
2008 TogetherGreen Fellow

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

TogetherGreen -- Again

I wrote this essay as the Director’s message for the January 2010 edition of Lehigh Gap Nature Center’s members magazine. I am sharing it here because the story of the seventh generation is especially relevant to TogetherGreen and to our conservation projects, including mine at Lehigh Gap where we are turning a Superfund site into a nature center. To learn more about LGNC visit www.lgnc.org.

TogetherGreen -- Again

December 31, 2009 marks the end of my 16-month TogetherGreen Fellowship. The TG program is sponsored by an alliance between Toyota Motors North America and the National Audubon Society (see www.togethergreen.com). Last year, 40 TG Fellows were selected by Audubon to participate in the Fellowship program and I wrote a year ago about our Conservation Leadership Institute at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. A major goal of TogetherGreen is to engage diverse new audiences in conservation. The fellows are certainly a diverse group -- diverse in age, race, religion, and conservation projects.

During the last week of October, Audubon and Toyota brought the 40 Fellows in the first class (there will be five classes over five years) back together for a retreat to share stories, celebrate achievements, and continue learning from each other and from the Audubon staff and guest speakers at the retreat. The retreat itself met all expectations and more. I find it very difficult to explain the energy, the passion, and support we all feel for each other as TG Fellows and the staff who worked with us. I now have brothers and sisters in conservation around the nation (in 23 states) that I know I could turn to for help if it is needed. I see their names published in national magazines like Audubon. We keep in touch via email and Facebook, and although that will diminish over time, there is a special bond with these folks that can never be broken. Knowing they are out there working like we are for conservation is an inspiration to me. If you want to get an idea of what happened in Washington, listen to Drew Lanham's speech on the last day of the retreat (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDm4twqHIIc). Drew is one of the Fellows and we all looked up to him as our spokesperson.

The retreat took place at the new National Museum of the American Indian. The new museum is beautiful and inspiring and I surely recommend you visit it the next time you are in Washington DC. One of the features of the retreat was a guided tour of the museum and the young Cherokee woman who guided us was excellent and made the tour and the museum feel authentic.

One of the items she showed us is a sculpture on the 4th floor -- don't miss this and its interpretation if you visit. Featured in the sculpture were George Washington and two Oneida Iroquois -- a clan mother and a chief. These two took food to our soldiers at Valley Forge in the terrible winter of our revolution and quite possibly changed the course of history. There are many other features on the statue -- wolf, turtle, bear, eagle, a rock in the white pine tree, a wampum belt -- all with meaning and interest.

But it was the back of the statue that made an impression on us all. There was a little Oneida girl representing the seventh generation. She represents the American Indian tradition of making decisions thinking how they will affect the seventh generation of descendants. That's your grandchildren's grandchildren's grandchildren's children.

We stood silently listening to the guide tell us about this and also her tradition of knowing the presence of her grandmothers watching over her. At this point I realized how appropriate is was for this TogetherGreen event to be at this museum and how much what we do at Lehigh Gap fits with this philosophy. We took a ravaged landscape and began the process of healing and recovery that will go on for generations. We leave behind a legacy and I hope the seventh generation who comes after us gets to enjoy what we have left behind and continues to care for it.

My TG Fellowship officially ends on December 31, but the fellowship will continue -- with the Fellows, Audubon staff, the conservation heroes of the past, and the generations of conservationists still to come.

Dan Kunkle
Executive Director, Lehigh Gap Nature Center

Monday, January 4, 2010

Embracing Zero Waste in Alachua County

Hi! My name is Jennifer Seitz. I work for the Alachua County Office of Waste Alternatives as the Public Education Coordinator in Florida. Our focus is to provide quality waste alternatives public education and services to our community. My project focuses on encouraging residents in low-income neighborhoods to better manage their household waste through recycling, composting, reusing and reduction. My project has three sections: neighborhood, educators and gardening.


The Cedar Ridge and Linton Oaks Preservation and Enhancement District strives to work with their community to make and maintain neighborhood improvements for approximately 560 residents. I partnered with Alachua County’s Partners for a Productive Community to work with the residents to better understand their waste management and recycling needs. I attended neighborhood meetings to find out why there was no recycling and the challenges residents had with bulk items (e.g., couches, tables) left on corners.

Working with our partners and the neighborhood community council and crime watch committee we have encouraged 10 residents to date to start recycling and are working with the hauler and our waste collection office to improve signage. The need for concise and clear education about the rules stood out most during meetings. We are creating a dry/erase board magnet with symbols and text for residents to keep as a reference. Most importantly we will continue attending the neighborhood meetings and working together to meet the needs of the community.


Our office hosted two professional development educator workshops for First and Second Grade Teachers that work with free and reduced lunch students in Alachua County. Children from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch through the National Free and Reduced Lunch Program. It is our hope that providing teachers more information about waste management and reduction in our community, they will incorporate the information into their classroom and students would go home and share what they are learning with their families.

The workshops were correlated to state education standards for Science, Language Arts, Math, Social Studies and Art. Teachers spent the day participating in hands-on activities that embraced the concepts of Recycle, Reduce, Reuse and Rethink. The highlight of each workshop was a visit by our local enviro-hero, The Waste Watcher, and a tour of our Transfer Station to see what happens to all our garbage! Teachers left with an embrace zero waste kit including grade appropriate literature books, resources for activities and an activity guide. In the new year we’ll contact the workshop participants evaluate if and how the kits are being used with students and ways we can better assist teachers in reaching their education objectives for their students.


One part of embracing zero waste is to compost. Compost is taking organic matter such as banana peels, coffee grinds and green leaves and putting them in a wire bin and letting decomposition take place to turn the materials into fertilizer for vegetable gardens and plants. We partnered with the Florida Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc. (FOG) to reach residents through gardening. One of FOG’s programs is the Gainesville Initiative for Tasty Gardens. Raised-bed vegetable gardens are built for free for low-income residents and the community centers that serve them, helping them become more self-sufficient by increasing their ability to provide for some of their own food needs. Our office provides wire compost bins, kitchen keepers (indoor bucket for holding compost scraps before taking outside) and education materials to the recipients. To date we have given away 73 compost bins and 66 kitchen keepers to recipients since September 2009. The next step is in evaluating the use of the compost bins by recipients and working with FOG to provide more compost education to recipients.

In all this has been a rewarding fellowship period. I am eager to continue these projects and expand them to other sections of the community. I’ll post follow-up images and information in the next couple months.

Written by:
Jennifer Seitz
2008 TogetherGreen Fellow

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Some Thoughts on Oklahoma's Second Annual Wind Energy Conference

Wendsday and Thursday, the 2nd and 3rd of December, the offices of the Secretary of the Environment and the Secretary of Energy in Oklahoma held and sponsored Oklahoma's second annual wind energy conference. I actually enjoy the name of the conference, "The Wind Revolution," it sounds new and exciting. According to the conference organizers there were well over a thousand in attendance, or had at least registered.

The event was held at the COX Convention Center in the great sprawling metropolis of Oklahoma City. Seriously,the city is growing.The venue was nice and had plenty of room for the thousand attendees; I must also compliment the production staff; they did a great job making it relatively simple for the speakers and attendees to ineract with one another during the presentations, as well as facilitating the question and answer sessions.

In the spirit of keeping things short, I will only speak about the few portions that were the most important for my concerns. On Tuesday, the second session was led by JD Strong,Oklahoma's Secretary of the Environment. The title of the session: "Keeping it Green, Wind and the Environment." I was surprised and happy to see Mr. Strong show a photo of the advertisement for Lek Trek's and More, a festival in Woodward Oklahoma.

Something I'm proud to say that I have been a part of since it's conception. Mr. Strong provided a very nice overview of the situations in regard to wind generators and trasmission lines, as well as the concerns regarding them and the Lesser Prairie Chicken (photo by Steve Metz)populations in the northwestern regions of Oklahoma. It was a great presentation and a good way to begin the session.

Nexture Energy, which is a daughter company of Florida Power and Light, presented their case about wind energy. They are the largest producer of wind energy in North America with 65 projects, opperating one farm that is in Woodward, and Harper Counties, Oklahoma.

I was a little dissapointed to see that they were still green-washing wind energy. The presenter made several points about it being zero pollution or something similiar to that statement, which I don't agree with. I have spoken with many people and heard their stories, and I have watched one go up myself over a six month period. They most certainly are very impactful, especially during construction. I have also heard examples about pollution post-construction, but have no personal stories of my own. To her credit, Shelly Holmbreck did discuss the ecological surveys they perform while in the planning period. She also mentioned that later this winter there should be peer-reviewed article out in some publication, in regard to wind development and wildlife. That's really all she had to say about it though. I'll have to keep a watch for that article, it should be interesting.

The "Keeping it Green" session went well, and aside from Mr. Strong and Ms. Holmbeck, we heard from Steve Ferrell with Wyoming Fish & Game. He talked Sage Grouse and energy development. He had a lot of great ideas, and the only thing I found myself asking at the end of the presentation was, why is the Sage Grouse,which is fairing better than the Lesser Prairie Chicken, getting the protection that it needs and this other species is struggling so badly?" Apparently organization is the answer to that one; Wyoming and its public,surmmounting a four year, 95 project onslaught to beat back poor energy development planning and skepticism. With the Sage grouse taken care of, so to say, isn't it time to give the prairie chickens and the short/mixed grass it's spot in the sun? I think so!

Unfortunately/fortunately a session on the second day included two Oklahoma landowners. Let's just say that one landowner gave us some things to think about, and had a lot to share. Without calling names, the other gentleman left the crowd a little bewildered, and certainly dissapointed the other landowners that I was to later talk with. It was as if the planners wanted to show us both the good, and the bad side of the western Oklahoma landowners......I'll just leave it at that,
before I light a fire I really don't need to start!

Perhaps the most important session, personally and professionally, was hearing the representative from Southwest Power Pool. They are doing most of the planning for what is happening in western Oklahoma. We recently found out that the company was planning to run a trasmission line through the heart of the eastern portion of the Lesser Prairie Chicken population, virtually cutting the vast native prairie in half, and also running through or very close to the Selman Ranch Important Bird Area, and the Cimarron Bluffs and Hills Wildlife Management Areas,all of these sites harbor a good local population of this species. After his presentation, we were allowed to ask a few questions. I stood up and called the company out, seeking an explanation for this proposal for which we are so concerned. I got a good answer, the placement was not their concern. They are responsible for planning, basically trying to figure out how to get the power from point A to point B; the placement lies in the hands of OG&E; their very general geoghraphical maps don't really help us when trying to figure things out on the ground. I hope OG&E will keep to their current techniques and will choose to relocate the route a little further east; find the extra money! Avoiding the LPC's and the beautiful native prairie that supports them.

Written by:
Eric J. Beck
State Coordinator
Oklahoma Important Bird Areas Program
2008 TogetherGreen Fellow

Monday, November 30, 2009

Greening of the Greens at the St. Johns Golf Club

Hi! My name is Amy Gilboy Meide and I was honored enough to be selected as part of the first class of Fellows for TogetherGreen (and the first official post to our Fellows blog!). I am the Land Resource Coordinator for St. Johns County, Florida so my job deals with all aspects of land management such as invasive species removal and prescribed burning. My Conservation Action Project (CAP) involved upland restoration at the County-owned St. Johns Golf Club. Over the past year, we have now returned over an acre of former sod to a more natural habitat by planting only native species like red maple, beautyberry, bald cypress, St. Johns Wort, and gallberry. The project has also garnered several partners since its inception including the First Tee, the local Audubon chapter and the Florida Native Plant Society.

Even though the fellowship year is now over, the project is still in full force. We are planning another planting day before Christmas and are planning on setting up a website showcasing the restoration. Several golfers have even asked if they can donate monetarily to the project!