Sam Gross

I joined the CSSC Board as an alumni to continue my work with this amazing organization.sam_gross

SCHOOL: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 2011
MAJOR: Environmental Science, Policy and Planning
PAST ROLES: Cal Poly Council Rep, Power Shift Trainer
HOMETOWN: Greenbrae, California

About Me

Sam currently resides in San Francisco where he enjoys the exciting urban setting and the beautiful open space that spans northern California. He is an avid mountain biker, skier, foodie, and a lover of music. Sam plans on returning to school to receive his masters in City and Regional Planning. His goal is to plan and design communities with responsible land use and to develop more sustainable transportation systems.

How I Got Involved In CSSC

Sam first joined the CSSC in 2009, when he and 2 other Cal Poly students traveled to the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen as members of the CSSC youth delegation. He has been fully engaged with the CSSC every since. In 2010 he became President of Cal Poly’s CSSC Chapter, the Empower Poly Coalition, an organization that connects environmental and humanitarian efforts within the Cal Poly community.

The Area of Sustainability That Interests Me Most

Urban Planning and Design, Real Food, Socially Responsible Business, and Transportation

The Role of Student Action in Sustainability

As educated individuals it is our responsibility to collaborate and share our knowledge with the world and create a livable environment by designing, planning, organizing and building for the future.

Sustainability Projects I’ve Worked On

  • the Green Initiative Fund
  • Green Chef (sustainable cooking competition)
  • Real Food Challenge
  • Fair Trade Universities
  • multiple Earth Day Festivals


D’Artagnan Scorza

CSSC is leading the student movement advancing sustainability in higher education. As a Board member, I’m privileged to be a part of that movement and honored to serve.

SCHOOL: UC Los Angeles, 2007, 2012
: PhD Education
UC Responsible Endowments Coalition Leader
Los Angeles, CA
OCCUPATION: Executive Director, Social Justice Institute

About Me

D’Artagnan Scorza entered UCLA in 1998 as a graduate of Morningside High School in Inglewood, CA. His studies were interrupted immediately following the events of September Eleventh, when he decided to join the U.S. Navy and became an Iraq-War Veteran. In April of 2006, he returned to UCLA to resume his studies and became a McNair Undergraduate Research Scholar where he developed curriculum for culturally relevant for African-American male youth and worked to reduce recidivism, imprisonment and death rates in the community. He was appointed as a representative on the Chancellor’s Enrollment Advisory Committee, served as a participant in the Alliance for Equal Opportunity in Education (AEOE) and the UCLA Task Force on African American Enrollment which helped to increase enrollment from 96 African-American students in 2006 to 213 African-American students in 2007.

D’Artagnan is a UCLA graduate with a B.A. in the Study of Religion from and also has a B.S. in Liberal Studies with an emphasis on Business Management from National University. Currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Education at UCLA, he established the Black Male Youth Academy (BMYA) at Morningside High School, a literacy development program that helps youth use research to create change in their communities.

D’Artagnan served a two-year term as a UC Regent from 2007 through 2009. As a member of the Board of Regents, University of California, he participated in the governance of the University. He was an outspoken advocate for equity and inclusion, affordability and access for future generations of students. His emphasis on clean energy and sustainable practices supported the University’s policies on being climate friendly. He was also a strong supporter of academic preparation programs for grade levels P-16 and believes they help create a level playing field. He was a 2010 Education Pioneer Fellow and worked at the California Community Foundation (CCF) supporting their scholarships program area. In 2009, he founded the Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI) and currently serves as the Executive Director, advancing food justice initiatives in underserved communities.

How I Got Involved In CSSC

I became involved with CSSC because of my involvement in sustainability on UC systemwide level

The Area of Sustainability That Interests Me Most

Food sustainability

The Role of Student Action in Sustainability

Students bring thought leadership, hope and energy to the movement.

Sustainability Projects I’ve Worked On

  • UC RIC Campaign
  • Community Gardens
  • Social Justice
  • Earth Day

March in March: Reclaiming California Education


On Monday, March 5th, I had the privilege of attending the March and Rally in Support of Higher Education at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. An estimated 8000 students and supporters showed up to this “March in March” to demand change from our state’s legislators, in the face of perpetual budget cuts and tuition increases throughout all tiers of public education in California.

Refund California, an organization connected to the Occupy Education movement, provided free buses to Sacramento from locations around the state. I boarded a bus right next to the Berkeley campus, and sat next to a middle-aged man who happened to be here on a business trip from Japan. He is a teacher in the labor movement there, a Berkeley graduate, and someone who feels passionate enough about education to attend this event while here in California! The diversity of attendees inspired me: throughout the march and the rally, I looked around and saw a sea of change. It was a sea perspectives, all coming together for a common purpose.

At the rally, speakers delivered powerful messages about the state of California’s budget, how to redistribute wealth in a more equitable way, how to give power back to the students, and how to demand investment in California’s future. Van Jones, a hero of mine, spoke eloquently about the “American dream,” and how an investment in education is an investment in the well-being of the California economy. This is truly about the sustainability of our culture: sustainability of education, of students’ livelihoods, of jobs, of the strength and resilience of our amazing state. Sustaining the American Dream.

After the rally, some stuck around to participate in “Occupying the Capitol.” Around three hundred of us waited in line, passed through metal detectors, and entered the Capitol building to hold a general assembly. We created our own democracy within the democratic structure of our state, and it felt good! As students, we have learned that our leaders and politicians often don’t speak for us, so this event was about “occupying” the democratic process and “occupying” our futures. The general assembly, through a long and arduous process of “mic checks” and breakout discussions, came up with five ultimate demands:

1. Pass the Millionaire’s Tax

2. Cancel student debt

3. Democratize the UC and CSU governing bodies

4. Fully fund education

5. Amend Proposition 13

Yes, these demands are quite, well, demanding. But this event was about dreaming big, about envisioning what our state education system should look like. In fact, the way things are right now is more crazy and more radical than those five demands. An article came out last week claiming that the CSU system is, on average, more expensive for a middle class student than Harvard. Harvard! (that’s because Harvard has pretty amazing financial aid packages for middle class students)

The State Capitol Building closes at 6PM, and 72 occupiers made the decision to stay inside. Those 72 were arrested, with little police brutality. Those arrested made a strong statement about their dedication to upholding democracy, equality, and justice in California. They made the decision that their future, and the futures of those around them, is worth getting arrested for.

On the bus and BART ride home, many of us wondered, “What will come out of this?” Did anything just happen? Did anything shift?”

It’s hard to know at this moment in time, but for most of us, the power and energy was palpable throughout the day. That’s a sure sign that the movement is brewing, that the status quo can’t last much longer, that we may be on the brink of reversing a system that is not in the least bit sustainable. Apathy is our greatest enemy, and I didn’t see any of that on March 5th. The future is in our hands, and with that power, comes great responsibility. ¡Si se puede!

NEWS RELEASE: Palo Alto Leading the Charge on CLEAN Programs

March 6, 2012

NEWS RELEASE: Palo Alto Leading the Charge on CLEAN Programs

Silicon Valley leaders approve CLEAN Program to increase local production of cost-effective renewable energy

PALO ALTO, CA – On March 5th, the City Council of Palo Alto, California unanimously approved a Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (CLEAN) Program. The adoption of a CLEAN Program in Palo Alto, a center of clean tech innovation in the heart of Silicon Valley, signals that forward-thinking leaders view CLEAN Programs as an ideal policy for expanding production of cost-effective, clean local energy, while boosting the local economy and increasing energy independence.

The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) will purchase locally-produced solar energy at a fixed rate of 14 cents per kilowatt-hour for 20 years. In the pilot stage during the remainder of 2012, the CLEAN Program is designed to add 4 megawatts of solar energy to the local grid from medium and large commercial-scale projects. CPAU expects to expand the program size starting in 2013 and may include other types of renewable energy and expand the range of eligible project sizes. More details about Palo Alto CLEAN are available here.

“Palo Alto CLEAN will expand clean local energy production while only increasing the average utility bill by a penny per month,” explained Yiaway Yeh, Mayor of Palo Alto. “The program is a major step towards meeting our goal of supplying 33% of our electricity with renewable energy by 2015 without significant rate increases.”

“Palo Alto CLEAN is another effort by the City of Palo Alto to establish itself as the greenest city in America, while always maintaining a business sensibility. Palo Alto CLEAN will promote the growth of a strong clean energy economy by reducing the time, risks, paperwork, and other costs of selling renewable energy from commercial rooftops and parking lots,” said James Keene, Palo Alto’s City Manager.

“A CLEAN Program is an important step towards greater energy self-reliance. In the long term, generating more clean local energy will allow the City of Palo Alto to provide power for essential services during widespread grid failures,” explained Pat Burt, Palo Alto City Council Member. “Most of all, this program helps show that cities can have clean energy, low rates and a strong economy, all at the same time.”

“Palo Alto has been a leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency, both of which have saved money for our residents and businesses over time,” said Jon Foster, Chair of the Palo Alto Utilities Advisory Commission. “Implementing a CLEAN Program is an excellent way to reduce Palo Alto’s use of fossil fuels in a cost-effective way.”

CLEAN Programs (also known as feed-in tariffs) have been implemented at the local, state, and national level around the world. CLEAN Programs have been proven to be the most effective policy mechanism for driving cost-effective renewable energy deployments, while at the same time strengthening local economies and creating more energy independent communities. The Clean Coalition, a nonprofit organization, recently released the Local CLEAN Program Guide, a free best practices guide designed to help communities evaluate, design, and implement CLEAN Programs.

Craig Lewis, the Executive Director of the Clean Coalition, commented, “Palo Alto CLEAN is a win-win for the entire Palo Alto community. The program is cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, and creates local jobs and investment opportunities for local businesses; and CLEAN Programs start delivering results almost immediately. We expect that Palo Alto’s well-designed program will serve as a widely followed model across the country.”

# # #

John Bernhardt
(703) 963-8750

Julia Clark, Council Co-Chair

JuliawebsiteI provide support to all of our Council Representatives, and I connect students to the resources they need for the projects they are working on. Additionally, I orient new council representatives to CSSC, and facilitate council conference calls.

SCHOOL: Humboldt State University, 2015
: Environmental Science: Ecological Restoration
Council Representative, Note Translator
Tujunga, CA

About Me

Random Stranger: “Why aren’t you in school?”
Me: “Oh, I’m homeschooled.”

Before attending community college, I had never set foot in a public school classroom. This provided me with the freedom to pursue topics that interested me; namely the out of doors. I spent hours upon hours playing in the dirt, looking at plants, running around barefoot, and breathing the wonderful LA air.

Born and raised in LA County, I was taught to care for the planet by using my common sense: duh, trash doesn’t belong on the ground. My family has always been very conscious of our energy consumption, our food choices, and every item we throw away. When I was about 12 years old, my family stopped using the black trash can. It was recycled, composted, or we didn’t buy it.

I began volunteering with non-profits when I was 11, mostly doing endangered species habitat restoration in the local forests. My journey into the environmental movement began with a Human Impact on the Environment class at GCC, followed by the GCC Environmental Club, which lead to the CSSC.

I have incredibly diverse interests, from skydiving, to sketching, to baking, to hiking, to playing piano, to photography, and beyond.

How I Got Involved In CSSC

I heard about the Spring 2011 Convergence at UC Davis through the GCC Environmental Club. Our club president had just attended Power Shift, and was strongly encouraging me to attend the upcoming UC Davis convergence.

I was a little hesitant at first, but once I started checking out the CSSC website, and the list of convergence topics, I started drooling. It looked like such a cool event! So I tossed my worries aside, and took off on a road trip with three other attendees I hardly knew. Little did I know, that convergence would change my life.

I arrived in Davis, and was instantly surrounded by hundreds of like-minded people. I felt comfortable with them, as though I had finally found a place I belonged. I kept thinking “Wait, you mean to tell me, there are others?!”

I soaked up the information, the atmosphere, the laughter, the love, the people, the activism, and I’ve never looked back.

The Area of Sustainability That Interests Me Most

Permaculture, Sustainable Living, Sustainable Food Systems, and Community-Based Systems

The Role of Student Action in Sustainability

Students are young, impressionable, and full of energy. We bring enthusiasm, optimism, diversity, and life to the sustainability movement. We have the ability to make things happen, and we do so with a firm positive stance and bright smiling faces!

Sustainability Projects I’ve Worked On

  • On-Campus Garden
  • Educational Film Screenings
  • Climate Change Teach-Ins
  • Earth Day
  • Petition Gathering for Right to Know GMOs

California Considers a Cottage Food Law

Originally post by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture

Since the homemade food renaissance has taken root in California, there’s been no shortage of home picklers, jammers, and bakers. But under current state laws, it’s a misdemeanor for those home artisans to sell their goodies in the open marketplace. Case in point: Last June, Department of Public Health officials shut down ForageSF’s popular Underground Market, which featured mostly home producers, because its sellers were not compliant with local and state regulations.

But due to a campaign launched by the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), the laws might change this year. The Oakland-based SELC recently teamed up with Los Angeles Assemblymember Mike Gatto to introduce the California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616), a “cottage food” bill that would legalize the sale of certain foods produced in home kitchens.

“There are a lot of hoops to get a food business started. That’s what prompted the cottage food law campaign,” says SELC research associate and campaign coordinator Christina Oatfield. Founded in 2010 by attorneys Janelle Orsi and Jenny Kassan, the SELC provides legal research and assistance to foster local and sustainable economies and business ventures.

Currently, state law requires that any foods produced for sale be prepared in a certified kitchen or food facility using commercial-grade equipment that is inspected by the health department. For many startups, this means renting a commercial kitchen space, which costs upwards of $25 per hour or $1,500 per month—a large expenditure, particularly for hobby food producers who just want to make a bit of supplemental income. Additionally, shared kitchens are often not a practical option for producers who make specialty items such as gluten-free baked goods.

For entrepreneurs who want to open their own kitchen, the investment and risks are greater. In addition to the costs of buying or renting a brick-and-mortar space and furnishing it with commercial-grade equipment (often several times the cost of home kitchen appliances), there are other fixed expenditures, such as insurance and health department inspections. “It can easily exceed $100,000 with equipment and infrastructure work,” says Oatfield. “That’s a huge barrier to a startup entrepreneur, especially in these tough economic times.”

A Growing Movement

To date, more than 30 states have cottage food laws on the books, many of which have been passed in the last couple of years. Oatfield sees this trend as a response to both the economic downturn of 2008 and the surge of interest in local food over the last few years. “There’s a growing awareness among consumers about food systems issues and enthusiasm for buying local and knowing the person who made your food,” she says.

Cottage food law advocates argue that loosening the regulations for small, home-based businesses fosters growth in the local economy, while giving startups the opportunity to test their products, establish a customer base, and incubate their business before investing in commercial kitchen space. “Very often laws and regulations are written to keep large corporations in check, and they’re not scale-appropriate for small, community-based businesses or other informal activities,” says Oatfield.

For consumers and public health officials, the safety of foods produced in home kitchens has been the greatest concern, so many cottage food laws limit the products that can be sold. Under the California Homemade Food Act, cottage food operations would be allowed to prepare and sell “nonpotentially hazardous” items such as dry-storage baked goods, jams, preserves, nut mixes, dried fruit, roasted coffees, honey, pickles with a pH level of 4.6 or below, and other items with low risk for supporting toxic microorganisms.

The proposed bill also states that home producers must register their business and follow the same sanitation, packaging, and labeling procedures that are expected of commercial kitchens, though it does not require inspections unless complaints are made. While such details may be revised in the legislative process, the SELC is working closely with the state public health department to ensure that health measures are followed while keeping the entrepreneur’s costs as low as possible.

Healthy Competition

In addition to the health concerns, cottage food bills have created a bit of controversy among small-scale food producers. Some argue that home-based producers, who have less overhead, could place extra stress on fledgling business owners who have followed the letter of the law and taken on the costs and risks of starting their own kitchen.

Others welcome the competition, opportunity, and diversity that this proposed legislation could bring to the world of small-scale food production. “I’m delighted by it,” says June Taylor, who started making artisan preserves in her home kitchen before launching her business in 1990. “The more people can vote with their dollars in a smaller-scale system, the more we don’t have to acquiesce to the industrial system, and we can create an alternative way of doing business, feeding ourselves, and challenging that system.”

Santa Cruz-based sauerkraut maker Kathryn Lukas, who launched Farmhouse Culture in 2008, agrees. “I think it’s long overdue. The fewer barriers to entry into farmers markets, the better for the consumer. I would love the diversity it would spawn. You’re going to see a real flourish of creativity and interesting new recipes. It’s a win-win for the consumer who’s brave enough to trust the relationship that he or she develops with the food artisan.”

While enthusiastic about the possibilities, Lukas also emphasizes the need for clear safety regulations. “Not everyone coming into the food business knows the basics about sanitation,” said Lukas. She recommends that food handler certification, such as ServSafe, be a requirement for all home-based food businesses. (The Golden Gate Restaurant Association in collaboration with the Small Business Association offersfree training for food safety certification.)

While the current bill language does not place a limit on the volume or income of a cottage food operation, the SELC believes that the logistical constraints of doing business out of a home kitchen will be the self-regulating factor. “The very nature of cottage food operations is that they’re very small-scale and neighborhood-based,” said Oatfield. “With the enthusiasm for local foods and homemade foods, I think consumers really want to be able to access this food.”

If you’re interested in supporting the California Homemade Food Act, contact your state Assemblymember and Senator and ask them to become a co-sponsor. Visit the SELC website to learn more.


Capitalism vs. the Climate (Part 1)

There is a question from a gentleman in the fourth row.

He introduces himself as Richard Rothschild. He tells the crowd that he ran for county commissioner in Maryland’s Carroll County because he had come to the conclusion that policies to combat global warming were actually “an attack on middle-class American capitalism.” His question for the panelists, gathered in a Washington, DC, Marriott Hotel in late June, is this: “To what extent is this entire movement simply a green Trojan horse, whose belly is full with red Marxist socioeconomic doctrine?”

Here at the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, the premier gathering for those dedicated to denying the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet, this qualifies as a rhetorical question. Like asking a meeting of German central bankers if Greeks are untrustworthy. Still, the panelists aren’t going to pass up an opportunity to tell the questioner just how right he is.

Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who specializes in harassing climate scientists with nuisance lawsuits and Freedom of Information fishing expeditions, angles the table mic over to his mouth. “You can believe this is about the climate,” he says darkly, “and many people do, but it’s not a reasonable belief.” Horner, whose prematurely silver hair makes him look like a right-wing Anderson Cooper, likes to invoke Saul Alinsky: “The issue isn’t the issue.” The issue, apparently, is that “no free society would do to itself what this agenda requires…. The first step to that is to remove these nagging freedoms that keep getting in the way.”

Claiming that climate change is a plot to steal American freedom is rather tame by Heartland standards. Over the course of this two-day conference, I will learn that Obama’s campaign promise to support locally owned biofuels refineries was really about “green communitarianism,” akin to the “Maoist” scheme to put “a pig iron furnace in everybody’s backyard” (the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels). That climate change is “a stalking horse for National Socialism” (former Republican senator and retired astronaut Harrison Schmitt). And that environmentalists are like Aztec priests, sacrificing countless people to appease the gods and change the weather (Marc Morano, editor of the denialists’ go-to website,

Most of all, however, I will hear versions of the opinion expressed by the county commissioner in the fourth row: that climate change is a Trojan horse designed to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism. As conference speaker Larry Bell succinctly puts it in his new book Climate of Corruption, climate change “has little to do with the state of the environment and much to do with shackling capitalism and transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth redistribution.”

Yes, sure, there is a pretense that the delegates’ rejection of climate science is rooted in serious disagreement about the data. And the organizers go to some lengths to mimic credible scientific conferences, calling the gathering “Restoring the Scientific Method” and even adopting the organizational acronym ICCC, a mere one letter off from the world’s leading authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the scientific theories presented here are old and long discredited. And no attempt is made to explain why each speaker seems to contradict the next. (Is there no warming, or is there warming but it’s not a problem? And if there is no warming, then what’s all this talk about sunspots causing temperatures to rise?)

In truth, several members of the mostly elderly audience seem to doze off while the temperature graphs are projected. They come to life only when the rock stars of the movement take the stage—not the C-team scientists but the A-team ideological warriors like Morano and Horner. This is the true purpose of the gathering: providing a forum for die-hard denialists to collect the rhetorical baseball bats with which they will club environmentalists and climate scientists in the weeks and months to come. The talking points first tested here will jam the comment sections beneath every article and YouTube video that contains the phrase “climate change” or “global warming.” They will also exit the mouths of hundreds of right-wing commentators and politicians—from Republican presidential candidates like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann all the way down to county commissioners like Richard Rothschild. In an interview outside the sessions, Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, proudly takes credit for “thousands of articles and op-eds and speeches…that were informed by or motivated by somebody attending one of these conferences.”

The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank devoted to “promoting free-market solutions,” has been holding these confabs since 2008, sometimes twice a year. And the strategy appears to be working. At the end of day one, Morano—whose claim to fame is having broken the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth story that sank John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign—leads the gathering through a series of victory laps. Cap and trade: dead! Obama at the Copenhagen summit: failure! The climate movement: suicidal! He even projects a couple of quotes from climate activists beating up on themselves (as progressives do so well) and exhorts the audience to “celebrate!”

There were no balloons or confetti descending from the rafters, but there may as well have been.

* * *

When public opinion on the big social and political issues changes, the trends tend to be relatively gradual. Abrupt shifts, when they come, are usually precipitated by dramatic events. Which is why pollsters are so surprised by what has happened to perceptions about climate change over a span of just four years. A 2007 Harris poll found that 71 percent of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would cause the climate to change. By 2009 the figure had dropped to 51 percent. In June 2011 the number of Americans who agreed was down to 44 percent—well under half the population. According to Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, this is “among the largest shifts over a short period of time seen in recent public opinion history.”

Even more striking, this shift has occurred almost entirely at one end of the political spectrum. As recently as 2008 (the year Newt Gingrich did a climate change TV spot with Nancy Pelosi) the issue still had a veneer of bipartisan support in the United States. Those days are decidedly over. Today, 70–75 percent of self-identified Democrats and liberals believe humans are changing the climate—a level that has remained stable or risen slightly over the past decade. In sharp contrast, Republicans, particularly Tea Party members, have overwhelmingly chosen to reject the scientific consensus. In some regions, only about 20 percent of self-identified Republicans accept the science.

Equally significant has been a shift in emotional intensity. Climate change used to be something most everyone said they cared about—just not all that much. When Americans were asked to rank their political concerns in order of priority, climate change would reliably come in last.

But now there is a significant cohort of Republicans who care passionately, even obsessively, about climate change—though what they care about is exposing it as a “hoax” being perpetrated by liberals to force them to change their light bulbs, live in Soviet-style tenements and surrender their SUVs. For these right-wingers, opposition to climate change has become as central to their worldview as low taxes, gun ownership and opposition to abortion. Many climate scientists report receiving death threats, as do authors of articles on subjects as seemingly innocuous as energy conservation. (As one letter writer put it to Stan Cox, author of a book critical of air-conditioning, “You can pry my thermostat out of my cold dead hands.”)

This culture-war intensity is the worst news of all, because when you challenge a person’s position on an issue core to his or her identity, facts and arguments are seen as little more than further attacks, easily deflected. (The deniers have even found a way to dismiss a new study confirming the reality of global warming that was partially funded by the Koch brothers, and led by a scientist sympathetic to the “skeptic” position.)

The effects of this emotional intensity have been on full display in the race to lead the Republican Party. Days into his presidential campaign, with his home state literally burning up with wildfires, Texas Governor Rick Perry delighted the base by declaring that climate scientists were manipulating data “so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” Meanwhile, the only candidate to consistently defend climate science, Jon Huntsman, was dead on arrival. And part of what has rescued Mitt Romney’s campaign has been his flight from earlier statements supporting the scientific consensus on climate change.

By Naomi Klein
Originally published at The Nation

Wonders of Cookin’ with Cashews: Creamy Cashew-Pepper Penne

For my very first Green Grub post (ZOMG), I decided my grand debut recipe must be vegan, of course, and this thought naturally led to the decision to make one of the main ingredients this, a staple of vegan cuisine – cashews.

Cashews, if you folks didn’t know, are one of the Seven Wonders of Vegan Food World. Yes, they are like the Great Pyramid of Giza of said Plant-Based Wonderland.

Cashews are hardy just as this last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World is. As most know, the appreciable amount of protein packed into this nutritious nut (I was this close to going for the NUTritious gag…phew!) makes it both a healthy and filling snack. You may also know that the high antioxidant content means it is good for your heart as well, reinforcing this idea of cashews being… HEART-y. It is possibly lesser known that magnesium is just as important for bones as is calcium and that our wondernut is an excellent source of this. Thus, these HARD-y cashews also help to… HARD-en our bones! [LAUGH TRACK]

I’ve got a million of these.

Beyond that, well, I can’t really think of any other similarities between the Great Pyramid of Giza and the seeds stuck to the bottom of cashew apples. I’ll have to work on my analogies.

But what makes the cashew worthy of being positioned on this pedestal alongside a 481-foot-tall man-made Egyptian pyramid, you ask? Let me tell you about the wonder factor. Cashews are so vegan-versatile that they can be used to make milk, cheese, cheesecake, whipped cream, creamy sauces (that’s us!), and so much more.

Furthermore, extracts of various parts of the cashew tree can be seen in traditional medicine – as an aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory, antidysenteric, and antihemorrhagic. Whether it is effective as such cannot be confirmed in any of these cases except the aphrodisiac. I mean, what’s more attractive than not having inflamed, hemorrhaging dysentery? Not much, my friends… not much.

On that note, I hope you’re hungry. Here’s what you’ll need:

1 pound of penne
1 cup of raw, unsalted cashews
2 red bell peppers
1 onion
1 tablespoon of olive oil
½ teaspoon of paprika
Your favorite vegetables for steaming (or whatever you have in your CSA box – I used asparagus and spinach)
Salt and pepper (optional)


1. Soak your cashews in water, either overnight if you’re organized enough to plan that far ahead, or for 15 minutes if you’re a normal human being.

2. Bake the red peppers at 425°F for 15-20 minutes, or until the skins begin to blacken. Allow them to cool enough to handle them, then peel off the skins and slice open to remove the seeds. CAUTION: Before removing the skin, hold the pepper upright to pull off the green stem and pour out the juice inside! You don’t want to spray pepper juice in anyone’s eyeballs. (This is a kitchen, not a peaceful protest.)

3. Get your soaked cashews into a blender, add water barely to the top of the cashews, and blend to reach a smooth, creamy consistency. Feel free to add extra water if necessary.

4. Dice the onion and sauté it in the olive oil until the color becomes translucent. Then throw in the peppers and cashew cream and let this mixture simmer (to cook over low heat) for 8-10 minutes. Remember to stir frequently!

5. When finished cooking, toss in the paprika, as well as the salt and pepper, if you’re one to salt things. Mix and let cool.

6. While the sauce is cooling, there will likely be some multitasking happening in the background. Boil some water, get your penne in, salt the pasta, and cook until al dente. You can follow any instructions that may have come with your pasta.

7. This would also be the time to steam those veggies!

Side Note:  There do exist fancy kitchen devices designed specifically for this purpose – they call these steamers. However, I, like my food god Alton Brown, try to avoid single-use/single-function apparatuses as they’re not very sustainable. Therefore, grab a pot and a colander – two common enough cooking tools – stick the colander inside the pot so it barely fits inside, fill the pot with just enough water so that the water doesn’t actually touch the colander, and BAM! Instant homemade steamer, y’all. Give yourself a well-earned pat on the back.

Side note aside, let’s continue with this steaming process. Turn on the heat and when the water’s boiling, throw in your vegetables and put a lid on it. Cooking time will vary from crop to crop, but may range anywhere from about 4-10 minutes. You can decide on your own when it’s soft enough to chew without your jaw locking up, and when it’s basically mush. Somewhere in between would be groovy.

8. Once the cashew sauce is cooled, blend it until smooth. Drain your al dente penne. Pull out your steamed goods. Now mix it all together… and voilà! Enjoy with 4-6 fine friends.

Food, friends, and fun in the sun... Life is good.

Applications Open for Summer of Solutions 2012

Call for Young Leaders to Join Programs in Seventeen Sites Nationwide
Click here for application

NATIONWIDE | February 6, 2012 – Applications are now open to join Summer of Solutions (SOS) programs across the country, including Oakland and Los Angeles. Summer of Solutions is a people-powered program for youth (ages 14-30) to develop their leadership and build just, sustainable economies in their communities.

In the face of a failing economy, an energy crisis, and the growing threat of global warming, youth are coming together to create and implement solutions that address these challenges. Together, these people are Solutionaries: young leaders who work to uplift local communities, build the green economy, and push for social justice.

The program gives participants the opportunity to create and support local green economy projects while acquiring skills and strategies that empower them as agents of Solutionary change wherever they go. The Solutionary values of Community, Prosperity, Sustainability and Justice are staples of every SOS program.

Testimonial from CSSC member, Ambrosia Krinsky (UC Berkeley) : “Summer of Solutions Oakland 2011 was the most eye opening experience! I learned how to effectively work in a group of ethnically, racially and socio-economically diverse young people as “solutionaries” to implement sustainable programs at the grassroots level. The communal living aspect was challenging but rewarding, out of that experience I built deep friendships which I think will last for life!’

This summer, we are welcoming a new wave of young leaders to join us. Learn more about the 17 programs located coast-to-coast, and click here to apply to the program nearest you.

Past Summer of Solutions programs have:

*Built community gardens and farms on vacant lots
*Founded and partnered with energy businesses to create community-based clean energy systems
*Created community spaces (from mini-golf courses in the coal fields of West Virginia to playgrounds in Detroit)
*Designed green manufacturing and living spaces out of old factory spaces and organized to make the plans reality

You can read more stories and stay-up-to-date on the progress of programs at the Solutionaries blog. To learn more about the values, principles, and strategies of SOS, visit the web site of Grand Aspirations.

Link to the application:

Summer of Solutions is hosted by Grand Aspirations, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Grand Aspirations Media Team
Los Angeles CA 90028
(320) 267-5746

There are two rounds of applications: a priority round, ending on 2/23/2012, and a final round, ending on 4/12/2012. Applicants who apply before the end of the priority round will hear back by 3/12. Applications received after the end of the priority round but before the final deadline will hear back by 4/30. Some programs may keep their local applications open beyond 4/12, but there is no guarantee that any specific program will do so.

Citrus Time is Here Again!

Oh beautiful and delectable, sweet and surprising citrus! Since we are the California Student Sustainability Coalition with a lovely Mediterranean climate, we get to celebrate the winter months with bright and fresh citrus fruits. Although gone are the days where a single orange was given for Christmas, citrus can truly breakup the hum drum of your winter diet. As we begin to see more unique citrus varieties (Buddha’s hand anyone?), using citrus in cooking can be downright exciting.

While many types of citrus are most enjoyable eaten directly out of hand (see mandarins, oranges, and tangerines), sometimes a bit of citrus tucked inside something unexpected can be the hit of a party.

In this post, we will share the hidden uses of citrus: orange cream soda for big kids, shaved fennel and grapefruit salad, and lemon poppy seed cake. The first two recipes are vegan or vegan optional and the last recipe contains egg.

Orange Cream Soda (one serving)
For this recipe, you will need:
2 oranges or 4 mandarins/tangerines
1 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 cup club soda or carbonated mineral water, chilled
Small handful of ice cubes
2 tablespoons soymilk creamer
1 shot orange flavored vodka (either homemade using the infused alcohol recipe or store bought)

Vegetable peeler
Small saucepan
Measuring items

1. Peel the zest off the orange using the veggie peeler, trying to avoid large swaths of white pith. If your zest is especially pithy, use the spoon to scrape off the pith.
2. Heat the 1 cup of water and the zest strips in the saucepan. Bring to a boil and then remove from the stove and drain. This step is to remove bitterness from the zest.
3. Add the 2/3 cup water and sugar to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat when the liquid thickens slightly to a syrup-like consistency and the zest is translucent.
4. Remove the zest pieces and cool the syrup in the fridge. Slice the zest into thin slivers.
5. Combine the club soda, ice, creamer, and vodka in the glass. Sweeten to taste with the syrup. Garnish the top with a few slivers of candied zest.

Shaved Fennel and Grapefruit Salad
For this recipe, you will need:
1-2 whole fennel bulbs
1-2 grapefruit
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
2 tablespoons avocado, mashed
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mandolin or very sharp knife
Paring knife
Small bowl
Garlic press
Serving bowl

1. Remove any brown spots and leafy bits off of the fennel. Shave the fennel with the mandolin or slice very thin (1/8 inch). Place in the serving bowl.
2. Remove the outer pith and the inner skin of the grapefruit. Cut out each section of the grapefruit and place in the serving bowl. (Watch how to here.)
3. Squeeze the remaining juice out of the skin into the small bowl to make the dressing.
4. Add the oil, garlic, honey and avocado to the bowl and mix until creamy with the fork.
5. Dress the salad and add salt and pepper to taste.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake (adapted from Bon Appetite)
For this recipe, you will need:
1 cup Earth Balance or another dairy free spread, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I use a mix of unbleached white and whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 lemon zest from one lemon (preferably a Meyer lemon)
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the glaze
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
Fresh lemon juice of one lemon

9 inch cake pan
Pastry brush (or paper towel)
Large bowl
Rubber spatula
Grater or microplane
Lemon reamer or juicer
Small bowl

1. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with the pastry brush or towel.
2. Beat together vegan spread and granulated sugar in a large bowl with spatula until pale and fluffy.
3. Beat in eggs until combined.
4. Whisk in poppy seeds, flour/s, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt to the wet ingredients.
5. Spread in cake pan and smooth the top. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown on the top.
6. While cake is baking, whisk together the lemon juice and powdered sugar. Pour the glaze over the warm cake.
7. Slice this little piece of heaven as soon as possible.

Beyond environment: falling back in love with Mother Earth

Photograph: Plum VillageZen master Thich Nhat Hanh has been practising meditation and mindfulness for 70 years and radiates an extraordinary sense of calm and peace. This is a man who on a fundamental level walks his talk, and whom Buddhists revere as a Bodhisattva; seeking the highest level of being in order to help others.

Ever since being caught up in the horrors of the Vietnam war, the 86-year-old monk has committed his life to reconciling conflict and in 1967 Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, saying “his ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”

So it seems only natural that in recent years he has turned his attention towards not only addressing peoples’ disharmonious relationships with each other, but also with the planet on which all our lives depend.

Thay, as he is known to his many thousands of followers, sees the lack of meaning and connection in peoples’ lives as being the cause of our addiction to consumerism and that it is vital we recognise and respond to the stress we are putting on Earth if civilisation is to survive.

What Buddhism offers, he says, is the recognition that we all suffer and the way to overcome that pain is to directly confront it, rather than seeking to hide or bypass it through our obsession with shopping, entertainment, work or the beautification of our bodies. The craving for fame, wealth, power and sex serves to create only the illusion of happiness and ends up exacerbating feelings of disconnection and emptiness.

Thay refers to a billionaire chief executive of one of America’s largest companies, who came to one of his meditation courses and talked of his suffering, worries and doubts, of thinking everyone was coming to take advantage of him and that he had no friends.

In an interview at his home and retreat centre in Plum Village, near Bordeaux, Thay outlines how a spiritual revolution is needed if we are going to confront the multitude of environmental challenges.

While many experts point to the enormous complexity and difficulty in addressing issues ranging from the destruction of ecosystems to the loss of millions of species, Thay sees a Gordian Knot that needs slicing through with a single strike of a sharp blade.

Move beyond concept of the “environment”

He believes we need to move beyond talking about the environment, as this leads people to experience themselves and Earth as two separate entities and to see the planet in terms only of what it can do for them.

Change is possible only if there is a recognition that people and planet are ultimately one and the same.

“You carry Mother Earth within you,” says Thay. “She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment.

“In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer. In that kind of relationship you have enough love, strength and awakening in order to change your life.

“Changing is not just changing the things outside of us. First of all we need the right view that transcends all notions including of being and non-being, creator and creature, mind and spirit. That kind of insight is crucial for transformation and healing.

“Fear, separation, hate and anger come from the wrong view that you and the earth are two separate entities, the Earth is only the environment. You are in the centre and you want to do something for the Earth in order for you to survive. That is a dualistic way of seeing.

“So to breathe in and be aware of your body and look deeply into it and realise you are the Earth and your consciousness is also the consciousness of the earth. Not to cut the tree not to pollute the water, that is not enough.”

Putting an economic value on nature is not enough

Thay, who will this spring be in the UK to lead a five-day retreat as well as a mindfulness in education conference, says the current vogue in economic and business circles that the best way to protect the planet is by putting an economic value on nature is akin to putting a plaster on a gaping wound.

“I don’t think it will work,” he says. “We need a real awakening, enlightenment, to change our way of thinking and seeing things.”

Rather than placing a price tag of our forests and coral reefs, Thay says change will happen on a fundamental level only if we fall back in love with the planet: “The Earth cannot be described either by the notion of matter or mind, which are just ideas, two faces of the same reality. That pine tree is not just matter as it possesses a sense of knowing. A dust particle is not just matter since each of its atoms has intelligence and is a living reality.

“When we recognise the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born.

“We want to be connected. That is the meaning of love, to be at one. When you love someone you want to say I need you, I take refuge in you. You do anything for the benefit of the Earth and the Earth will do anything for your wellbeing.”

In the world of business, Thay gives the example of Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, who combined developing a successful business with the practice of mindfulness and compassion: “It’s possible to make money in a way that is not destructive, that promotes more social justice and more understanding and lessens the suffering that exists all around us,” says Thay.

“Looking deeply, we see that it’s possible to work in the corporate world in a way that brings a lot of happiness both to other people and to us … our work has meaning.”

Thay, who has written more than 100 books, suggests that the lost connection with Earth’s natural rhythm is behind many modern sicknesses and that, in a similar way to our psychological pattern of blaming our mother and father for our unhappiness, there is an even more hidden unconscious dynamic of blaming Mother Earth.

In a new essay, Intimate Conversation with Mother Earth, he writes: “Some of us resent you for giving birth to them, causing them to endure suffering, because they are not yet able to understand and appreciate you.”

How mindfulness can reconnect people to Mother Earth

He points to increasing evidence that mindfulness can help people to reconnect by slowing down and appreciating all the gifts that the earth can offer.

“Many people suffer deeply and they do not know they suffer,” he says. “They try to cover up the suffering by being busy. Many people get sick today because they get alienated from Mother Earth.

“The practice of mindfulness helps us to touch Mother Earth inside of the body and this practice can help heal people. So the healing of the people should go together with the healing of the Earth and this is the insight and it is possible for anyone to practice.

“This kind of enlightenment is very crucial to a collective awakening. In Buddhism we talk of meditation as an act of awakening, to be awake to the fact that the earth is in danger and living species are in danger.”

Thay gives the example of something as simple and ordinary as drinking a cup of tea. This can help transform a person’s life if he or she were truly to devote their attention to it.

“When I am mindful, I enjoy more my tea,” says Thay as he pours himself a cup and slowly savours the first sip. “I am fully present in the here and now, not carried away by my sorrow, my fear, my projects, the past and the future. I am here available to life.

“When I drink tea this is a wonderful moment. You do not need a lot of power or fame or money to be happy. Mindfulness can help you to be happy in the here and now. Every moment can be a happy moment. Set an example and help people to do the same. Take a few minutes in order to experiment to see the truth.”

Need to deal with ones own anger to be an effective social activist

Thay has over many years developed the notion of applied Buddhism underpinned by a set of ethical practices known as the five mindfulness trainings, which are very clear on the importance of tackling social injustice.

However, if social and environmental activists are to be effective, Thay says they must first deal with their own anger. Only if people discover compassion for themselves will they be able to confront those they hold accountable for polluting our seas and cutting down our forests.

“In Buddhism we speak of collective action,” he says. “Sometimes something wrong is going on in the world and we think it is the other people who are doing it and we are not doing it.

“But you are part of the wrongdoing by the way you live your life. If you are able to understand that, not only you suffer but the other person suffers, that is also an insight.

“When you see the other person suffer you will not want to punish or blame but help that person to suffer less. If you are burdened with anger, fear, ignorance and you suffer too much, you cannot help another person. If you suffer less you are lighter more smiling, pleasant to be with, and in a position to help the person.

“Activists have to have a spiritual practice in order to help them to suffer less, to nourish the happiness and to handle the suffering so they will be effective in helping the world. With anger and frustration you cannot do much.”

Touching the “ultimate dimension”

Key to Thay’s teaching is the importance of understanding that while we need to live and operate in a dualistic world, it is also vital to understand that our peace and happiness lie in the recognition of the ultimate dimension: “If we are able to touch deeply the historical dimension – through a leaf, a flower, a pebble, a beam of light, a mountain, a river, a bird, or our own body – we touch at the same time the ultimate dimension. The ultimate dimension cannot be described as personal or impersonal, material or spiritual, object or subject of cognition – we say only that it is always shining, and shining on itself.

“Touching the ultimate dimension, we feel happy and comfortable, like the birds enjoying the blue sky, or the deer enjoying the green fields. We know that we do not have to look for the ultimate outside of ourselves – it is available within us, in this very moment.”

While Thay believes there is a way of creating a more harmonious relationship between humanity and the planet, he also recognises that there is a very real risk that we will continue on our destructive path and that civilisation may collapse.

He says all we need to do is see how nature has responded to other species that have got out of control: “When the need to survive is replaced with greed and pride, there is violence, which always brings about unnecessary devastation.

“We have learned the lesson that when we perpetrate violence towards our own and other species, we are violent towards ourselves; and when we know how to protect all beings, we are protecting ourselves.”

Remaining optimistic despite risk of impending catastrophe

In Greek mythology, when Pandora opened the gift of a box, all the evils were released into the world. The one remaining item was “hope”.

Thay is clear that maintaining optimism is essential if we are to find a way of avoiding devastating climate change and the enormous social upheavals that will result.

However, he is not naïve and recognises that powerful forces are steadily pushing us further towards the edge of the precipice.

In his best-selling book on the environment, The World we Have, he writes: “We have constructed a system we can’t control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims.

“We have created a society in which the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our own immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet Earth.

“In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed.”

An edited video of Jo Confino’s interview with Thich Nhat Hahn can be seen here.

For information on Thay’s visit to the UK this spring, which includes a meditation in Trafalgar Square, a talk at the Royal Festival Hall, a five-day retreat and a three-day mindfulness in education conference, go to the Cooling the Flames website.

Author: Jo Confino
Full url: Originally posted on The Guardian Online

The New Student Activism

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Ashley Ward, an aspiring idealist with waning faith in the world, was standing in the newsroom of her college paper at Humboldt State University in Northern California when a fellow student rushed in with startling news.

Three thousand miles due east, on a tiny patch of Lower Manhattan, people were camping out to protest Wall Street, decrying its stranglehold on politics and continuing enrichment as the economy flatlined. It was the first that Ms. Ward, then a senior, had heard of Occupy Wall Street, and as she learned more about it, her heart glowed. “I’ve been waiting for something to happen for years,” she said. “I was personally starting to get afraid that something like this wouldn’t happen in my lifetime.”

She and a friend resolved to bring Occupy to their campus. They printed fliers, set up a Web site and blasted out e-mails. They told as many people as they could about their action plan. On Oct. 1, they held a sprawling, consensus-style meeting on campus, a version of the general assemblies being held in Zuccotti Park in New York, and set up tents. And thus was born one of the first Occupy Wall Street college protests.

Occupy protests rapidly sprouted at other campuses: hundreds nationwide currently have or had some sort of Occupy-related activity going on. Mirroring the broader movement, students have taken aim at widening income disparities and the cozy symbiosis between Washington and Wall Street. But the college occupiers have also embraced a panoply of causes, localizing and personalizing their protests in a way that has lent an immediacy and urgency to their outcries.

At Tufts, students have used the attention garnered by Occupy to advance a decades-long push for an Africana studies department. At Occupy Pocatello, Idaho State University students are condemning Idaho’s high foreclosure rate from a handful of pup tents as well as more wind-resistant cardboard boxes. At Yale, a traditional feeder school for investment banks and hedge funds, students noisily protested a Morgan Stanley information session in the fall. Recruiting visits to Harvard, Princeton and Cornell have been similarly disrupted.

“I’m not sure it would’ve happened if Occupy Wall Street wouldn’t have started,” said Marina Keegan, of the Morgan Stanley protest at Yale, where she is a senior. “Definitely people are starting to think more critically about their choices after graduation and how they affect not just themselves, but the world.”

All of which sets Occupy-related student protests apart from much of the campus activism that has come before. A good chunk of student protest has focused on single issues: nukes in the ’70s, apartheid and Contras in the ’80s, sweatshops in the ’90s.

Many of today’s new graduates find themselves heavily indebted, and to the same institutions that received multibillion-dollar bailouts in the financial crash. Median income is stagnant. Their public universities are underfinanced, and class sizes growing. College activists have linked these issues to broad critiques of the financial-political complex.

“What you have with the Occupy movement is a criticism of global capitalism and the American financial system, but also a critique of policing on campus, tuition policy, the way universities are run,” said Angus Johnston, a historian who teaches at the City University of New York. “That is certainly resonant with the movements of the ’60s, because student activism of the 1960s connected up major national and global issues and campus policy.”

While students as recently as 2009 were taking over campus buildings — across California and in New York, at the New School — Occupy has drawn a wider swath. Previously apolitical students have been drawn by personal woes — their parents’ vanishing 401(k)’s, their fears of the job market. “This has been a catalyst for getting more students involved,” said Anne Wolfe, 20, a junior at Tufts who is working with protesters at Boston University and camped out at Occupy Boston.

“We’re able to get out of our own college bubble,” she said.

At Humboldt, students set their tents back up after winter break. The campus has embraced the protests: the Associated Students, a council representing students, gave their full endorsement of the occupiers. Ms. Ward said communitywide Occupy meetings were being held indoors, and expects the core people to remain involved for the long haul. But she also expects attendance to wane. “We have a generation that believes instant gratification is the only form of gratification,” Ms. Ward said. “This is something that’s going to take a long time.”

As with Occupy Wall Street itself, it remains to be seen whether protests will last. Some stalwarts kept an occupation going during winter break — at Illinois State University, Normal, seven large tents. But most college camps — potent icons of the protest — were dismantled near semester’s end. One venture, the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, is foundering: signees vowed not to repay loans after one million people had signed, but two months in, just 3,000 debtors had taken the pledge.

“I’m hopeful but I have no illusions,” said Stephen A. Marglin, an economics professor at Harvard who spoke at an Occupy Harvard teach-in last month. “It’s not like I haven’t seen these things blaze out before.”

At Harvard, resentment had been building against the campus occupiers, who had erected about 30 tents in the fall. Citing safety concerns, the administration had taken the rare step of blocking access to Harvard Yard to anyone without Harvard identification, and the inconvenience of the checkpoint and restrictions on guests had curdled feelings. In mid-December, Occupy Harvard removed its tents to move into “a new phase of activism.” As classes resume on Jan. 23, students are planning teach-ins and outreach to keep alive what they now call “Occupy Harvard 2.0.”

“With OH 2.0, we can focus on specific actions and protests instead of using energy toward sustaining an unpopular occupation,” said Gabriel Bayard, a freshman who helped spearhead a walkout in November on an economics class taught by Greg Mankiw, who had been an economic adviser to George W. Bush.

Campus protests benefit from their setting — students can zip into their dorms for food, showers and restrooms. But some administrators have had to grapple with the safety and cleanliness issue while allowing for the cherished academic tenet of freedom of expression.

Seattle Central Community Colleges found itself hosting not just protesting students but also Occupy Seattle campers who had been rousted from a downtown park. The protesters soon settled on a campus plaza in some 70 tents. At first, administrators adopted a wait-and-see attitude. “Economic equity is sort of our mission,” said Jill Wakefield, the chancellor. “I’ve been at community colleges for 35 years. Nowhere did it prepare me to deal with 100 campers at one of our colleges.”

The problems that had riddled urban encampments found their way to the college site. Garbage accumulated. Discarded syringes were spotted and marijuana smoke wafted, causing a day care center that abutted the plaza to stop allowing children to play outside. There were reports of a possible sexual assault. Administrators wrestled with how to proceed. “You pray for snow, you pray for rain, but these are hardy campers,” Dr. Wakefield said. Last month, four weeks after Seattle Central’s board banned camping on campus, protesters moved peacefully off the site. In a blog post, Dr. Wakefield wrote proudly that the encampment “was one of the very few protest camps in the world to resolve peacefully.”

For their part, faculty members have largely supported the movement, participating in teach-ins and staging walkouts. After campus police at the University of California, Davis, doused students at a sit-in with pepper spray, it was the faculty association that called on the chancellor to resign.

Lisa Duggan, a professor in social and cultural analysis at New York University, is teaching a graduate course this semester that puts Occupy Wall Street in the broader context of other uprisings, including the Wobblies and the Arab Spring. She plans to host Occupy Wall Street activists as speakers and explore the history of debt and the rise of Wall Street. “I do think it has staying power,” Ms. Duggan said. “The issues themselves were so deeply felt across universities, across various communities in the U.S., and across the world.”

The movement has had the subtler effect of turning on its head the widespread characterization of today’s young people as entitled and apathetic. Among them was Ericka Hoffman, 26, a junior at California State University, Bakersfield, and one of the organizers of Occupy Colleges, a nonprofit group that facilitates Occupy movements at colleges. Before Occupy, activism did not interest her, but that changed with President Obama’s election. Ms. Hoffman saw him enacting policies as usual and, in her view, coming down on the side of Wall Street.

“This person touched the hearts of people who needed change and hope,” she said. “I think he let everybody down.” Meanwhile, her financial situation was worsening. She has $20,000 in student loans but has been unable to find even a menial job. “I can’t get a job at Target,” she said. “Even smaller jobs at Circle K won’t hire because they say you’re overqualified.”

Occupy protests at colleges provided a giddying sense of possibility. Bakersfield is a conservative town yet hundreds of students got involved. One professor brought her class out to talk to students doing a sit-in, and nearly half of them stayed.

“There are quite a few people who are apathetic,” Ms. Hoffman said. “Some of them don’t know what to do. They can’t see that it’s possible.”

But the hardest battle, she believes, will be getting the political and financial masters of the universe to listen.

“People in positions of power, I think they believe nothing is going to happen,” she said. “We’re just going to yell and scream and hold up signs and nothing’s going to change. But you’ve got an entire generation of people that realize something is wrong and something has to change because the system is wrong. There’s more of us than there are of them.”

Author: Cara Buckley, a metropolitan reporter for The Times.
Full url: Originally posted at The New York Times

Battling The Bottle: Students And Industry Face Off Over Water

Students at Humboldt State University created this display to educate peers on the perceived ills of bottled water, ahead of a campus-wide ban.

Bottled water is trickling away from college campuses nationwide, thanks to the efforts of student activists and the non-profit groups that support them with campaigns like Ban the Bottle.

But that’s not going over too well with the International Bottled Water Association. The industry, which had $10.6 billion in revenue in 2010, went on the defensive this month with a YouTube video to counter what it calls “misinformation” used to turn college students against bottled water.

Corporate Accountability International, which created the Think Outside the Bottle campaign that has been used on some campuses, says more than twenty schools have complete or partial bans on bottled water because of environmental and health concerns about the industry. Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., and California’s Humboldt State University imposed campus-wide bans in September, and the University of Vermont announced last month it will end its contract with Dasani bottler Coca-Cola in July.

In addition to removing bottled water from vending machines, stores and cafeterias, students have pushed for reusable bottle hand-outs, water fountains, and filling stations. “We’re really trying to make it part of the student culture to carry a water bottle,” says Clare Pillsbury, a Macalester senior who led her campus’s effort.

But the IBWA video suggests the cause is unworthy of students’ energy – instead, perhaps they could focus on genocide in Darfur. It claims bottled water is a good alternative to sugary beverages and easier to recycle than other packaged drinks. The IBWA also argues bottled water is safer than tap water.

The students – and a lot of water experts and authors – disagree with most of these points. They say the bottles add up to a lot of waste, and that the companies have privatized something that should essentially be free.

So, what’s the take-away?

IBWA president Joe Doss always circles around to freedom of choice. “It’s not a tap water versus bottled water issue,” he says; the industry just wants students to have the option.

And they do, the activists say – they just have to go off-campus.

The bottled water war is spreading beyond campuses, though. Several cities have stopped using public funds to purchase bottled water, and Grand Canyon National Park announced Monday it will stop selling water in containers smaller than one gallon.

Doss estimates his industry grew by five percent in 2011, so for now the freedom of choice looks safe. But that could change, if activists continue to get their way.

“The fact is, you could eliminate bottled water,” Pillsbury says. “These companies are creating a product that we don’t need.”

Written by Ted Burnham

Originally published at The Salt: NPR’s food blog

No, that’s not snow: Pesticides coat California’s Central Valley

Photo by Verena Radulovic“See that, see that?! … Oooh, something is going on. They are spraying tonight.” A large cylindrical truck whooshed past us.

I am driving along a state road with Becky, a local activist, who is narrating from behind the wheel. “I once stuck around to see them spray and I had to turn the car around and get out of there, the smell was so overpowering.”

We pull over and I hop out to get a close-up look at the orange groves. I am in California’s Central Valley, America’s fruit basket, where agriculture is king.

Becky Quintana is waiting patiently in the car for me as I crouch down to inspect an orange tree. The leathery green leaves were splashed with white pesticide residue, like a Jackson Pollack canvas would be. It is early December, close to the holidays, one would be forgiven for mistaking the white splotches that covered the trees for Christmas flocking. But it turns out it’s like this year round — the chemical flecks a reminder of the high economic stakes involved in delivering an end product that is shiny, bright, and perfectly spherical.

‘There’s a lot riding on it.” Becky explains. “The fruit pickers bring them to the warehouses where the oranges are washed and waxed to look the way you see them in the supermarket. But most of the time,” she nods towards the fields, “they don’t come off the tree looking like that.”

Decades of applied pesticides and fertilizers have delivered high yield, immaculate-looking fruit to many of the supermarkets in the U.S. and to the far corners of the globe, but not without a local cost. Heavy pesticide and fertilizer use in Central Valley orchards that produce household staples such as oranges, peaches, nectarines, grapes, olives, and walnuts has contaminated local community drinking water.

But pesticides and fertilizers are only part of the problem. The primary groundwater contaminant in the region is nitrate, which can also be traced back to Central Valley’s other reigning ruler: Dairy. Interspersed between the acres of golden fruit, behemoth factories house hundreds, sometimes thousands, of cows. This combination of fertilizers, animal factory waste and old, leaky septic systems cause high levels of nitrate that exceed state and federal health standards and can cause death in infants and cancer in adults. The groundwater is also infused with arsenic, DBCP, dangerous levels of chlorine, and bacteria — all of which cause short and long-term illnesses.

Photo by Verena Radulovic

Valeriana, a local resident from Tooleville, in her kitchen.

Years ago, my good friend Laurel Firestone co-founded an organization called the Community Water Center (CWC) to bring attention to the water contamination in the region and to advocate for change. I finally visited her and learned more about the impacts of CWC’s work.

She picked me up from the Fresno airport late in the afternoon. By the time we headed south to her home, the sun had already departed the sky. As we drove along the inky highway, a sudden stench, the kind that exercises your gag reflexes, filled the car.

“Dairies,” she said, smiling as we drove alongside one. “Sometimes you can see the manure practically spilling out of the pens onto the road, there is so much of it.”

“I think we should have a scratch and sniff sticker to hand out so others can really experience what it is like to live near one,” said Susana De Anda, CWC’s other co-founder.

So, what does contaminated drinking water look like? Frighteningly, in most cases, no different from safe drinking water. The tap water in Laurel’s kitchen in Visalia, Calif., looked clear and inviting but was laced with 123 Tricholoropropane, a carcinogen. Bottled water is a fixture in almost every home, regardless of income level, yet those who are impacted the hardest are usually low-income Latinos, mostly farmworker immigrants who are the backbone of the area’s agricultural labor force. Almost 20 percent of the population lives in poverty and many residents spend up to a fifth of their income on bottled water, which is in addition to the $60 a month they must spend to have contaminated “drinking water” delivered to their home in the first place. In some cases, residents pay an additional $70 monthly water fee for sewage.

Photo by Verena Radulovic

Veronica in her home, preparing dinner.

“My kids used to get rashes after taking a shower,” relayed Veronica Mendoza, a local resident and activist from Cutler. And even if you don’t break out in welts after bathing, “you are still inhaling the toxins through the steam of the shower,” said Rose Francis, an attorney at CWC. To make matters worse, as Becky noted, many people think that boiling the water will rid it of nitrates when in fact doing so triples the concentration.

The difference between water delivery systems intended for crops and those intended for people is stark. Take the town of Seville as an example. Within the same two square miles, one reservoir for crop irrigation is a wide human-made river filled with clear water ready to be dispersed by an automated dam. The water delivery systems for homes in this particular community, while recently retrofitted, is still surrounded by thigh-high weeds leading to a dirty stream, where makeshift PVC piping inches along the muddy, shallow bottom.

Photo by Verena Radulovic

Reservoir intended for crops, not residents.

Photo by Verena Radulovic

View of local drinking water delivery system in Seville.

Photo by Verena Radulovic

Drinking water pipe and unfunded infrastructure applications.

The drinking water infrastructure in such communities is often expensive to retrofit. Many towns have decentralized septic systems, which are cumbersome and costly to link to a more centralized water delivery system — or simply costly to replace. Since water infrastructure projects are so politically charged, marginalized communities often find their drinking water improvement projects tangled in the bureaucratic fray. It can take years to get a project approved.

CWC has stepped in at all stages of effort to improve drinking water quality in the Central Valley, from testifying to policymakers to community organizing to working to get local projects funded. CWC’s work is especially challenging because of the delicate social and economic relationship between the agricultural industry and local communities whose jobs depend on it.

Photo by Verena Radulovic

Messaging as part of the Community Water Center’s recent campaign.

In the five years since CWC opened its doors, small wins have started to emerge that are significant for creating lasting solutions to some of these entrenched problems. CWC staff told me they are beginning to see changes in the way Big Ag approaches the issue of contaminated drinking water and the way residents come together to advocate for changes to improve their livelihoods.

While I was flying home and had time to digest what I saw, two things stood out to me. First, I was struck by how residents who lived in towns with contaminated drinking water were not afraid to work with CWC and advocate for change, despite the fact that they, or their families and neighbors were often undocumented workers. Second, I wondered whether or not we consumers, who are far removed from seeing the firsthand impacts of how our food is grown, would change our purchasing habits if we really knew the full story. As soon as it was time for me to go to the grocery store; this time I veered straight for the organic section.

Verena Radulovic is a photographer based in Washington D.C. with a focus on documentary and travel photography. For more of her work, visit her website.

Original post: Verena Radulovic’s blog

Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning in France

A French court on Monday declared U.S. biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides.

In the first such case heard in court in France, grain grower Paul Francois says he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004.

He blames the agri-business giant for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.

The ruling was given by a court in Lyon, southeast France, which ordered an expert opinion of Francois’s losses to establish the sum of damages.

Lawyers for Monsanto could not immediately be reached for comment.

Previous health claims from farmers have foundered because of the difficulty of establishing clear links between illnesses and exposure to pesticides.

“I am alive today, but part of the farming population is going to be sacrificed and is going to die because of this,” Francois, 47, told Reuters.

He and other farmers suffering from illness set up an association last year to make a case that their health problems should be linked to their use of crop protection products.

The agricultural branch of the French social security system says that since 1996, it has gathered farmers’ reports of sickness potentially related to pesticides, with about 200 alerts a year.

But only about 47 cases have been recognized as due to pesticides in the past 10 years. Francois, who suffers from neurological problems, obtained work invalidity status only after a court appeal.


The Francois case goes back to a period of intensive use of crop-protection chemicals in the European Union. The EU and its member countries have since banned a large number of substances considered dangerous.

Monsanto’s Lasso was banned in France in 2007 following an EU directive after the product had already been withdrawn in some other countries.

France, the EU’s largest agricultural producer, is now targeting a 50 percent reduction in pesticide use between 2008 and 2018, with initial results showing a 4 percent cut in farm and non-farm use in 2008-2010.

The Francois claim may be easier to argue than others because he can pinpoint a specific incident – inhaling the Lasso when cleaning the tank of his crop sprayer – whereas fellow farmers are trying to show accumulated effects from various products.

“It’s like lying on a bed of thorns and trying to say which one cut you,” said a farmer, who has recovered from prostate cancer and asked not to be named.

The French association of crop protection companies, UIPP, says pesticides are all subject to testing and that any evidence of a cancer risk in humans leads to withdrawal of products from the market.

“I think if we had a major health problem with pesticides, we would have already known about it,” Jean-Charles Bocquet, UIPP’s managing director, said.

The social security’s farming branch this year is due to add Parkinson’s disease to its list of conditions related to pesticide use after already recognizing some cases of blood cancers and bladder and respiratory problems.

France’s health and environment safety agency (ANSES), meanwhile, is conducting a study on farmers’ health, with results expected next year.

Writing by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Muriel Boselli, Sybille de La Hamaide and Jane Baird

24 Hours to Stop the Pipeline – Be the Solution

Every once in a while an opportunity comes along for all of us to be the solution. This is one of those times. We’re collecting a half million messages to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in the next 24 hours.

This dirty, dangerous tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest. It’s that simple. And the United States Senate, officials of both parties, need to hear that message loud and clear and fast because some of them are threatening to push a bill as soon as Tuesday, to approve it.

Go to and send a message. Then turn up the volume and send it to everyone you know….tweet it, Facebook it, blog it…urging everyone you know to become part of the solution in the next 24 hours. Go to, please, and send a message.

This U.S. Senate has to stop looking towards the past and move into the new century. If only some of these politicians showed the same level of passion for creating new markets around cleaner forms of energy, as they’re showing for crippling a sitting president with a dirty, potentially highly dangerous, old-school Canadian tar sands pipeline.

This struggle is about every parent’s fears for our children’s future. And this struggle is about every young person’s hope for their immediate future. It should be every parent’s worst nightmare that these people we sent to Washington to lead us into the future, will continue to embrace the flawed philosophical case for doing nothing.

This do nothing option is the same flawed recommendation that economists made in the 1960’s and 1970’s to the automobile industry. Imagine something like seat belts being seen as the jobs killer of that day. We should not make the same mistake around energy.

Be the solution. Send a message! Go to

Author: Robert Redford

Chile’s Commander Camila, The Student Who Can Shut Down a City

Not since the days of Zapatistas’ Subcomandante Marcos has Latin America been so charmed by a rebel leader. This time, there is no ski mask, no pipe and no gun, just a silver nose ring.

Meet Commander Camila, a student leader in Chile who has become the face of a populist uprising that some analysts are calling the Chilean winter. Her press conferences can lead to the sacking of a minister. The street marches she leads shut down sections of the Chilean capital. She has the government on the run, and now even has police protection after receiving death threats.

Yet six months ago, no one had heard of Camila Vallejo, the 23-year-old spearheading an uprising that has shaken not only the presidency of the billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera, but the entire Chilean political class. Opinion polls show that 26% of the public support Piñera and only 16% back his recently ousted Concertación coalition.

Wednesday saw the start of a two-day nationwide shutdown, as transport workers and other public-sector employees joined the burgeoning student movement in protest.

“There are huge levels of discontent,” said Vallejo in a recent interview. “It is always the youth that make the first move … we don’t have family commitments, this allows us to be freer. We took the first step, but we are no longer alone, the older generations are now joining this fight.”

Elected as only the second female leader in the 105-year history of the University of Chile’s student union, Vallejo, who is also a member of the Chilean Communist party, is the face of a movement the likes of which has not been seen since the last years of Augusto Pinochet in the 80s.

Hundreds of thousands of high-school and university students have refused to go to lessons since early June, calling for better and more affordable education and an end to a two-tier system that creates a few wealthy, elite colleges amid many underfunded public ones. Vallejo has organised several cacerolazos – protests in which participants bang pots and pans. Some demonstrations have turned violent.

“We don’t want violence, our fight is not versus the police or to destroy commercial shops … our fight is to recover the right to education, on that we have been emphatic and clear,” said Vallejo as she stood outside the presidential palace.

The government has rushed out a number of initiatives to try to head off protests, promising to amend Chile’s constitution to include a guarantee of quality education and cutting interest rates on student loans from 6.4% to 2%. But the promise of an extra 1.9 trillion Chilean pesos (£2.5bn) in education spending has done little to quell the uprising. Few analysts believe the students will back down despite a heavy police presence at recent demonstrations.

As she spoke, Vallejo was surrounded by students laying out a huge peace sign made up of hundreds of empty teargas canisters that had been used against students.

“Here we have more than 50m pesos’ worth of teargas bombs,” said Vallejo. “Imagine how much was used on the regional or the national level? This is unacceptable, we want to reiterate our demand that we made to the minister of the interior that he step aside.”

Tatiana Acuña, a government official in the ministry of culture, was recently fired for suggesting that the assassination of Vallejo would end the protests. On Tuesday, Chile’s supreme court ordered police protection for the student leader.

Vallejo has become a cult figure – with odes on YouTube and predictions that her charisma may well catapult her into Chilean politics. “We are all in love with her,” said the Bolivian vice-president, Álvaro García Linera.

At a recent gathering of Bolivian youth leaders he urged students to follow the example of the youth movements in the rest of South America. “You need to talk about what is happening in Argentina, Brazil or Chile, where there is a young and beautiful leader, who is leading the youth in a grand uprising,” said García Linera.

Vallejo said on the subject of her looks: “You have to recognise that beauty can be a hook. It can be a compliment, they come to listen to me because of my appearance, but then I explain the ideas. A movement as historical as this cannot be summarised in such superficial terms.

“We do not want to improve the actual system; we want a profound change – to stop seeing education as a consumer good, to see education as a right where the state provides a guarantee.

“Why do we need education? To make profits. To make a business? Or to develop the country and have social integration and development? Those are the issues in dispute.”

By Jonathan Franklin in Santiago
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I Do Not Want Mercy, I Want You To Join Me

Tim DeChristopher, who was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine for ‘disrupting’ a Bureau of Land Management auction in 2008, had an opportunity to address the court and the judge immediately before his sentence was announced. This is his statement:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak before the court. When I first met Mr. Manross, the sentencing officer who prepared the presentence report, he explained that it was essentially his job to “get to know me.” He said he had to get to know who I really was and why I did what I did in order to decide what kind of sentence was appropriate. I was struck by the fact that he was the first person in this courthouse to call me by my first name, or even really look me in the eye. I appreciate this opportunity to speak openly to you for the first time. I’m not here asking for your mercy, but I am here asking that you know me.

Mr. Huber has leveled a lot of character attacks at me, many of which are contrary to Mr. Manross’s report. While reading Mr Huber’s critiques of my character and my integrity, as well as his assumptions about my motivations, I was reminded that Mr Huber and I have never had a conversation. Over the two and half years of this prosecution, he has never asked my any of the questions that he makes assumptions about in the government’s report. Apparently, Mr. Huber has never considered it his job to get to know me, and yet he is quite willing to disregard the opinions of the one person who does see that as his job.

There are alternating characterizations that Mr Huber would like you to believe about me. In one paragraph, the government claims I “played out the parts of accuser, jury, and judge as he determined the fate of the oil and gas lease auction and its intended participants that day.” In the very next paragraph, they claim “It was not the defendant’s crimes that effected such a change.” Mr Huber would lead you to believe that I’m either a dangerous criminal who holds the oil and gas industry in the palm of my hand, or I’m just an incompetent child who didn’t affect the outcome of anything. As evidenced by the continued back and forth of contradictory arguments in the government’s memorandum, they’re not quite sure which of those extreme caricatures I am, but they are certain that I am nothing in between. Rather than the job of getting to know me, it seems Mr Huber prefers the job of fitting me into whatever extreme characterization is most politically expedient at the moment.

In nearly every paragraph, the government’s memorandum uses the words lie, lied, lying, liar. It makes me want to thank whatever clerk edited out the words “pants on fire.” Their report doesn’t mention the fact that at the auction in question, the first person who asked me what I was doing there was Agent Dan Love. And I told him very clearly that I was there to stand in the way of an illegitimate auction that threatened my future. I proceeded to answer all of his questions openly and honestly, and have done so to this day when speaking about that auction in any forum, including this courtroom. The entire basis for the false statements charge that I was convicted of was the fact that I wrote my real name and address on a form that included the words “bona fide bidder.” When I sat there on the witness stand, Mr Romney asked me if I ever had any intention of being a bona fide bidder. I responded by asking Mr Romney to clarify what “bona fide bidder” meant in this context. Mr Romney then withdrew the question and moved on to the next subject. On that right there is the entire basis for the government’s repeated attacks on my integrity. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff, your honor.

Mr Huber also makes grand assumptions about my level of respect for the rule of law. The government claims a long prison sentence is necessary to counteract the political statements I’ve made and promote a respect for the law. The only evidence provided for my lack of respect for the law is political statements that I’ve made in public forums. Again, the government doesn’t mention my actions in regard to the drastic restrictions that were put upon my defense in this courtroom. My political disagreements with the court about the proper role of a jury in the legal system are probably well known. I’ve given several public speeches and interviews about how the jury system was established and how it has evolved to it’s current state. Outside of this courtroom, I’ve made my views clear that I agree with the founding fathers that juries should be the conscience of the community and a defense against legislative tyranny. I even went so far as to organize a book study group that read about the history of jury nullification. Some of the participants in that book group later began passing out leaflets to the public about jury rights, as is their right. Mr Huber was apparently so outraged by this that he made the slanderous accusations that I tried to taint the jury. He didn’t specify the extra number of months that I should spend in prison for the heinous activity of holding a book group at the Unitarian Church and quoting Thomas Jefferson in public, but he says you should have “little tolerance for this behavior.”

But here is the important point that Mr Huber would rather ignore. Despite my strong disagreements with the court about the Constitutional basis for the limits on my defense, while I was in this courtroom I respected the authority of the court. Whether I agreed with them or not, I abided by the restrictions that you put on me and my legal team. I never attempted to “taint” the jury, as Mr Huber claimed, by sharing any of the relevant facts about the auction in question that the court had decided were off limits. I didn’t burst out and tell the jury that I successfully raised the down payment and offered it to the BLM. I didn’t let the jury know that the auction was later reversed because it was illegitimate in the first place. To this day I still think I should have had the right to do so, but disagreement with the law should not be confused with disrespect for the law.

My public statements about jury nullification were not the only political statements that Mr Huber thinks I should be punished for. As the government’s memorandum points out, I have also made public statements about the value of civil disobedience in bringing the rule of law closer to our shared sense of justice. In fact, I have openly and explicitly called for nonviolent civil disobedience against mountaintop removal coal mining in my home state of West Virginia. Mountaintop removal is itself an illegal activity, which has always been in violation of the Clean Water Act, and it is an illegal activity that kills people. A West Virginia state investigation found that Massey Energy had been cited with 62,923 violations of the law in the ten years preceding the disaster that killed 29 people last year. The investigation also revealed that Massey paid for almost none of those violations because the company provided millions of dollars worth of campaign contributions that elected most of the appeals court judges in the state. When I was growing up in West Virginia, my mother was one of many who pursued every legal avenue for making the coal industry follow the law. She commented at hearings, wrote petitions and filed lawsuits, and many have continued to do ever since, to no avail. I actually have great respect for the rule of law, because I see what happens when it doesn’t exist, as is the case with the fossil fuel industry. Those crimes committed by Massey Energy led not only to the deaths of their own workers, but to the deaths of countless local residents, such as Joshua McCormick, who died of kidney cancer at age 22 because he was unlucky enough to live downstream from a coal mine. When a corrupted government is no longer willing to uphold the rule of law, I advocate that citizens step up to that responsibility.

This is really the heart of what this case is about. The rule of law is dependent upon a government that is willing to abide by the law. Disrespect for the rule of law begins when the government believes itself and its corporate sponsors to be above the law.

Mr Huber claims that the seriousness of my offense was that I “obstructed lawful government proceedings.” But the auction in question was not a lawful proceeding. I know you’ve heard another case about some of the irregularities for which the auction was overturned. But that case did not involve the BLM’s blatant violation of Secretarial Order 3226, which was a law that went into effect in 2001 and required the BLM to weigh the impacts on climate change for all its major decisions, particularly resource development. A federal judge in Montana ruled last year that the BLM was in constant violation of this law throughout the Bush administration. In all the proceedings and debates about this auction, no apologist for the government or the BLM has ever even tried to claim that the BLM followed this law. In both the December 2008 auction and the creation of the Resource Management Plan on which this auction was based, the BLM did not even attempt to follow this law.

And this law is not a trivial regulation about crossing t’s or dotting i’s to make some government accountant’s job easier. This law was put into effect to mitigate the impacts of catastrophic climate change and defend a livable future on this planet. This law was about protecting the survival of young generations. That’s kind of a big deal. It’s a very big deal to me. If the government is going to refuse to step up to that responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and other citizens. My future, and the future of everyone I care about, is being traded for short term profits. I take that very personally. Until our leaders take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I will continue this fight.

The government has made the claim that there were legal alternatives to standing in the way of this auction. Particularly, I could have filed a written protest against certain parcels. The government does not mention, however, that two months prior to this auction, in October 2008, a Congressional report was released that looked into those protests. The report, by the House committee on public lands, stated that it had become common practice for the BLM to take volunteers from the oil and gas industry to process those permits. The oil industry was paying people specifically to volunteer for the industry that was supposed to be regulating it, and it was to those industry staff that I would have been appealing. Moreover, this auction was just three months after the New York Times reported on a major scandal involving Department of the Interior regulators who were taking bribes of sex and drugs from the oil companies that they were supposed to be regulating. In 2008, this was the condition of the rule of law, for which Mr Huber says I lacked respect. Just as the legal avenues which people in West Virginia have been pursuing for 30 years, the legal avenues in this case were constructed precisely to protect the corporations who control the government.

The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it’s that I have greater respect for justice. Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code. I know Mr Huber disagrees with me on this. He wrote that “The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of ‘civil disobedience’ committed in the name of the cause of the day.” That’s an especially ironic statement when he is representing the United States of America, a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience. Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice. The authority of the government exists to the degree that the rule of law reflects the higher moral code of the citizens, and throughout American history, it has been civil disobedience that has bound them together.

This philosophical difference is serious enough that Mr Huber thinks I should be imprisoned to discourage the spread of this idea. Much of the government’s memorandum focuses on the political statements that I’ve made in public. But it hasn’t always been this way. When Mr Huber was arguing that my defense should be limited, he addressed my views this way: “The public square is the proper stage for the defendant’s message, not criminal proceedings in federal court.” But now that the jury is gone, Mr. Huber wants to take my message from the public square and make it a central part of these federal court proceedings. I have no problem with that. I’m just as willing to have those views on display as I’ve ever been.

The government’s memorandum states, “As opposed to preventing this particular defendant from committing further crimes, the sentence should be crafted ‘to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct’ by others.” Their concern is not the danger that I present, but the danger presented by my ideas and words that might lead others to action. Perhaps Mr Huber is right to be concerned. He represents the United States Government. His job is to protect those currently in power, and by extension, their corporate sponsors. After months of no action after the auction, the way I found out about my indictment was the day before it happened, Pat Shea got a call from an Associated Press reporter who said, “I just wanted to let you know that tomorrow Tim is going to be indicted, and this is what the charges are going to be.” That reporter had gotten that information two weeks earlier from an oil industry lobbyist. Our request for disclosure of what role that lobbyist played in the US Attorney’s office was denied, but we know that she apparently holds sway and that the government feels the need to protect the industry’s interests.

The things that I’ve been publicly saying may indeed be threatening to that power structure. There have been several references to the speech I gave after the conviction, but I’ve only ever seen half of one sentence of that speech quoted. In the government’s report, they actually had to add their own words to that one sentence to make it sound more threatening. But the speech was about empowerment. It was about recognizing our interconnectedness rather than viewing ourselves as isolated individuals. The message of the speech was that when people stand together, they no longer have to be exploited by powerful corporations. Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool.

But the sentencing guidelines don’t mention the need to protect corporations or politicians from ideas that threaten their control. The guidelines say “protect the public.” The question is whether the public is helped or harmed by my actions. The easiest way to answer that question is with the direct impacts of my action. As the oil executive stated in his testimony, the parcels I didn’t bid on averaged $12 per acre, but the ones I did bid on averaged $125. Those are the prices paid for public property to the public trust. The industry admits very openly that they were getting those parcels for an order of magnitude less than what they were worth. Not only did those oil companies drive up the prices to $125 during the bidding, they were then given an opportunity to withdraw their bids once my actions were explained. They kept the parcels, presumably because they knew they were still a good deal at $125. The oil companies knew they were getting a steal from the American people, and now they’re crying because they had to pay a little closer to what those parcels were actually worth. The government claims I should be held accountable for the steal the oil companies didn’t get. The government’s report demands $600,000 worth of financial impacts for the amount which the oil industry wasn’t able to steal from the public.

That extra revenue for the public became almost irrelevant, though, once most of those parcels were revoked by Secretary Salazar. Most of the parcels I won were later deemed inappropriate for drilling. In other words, the highest and best value to the public for those particular lands was not for oil and gas drilling. Had the auction gone off without a hitch, it would have been a loss for the public. The fact that the auction was delayed, extra attention was brought to the process, and the parcels were ultimately revoked was a good thing for the public.

More generally, the question of whether civil disobedience is good for the public is a matter of perspective. Civil disobedience is inherently an attempt at change. Those in power, whom Mr Huber represents, are those for whom the status quo is working, so they always see civil disobedience as a bad thing. The decision you are making today, your honor, is what segment of the public you are meant to protect. Mr Huber clearly has cast his lot with that segment who wishes to preserve the status quo. But the majority of the public is exploited by the status quo far more than they are benefited by it. The young are the most obvious group who is exploited and condemned to an ugly future by letting the fossil fuel industry call the shots. There is an overwhelming amount of scientific research, some of which you received as part of our proffer on the necessity defense, that reveals the catastrophic consequences which the young will have to deal with over the coming decades.

But just as real is the exploitation of the communities where fossil fuels are extracted. As a native of West Virginia, I have seen from a young age that the exploitation of fossil fuels has always gone hand in hand with the exploitation of local people. In West Virginia, we’ve been extracting coal longer than anyone else. And after 150 years of making other people rich, West Virginia is almost dead last among the states in per capita income, education rates and life expectancy. And it’s not an anomaly. The areas with the richest fossil fuel resources, whether coal in West Virginia and Kentucky, or oil in Louisiana and Mississippi, are the areas with the lowest standards of living. In part, this is a necessity of the industry. The only way to convince someone to blow up their backyard or poison their water is to make sure they are so desperate that they have no other option. But it is also the nature of the economic model. Since fossil fuels are a limited resources, whoever controls access to that resource in the beginning gets to set all the terms. They set the terms for their workers, for the local communities, and apparently even for the regulatory agencies. A renewable energy economy is a threat to that model. Since no one can control access to the sun or the wind, the wealth is more likely to flow to whoever does the work of harnessing that energy, and therefore to create a more distributed economic system, which leads to a more distributed political system. It threatens the profits of the handful of corporations for whom the current system works, but our question is which segment of the public are you tasked with protecting. I am here today because I have chosen to protect the people locked out of the system over the profits of the corporations running the system. I say this not because I want your mercy, but because I want you to join me.

After this difference of political philosophies, the rest of the sentencing debate has been based on the financial loss from my actions. The government has suggested a variety of numbers loosely associated with my actions, but as of yet has yet to establish any causality between my actions and any of those figures. The most commonly discussed figure is perhaps the most easily debunked. This is the figure of roughly $140,000, which is the amount the BLM originally spent to hold the December 2008 auction. By definition, this number is the amount of money the BLM spent before I ever got involved. The relevant question is what the BLM spent because of my actions, but apparently that question has yet to be asked. The only logic that relates the $140,000 figure to my actions is if I caused the entire auction to be null and void and the BLM had to start from scratch to redo the entire auction. But that of course is not the case. First is the prosecution’s on-again-off-again argument that I didn’t have any impact on the auction being overturned. More importantly, the BLM never did redo the auction because it was decided that many of those parcels should never have been auctioned in the first place. Rather than this arbitrary figure of $140,000, it would have been easy to ask the BLM how much money they spent or will spend on redoing the auction. But the government never asked this question, probably because they knew they wouldn’t like the answer.

The other number suggested in the government’s memorandum is the $166,000 that was the total price of the three parcels I won which were not invalidated. Strangely, the government wants me to pay for these parcels, but has never offered to actually give them to me. When I offered the BLM the money a couple weeks after the auction, they refused to take it. Aside from that history, this figure is still not a valid financial loss from my actions. When we wrote there was no loss from my actions, we actually meant that rather literally. Those three parcels were not evaporated or blasted into space because of my actions, not was the oil underneath them sucked dry by my bid card. They’re still there, and in fact the BLM has already issued public notice of their intent to re-auction those parcels in February of 2012.

The final figure suggested as a financial loss is the $600,000 that the oil company wasn’t able to steal from the public. That completely unsubstantiated number is supposedly the extra amount the BLM received because of my actions. This is when things get tricky. The government’s report takes that $600,000 positive for the BLM and adds it to that roughly $300,000 negative for the BLM, and comes up with a $900,000 negative. With math like that, it’s obvious that Mr Huber works for the federal government.

After most of those figures were disputed in the presentence report, the government claimed in their most recent objection that I should be punished according to the intended financial impact that I intended to cause. The government tries to assume my intentions and then claims, “This is consistent with the testimony that Mr. DeChristopher provided at trial, admitting that his intention was to cause financial harm to others with whom he disagreed.” Now I didn’t get to say a whole lot at the trial, so it was pretty easy to look back through the transcripts. The statement claimed by the government never happened. There was nothing even close enough to make their statement a paraphrase or artistic license. This statement in the government’s objection is a complete fiction. Mr Huber’s inability to judge my intent is revealed in this case by the degree to which he underestimates my ambition. The truth is that my intention, then as now, was to expose, embarrass and hold accountable the oil industry to the extent that it cuts into the $100 billion in annual profits that it makes through exploitation. I actually intended for my actions to play a role in the wide variety of actions that steer the country toward a clean energy economy where those $100 billion in oil profits are completely eliminated. When I read Mr Huber’s new logic, I was terrified to consider that my slightly unrealistic intention to have a $100 billion impact will fetch me several consecutive life sentences. Luckily this reasoning is as unrealistic as it is silly.

A more serious look at my intentions is found in Mr Huber’s attempt to find contradictions in my statements. Mr Huber points out that in public I acted proud of my actions and treated it like a success, while in our sentencing memorandum we claimed that my actions led to “no loss.” On the one hand I think it was a success, and yet I claim it there was no loss. Success, but no loss. Mr Huber presents these ideas as mutually contradictory and obvious proof that I was either dishonest or backing down from my convictions. But for success to be contradictory to no loss, there has to be another assumption. One has to assume that my intent was to cause a loss. But the only loss that I intended to cause was the loss of secrecy by which the government gave away public property for private profit. As I actually stated in the trial, my intent was to shine a light on a corrupt process and get the government to take a second look at how this auction was conducted. The success of that intent is not dependent on any loss. I knew that if I was completely off base, and the government took that second look and decided that nothing was wrong with that auction, the cost of my action would be another day’s salary for the auctioneer and some minor costs of re-auctioning the parcels. But if I was right about the irregularities of the auction, I knew that allowing the auction to proceed would mean the permanent loss of lands better suited for other purposes and the permanent loss of a safe climate. The intent was to prevent loss, but again that is a matter of perspective.

Mr Huber wants you to weigh the loss for the corporations that expected to get public property for pennies on the dollar, but I believe the important factor is the loss to the public which I helped prevent. Again, we come back to this philosophical difference. From any perspective, this is a case about the right of citizens to challenge the government. The US Attorney’s office makes clear that their interest is not only to punish me for doing so, but to discourage others from challenging the government, even when the government is acting inappropriately. Their memorandum states, “To be sure, a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behavior.” The certainty of this statement not only ignores the history of political prisoners, it ignores the severity of the present situation. Those who are inspired to follow my actions are those who understand that we are on a path toward catastrophic consequences of climate change. They know their future, and the future of their loved ones, is on the line. And they know were are running out of time to turn things around. The closer we get to that point where it’s too late, the less people have to lose by fighting back. The power of the Justice Department is based on its ability to take things away from people. The more that people feel that they have nothing to lose, the more that power begins to shrivel. The people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today. And neither will I. I will continue to confront the system that threatens our future. Given the destruction of our democratic institutions that once gave citizens access to power, my future will likely involve civil disobedience. Nothing that happens here today will change that. I don’t mean that in any sort of disrespectful way at all, but you don’t have that authority. You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine alone.

I’m not saying any of this to ask you for mercy, but to ask you to join me. If you side with Mr Huber and believe that your role is to discourage citizens from holding their government accountable, then you should follow his recommendations and lock me away. I certainly don’t want that. I have no desire to go to prison, and any assertion that I want to be even a temporary martyr is false. I want you to join me in standing up for the right and responsibility of citizens to challenge their government. I want you to join me in valuing this country’s rich history of nonviolent civil disobedience. If you share those values but think my tactics are mistaken, you have the power to redirect them. You can sentence me to a wide range of community service efforts that would point my commitment to a healthy and just world down a different path. You can have me work with troubled teens, as I spent most of my career doing. You can have me help disadvantaged communities or even just pull weeds for the BLM. You can steer that commitment if you agree with it, but you can’t kill it. This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. The choice you are making today is what side are you on.

Tim Galarneau receives 2011 UC Sustainability Champion Award

Tim Galarneau, UCSC’s Food Systems working group coordinator, is known for his far-ranging vision and his ability to advance the sustainable foods movement on campus and beyond.

Now, Galarneau – described in a 2009 Mother Jones magazine profile as “the Alice Waters of a burgeoning movement of campus foodies”, is getting systemwide recognition.

Last week, Galarneau received the 2011 UC Sustainability Champion Award at the 10th annual California Higher Education Sustainability Conference held in Long Beach.

In a speech at the conference, University of California vice president for budget and capital resources Patrick Lenz praised Galarneau “for his positive, collaborative energy that is transforming the daily food experience of every student, staff, faculty, and patient in the UC system, for what he has done for farm workers and for the land that sustains all life, and for reminding us how much better our lives can be if we take the time to sit down and break bread together.”

Lenz mentioned several of Galarneau’s sustainability highlights:

  • As an undergraduate, he helped convince his fellow students to tax themselves to provide $250,000 annually for student sustainability projects and programs. He has since advised students who have successfully passed four subsequent fee referenda, including one devoted to sustainable food system education and practice on his campus.
  • As a student and then as a staff member in the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, he helped transform dining services into a more sustainable in-house operation that has become a national leader in sustainable dining.
  • Galarneau has since worked to transfer that experience and knowledge across the UC system and nationally. He initiated and led the drive to add sustainable food service practices to the UC Policy on Sustainable Practices. Now all UC campuses and Medical Centers have committed to serving at least 20% sustainable food by 2020.
  • Galarneau also led the first session at the sustainability conference. He organized full-day pre-conference “Field to Fork” workshops, served on the board of directors of the California Student Sustainability Coalition, and launched the statewide Sustainable Agrifood System Fellowship for students leading research and education on their campus food systems.
  • Galarneau also co-founded the Real Food Challenge, a national campaign to convince 1,000 universities and colleges to buy 20% of their food from sustainable sources by 2020, which would shift $1 billion to real food within the next decade.

Staff reporter Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones described him as nothing less than a food visionary in his magazine profile of Galarneau.

“He envisions a day when mystery meat and other institutional staples will be replaced by “real food,” like “a grab-and-go organic regional salad or an organic cookie.”

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Banning Corporate Personhood: How Communities Are Taking the Law Back from Big Companies

The following is from Sabrina Artel’s Trailer Talk: The Frack Talk Marcellus Shale Water Project. You can listen to the complete program here.

These last few days for gas drilling news in New York as been critical and a new level of urgency has been reached as the country watches how New York defines and decides its fate, the future of its famous unfiltered water supply, and communities in the directly impacted regions, whether for or against drilling are forging ahead to determine their immediate future and that for future generations.

It’s coming down to Home Rule and self-determination as a way to protect municipalities from fracking. As the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) releases New Recommendations for Drilling in New York explained in the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) released a few days ago, environmental groups, like Catskill Mountainkeeper are calling for a statewide ban and municipalities organize to decide the fate of their towns.

One of the important and positive points in the otherwise very problematic and potentially dangerous draft, combined with a governor apparently wanting to surge forward with gas extraction is this: “Local Land Use & Zoning: Applicant must certify that a proposed activity is consistent with local land use and zoning laws. Failure to certify or a challenge by a locality would trigger additional DEC review before a permit could be issued.” These words in the SGEIS give further power to Home Rule.

The Highland and Lumberland Committees on Energy and the Environment formed last year to decide the fate of their towns. They sponsored a forum on February 19th that was held at the Eldred High School to talk about the options that municipalities have to protect themselves from being industrialized and how the power of Home Rule can be preserved. The speakers were Helen Slottje, an attorney with the Community Environmental Defense Council based in Ithaca, NY and Ben Price, the Projects Director from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) located in Chambersburg, PA. Ben Price has been advising residents about stopping fracking in their communities acting on the premise that they already have the right to say no. He states, “…You have the right to protect your community, your families, your kids, your property values, your drinking water. These are fundamental rights…”

More towns in upstate New York are re-writing their plans and residents are becoming involved in their town politics whether organizing educational meetings, deciding to run for office and reaching out for advice. One such person is Narrowsburg resident Andrea Reynosa, an artist and farmer who lives with her family on a homestead that has been farmed since 1841. Their farm includes river frontage on the East Ten Mile River and sits in the Delaware River Valley, an area under urgent threat from drilling as its neighbor Pennsylvania sits across the Delaware with drill pads in the watershed waiting for approval.

Andrea says, “In November of 2010, we created a local chapter of Concerned Citizens, Tusten Concerned Citizens, whose primary focus is initiating and establishing stringent Land Use laws into our municipal zoning ordinances that address Heavy Industrial Use, i.e. gas drilling, to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Town of Tusten. The Town of Tusten is working with Helen and David Slottje and the Tusten Concerned Citizens along with its First Saturday of the Month SkyDog Supper Club will be hosting a Democracy School led by Ben Price later this year.” In addition to organizing the town hall meeting supper club as a place for community engagement, Andrea and her partner Kevin Vertrees have been organizing collaborative art events, Flow Projects that are celebrations of pure water as their community is threatened by drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

This is the continuation of the story of individuals speaking up when the gas corporations are attempting to control their hometowns and of individual becoming increasingly involved in their local government, collaborating with each other as they face drilling throughout the area.

The following is from Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund speaking to residents of the Sullivan County Catskills in Eldred, New York. You can read (or hear) Helen Slottje’s part of the talk here. The event was moderated by John Conway.

John Conway: Ben Price, will talk about a little bit different approach. And Ben’s approach involves an outright ban, passing a local law that would provide an outright ban on drilling.

Ben Price is the Projects Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Ben coordinates community organizing across Pennsylvania, where over 100 communities have already adopted Legal Defense Fund-drafted laws. He has served as consultant to the Pittsburgh City Council; assisted in drafting Pittsburgh’s Protection from Natural Gas Drilling Ordinance; and is working with other communities in both Pennsylvania and New York, as well as Maryland and Ohio, to adopt community rights ordinances that assert the authority of municipalities to protect their community health, safety, welfare, quality of life, and the natural environment by banning industrial activities such as gas extraction. As Projects Director, Ben offers communities free organizing assistance and training for municipal officials and residents for the adoption of local laws.

He also assists with strategic organizing in New England and northern California, and is the First Chair Democracy School lecturer. Ladies and gentlemen, Ben Price.

Ben Price: Thank you, John, and thanks to everybody for being here this morning. I’ll tell a little bit more about the Legal Defense Fund in just a second, but before I begin I wanted to say something maybe you may not expect, but I agree with everything that Helen said. I do. That is where we are right now. And I actually do believe that given the state of affairs with New York law, that land use laws are a viable tool in order to actually keep the drilling out. I think that makes sense as a starting point.

I’m here, I guess in a way, to offer a cautionary tale. I think that it behooves you and your communities to engage in precautionary measures in anticipation of what has happened in other states. The Legal Defense Fund opened its doors in 1995, and the plan was to offer free legal services to municipalities and community groups in order to assist them to protect their quality of life, their health, safety and welfare, their environments, because in general it’s those small municipalities and towns — it’s the community groups — that don’t have the financial wherewithal to fight the large corporations when they come in and they say, “Here’s what we’re going to do whether you like it or not.” And whether you like it not, sometimes — as everyone has heard already — you can sue anybody for anything with one small caveat — if you’ve got the cash. And the industries have the money, and in general the municipalities and the people do not.

Our experience early on back in ’95 when the Legal Defense Fund opened their doors was pretty typical. We engaged in rather traditional community organizing, which is to say that we assisted community groups and individuals to challenge permits from being issued, to review the applications for permits that would allow for some legal activity — and by the way, gas drilling in Pennsylvania and in New York, and Ohio and West Virginia and Maryland is legal. It’s legal. And it’s regulated — we know that, too.

But the permits are the license to engage in the activity.

What we found was that the state more and more — the state legislature — adopted laws wherein they occupied the field of regulation and stripped local governments of the opportunity to regulate industry and the activities they engage in locally. And just to give you an example, the Legal Defense Fund didn’t start working with communities on the gas drilling issue. That’s become a huge issue. Everywhere I go, the crowds get larger and larger. When we go to municipal meetings and talk to folks, the crowds are getting huge. People are just energized about this issue.

But that’s not where we started working. Frankly, we began working in rural communities in Pennsylvania on issues generally having to do with agriculture — communities that were concerned about the establishment of factory farms as the new way of engaging in agriculture in Pennsylvania. That wasn’t seemingly such a big problem back before the mid-1990s. We had about 400 communities — municipalities in Pennsylvania at the time — that had ordinances in place — legal ordinances — not challenging any existing law, that said that factory farms essentially were excluded. They wanted to support independent family farming.

Unfortunately — and this is part of the precautionary tale I want to tell — is that just because you have what looked like strong local authority under your home rule provisions of your constitution doesn’t mean they’re permanent. And I don’t mean that just to scare you. As a Pennsylvanian, I envy your Home Rule law. I think it’s great as it stands. It really does afford a degree of local control that the folks in Pennsylvania — 12-1/2 million of them in over 1,200 municipalities — wish they could have back.

We have experienced, though, that when industry wants to make it easier to get what they want, they change the laws for us. That’s what we experienced. That’s why we changed our strategy in terms of what to do in order to combat the industrialization of our communities, and really … you’ll hear me talk about corporations — I’m not anti-corporation; I actually work for one. It’s a nonprofit, but I actually work for one. They’re good tools; they’re good legal tools. They can also be used in a negative way, just like a lot of legal things can be.

What we experienced beginning in the early 2000s was a transformation of state law that stripped local communities of the authority to say “no” to the industrialization of agriculture … by the way, to say “no” to mining. We had land use laws under the Municipalities Planning Code — that’s the state code of land use law — that did not prohibit communities from zoning out mining, and did not prohibit them from zoning out agriculture that was industrialized. The Municipalities Planning Code was amended any number of times, and it’s a litany of surrender of local control and Home Rule authority to industry, where the Municipalities Planning Code was amended to disallow local municipal control or regulation of the timber industry, of mining, of water withdrawals, of agriculture, one after another after another, to the point where what we have left in terms of our ability to deal with an industry like gas drilling is, we can regulate the roads and impact on roads. We can attempt to impose conditions in terms of putting up fences and what color paint is used on the drilling rigs so that they blend in with the background.

Doesn’t mean we have no local control over gas drilling in Pennsylvania. We can say where they can drill, but not whether or not they can drill — the idea of zoning being that we still retain the authority to segregate incompatible uses of land, to try to keep the drill rigs away from the swings and the monkey bars in the kids’ playground. We can try to do that.

You can separate incompatible uses of land, but you’re not allowed to say “no” to a legal use of land. That’s where we are in Pennsylvania. I don’t want that to be where you come to in New York.

When it comes to what authority and what power we have to protect our health, safety and welfare at the local level, we’re up against three main obstacles. The first one is state preemption, which I just talked about briefly, which is where the state decides to adopt state laws, or to amend existing laws that strip that local authority. In New York, as well as in other states, general laws of the state apply to all communities, and if a general law specifically preempts — in other words, it strips the authority of the municipality — to say “no” to a particular legal use of land — and how do we know it’s a legal use of land? Well, permits are issued for it. Permits are issued for gas drilling by the State of New York. You have not yet been preempted to adopt local land use laws that have the effect of excluding gas drilling. And I do agree with Helen — that’s a tool you should use. You have it, you should use it. You should, in fact.

Preemption is one of the main obstacles we have to overcome if it’s in place. Right now, you don’t have preemption of land use in place, but you do have preemption in terms of regulating the industry. State law essentially says, yes, you can in effect preempt it through your land use decisions, but you can’t say anything about the process of the extraction. You can’t regulate the industrial activity itself. The state has occupied the field of regulation there, and that is to say you are preempted.

But those laws in existence today in New York that say you can stop it through land use are not immutable, and they’re not perpetual.

There’s another obstacle to local control called “Dylan’s Rule,” and it’s a theory of law that says — by the way, it’s not in the U.S. Constitution; it’s not really even in the state constitution — but it’s a tradition of and a theory of law that says municipalities essentially have the same relationship to the state — the state legislature — as a child has to a parent — which is to say that the municipality has no authority of its own and no agency of its own unless the state delegates that power and that authority … which also means that at any given time the state can withdraw that power or that authority. That’s the experience I’ve been relating to that we’ve had in Pennsylvania on lots of issues.

By the way, it’s also the experience they have in Ohio. In 2005, the state legislature adopted a law dealing with the regulation of oil and gas, and they stripped municipalities of the authority to regulate — to do anything at the local level that applies to those industries.

We’re used to hearing about that horrible term, the “Halliburton loophole.” Most of you have heard that, right? It’s that horrible thing that they did at the federal level that said this gas industry is exempt from a host of federal laws that purport to protect our environment and our communities — you know, the Clean Drinking Water Act; the Clean Air Act; the Superfund Act — things like that.

We don’t generally think about the fact that in many states — and by the way, in New York as well, the industry is also exempt from local control, local regulation in New York, fortunately, as Helen pointed out, except in terms of land use.

But in terms of industrial activities themselves, they are exempt from local laws. I’d just like to question, what does that word “exempt” mean? It means you don’t have to obey laws that everybody else does. It means you’re above those laws. It means you’re exceptional and you have privileges that no one else in the community, the state or the land has. And that’s the position of the gas industry in terms of those ostensibly protective laws. Why would they have to be exempt from them? Maybe it’s because they couldn’t live up to them; maybe it’s because they couldn’t actually obey them and actually continue to engage in the industrial activities that they want to be involved in.

So, I mentioned preemption and Dylan’s Rule, and what I’m getting at now, too, is a third obstacle that we have to actually creating the kinds of communities that we want to live in, and that is corporate supremacy. As individuals, we don’t get exemptions from laws that the rest of our neighbors have to obey. That’s not a privilege that we as human beings have. But corporations do, and corporations have been recognized by the courts to share protections of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution as though they were living human beings. Again, I’m not against corporations — I think they’re actually very useful tools.

Folks who benefit from private for-profit corporations benefit also from the fact that they often have limited liability; that the individuals who benefit from those corporations that engage in activities that in general community majorities find to be harmful — that those individuals benefitting from those harmful activities are not responsible for the harm. That’s the joy of a limited liability.

On top of that, they get an extra scoop of rights to come in to your community as a corporation. As individuals, every member of the board of directors of a corporations has individual constitutional protections. As individuals, every investor in a corporation retains those rights — not the responsibilities for the harms they inflict using that legal tool of the corporation when they enter your community. They hold on to their rights and they aren’t responsible for the actions.

Now, I know you’re at a good spot here where you can potentially adopt land use laws to actually prohibit … keep out the drilling for now. You can’t use other types of laws because you have been preempted from doing so. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, in Maryland and West Virginia, communities there have no such comparable Home Rule power through land use laws. So, what do they do and what have they begun to do?

Well, in Pittsburg, which is probably the one community that you may have heard of dealing with it in this way, in a community rights forum … What they’ve done is, they adopted a law — and I’ll just describe it in general terms. It’s not simply an outright prohibition on gas drilling, although it does prohibit gas drilling. That’s not where it starts. We refer to them as “community rights laws” because it starts with a local bill of rights that enumerate rights such as the right to local self-government on issues with direct impact on the community — the assertion that the state does not have the authority to license corporations to engage in activities that actually violate the rights of the members of the community.

We actually are self-governing people with rights that we retain and have not surrendered, and we’re going to act on that premise, and if the state believes we do not have the right to protect our health, safety, welfare, quality of life, natural environment, they’ll need to come and take away our rights ’cause we’re not going to sit on our hands and act as though we do not have those rights. That’s a pretty profound and provocative thing for them to do, I admit it. And they didn’t do it lightly. And we don’t engage … The Legal Defense Fund does not engage in the kind of community organizing that we do lightly either.

But when the consent of the governed is denied, and when private interests are licensed to engage in activities against the consent of the governed, we’re left with a question of what to do about it, and I think maybe there’s about three choices that we can select from, and I mean it sincerely — it’s not up to me to decide for any given community. I have a voice in my own, but not in yours or anyone else’s. Which choice your community takes is up to you and your community, and I’m not being sarcastic about it when I go through these three choices, the first one being, you can decide to do nothing.

And even with the strength of your land use laws in New York, the ability to use them to stop the drilling, there will be communities, I dare say, that will decide to do nothing — they won’t pursue that. They may not be convinced. And Helen, I hope you do convince them because I think it would behoove them all to do it, if at minimum to do that. Absolutely.

But some won’t do it, and they’ll have arguments to say — and I don’t mean … again, this isn’t meant in any judgmental way — “Well, we’re too busy; we’re not really that concerned about it.” Whatever the reasons are, that is a valid choice. But we’re the adults in the room and we’re responsible for the outcomes of our decisions, and if we decide to do nothing, and the outcome of our decision is that our communities are destroyed for future generations to live in them and enjoy their natural environment, their drinking water and the rest of it, we are responsible to that choice; we in our communities are responsible for those choices.

The second of three possible decisions we might make is to attempt to use existing structure of law to create the outcomes that we want. We don’t want drilling; let’s try to use the laws we have, and that means use your land use laws to try and stop the drilling. But you can’t use other types of laws; you don’t have regulatory authority over the industry in your municipality, so you don’t have that option.

What we can try to do is regulate it. In general, that’s what we’re given. What does it mean to regulate? It doesn’t mean to disallow. It means to allow under certain conditions. And so, a community might say, “Well, we’re not really going to impose land use laws that have the effect of eliminating the drilling; we’re going to allow it in certain places,” which means we’re going to decide which parts of our municipality to surrender to the industry — that’s a choice. I think doing nothing and using existing law, you have a very strong possibility of getting fracked — a very strong possibility.

The third option is the one that the Legal Defense Fund has been pursing and advising communities on, and it has to do with acting on the premise that you already have the right to say “no,” that you already have the right to protect your community, your families, your kids, your property values, your drinking water — that those are fundamental rights. It’s a crazy thing — in Pennsylvania we actually have it. It says it right in the Constitution, Article 1, Section 27, that we have a right to clean air, clean water, clean soil, and that the state has the responsibility to protect the resources of the state and to be the steward of those resources for all of Pennsylvania for generations to come. And then the Supreme Court of the state says things like, “However, Article 1, Declaration of Rights — those rights are actually non-self-executing.” I’m not a lawyer, if I didn’t mention that, but sometimes they say silly things like that, which is to say, “These rights — long list of rights — they’re not self-executing.”

What does that mean? It means that the state has not created explicit statutory law to tell us how we’re allowed to enjoy those rights. I know I’m speaking colloquially; I’m not being precise in my legal language. I engage in community organizing around these issues, and I think it’s important for people to understand what it is — what does it really mean?

And what we’re being told is, the right to clean air, clean water and the rest of it — well, that’s protected by the Department of Environmental Protection. The laws and the regulations of the state through that agency — that’s how we can enjoy those rights. And then we look to see what those agencies actually do. They issue permits to industry to engage in activities that the people in our communities are told they have no authority to say “no” to — and that’s how our rights get protected.

What can we do in anticipation of New York going the way of Pennsylvania and Ohio and Maryland and West Virginia? There really are differences among the states in terms of Home Rule authority. About 46 states have some form of Home Rule at the municipal level. Some of it is statutory; some of it’s constitutional; some of it is a mix.

In Pennsylvania, in 1968, they amended the state constitution to allow for municipal home rule. Well, we’ve got quite a few municipalities in Pennsylvania; 67 of them have decided to go Home Rule. Why so few? Because the state legislature has been very busy since 1968 adopting laws that newly preempt Home Rule authority. So, we had statutory municipalities before, and they were being preempted; and now we have Home Rule communities and their local Home Rule authority is being whittled away one after another.

How does that happen? Our experience is that industry has the ear of our legislators. And, for instance, when the DEP talks about their clients, they’re talking about the industries that they’re charged with assisting to engage in the activities that they permit. It’s kind of an upside-down view of what an environmental agency might do.

So, by the way, is the regulatory system of most states, including New York, where when it comes to preemptive power, what they say is, “Here is the maximum amount of protection legally that a municipality will be offered — that the members of a municipality will be offered by the state.” And you would be acting beyond your authority to adopt laws that regulate that industry any more strictly and offer more protection to your community. If we had legislatures who considered the human beings in the state to be their constituents, we might see a regulatory regime that said, “Here is the minimum amount of protection every community must offer its members, and if they so decide, they can impose more strict regulations to protect the health, safety and welfare of their communities.” Just the opposite is the case.

What we’re suggesting is that communities take seriously their rights — and members of the communities take seriously the rights. When Pittsburgh adopted their ordinance, they were not the first in Pennsylvania or the first in other states … By the way, we have worked in communities in New Hampshire, in Maine, in Virginia and elsewhere where local laws have been adopted that stand in the face of state preemption and challenge those laws and say, “The state is acting beyond its authority to deprive the rights of the members of this community by licensing state-chartered corporations to engage in activities that threaten our rights.” The ordinances do a couple of other interesting things. They recognize the inalienable rights of natural communities and ecosystems to exist and flourish — what does that mean? And does it mean that the communities that adopted these ordinances have all gone “enviro,” or turned into Druids or something? No, it doesn’t mean that.

Most of the communities that have adopted rights-of-nature provisions have been what I would describe as rather conservative, but they understand the real pragmatic reason for doing so. When it comes to protecting your environment — and yes, we can litigate over anything we want to … But if you want to sue a corporation for engaging in a harmful activity in your community and you go to court, one of the first things they’re going to ask is, “Well, what’s your interest in this?” to explore to see if you have standing. Are you actually going to be materially harmed, or have you been materially harmed by this corporate activity? In other words, do you own the land that’s been harmed? Has your property value been damaged? Something along those lines. And if the answer is “No, I live on the other side of town but I just didn’t want to see our environment destroyed,” your case is dismissed.

What if, in your bill of rights, in a community rights ordinance you include a recognition of the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish, and you further recognize that every member of the community has legal standing to advocate for those rights in a court of law? And then the legal relationship in terms of property is not the relevant question. The question is, “Have these rights been violated?”

One other provision, which is a key one … Sometimes we’re told what we’re really interested in is just getting rid of corporate rights, and there’s bill of rights protections that corporations have been granted.

We have a provision in the ordinance that says corporations that would violate the prohibitions of this law will not be recognized to have the legal protections of the Bill of Rights and similar protections of state law. Why would we do that? It’s not just because we want to be nasty. It’s because people in our communities are at disadvantages when lawyers for corporations come in and they say, “We’re suing; we’re bringing a Section 1983 lawsuit, which is a civil rights lawsuit, on behalf of the civil rights of the corporation that are being violated.” It’s that “takings” thing. “Takings” means that your Fifth Amendment protections of government not to take private property for public use without just compensation are being violated. And a corporation lawyer comes in and claims, “That’s exactly what your municipality’s doing to us by adopting a local law that says we can’t access our minerals, or we can’t exercise the lease, or the permit.” That’s the type of argument we get.

Nullifying that claim is not about stripping rights from corporations; it’s about making sure that the rights of the members of the community are understood to be superior to the privileges of state-chartered corporations — chartered corporations, and they are chartered by the state legislature in the name of the people. The state cannot turn around, not legitimately, and issue permits to them in a way that would have the effect of violating the rights of the very people who chartered the corporation. It’s a Frankenstein model. It makes no sense to allow that to stand, and so we do challenge that.

This is very provocative stuff. We know it. We understand that this isn’t for everybody, because it takes a lot to explain it, and I, with 30 minutes quite frankly, have really but scratched the surface.

What would we suggest in terms of New York and where you are? And again, it’s back to the cautionary tale, and I think the precautionary measures that I would suggest, we would suggest, which is to say, put in place your land use laws to eliminate the use of land for gas extraction, combined with community rights provisions that recognize that you’re doing so not only because you acknowledge the authority of the state which has devolved these powers to you, but also because you understand and embrace the rights of the community to adopt laws and have the effect of governing state-chartered corporations in the name of the people. This is about, I believe, putting in place local laws that anticipate the possibility of losing the one tool you do have right now. I wish you had more tools, because in a self-governing democracy, the people wouldn’t simply be allowed one last shot at self-governance through land use; it would actually be a broad spectrum of authority understood and recognized by the state.

There’s a lot to this, and if you have further questions, I’m happy to answer them. Thanks.

Conway: Thank you, Ben.

Ben, our first question: “What role, or what impact, if any, would a public health officer in a town or the county or public health law have on gas drilling?” Can public health issues be used in a town ordinance to prohibit gas drilling?

Price: I’m not going to presume to speak on New York law specifically. I’m not an attorney to begin with, but New York law — I’m familiar with it to the degree I am.

When we talk about a bill of rights and these local ordinances, they’re not limited in scope. I mean, if it’s a matter of retained rights of the people being enumerated locally, and prohibitions being put in place as Pittsburgh did, the prohibition on gas drilling is not simply a free-floating prohibition. It’s put in place, and specifically the language of the law says, “This prohibition is intended to protect the rights enumerated in this ordinance.” And so, a right to health and not to have health damaged would seem to be a legitimate jumping-off point for prohibition on drilling.

Conway: Ben, you mentioned the Pennsylvania State Constitution. I’m not sure if you can address this, but, “Does New York have the same right to clean water, land, soil, in our state constitution, and can we enact a ban or a bill of rights at the same time? And once a ban or a bill of rights is enacted, can it be overturned once it’s passed?”

Price: To my knowledge, the New York Constitution isn’t quite as explicit as Pennsylvania’s, but it’s not based on Pennsylvania’s constitution that these ordinances are being drawn up the way they are. We’re not claiming that we get our authority or our rights from Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. That right preexists the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The theory of government, in this country at least, going all the way back to the Declaration of Independence — it declares that governments are instituted — what for? — by the people to defend and protect their rights. And when governments no longer act in that manner, then it is not only the right, but it says the duty of people to alter or abolish it.

So, the rights precede the constitution, and it doesn’t matter whether you have that language in the New York Constitution. That’s not the question to ask on whether or not you can institute local bills of rights that recognize those rights. Retained rights — I mean, if you want to look for a place, the Ninth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution talks about unenumerated rights being retained by the people. Unenumerated — just because there’s 10 amendments to the Constitution early on doesn’t mean that the listing of those rights is exhaustive. Unenumerated rights are retained by the people. Let’s enumerate them and protect them.

Conway: Ben, if corporations are considered a person, as has become prevalent of late, do they have the same protections as a person might expect?

Price: Well, the same and more. And there are specific examples I could give. There are particular amendments to the Constitution that corporate attorneys will claim belong to corporations now. The 14th Amendment was the first one, and it guaranteed equal protection of the law and due process of law. The 14th Amendment was adopted after the Civil War. The 13th Amendment ended slavery, and the 14th Amendment — at least as I read it, and many folks read it — was intended to guarantee equal protection of the law and due process of the law to those freed slaves — and, by the way, to everyone, ’cause it didn’t mention that it was just freed slaves.

The courts looked at the word “person” and the second clause of that amendment, and determined in 1886 that the word “person” also referred to corporations as well, and in that particular case, the Santa Clara case, decided that corporations had the 14th Amendment protection of equal protection of the law, which was the foot in the door, and now we see that corporations are recognized to have First Amendment free speech protections — that was first decided in the Bilotti case of 1978; it wasn’t the Citizens United case that actually opened that can of worms; that was just the cherry on top.

You know, Fifth Amendment protections — wonderful stuff. In 1922, Pennsylvania had a state law on the books that said corporations must leave columns of coal under the ground. They couldn’t just strip out all of the coal with the effect of the surface collapsing in, subsidence, destroying surface properties and ponds and having streams disappear, and the rest of it.

Well, Pennsylvania Coal Company went to court and they got a nice decision from the Supreme Court that said, “You know, that’s a violation of the Fifth Amendment protections of that corporation under the ‘Takings’ clause, because making them leave their coal underground — those pillars of coal — that’s their property. It’s stuff they could have harvested and made a profit selling on the market. And so, you can’t make them … Pennsylvania … you can’t make them leave that there.” And the state law was overturned.

It’s a bizarre thing. Do corporations have the same rights as people? I don’t know. I think that in that case, and in many similar cases, in fact the people living on the surface lost their rights and the corporations gained them.

And by the way, it wasn’t just the Pennsylvania Coal Company that gained that Fifth Amendment “Takings” protection. It was every corporation in the country. Every time that the U.S. Supreme Court decides to find, to discover, corporations in the U.S. Constitution, the word doesn’t appear there, by the way. Every time they discover corporations in the Constitution, that’s a discovery for every corporation, not just for the one that goes to court. We don’t get such benefits when we get a court decision in general.

And by the way, future lost profits as a property right belonging to corporations — can you imagine? I’m going to exaggerate a little bit here, but what if you went down to a nearby business, filled out a job application, and said, “I’d like this job,” and you got turned down? Imagine trying to sue for the future profits you could have made if they’d have only hired you. Well, it sounds absurd, I know. I think it’s absurd that a corporation could, under any guise, say that the gas they have plans to retrieve is something that they can claim a vested property right in under any guise.

Conway: Okay, we’re going to call this the last question, and I’m combining a bunch here, Ben, so I’d ask you to try to address this in its entirety as quickly as possible. A number of people expressed kind of a helplessness here. “Are there any actions that citizen groups can take if their townships are all pro-drilling? How does a resident stop a test well from becoming a production well now, and, based on your experience, what is the timeframe it would take to put your community rights provisions into effect?”

Price: The work we do really is not so much about making sure that we stop drilling, just to be honest with you. Our job is to make sure that we attempt to empower community majorities to establish local control to the greatest degree possible.

Having said that, if you have a community majority that is against gas drilling, how long would it take to get an ordinance in place? In general, the process I’m used to in Pennsylvania and elsewhere — there’s usually … there’s a legal process you have to go through of advertising a proposed ordinance at one meeting, and then as soon as possible would be to have a hearing, and then maybe a vote on it at that very meeting. So, a couple of months. But that’s a couple of months after you’ve persuaded your community, “This is the way to go”; after you’ve secured and persuaded your local officials to vote in the affirmative, assuming you don’t have initiative and referendum; and also, assuming that you’ve got the language in place. We don’t simply hand communities, “Here’s the finished product,” and say, “There it is; go with it.”

We engage in a real dialogue with people in the community; find out what it is precisely they want to do. We have some communities, all they want to do is ban drilling — that’s it. Someone’ll say, “We want to ban drilling. We also want to ban them from depositing the frack water anywhere in our community. We want to ban them from withdrawing water and using that for the drilling process, even if they don’t do it in our community.” There are a number of things that we can discuss about what outcome you’re looking for — what the law’s going to look for. Length of process — it varies. The shortest would be a couple of months. That would be real fast, I think.

You can listen to the complete program here.

By Sabrina Artel, AlterNet
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Sabrina Artel is the creator and host of Trailer Talk, stories from America’s kitchen table. Her weekly radio show explores community engagement through conversations about culture, politics, the arts and the environment. To find out more about Trailer Talk’s Frack Talk Marcellus Shale Water Project please visit Trailer Talk.

Join the Activist Network! Intern with Greenpeace

Do you want to join the fight for climate justice with the world’s largest independent environmental organization?

Greenpeace has several incredible volunteer internships available in San Francisco! You’ll get the chance to work on the most pressing issues of our time – saving ancient rainforests, protecting our oceans, stopping toxic threats, and launching a clean energy revolution.

Whether it’s activating volunteers and other students across the country or mobilizing people here in San Francisco, you’ll gain grassroots activism skills, learn about the environmental movement, gain issue expertise, meet awesome people, and make a real difference! Find out how this isn’t your average internship.

Apply today!

The deadline for Fall 2011 Intern Applications is July 31st!

The Network interns primarily help us connect with our Lead Activists over the phone, email and online social networks to assist them with all of their campaign work in hundreds of communities nationwide. They also help our Network team in SF with all other priorities that arise including the following –


  • Manage research projects
  • Logistics coordination and administrative work
  • Materials production (trainings, kits, etc)
  • Data entry as needed
  • Quickly develop knowledge of global warming and other campaign issues
  • Assist in other projects as needed

Desired Skills and Qualifications:

  • Able to inspire, recruit and train campaign volunteers over the phone
  • Strong communication skills including public speaking, written and oral
  • Critical thinking and time-management skills
  • Able to keep a level head in a fast-paced campaign environment
  • Commitment to grassroots organizing as a means of affecting change
  • Reliable and responsible

What you gain from a Greenpeace Internship:

  • Leadership experience
  • Hands on grassroots organizing and campaign experience with the world’s largest environmental organization, Greenpeace!
  • References and a letter of recommendation upon completion of the internship
  • Experience building citizen power using new media and a cutting edge organizing model
  • An opportunity to explore a career in the non-profit sector, politics, community services, activism, and grassroots organizing

Greenpeace strongly encourages applications from women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, and members of other marginalized communities.

***Be sure to mark ‘San Francisco’ and ‘Activist Network’ on your application!***

Fuel-efficient vehicles could save $7.2 billion annually in California health costs

May 10, 2011
Susan Carpenter, LA Times

California could save $7.2 billion in healthcare costs — and prevent more than 400 premature deaths — annually if the state adopts a 64 miles- per-gallon equivalent fuel economy standard, according to a report released Tuesday by the American Lung Assn. in California.

The Road to Clean Air study estimates a 70% reduction in asthma attacks, respiratory emergency room visits and lost work and school days if the current fleet of vehicles on California roads is replaced with zero- and near-zero-emission vehicles, such as battery electrics, plug-in electrics and fuel-cell vehicles by 2025.

The study is released as consumers wrestle with escalating gas prices, the federal government debates healthcare and California’s Air Resources Board and the Obama administration consider advanced clean-car standards to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Draft regulations of the standards for 2017-2025 year models are under negotiation between California and federal officials and are scheduled to be formally proposed in September.

However, automobile companies are lobbying against a preliminary proposal by the Obama administration to toughen fuel efficiency standards from 35.5 mpg in 2016 to 47 mpg to 62 mpg by 2025, saying it would cost too much to implement.

Almost half of California air pollution comes from cars and trucks, and 90% of Californians live in areas with unhealthful air, according to California air officials.

The Road to Clean Air healthcare costs were calculated by comparing cars that meet today’s fuel economy standards to a future vehicle mix incorporating higher fuel economy technologies. The study converted the reduction in tons of air pollution and carbon emissions to avoided health outcomes and costs using an Environmental Protection Agency methodology, said ALA spokeswoman Bonnie Holmes-Gen.

Source: Susan Carpenter, LA Times, May 11, 2001
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Tim DeChristopher found guilty, shows power of nonviolent civil disobedience

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher, who was put on trial in Salt Lake City, Utah, this week for his interference with an oil and gas auction held at the end of the Bush administration, on Thursday was found guilty by a jury. He faces a sentence of up to 10 years, to be determined by a judge.

After finding out the jury’s decision, DeChristopher spoke to supporters outside of the courthouse. “We now know I’ll have to go to prison. That’s the job I have to do,” he said.

In a recent interview with Grist, DeChristopher talked about the power of nonviolent civil disobedience and the role it can play in fighting climate change. He compares the need for action in the climate movement to the action taken by the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights Movement. Watch the interview here:

DeChristopher hopes his sentencing and the act of “going to jail for justice” will give people perspective on our dire climate situation. In our interview, he said:

Climate change is a war against people and especially young people. People’s lives are being traded for the profit of others. That’s a war. And yet it doesn’t look that way, it doesn’t feel that way to most people. It just looks like businessmen making a profit. It looks like congressmen not doing their jobs very well. So when we make ourselves vulnerable and invite that reaction against ourselves, whether it’s a physical reaction or a reaction of the legal system, it starts to reframe that perspective for people.

Climate hawks and environmentalists are voicing their support for DeChristopher and calling him an example for the rest of us. Henia Belalia of Peaceful Uprising, a group cofounded by DeChristopher, responded to the verdict with this text message: “Heartbreaking, outrageous and yet not surprising with a limited defense. Justice did not prevail today — our response: resolve and a massive call to action.”

A sampling of reax from the Twittersphere:

Bill McKibben:

  • “Tim has shown the power of civil disobedience to shine a light — the government should be giving him a medal, not a sentence.” (Author and activist Jeff Biggers agrees.)
  • “If the Feds think this will deter protest, they couldn’t be wronger. Tim was brave alone; we need some mass bravery.”
  • “this is precisely the sort of event that reminds us just why we need a real, mass mobilization to stop the climate crisis.”

Rising Tide: “We will continue to stand w/ DeChristopher and take the guilty verdict as encouragement to act in the name of climate justice.”

Post Carbon Institute: “Tim is one of an exceedingly small handful of activists who walk the walk and now he’s on the shelf.”

talonpoint: “A society with its priorities straight would be talking about Tim DeChristopher instead of Charlie Sheen.”

brianwholt: “let’s hope @DeChristopher gets the same treatment as the bankers profiled in #InsideJob”

Read more from Bill McKibben on DeChristopher.

Watch the full DeChristopher interview.

Al Gore to Deliver Keynote to 10,000 Young Environmental Leaders at Power Shift 2011

Former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore will join 10,000 youth activists at Power Shift 2011 as the opening keynote speaker on April 15, 2011.

Gore, who is chairman of the Alliance for Climate Protection, will be speaking about climate change and how we can take action to solve the climate crisis.

For four days, young leaders will come together for Power Shift 2011 — a historic summit where activists will get the skills they need to create clean and just energy solutions in communities around the country and around the world.

“I’m coming to Power Shift because I truly believe we must lead the world to a clean energy future, and young leaders are the driving force behind the movement that will make it happen,” Gore said today.

Sponsored by the Energy Action Coalition, Power Shift 2011 will feature a range of prominent voices. In addition to Al Gore, leaders such as Van Jones and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will join the conference.

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Environmentalists stand up to Obama, win big

Under intense pressure from green groups and their members, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) announced Friday that Republican proposals to gut the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act were off the table in budget negotiations.

“Neither the White House nor Senate Leaders is going to accept any EPA riders,” Reid said.

Reid’s pledge follows 48 hours of intense pressure on the White House from major green groups, marking the first time many large environmental organizations have so openly and loudly targeted Obama and Reid — and it produced extraordinarily rapid results.

Indeed, as recently as Wednesday, the Associated Press had reported that Obama was insisting that congressional Democrats swallow rollbacks to EPA’s authority to crack down on climate emissions, mountaintop-removal coal mining, and Chesapeake Bay pollution as the price for passing a budget deal. When asked about the report, the White House refused to issue a veto threat against the rollbacks, and last Tuesday, Reid told reporters, “We’re happy to look at the policy riders. There aren’t many of them that excite me. But we’re willing to look at them. In fact, we’ve already started looking at some of the policy riders.”

That attitude began to change when environmentalists decided they’d gone too far:

  • “Obama to Sell Out the EPA?” — Sierra Club email blast from Conservation Director Sarah Hodgdon
  • “Tell Obama & Reid: Don’t Cave to Polluters” — League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Executive Director Gene Karpinski
  • “At EDF, our position is that children’s health should not be a bargaining chip.” — Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp

The last quote was particularly striking given EDF’s reputation as the ultimate insider in the environmental movement, and probably the green group with the closest ties to the administration.

And Energy Action, the organizers of the upcoming Powershift youth climate conference, showed that environmentalists weren’t just cyber-angry; they were actual angry, announcing that “thousands of young, forgotten Obama voters,” were going to protest Obama outside the White House on April 18.

By Friday, the White House was beginning to back off, and Reid’s statement seems to have ended the debate, at least for now.

Nonetheless, it’s still open to question to what extent the environmental movement will learn from this win. Although Democratic leadership seems to be standing up for the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, those are hardly the only attacks on the environment emanating from the White House and its Democratic allies. Last week alone, the administration announced a massive expansion of coal mining that will produce pollution equivalent to that emitted by 300 coal fired power plants in a year, and has been rushing to issue new permits to drill offshore in the Gulf of Mexico — hardly less egregious than the contemplated EPA rollbacks.

Meanwhile, a range of Democrats have been following the White House’s lead and rushing to embrace the fossil fuel industries and other polluters. Democrat Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan (LCV score 100) and Max Baucus of Montana went so far as to issue their own bills to gut the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Over in the House, during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires (D) surprised greens by expressing support for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring ultra-dirty oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States, while panel Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) declined to take a position.

Whether or not these Democrats face the kind of intense pressure and protests that the White House did over the EPA rollbacks will tell whether this has been a true learning moment for greens and the broader environmental movement. In the past, on those few occasions when environmentalists have been forced to sorta stand up to Democrats, there’s been a tendency for confrontation-averse greens to creep back into our fawning shell once we win rather than to learn from the experience.

But the huge nature of this victory may be different — and we may have a chance of making Democrats believe that this movement has a backbone made of something other than organic jello.

Glenn Hurowitz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and you can follow his Twitter feed about forests, climate, and wildlife @glennhurowitz

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Our Chance to Get Clean Energy Right

It’s springtime and birders, rock climbers, wildflower lovers and maybe even some long-lost U2 fans are flocking to the boulder-strewn desert wilderness just east of Palm Springs. But unless we act quickly to curb climate disruption, soon the one thing they won’t be able to find in Joshua Tree National Park is an actual Joshua tree.

From the time John Muir founded the Sierra Club in 1892, we have known how to stand up to the forces that would destroy the treasured landscapes that are so essential to human happiness. Our historic adversaries — mining, logging and development interests — have always been formidable. But now climate disruption poses an even bigger threat to those places. And the dirty energy industries responsible for climate change are even more powerful and relentless in resisting our efforts.

Today, being good stewards of our land, water and wildlife requires that we do everything we can to end our dependence on dirty energy, especially by moving aggressively to replace coal and oil with clean energy solutions.

We can take our first steps toward this goal by making our homes and offices as energy-efficient as possible and by putting Americans to work installing ingeniously-designed and affordable solar panels on rooftops and in urban parking lots as quickly and as aggressively as we can.

We will also have to build a number of large-scale clean energy projects, like the 700 MW Maricopa Sun project that we helped move forward in California this past week. While coal and oil are dirty vestiges of the 19th century that pollute our water and air, solar projects represent a fusion of cutting edge innovation with old-fashioned can-do spirit. But they are not without challenges.

Any large energy project carries the potential to damage wildlife habitat and natural resources — the very treasures that our 1.4 million members and supporters work with us to safeguard. In the Mojave Desert, we worry about protecting vulnerable creatures like desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and golden eagles.

We are in a tough position. But there are solid solutions to this dilemma. We must build large-scale energy projects in the places where they will cause the least harm — abandoned agricultural lands, defunct mines and other areas that have already been developed. By putting projects next to roads and transmission lines, we avoid the most sensitive habitat. We’ve worked with the Obama administration on a plan for developing these projects responsibly by setting aside special solar-energy zones that meet these criteria. When developments do cross habitat, we need to protect additional land in order to offset the damage.

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to protecting wildlife and wild places, and who are now taking on dirty coal and Big Oil, have a unique role to play in making sure that large-scale clean energy is developed both swiftly and responsibly. Because climate disruption is not only a hazard to our health and our communities — it also poses a threat to wildlife and wildlands that outstrips anything we’ve seen before. If we allow it to worsen, and if we don’t manage our landscapes in ways that quickly compensate for the damage already done, some of the wildlife that we treasure most here in California, like bighorn sheep, will be lost as habitat changes and they literally are left with no place to go.

That’s why Sierra Club and other environmental organizations are working closely with energy developers to help them do the right thing by responsibly meeting strict environmental review, and by helping them identify the best possible locations and practices for solar and wind projects. Our volunteers and staff have already worked to improve and promote projects that add up to more than 5,000 MW of solar in southwestern states alone.

This isn’t any easy endeavor, but it’s one of the most important we have ever faced. We are deeply committed to creating the solar and wind energy we need, and we will be working hard to make sure it’s done wisely.

This is our chance to get clean energy right, from the start.

Michael Brune – Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club. He previously served as executive director of the Rainforest Action Network and as an organizer for Greenpeace.
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Koch-Funded Climate Skeptic’s Own Data Confirms Warming

This week, a climate hearing was held in the US House of Reps. Six ‘experts’ on climate were brought in, but only three were scientists. And it turns out that one of the GOP’s star witnesses — a scientist who’s been vocal in his skepticism of global temperature records, the physicist Richard Muller, of University of California, Berkeley, didn’t quite help them disprove climate change. Quite the opposite, in fact.

GOOD reports on what’s got to be my favorite anecdote from the climate hearings. But first, some background:

[Richard] Muller has been working on an independent project to better estimate the planet’s surface temperatures over time. Because he is willing to say publicly that he has some doubts about the accuracy of the temperature stations that most climate models are based on, he has been embraced by the science denying crowd. A Koch brothers charity, for example, has donated nearly 25 percent of the financial support provided to Muller’s project.

Skeptics of climate science have been licking their lips waiting for his latest research, which they hoped would undermine the data behind basic theories of anthropogenic climate change. At the hearing today, however, Muller threw them for a loop with this graph …

That’s the one above.

As you can see — and more importantly, as Muller himself has come to believe — the established data collected by temperature stations around the world are accurate. Muller’s independent work confirms that the data on which the majority of the best climate models rely upon is actually quite good.

Which is why it must have pissed off the GOP Reps, who were counting on him to offer testimony skeptical of climate change, when he announced the following: “We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups. The world temperature data has sufficient integrity to be used to determine global temperature trends.”

In other words, Muller’s Koch-funded project, which skeptics had hoped would call into question the validity of the data backing the projections of climate models, instead provided even further evidence yet that they are correct. There’s even better reason to believe that the climate models are accurate than there was before. It’s science, folks.

By Brian Merchant | Sourced from Treehugger
Posted at April 1, 2011, 4:38 pm

Full url:’s_own_data_confirms_warming/

Students gather at UCSC for food and justice summit

Bill Lovejoy/SentinelWith journalists like Michael Pollan and books like “Fast Food Nation” bringing national attention to nutrition and food justice, it’s no wonder that 300 students from 40 California campuses gathered at UC Santa Cruz Saturday for the fifth annual “Real Food Challenge.”

The conference, founded in 2007 with the intention of educating students about the complex food issues that their generation is inheriting, was one of five summits happening around the country this year.

During their three days at the Stevenson College Event Center, the students learned about the impacts of pesticides, justice for food service workers, different forms of consumption and dieting, as well as leadership skills, so that they can take their new knowledge and make a difference in their own communities.

“We teach students how to take all of that information and grow a movement that will make change,” said conference founder Tim Galarneau, who works for the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Systems.
While the goal of Friday night was to form relationships and get a “Taste of Santa Cruz” with dinner courtesy of India Joze and The Penny Ice Creamery, Saturday’s agenda involved immersing the students in food issues. Today’s schedule will focus on what the students can do with what they’ve learned to influence federal and institutional policy.

“We’re facing the advent of interrelated problems in food access, the climate, the economy and the
environment, with world food prices hitting a record high this week,” said Galarneau. “We need to change how we relate to food.”

While the conference worked primarily with student groups promoting fair trade when it launched, Saturday, attendees of all age groups – including students in college, high school and a couple in junior high – wore recycled cardboard name tags and walked around the various display tables in between workshops.
“I’m impressed by the ambition,” said event organizer Kelsey Meagher, a grad student at UC Davis. “It’s exciting to hear from people who’ve never heard about food systems and social justice and other people who’ve made a career out of it.”

Housed in two churches on High Street, the 300 attendees were encouraged to challenge the more than $5 billion spent on dining food at colleges across the country, support alternative food suppliers, start community gardens and band together with like-minded individuals for the betterment of the environment.

“We’ve taught the younger generations to be consumptive and selfish,” said Galarneau. “Here we give them a sense of how they can impact the world around them for the better.”

By Jenna Brogan — Santa Cruz Sentinel
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Students Rally Against Prop 23 Supporters in Rancho Mirage

UCSD was one of several universities represented at a rally against oil company executives held on Jan. 30 in Rancho Mirage, where a secret meeting was held by energy conglomerate Koch Industries and Tea Party members.

The rally was organized by the California Student Sustainability Coalition, an organization that works with universities across the state to increase sustainability and awareness. About 2,000 protestors, including 50 San Diegans, showed up with only a handful of peaceful arrests made.

“The goal of the protest was to really expose that the Koch brothers were having this secret meeting and continue to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to take over our democratic elections,” CSSC Campaign Director Gabriel Elsner said.

Andrew Breitbart, a frequent guest commentator for “Fox News,” attended the secret meeting held by the Koch brothers.

“He was on roller skates trying to rile up the crowd and insult them,” Elsner said. “It was uncalled for.”
The rally began at around 1 p.m. Participants marched in front of the Rancho Las Palmas Resort, where the Koch Industries meeting was held.

“Getting the Koch brothers into the light and showing the American public what these brothers are doing is one of our strategies to get corporations and dirty money out of our elections,” Elsner said.

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were in attendance at the executive meeting— two of the justices who voted in favor of protecting corporations, allowing unlimited spending on elections.
The Koch Industries meeting was to discuss approaches to the 2010 elections in light of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, which protects their unlimited spending.

“[The Koch brothers] are funding far-right wing politicians and groups that spread misinformation about our government so that they can elect politicians who want to deregulate and defund our governments institutions that safeguard the public,” Elsner said.

The New York Times received a leaked invitation to the meeting, according to Elsner.

“[The Koch brothers] keep their company private by owning 51 percent of it, so they can do whatever the heck they please,” UCSD Student Sustainability Collective Director Jared Muscat said.

Muscat organized buses to the meeting in Palm Springs from San Diego. Protestors were also bused in from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

“The Koch brothers do a really good job of keeping everything they do behind closed doors,” Muscat said. “But they do an extra special job of never having to answer to anyone but themselves.”

The Koch brothers invested at least $1 million to support Prop 23, which would have suspended the “Global Warming Act of 2006,” but was defeated in the Nov. 2010 election.

“The Koch ideology is more private profits at the expense of the health and prosperity of the American people,” Elsner said.

Students from the CSSC are also working with partner organizations including Greenpeace and ACLU.
“We’ve never been too big of fans of the Koch brothers,” Muscat said, “They’ve never really cared about the environment.”

Thousands Converge on Koch Brothers Billionaire’s Caucus; 25 Arrested

(Katie Falkenberg, For The Times / January 31, 2011)Twenty-five protesters were arrested in Rancho Mirage, California today, at a protest in front of the Rancho Las Palmas resort, site of the “Billionaire’s Caucus,” an annual meeting put on by the Koch Brothers and other corporate entities and conservative movement operators.

Riverside Sheriff’s deputy Melissa Nieburger said that the sheriff’s department did have contacts with protest organizers, which included the California Courage Campaign, CREDO,,, the California Nurses Association, United Domestic Workers of America and the main sponsor, the good-government group Common Cause, prior to the event, and that they were aware that some protesters would seek to be arrested for trespassing. She would not guarantee that all 25 who were arrested were part of that coordinated operation. The police, who wore riot gear, batons and helmets, did put the arrested into plastic handcuffs. Nieburger described them as “passive restraints.” They were being processed at press time, and Nieburger would not say whether they would be released or would spend the night at the jail in Indio.

Nieburger estimated between 800 and 1,000 activists at the “Uncloak the Kochs” event. Event organizers chartered buses from several locations around Southern California and claimed 1,500 people signed up for those buses, on top of any local activists who attended. It appeared from the ground that well over 1,000 protesters were there.

While the sheriff’s deputy claimed no knowledge of who called out the Riverside County sheriffs and the Palm Springs police department to the proceedings, Common Cause was contacted by the sheriff to see what they were planning and coordinate appropriate resources. The city of Rancho Mirage contracts with the Riverside County sheriff’s department for their law enforcement needs.

Van Jones, the former green jobs deputy in the Obama Administration and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, described the anti-Koch rally as “the beginning of our fight back.” The leadership of Common Cause, generally a far more congenial organization, was a bit unusual, part of a new aggressiveness and penchant for direct action from the group. “I think you’re going to see a new Common Cause.”

The Koch Brothers, billionaires who have generously funded conservative and libertarian causes for over a generation – including the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and tea party groups like Americans for Prosperity – put together an annual meeting, typically held in the California desert, with fellow corporate CEOs and conservative operatives, to plan the year ahead. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain were reputed to attend the gathering at the sprawling Rancho Las Palmas resort. The Kochs bought out the entire resort for Saturday and Sunday. Some activists who stayed at the resort Friday night and booked dinners at their restaurants on Saturday had their reservations canceled by the resort, and were given $150 each for their trouble.

Common Cause organized the protest weeks ago, and set up a stage in the parking lot across the street from the Rancho Las Palmas resort. But from the beginning, activists were far more interested in the resort site, and they massed themselves across the street and then eventually in the driveway of the resort. The police, in their riot gear, came out very early to guard the resort, only letting in authorized personnel. Hotel guests, presumably attendees to the Koch Brothers meeting, looked on, holding smart phone cameras and taking pictures of the display. In addition, conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart, resplendent in shorts and roller skates, mulled around the crowd with a couple lackeys and a small video camera, talking to (and arguing with) attendees. I asked Breitbart exactly who necessitated the riot police, the lady with the papier-maché puppet or the Code Pink lady’s umbrella, and he claimed to have seen unspecified “internal emails” proving the potential for violence and the need for security. Surely that will come out in the next few days. I didn’t want to keep him from his workout, so I wrapped up the interview.

After a litany of speakers – including Jim Hightower, Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, and Common Cause President and former Illinois Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Edgar, the entire group of protesters moved to the setup across the street from the resort. Police helicopters buzzed overhead. After a while, the police agreed to shut down Bob Hope Drive, and the protesters streamed across the street and directly in front of the resort, just a few inches away from the phalanx of riot cops. The usual protest chanting and raising of banners ensued. More cops were brought in, traipsing over the flower beds. And 25 protesters were taken away in a paddy wagon. The protests were generally peaceful, and the police professional.

The protesters generally decried the Koch Brothers’ influence over American democracy, in particular their use of the Citizens United ruling to spend corporate money in elections. Koch Industries’ funding of climate denialism and other conservative causes was on the minds of the protesters as well.

After about 45 minutes, the cops opened the road again (the police originally said they would only shut the street for 7 minutes) and asked the crowd to disperse. Eventually, the crowd did so, chanting “This is just the beginning.”

Sheriff’s deputy Neiburger would not say whether this was the first time protesters had disrupted the Koch Brothers meetings, but up until last year and a series of articles by Lee Fang of Think Progress, they had not been well-publicized.

Bob Edgar, the President of Common Cause, said in a brief interview that he was happy with the turnout and the outcome. I asked him if this was evidence of a more aggressive organization. “Keep watching,” he said.

By: David Dayen Sunday January 30, 2011 4:34 pm
Original url:

2010 Fall Convergence Reflections from Andrew Chang

Hello friends old and new!

I wanted to document this absolutely incredible convergence while the details are still fresh in my mind and I am pulsing with energy from a combination of joy, inspiration, and relief. I am filled with the kind of positive energy that I’ve found can only come from the CSSC and I hope that everyone who attended feels it too.

Whether this was your first convergence or fifth, I hope that the space we created at UCSB this past month inspired and empowered you in a way that you will never forget. I am so proud of the entire EAB convergence team and I am absolutely honored to have been Convergence Coordinator for this amazing group of people.

The Convergence weekend was an incredible ride from start to finish. I am so excited to be able to share my experiences and favorite moments from the Convergence with you all. This was all about the community we built, so I would love for any and all of you who were a part of this to share your favorite moments from the Convergence on the comments page!

Friday Night Campsite (and couch-surfing!)

Friday evening arrivals signaled the start of the amazing weekend to come. Many students arrived at the peaceful Fremont campground in the Los Padres National Forest and immediately built a friendly forest community, while others chose to stay with members of the local organizing team a little closer to campus. I made the drive to the campground that night eager to reconnect with old friends and to meet newcomers and was not disappointed. As you would expect from the CSSC, everyone was and is awesome.

Housing for all was achieved with only a few minor hiccups and we all settled in, ready for the weekend ahead of us.

Saturday Morning – Breakfast, Keynotes, Proposition 23 Debate

The local team started their day on campus at 7 a.m. on a misty, overcast day. In the kitchen, bagels and avocados were split as the local team anxiously awaited the arrival of our first convergence attendees (it was the dynamic duo from Soka University, for those who are keeping score). Eight-thirty quickly arrived and the courtyard remained mostly empty (I was a bit nervous) but alas, 8:45! The campers hadn’t slept in after all! We were so excited to see them. We had a beautiful bagel spread and 15 gallons of steaming fair trade coffee for all to enjoy. People pondered the possibilities of vegan cream cheese, were amazed at the abundance of avocados, and mingled on that misty morning until…

Keynote Speakers and Prop 23 Debate!

At 10 AM we rounded up the convergers into Corwin Pavilion for speeches by Congresswoman Lois Capps and 2004 Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb. Congresswoman Capps stressed the importance of student leadership for sustainability into the future. David Cobb got us all riled up and brought out the radical revolutionary in each one of us, energizing us to take our dreams and visions out into the streets.

The greatly anticipated Prop 23 debate soon followed. The conversation was definitely heated, and the vibe inside Corwin Pavilion was tense. It was a great opportunity for the No on 23 side to see what kind of stuff we’re up against and refine our facts and thought processes to really make a strong argument for the right choice in the upcoming elections.

All the while, our incredible team of volunteers was busy readying our lunch buffet for when the debate was over. After all, what better way to release the tension and get a chance to discuss the issues with newfound friends than over a great meal?

Lunch: Tofurky Galore, Acta Non Verba, Hula-Hooping, and More

I will remember the lunch hour of this Convergence for the amazing energy it brought to the day.

On the table was a totally vegan spread of sandwich fixings: seemingly endless Tofurky slices; mountains of ripe avocados, heirloom tomatoes, and a great green salad.

Francisco Vasquez, our local creativity guru, led an open mic session entitled “Acta Non Verba.” He and other artists dropped rhymes and beats on the subjects of environmentalism, prop 23, and the amazing community we’ve built, providing the perfect soundtrack to our meal.

Out on Lagoon Lawn, with a view of the ocean, fifty hula hoops spun around as equally many waists, hands, heads, and knees. A life-size Corporate Monopoly game (with giant dice!) let people experience the struggles (or lack thereof) of large corporations in America. I was fortunate to join a great game of hacky sack. Lunchtime finally ended with one of the biggest massage circles ever seen by the CSSC and a game of pass the energy, which seemed absolutely perfect.

Re-energized, we were ready to begin three rounds of workshops!


I have to be honest here. I was too preoccupied to make it to more than one session of workshops! However, I can say that I am glad that there was only one small technical issue that was resolved quickly, and as I walked the hallways in Girvetz Hall between each of the sessions, I could feel the energy and excitement as students were eager to share their newfound knowledge and experience – “I wish I could have gone to every workshop!” and “That was such a cool idea!” were refrains that could be heard around every corner.

On that note…what was your favorite workshop? What great ideas are you most excited to take back to your campuses? What was the most engaging conversation you had in a workshop? Is there something that you didn’t realize you were passionate about, but now are?

Closing Ceremonies

After workshops we wanted to bring everyone back together for a little time to reflect on what we’d learned that day, the people we’ve met, and the energy and inspiration that filled us all. And of course, we wanted to get everyone in one place so they wouldn’t swarm the dinner tables. Announcements and invitations of all kinds were shared onstage in the spirit of the CSSC, including This Way to Sustainability in Chico, the nearest time we can be all together once more.

Dinner in Storke Plaza!

All afternoon volunteers had been busy setting up an incredible scene in Storke Plaza – candlelit dinner tables, crayons and butcher paper tablecloths so we could let the creative juices flow, and a concert set up right below Storke Tower.

This was Ivette’s masterpiece of the Convergence – an absolutely incredible dinner of Thai tofu stir-fry with peanut sauce over noodles, lentil and corn soup, unlimited salad, coconut sticky rice with plums, and a big pile of granola sticky bars courtesy of Mark and Russ’s not-so-secret recipe.

The moments right before dinner were frantic. Where was all the food? Was it all ready on time? Finally, nearing 7:00, we finally brought it down to the awaiting throngs of people. As I rushed back and forth, I could not help but stop at the top of the stairs at Storke Plaza to appreciate the scene. Christen Lien’s viola playing was absolutely ethereal; the clouds behind our bell tower were lit up; a hundred and fifty happy environmentalists sat at candlelit dinner tables. What more could we want? Remembering Jared’s words of wisdom – “take time to appreciate the day” – I pulled some volunteers away from the tables and almost had to beg them to share that moment with me at the top of the stairs. Look what we’d created!

Then dinner began. Ivette, our food coordinator, was almost too exhausted to speak, and I insisted she stand for a second round of well-deserved applause for all the absolutely incredible work she put in to make sure we were well-fed throughout the day.

Dinner was abundant and wonderful. Christen Lien’s viola provided a relaxing atmosphere. Mike De La Rocha’s powerful songwriting inspired us and reminded us of the history of the movement we are a part of; Freedom from Haiti reminded us what we are all fighting for, and special guests including Ashel Eldridge completed the soundtrack to an incredible meal.


After dinner there were lots of entertainment options on the table. Some sought a Jack Johnson concert, some went to see the hilarious Bret Ernst at Laughology, but the majority headed back up to the campgrounds, where we sang, danced, massaged, hugged, and laughed until the wee hours. It was the perfect way to unwind and to continue building the amazing friendships and connections that sprouted all day long.

Sunday Morning and Goodbyes

Sunday was another misty, gray day. This did nothing to dampen the spirits of all the campers, who arose early (even after a long night) to get back down to campus. Another breakfast spread provided the incentive, and we piled indoors to network, get to know each other a bit more, and continue the conversations that had been going on all weekend.

Two spiral hugs (and lots of warm regular hugs) later, people reluctantly let go and began to depart, ready and energized to head home and kick ass in the name of sustainability at their schools for the remainder of the year. Seeing everyone leave was truly bittersweet. On one hand, we were so relieved that the weeks of planning and stressing were over and that we were able to put together such an incredible weekend for all these amazing people. But obviously, we were sad to see all our old and new friends have to leave.

I would like to thank everyone again who came to the Convergence for your energy, the CSSC leadership for your support, and the local UCSB team for doing a bang-up job. It’s all of you that continue to make the CSSC so incredibly motivating and inspiring for me. I hope everyone got home safely and I wish you all an incredible fall and winter until we see each other again!

Peace and Trees,

Andrew Chang
Convergence Coordinator

Study: California’s Prop 26 undermines green, health laws

A little-noticed California ballot initiative would “erect significant barriers” to funding state environmental and public health laws, according to a new study.

Proposition 26 “could have substantial and wide-ranging impacts on implementation of the state’s health, safety and environmental laws,” according to a Tuesday analysis by the UCLA School of Law.

Prop 26 would expand the definition of “tax” under state law to include certain state and local fees and require them to receive two-thirds backing in the state legislature instead of just majority support.

State environmentalists fear that the ballot initiative would undermine implementation of California’s landmark climate-change law — Assembly Bill 32 — which is also targeted by the higher profile Proposition 23. Environmentalists argue that, at a minimum, there is no telling exactly how much Prop 26 would affect the climate-change and other environmental laws.

The UCLA study underscores their argument.

“Legislative changes or updates to existing fees, which currently fund many environmental and public health programs, would require a 2/3 supermajority vote to enact unless they fall into one of the Proposition’s exceptions. The scope of the exceptions is both narrow enough and vague enough to risk the future of many fees,” according to the analysis.

Prop 26 would undercut the state’s “polluter pays” principle, where the government charges polluters upfront fees for external costs on the public due their impact on health and the environment, according to the analysis. Prop 26 would also likely repeal state programs aimed at preventing bulky products and certain chemicals from entering landfills if they are required to receive two-thirds support, the analysis states.

Prop 26 supporters have touted an analysis by a former general counsel of the California Environmental Protection Agency to underscore their argument that it would not affect regulation of state environmental law, including AB 32.

Specifically, they contend it would not affect “reasonable regulatory fees necessary to implement and enforce California’s environmental laws,” according to a “fact sheet” supporters are handing out.

By Darren Goode
Article url:

Charles Koch Refuses to Accept Debate Challenge In-Person

Yesterday, Gabe Elsner, CSSC’s Power Vote Campaign Director accompanied Joel Francis to Koch Industries’ headquarters to deliver his debate challenge in person to CEO Charles Koch. Last week, Joel delivered his challenge through a highly publicized online video (NYTimes/Forbes/Business Week/Huff Post/LA Weekly). Here is our video update from Wichita – Please share with everyone you know!

Because Koch did not respond to the video challenge, Francis traveled to Wichita to deliver the debate challenge letter in person. Francis was prevented from entering the building after requesting to see Koch in person. He handed the debate challenge letter to Larry Moorman, Director of Corporate Security, who assured Francis that Mr. Koch would receive the letter. Before leaving, Francis called Koch Industries’ and was connected to Kay, Mr Koch’s secretary. Kay said that Charles Koch was unavailable and then took Joel’s name and phone number and assured him that Charles would get back to him.

Regardless, Charles made it clear that he heard about the challenge and responded by posting the “Director of Corporate Security” and a dozen security guards in front of the multi-billionaire dollar company.

Mr. Francis has remained friendly while pushing Charles Koch to debate the Dirty Energy Proposition – Prop 23 – in public before Election Day. As a graduating college student, Joel is about to enter a tough job market, and that is why he is working to safeguard the bright spot in California’s economy.

It seems that Mr. Koch does not have the courage to respond to a college student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran worried about the negative impact Prop 23 would have on our state.

“As a senior, I’m worried that the dirty energy initiative Mr. Koch is funding would jeopardize $10 billion of private investment in the state’s clean economy and ruin the fastest growing sector of Californian economy. Many of us who are getting ready to enter the workforce are looking to the clean technology sector as a strong employment option,” Francis said. “If Mr. Koch is going to come into our state with his money, a lot of people would like to hear directly from him why he is trying to wreak our economy’s development.”

Over the next week, the California Student Sustainability Coalition will continue mobilizing thousands of young people to ensure our generation votes on Tuesday, November 2 and defeats Prop 23.

Please help spread the word about Joel’s challenge to the billionaire CEO funding trying to ruin our clean energy future.

Pledge to vote NO on Prop 23 at !

Blog link:

Obama: No on Prop. 23 and ‘corporate polluters’

photo credit to wilmngton wally kalijArnold Schwarzenegger, George Shultz, Robert Redford, Bill Gates, James Cameron, Leonardo Di Caprio and Al Gore have all weighed in to oppose California’s Proposition 23, a November ballot initiative. Now comes the uber-endorsement for the No on 23 campaign: President Obama.

“The president is opposed to Prop. 23 — a veiled attempt by corporate polluters to block progress towards a clean energy economy,” White House spokesman Adam Abrams announced Wednesday. “If passed, the initiative would stifle innovation, investment in R&D and cost jobs for the state of California.”

But it is not just about the Golden State. Abrams added, “The impacts could affect us all. If successful, corporate special interests will set their sights nationwide.”

The White House might well be worried: Both proponents and opponents of the measure, which would suspend the implementation of California’s sweeping global warming law, say that as California goes, so go national prospects for climate change legislation.

Congress last spring killed a comprehensive bill aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and spurring alternative energy, leaving California with the only economy-wide greenhouse gas law in the nation. Scientists say that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, spewed into the atmosphere by cars, trucks and industrial plants, are trapping heat in the atmosphere and disrupting the global climate.

Europe has forged ahead with strict curbs, and some U.S. states have adopted more modest laws than California’s. California is set to enact rules in December aimed at slashing its carbon footprint down to 1990 levels by 2020.

Proposition 23 would suspend the regulations until unemployment in the state drops to 5.5% for a year — a level the state has achieved only three times in the last four decades. It is backed by oil refiners that say their electricity costs and other fees would rise dramatically, as well as the California Manufacturer and Technology Assn., a Sacramento-based trade group.

— Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Protesters march in Wilmington against Proposition 23. Texas-based Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp., the main funders of the ballot initiative, own refineries in Wilmington.

Credit: Wally Skalij /Los Angeles Times

Investor groups balk at oil companies’ support of Prop. 23

Institutional investor groups concerned about corporate funding of political campaigns are expected to announce shareholder resolutions Wednesday that will challenge three energy firms making big-dollar contributions to halt California’s landmark law limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The resolutions target Occidental Petroleum Corp., Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp., which have contributed to an $8-million campaign on behalf of Proposition 23, which would effectively repeal the state’s stringent global warming rules.

The resolutions will come initially from a tiny group of shareholders. Green Century Capital Management in Boston, which is co-filing the resolution challenging Los Angeles-based Occidental, holds fewer than 100 shares in the company. Valero and Tesoro are based in San Antonio.

Wednesday’s announcement is sponsored in part by the Investor Network on Climate Risk, which represents institutional investors with $9 trillion in assets, showing the prospect of broad future support for the resolutions.

The announcement marks the beginning of a concerted campaign by a group of large investors to defeat Proposition 23 and preserve the California law cutting industrial and vehicle emissions. Next week, several large investment firms — including one of the world’s largest, Deutsche Asset Management — are expected to formally announce opposition to Proposition 23.

At the same time, the resolutions underscore the growing use of shareholder pressure on corporations to disclose details of their political spending.

This year, shareholders of Target Corp. and others objected to the company’s support for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota with a record of opposing gay rights. Target apologized and promised to review its donation policies.

“Leading institutional investors both large and small are concerned that Prop. 23 … would be a step backward,” said Mindy Lubber of the Investor Network.

California’s public pension funds are not taking an official position on the shareholder resolutions. But a member of the board of New York City’s pension system, one of the nation’s largest, said he was interested in the resolution and had supported resolutions like it in the past. Similar interest has been expressed privately by other pension fund executives.

But the challenge was dismissed by officials at Valero, which has contributed $4 million to the Proposition 23 campaign. Like the other resolutions, the one offered to Valero’s board comes from a relatively minor shareholder: the Unitarian church. It would require independent board members to review Valero’s political contributions and their effects on the company’s reputation and on climate change.

The filers are a “stockholder activist group,” said Valero spokesman Bill Day in describing the Unitarian Universalist Assn. of Congregations.

“Valero’s support of Proposition 23 reflects its position as a significant employer in California with 1,600 employees and an annual payroll of $122 million,” Day said, arguing Proposition 23 would delay a go-it-alone policy that could threaten 1 million jobs.

At issue in the Proposition 23 debate is the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, known as AB32, which requires the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. That effort is supposed to begin in 2011, but Proposition 23 would halt implementation until the state’s unemployment rate falls below 5.5% for an entire year.

With unemployment now at more than 12%, the law — considered the most ambitious clean-air legislation in the country when it passed in 2006 — could be stalled for years under the ballot measure.

The shareholder group contended that AB32 is vital to job creation. Since enactment of the law, the state has benefitted from more than $9 billion in investments aimed at developing clean energy technology, they said.

Market research by VantagePoint Venture Partners, a San Bruno, Calif., investment firm that has extensive holdings in clean-energy technology, suggests that more than $2 billion was invested in green start-ups in California last year, creating more than half a million jobs.

The group attributes these gains — and the presence in California of seven of the country’s 10 largest clean-energy technology companies — to AB32 and the state’s other energy policies.

Day pointed out that the resolutions to be announced Wednesday would not be considered until the Valero board’s April meeting.

The resolutions’ backers acknowledge that they are unlikely to have an immediate effect on campaign spending by oil companies. But proponents see the effort as a way to highlight what’s at stake in the Proposition 23 debate and to warn companies away from additional contributions to the cause in California and elsewhere.

“If Prop. 23 passes, it would be a considerable setback for renewable energy investment in the U.S.,” said Mayura Hooper, a spokesman for Deutsche Asset Management. “Investors require consistent and long-term policies, and if a leader like California suspends its regulatory framework for climate change, there is a high risk that other states will follow.”

The international investment house, which has not taken a position on the resolutions, has emphasized investment in green technology for some of the $700 billion it manages.

October 13, 2010 | By Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger, Los Angeles Times

Article url:

Global Work Party, 10/10/10

Today is’s Global Work Party as a way to tell our legislators “We’re getting to work, what about you?”

There are events going on in over 180 countries–that means that almost every country in the world is partaking in a grassroots movement to push for serious action on climate change. This year, organizers and participants are rolling out lists of climate solutions, from starting community gardens to promoting alternative transportation to installing solar panels.

This day is a catalyst for organizers to join together and be the change we wish to see in the world. Last year,’s Day of Climate Awareness was called the largest day of political action in history. This year is set to blow that day away. How will you be a part of history? >> Find a local event near you

Van Jones Slams Koch Industries’ Role In Prop 23

Well before the conglomerate Koch Industries plunged $1 million into Prop 23 — a ballot initiative in California to essentially repeal the state’s revolutionary clean energy climate change law AB 32 — the Wonk Room revealed that front groups controlled by Koch had been working to promote Prop 23. Americans for Prosperity, the front group founded and financed by Koch Industries’ executive David Koch, had organized Tea Party rallies in favor of Prop 23 and produced online ads distorting California clean energy. The Pacific Research Foundation, also funded by Koch-run foundations, produced junk studies promoting Prop 23.

Today, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Van Jones spoke to ThinkProgress about Prop 23 and the oil interests polluting the energy debate. Asked about the influence of Koch in supporting Prop 23, Jones slammed the company for “trying to shove” its politics on California. To respond to the Tea Parties and other radical right groups, many of which have been organized by Koch and big business fronts, Jones encouraged the public to “stay involved and to get involved,” because otherwise the people “screaming and yelling at these Tea Party events” will win control of government. He added, “I don’t think you want the Tea Party running your community, running your family, running your government”:

    JONES: Koch Industries has promoted awful environmental policies. They’ve been literally poisoning rivers, poisoning streams, and making money off of that. They’ve promoted now this awful economic idea that if you grow new industries in California you somehow hurt the economy. That’s nuts. And now they’re promoting bad politics by backing I think extreme movements in the United States. Here you have a bad actor, three strikes and you’re out. They’re bad on the environment in terms of their practices, they’re bad in terms of their economic philosophy they’re trying to shove down the throats of California, and they’re bad in their politics in terms of their supporting extreme political ideas in America. I think if you start connecting those dots, California voters are very sophisticated, and I don’t think any of them think the people who run Koch Industries wake up in the morning thinking how can Californians have better jobs? […]

    JONES: If you think things are bad now, what will happen when the people are screaming and yelling at these Tea Party events are actually in charge of your government, and in charge of your life, and in charge of your kids’ future? That is, maybe you have some hope fatigue, but you got a lot of reason to be fearful enough I think to stay involved and to get involved. I don’t think you want the Tea Party running your community, running your family, running your government.

Watch it:

As Jones states, Koch is not only corrosive to our politics because of its funding of angry and paranoid Tea Parties, but the company also manipulates the political system to pad its profits. For instance, Business Week reported on how Koch Industries used then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) to try to suppress an investigation into Koch Industries’ massive theft of oil from Indian reservations. In another case, Koch Industries faced a $55 million civil suit for causing more than 300 oil spills over a five-year period. Again, Dole, a major recipient of Koch money and support, sponsored a bill that would allow Koch to easily defend itself from the oil spill charges. After Koch helped to elect George Bush in 2000, the Bush Justice Department abruptly settled a criminal case with $350 million in penalties Koch faced for discharging toxic chemicals from a refinery in Corpus Cristi, Texas.

Why is the “Kochtopus” flexing its muscle of campaign donations, Tea Parties, and front groups to enact the clean energy-killing Prop 23? In its corporate newsletter, Koch Industries explicitly states that the low carbon fuel standard California is set to adopt to comply with AB 32 carbon emissions regulations would harm its bottom line because Koch imports mostly high-carbon crude oil from Canada. Another Koch newsletter warns that its Pine Bend Refinery in Minnesota specializing in high-carbon Canadian crude would become much less profitable for Koch if low fuel standards mirroring AB 32 are adopted around the country.

Lee Kang
Full url:

More Oiled Birds Than Ever Being Found

More than three weeks after BP capped its gushing oil well, skimming operations have all but stopped and federal scientists say just a quarter of the oil remains in the Gulf of Mexico.

But wildlife officials are rounding up more oiled birds than ever as fledgling birds get stuck in the residual goo and rescuers make initial visits to rookeries they had avoided disturbing during nesting season.

Before BP plugged the well with a temporary cap on July 15, an average of 37 oiled birds were being collected dead or alive each day. Since then, the figure has nearly doubled to 71 per day, according to a Times-Picayune review of daily wildlife rescue reports.

The figures for sea turtles have climbed even higher, with more oiled turtles recovered in the past 10 days than during the spill’s first three months.

While the increase in turtles remains a mystery, wildlife officials say there are several factors at play in the seemingly counterintuitive surge in the number of oiled birds recovered since the leak was stopped.

For starters, it took longer for the oil to reach nesting colonies in coastal marshes, creating a lag in the spill’s effect on sea birds, said Kyla Hastie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

She said rescuers also had steered clear of some rookeries until recently.

“We’re just now getting into some of the really sensitive areas,” Hastie said. “If we had done so earlier, we could have done more harm than good.”

Young birds getting caught

Fledgling birds that are just now leaving nesting colonies are particularly vulnerable to landing in oiled areas, said Charlie Hebert, a deputy wildlife branch director for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We’re seeing more juvenile birds getting oiled as they’re trying out their wings,” he said.

While skimming operations have nearly stopped because the remaining oil is too dispersed, bird rescue efforts have held steady, with about 45 teams heading out each day, Hebert said.

Rescuers are in a race against the clock as the percentage of oiled birds recovered alive has dropped from 56 percent before the well was capped to 41 percent now.

As of Friday, a total of 1,794 oiled birds had been recovered alive, as well as 1,642 that had died, with 73 percent of the birds coming from Louisiana.

Hebert said the spill has primarily affected pelicans, herons, egrets, terns and laughing gulls, but information on how many of each species have been recovered was unavailable.

Wildlife officials had rehabilitated and released 657 birds through Thursday.

A total of 428 oiled sea turtles have been recovered, with 222 coming in just the past 10 days.

“The high number of turtles is a bit of a mystery to us,” Hebert said. “We’re finding oiled turtles feeding on seaweed drift lines, but there’s no apparent oil in the drift lines or on the open water.”

The prognosis for sea turtles has been much better than for birds, as just 17 visibly oiled turtles have died.

Exxon Valdez more deadly to wildlife

The wildlife death toll from the Gulf oil spill has been much lower than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, which killed an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles and up to 22 killer whales.

Hebert said the Exxon Valdez spill caused such carnage because it occurred close to shore in cold waters that quickly killed oiled birds who lost their waterproofing.

By contrast, birds oiled in the Gulf’s warm waters can survive for two or three weeks before they become debilitated enough to be captured by rescuers, Hebert said.

Because the Gulf region sits beneath one of the world’s major migratory flyways, a federal conservation agency is paying some farmers and ranchers to flood their fields to provide oil-free feeding and resting areas for millions of birds passing through the region.

The $20 million program will involve up to 150,000 acres of former wetland areas and low-lying land, according to the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Meanwhile, Hebert said nesting islands affected by the spill are “looking a lot better now.”

“Most of the oil has been removed,” he said. “From a wildlife point of view, I’ve been very happy with the cleanup efforts.”

Hebert said the recent uptick in the number of oiled birds being recovered is not expected to continue for a prolonged period.

“The oil has stopped flowing and there are no places where big numbers of birds could be hidden from us,” he said. “We’ve already been everywhere.”

Paul Rioux, The Times-Picayune

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Gulf Spill: Catalyst for Change?

We at the CSSC believe that to create a truly sustainable world, we must use the horrific events in the Gulf as a catalyst to end our addiction to dirty fossil fuels and move us towards the reduction of material goods based on “cheap” oil. Check out some of our favorite articles about the spill here

The explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore exploratory drilling rig and resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has left us all thinking about the state of affairs in the world today. Be it the ongoing proof that our “for the people government” is being bent towards the multi-billion dollar corporations, the maddening loss of life, livelihood, and opportunity’s in the gulf towns, or the continued failure to actually stop and clean the spill, we have all been left a little shaken, a little disheartened. But there is something else emerging: people are demanding change. We at the CSSC believe that in order to create a truly sustainable world, we must use this moment as a catalyst, to switch us from our dirty addiction to fossil fuels to the creation of renewable energy, and move towards the reduction of material goods based on “cheap” oil. We believe in transparency and changing the way our government deals with moneyed interests. And we want to hear YOUR ideas about where we go from here!

In order to keep awareness alive, and to share the latest news, we will be featuring a new article every other day to spread the best information that’s out there.

Article #1: BP Blocks Media Coverage of Oil Spill >>
Article #2: BP and the ‘Little Eichmanns’
Article #3: Did BP Ask For Lockerbie Bomber’s Release? U.S. Senators Seek Probe Of Al-Megrahi Emancipation

The danger of Props. 16 and 17 (Editorial)

The problem here is not just two awful laws – it’s the idea that a single company, with loads of cash, can utterly subvert the basic premise of Democracy.

The California Democratic Party voted at its statewide convention April 17 to oppose Propositions 16 and 17. The San Francisco Chronicle — no friend of public power and consumer rights — endorsed strongly against both measures April 18. In fact, most major newspapers and civic groups have come out against what amounts to the most blatant attempt in California history by a pair of big corporations to buy favorable legislation at the ballot box.

And for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Mercury Insurance, none of that matters much.

This campaign is all about money — big gobs of money — and PG&E and Mercury have it and their opponents, so far, don’t. And if that doesn’t change in the next few weeks — if Democratic Party leaders, starting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer — don’t immediately start making the defeat of these two measures a priority, California will send a signal to every big corporate interest in the world that its laws and policies are for sale.

Prop. 16 is being sold — in slick TV ads and mailers so deceptive they can only be called intentional lies — as giving the voters the right to have a say before local government gets into the business of selling electricity. The proposition, one PG&E flyer notes, “is our best protection against government spending your money to get into a business they [sic] know nothing about.”

Actually, government knows a lot about the electricity business. All over California, public power agencies offer better service and lower rates than the private utilities. Nationwide, residents of more than 2,000 communities have public power — and few want to give it up and return to buying electricity from private utilities.

But that’s not the point. Prop. 16 exists entirely because PG&E wanted to stop competition. The company is spending at least $35 million of its money to pass a law that would require a two-thirds vote (a nearly insurmountable obstacle) before any local agency can offer or expand local electricity service. The Chronicle, which has always opposed public power in San Francisco, argues that “Californians should be skeptical of any local government’s claim that it can deliver cheaper and cleaner power than an established utility. But they should be at least as wary when that monopoly utility wants to deprive them of that choice.”

Prop. 17 is another blatant single-interest measure, sponsored and underwritten entirely by one giant insurance company, to change the way car insurance is regulated in California. It would, among other things, allow insurers to raise rates for people who don’t already have coverage. Give up your car for a year (because you lost your job and couldn’t afford it, or decided that you could commute just as well by bicycle, or for any other reason) and the next time you buy insurance, your rates could soar — even if your driving record was clean.

The problem here is not just two awful laws — it’s the idea that a single company, with loads of cash, can utterly subvert not only the intent of California’s initiative law but the basic premise of Democracy. PG&E and Mercury were unable to get the state Legislature to do what they wanted, so they hired campaign consultants, paid millions for people to gather signatures on petitions, put the self-serving measures on the ballot, and are now flooding airwaves and mailboxes with well-crafted, effective lies. If they succeed, what’s going to stop every other sleazy big-money interest from doing the same?

Well, right now, nothing.

It’s absolutely critical, both for the issues of public power and consumer rights and for the fundamental notion that you can’t simply buy a new law, that Props. 16 and 17 are defeated. But we’re not seeing a lot of evidence that any of the most influential people in California are taking this seriously.

State Sen. Mark Leno has done tremendous work in getting the state party to oppose Prop. 16. Assembly Member Tom Ammiano has been working nonstop in Sacramento to try to get some money into the No on 16 coffers. San Francisco Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has led the statewide organizing efforts. And San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera joined a lawsuit to invalidate the law.

But in all the speeches and public statements that Pelosi, Boxer, Attorney General Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. candidates Janice Hahn and Gavin Newsom, party chair John Burton, and others delivered at the state party convention, there was nary a mention of the fundamental importance of voting no on 16 and 17. None of the people who are capable of raising millions of dollars, the sort of money needed to defeat these measures, is making much of an effort to do it.

Props. 16 and 17 can be defeated. All it takes is a massive campaign to educate voters in a low turnout election about what these two measures actually are. But if the state’s political leaders allow these two measures to pass, California in 2010 will go down in history as the most corrupt and ungovernable state in America. And it’s very close to happening.

Editorial posted on Bruce’s Blog at SFGate, article can be found here

CA Higher Education Sustainability Conference

9th Annual CA Higher Education Sustainability Conference
June 20th-23rd, 2010
Hosted by Los Angeles Community College District
At Los Angeles Trade Technical College

  • Learn proven solutions from your peers
  • Discuss best practices designed for California campuses
  • Meet student leaders creating change
  • Meet green business leaders at the exhibitor show
  • Meet the decision-makers from the three higher education systems

For more information, visit our website:
Or email Katie Maynard at

Leadership Training in Colorado

Our generation’s calling is clear: If we are going to build a “Movement of movements” that is broad and connected enough to address the system-wide problems we are facing, we have to rally our entire generation to collective action, moving from apathy to engagement, powerlessness to empowerment, and connecting our individual efforts up within the groundswell of social change that is emerging in our time.

Through a partnership with Awakening the Dreamer and Generation Waking Up, participants will be trained in transformative leadership and social change skills — public narrative, systems thinking, shared leadership — along with learning to facilitate a “Wake Up” experience, a powerful organizing tool that provides a larger context for understanding today’s global challenges and opportunities, and that effectively moves people into inspired, collaborative action toward the creation of a thriving, just, sustainable world.

For more information and to sign up, please visit the site at

2010 Spring Convergence Photo Contest

We saw you!  You were taking awesome pictures at the Convergence.  We want the best of the best Convergence photos.  So, we’ve created a contest.  Pick your ten best photos that you took of the Convergence.  The Operating Team will then select the top three submitted photos that best campture the spirit of the Convergence.  The selection will be based on the content of the photograph, not the quality (so as to give equal opportunity to cameras of all economic status).  The photographers of the top three photos will have their photos featured on our website, in our newsletter, and on our Facebook page.  The photographer of the top photo will receive free admission to the next Convergence.  Email your top 10 photos to Ryan Andersen at no later than May 23rd at midnight with the subject line “CSSC Convergence Photo Contest.”  Good Luck!

Carrot Mob UCSB from EAB

A Carrotmob is a method of activism that leverages consumer power to make the most socially-responsible business practices also the most profitable choices. Businesses compete with one another to see who can do the most good, and then a big mob of consumers buys products in order to reward whichever business made the strongest commitment to improve the world. It’s the opposite of a boycott.We asked all of the liquor stores in Isla Vista, “What percentage of the day’s gross revenue would you be willing to reinvest into energy efficient technologies like new lighting or insulation for the freezers?” Isla Vista Market submitted the highest bid, pledging to commit 20 percent of the revenue generated on November 21st (2009) from 1-5pm to be re-invested in to the store in the form of green technologies.In four hours we generated approximately $5,500 in revenue and had over 500 people shop at IV Market, resulting in $1,100 of energy efficient retrofits to their store. On a typical Saturday between 1-5pm IV Market brings in approximately $2,000 in revenue, so we considered the project a huge the success.

The Environmental Affairs Board (UCSB group hosting the Carrotmob event) partnered with Sun (re)construction LLC, which is a full-service consultancy and project management firm that is focused on generating effective deep energy savings for retrofit and new construction projects, to manage the retrofit of Isla Vista Market.

Through numerous audits and long discussions, EAB and Sun (re)construction were able to generate a long-term plan for Isla Vista Market that would make the store as close to a net-zero energy business as possible, all while providing a payback on investment within five years. The retrofit to the store will be conducted in a phased progression, with phase one being a complete redesign and replacement of the stores lighting system, phase two focuses on replacing old refrigerators and compressors with the most efficient new technologies available, and phase three will be the instillation of a photovoltaic system on the roof of the store.

Construction on Isla Vista Market is scheduled to begin on March 15th, 2010 and the tentative date of completion for all three phases is July 15th. The cost of the full retrofit is not concrete at this point but is estimated at $100,000 to $150,000.

What makes the concept of a Carrotmob so appealing is the partnership that is built between students, faculty members, and local businesses. Students at research-based universities are in great need of projects that provide them with hands-on, practical work and local businesses have the opportunity to build long-term relationships with student organizations from the near bye campus. This is a special event that provides all participating groups with beneficial roles.There is an easy-to-read Carrotmob manual that coaches would-be group organizers at each step along in the process. This manual allows for students, who would typically not be able to organize an event of this magnitude, to progress through the campaign with a set of guidelines and instructions.

A Carrotmob is an entirely positive campaign which does not seek to portray non-supportive businesses in a negative light, but instead encourages consumers to make conscious decisions that will benefit their local community and environment. The positive nature of the campaign is complimented well by the fun atmosphere of the day’s event and is a natural draw to all types of people. For this project to be successful it was necessary for students, faculty members, business owners, and working professionals to all be striving towards the same goal. The focus and direction of the campaign was in the hands of the students but relied on counseling from faculty members, support from local businesses, and the professional “know-how” from the working professionals.

The owners of Isla Vista Market made the event unique to their own store by pledging to be plastic bag free on the day of the event. Additionally, Isla Vista Market partnered with the County of Santa Barbara to have the business certified as a “Green Business” by the Green Business Program of Santa Barbara County.Sun (re)construction, which is a company founded and operated by a UCSB alum, enabled the project to move forward in a way that neither students nor faculty members were capable of doing. Sun (re)construction was especially good throughout the project because of their ability to involve students from the campaign in the meetings and audits that were conducted.

In the campaign to the businesses I told the story of Keg N Bottle Market in Isla Vista (which is a grocery store similar in characteristics to Isla Vista Market), which in January of 2009 invested approximately $40,000 in energy efficient technology for their liquor store. The upgrades, which primarily focused on more efficient lighting systems and upgrades to refrigeration appliances, saved Keg N Bottle $4,800 on their first energy bill. The savings created by the new technologies had a payback on initial investment of less than nine months and would provide these types of savings for years to come. The system that will be introduced into Isla Vista Market includes newer and better technologies and is more widespread, because of these traits I believe the savings will be even deeper than that just described about Keg N Bottle. If money is being saved, energy consumption at the same time must be decreasing!

Learn more about Carrot Mob

CSSC LA Regional Potluck, Sherman Oaks – March 14th

ApplesPlease join us for a community building dinner of dedicated students working towards sustainability in the Los Angeles and Southern California region. Please bring a yummy dish, appetizer, desert, or beverage to share, as well as any musical instruments. Join us in this wonderful opportunity to get to know one other, celebrate, and become familiar with the good work that we all do in Los Angeles and surrounding regions. People who wish to attend can RSVP by emailing Joy at