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When the Earth Care Working Group first came together, it seemed logical to include a web presence. It quickly became clear that most of our members preferred local and one-on-one methods of transmitting information, and so this blog, quite obviously, fell into disuse. I seriously considered taking it off the web for fear that visitors might assume we had simply disappeared as so many organizations have, and to make our url available for a more tech-centered environmental group.

And my have we ever NOT faded away! Two years ago we struggled to identify a niche for our group; after all, many organizations in the area work on earth care. But we still felt a unique leading to participate in this wonderful, burgeoning movement of people who wish to live in more sustainable ways. At one point we decided to have a “movie night” at a member’s house; we screened “Fuel” and served a simple supper of soup and bread. It was an insightful evening for everyone, and we decided to do another. We followed with “Food, Inc.,” “King Corn,” and others covering food, co-housing, permaculture, and climate change. Gradually we realized we had found our place in the conversation: to bring together an intimate group of people who were in the process–some at the beginning, some well along the path–of changing theirs and their community’s lives to better care for the earth. We choose films that  highlight the problems we face as a planet, but more importantly, inspire us to participate in creative solutions to them. Our goal is to create hope and energy where there is discouragement and fatigue.

Because these films are currently screened at a member’s private home, it would be inappropriate to open them to the general public. Our turnout has been wonderful just through word of mouth.

That being said, we still wish to reach out to any one in the community who would like to learn more about earth care and meet a group of like-minded folks to share in conversation and good food. If you live in Iowa City or the surrounding area and would like to become part of this extended conversation, please email me at jlpannell at gmail dot com and we’d be happy to welcome you.

At some point the membership composition may change and move toward a greater web presence; for the meantime, we talk, we eat, we change. Join us.

The energy legislation which has been in committee, has now been approved and will be coming up for discussion on the house floor. The committee was so conservative that Henry Waxman and Ed Markey who are chairman and cochairman of the committee had to make compromises just to get the bill out of committee. The compromises according to FCNL are severe enough to “critically undermine the primary goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions”

Here are the problems:

1. This bill, which is called the American Clean Energy & Security Act, (HR 2454) is a cap and trade system which is good. However, they’ve set the cap at 1% below the 1990 levels for CO2 emissions and are setting a deadline of 2020 to reach that level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is recommending a 25 -40% cut. The IPCC is a panel of scientists from any country that is either in the World Meteorological Organization or the United Nations Environmental Program. Their objective is to present objective information on climate change for governments making environmental decisions.  We need quick, deep and real cuts in greenhouse gas emissions before 2020.

2. Another short coming is that there are provisions that allow polluters to continue polluting at current levels for over a decade. This is because the bill allows industries to purchase unlimited offsets (2 billion tons/year) instead of making changes to reduce their emissions.

3. Instead of charging for pollution permits which is one of the six key elements that FCNL says is important for this legislation, this bill is giving 2/3 of them away. Only 15% of them will be auctioned off. This money is needed to go into a program to help families offset energy costs and to help investors in clean energy technology.

We need to target Dave Loebsack to provide some leadership to improve this bill. There is an easy letter on the FCNL website where you can click on little arrows and then you can edit the paragraphs that are moved over to your letter. That only takes a few minutes and you’ve sent your letter. Perhaps we’d also like to do something else. Would a group letter by snail mail make a bigger impression?   Would some one like to call his office or pay him a visit?

– Marcia

Check out this sweat-powered alternative to fossil-fuel guzzling transit in Iowa City!

When I hear about legislation to prevent climate change my eyes start to glaze over. It’s so boring! I’ve tried to put down my thoughts here as a way of keeping focused and understanding what is going on. See if it makes sense to you.

Energy Thoughts —

When I became concerned about global warming I didn’t understand why other people weren’t feeling the same way. How can we stand by and let this happen to our world?! I want everyone to live their lives in such a way that global warming will stop. It seemed to me the first step was for me to reduce my carbon footprint. How could I expect anyone else to do this unless I could do this myself.

Now I’m reading Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman. The first half of the book is about the problem. It’s enough to make you sit down and cry. Now I’m into the second half of the book which is about the solution. He starts out saying that all the easy things to do to reduce your carbon footprint are not enough. And he isn’t saying that if a few of us succeed in reducing our footprints it’s going to convince anyone else to do the same. He’s looking a much bigger picture. He says that we need to change our whole lifestyle. His solution begins with legislation. The government needs to subsidize clean energy and tax polluting energy sources. We need to do much more with efficiency. If energy was really, really expensive it would motivate people to change their lifestyle.

So originally I was thinking I had to lower my footprint as a first step in getting the world to lower theirs. Now I’m thinking that while it’s important to do this, we need to do things that will bring the rest of the world with us. We can’t do this by ourselves.

In the last few days, I’ve been looking at the FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) website trying to figure out what is happening in the legislature. The following ideas are from their website and also from Friedman’s book.

To begin with a bit of history, the Senate had proposed legislation in 2007 that fell woefully short of curbing CO2 emissions. Their concern was that industry was objecting and they tried to propose legislation that industry would not lobby to death. This strategy failed and the legislation failed to get enough support to move forward. Right now, as I write this, the house is preparing new legislation. It is in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and once out of this committee will move to other committees so there is time to influence the content of this legislation.

FCNL says the energy crisis is an opportunity. They have given the following as advantages of getting good legislation passed:

1. It will reduce the dependence on foreign oil. (Now we are funding al-Qa’ida.)

2. It will create jobs, from high tech to manufacturing.

3. It will develop new industries while becoming an international leader in clean-tech exports

4. We will live in a cleaner environment with many additional health benefits such as reduced smog, sulfur, and heavy metals emissions.

FCNL is supporting a Cap and Trade program instead of a carbon tax. I was surprised at this at first because I thought everyone should do everything they could to reduce CO2 emissions but in reality people don’t do difficult things out of the goodness of their hearts. If there’s a tax on carbon emissions some industries will just pay the tax and keep on polluting. A Cap a Trade program will set a standard you can’t go above and lower that standard each year. Here is what FCNL considers as key elements that must be included in a good Cap and Trade program.

1. Auction 100% of the pollution permits. The senate bill (The Low Carbon Economic Act of 2007) gave 2/3 of the emissions to industries for free. A better plan is for the government to charge for pollution permits so that it can offset the increased cost of energy to the consumer. It can also use the money to invest in low-carbon technology, conservation and efficiency efforts, climate change adaptation and worker transition.

2. Rebate the majority of revenue back to the people. This legislation that increases the cost of emitting carbon will increase the cost of goods and services. Rebates to consumers must be part of the program.

3. Limit and verify offsets. Providing “offsets” is the idea that when you pollute, you send some money to someone to plant more trees or to a school adding energy conservation equipment. These are certainly worthy goals but the effects are hard to measure. How do you equate the benefit of the offset to the pollution that you caused. Because this is so difficult to measure the “Cap” should mean real domestic emission reductions.

4. Cap at the first point of sale. This means to cap the emission at the mine, refinery, processing plant or import point. It makes it easier to regulate because there are fewer sources to regulate.

5. Create a price floor. Investors are taking a risk and they need to know what the price of energy will be in the future. A new industry can be devastated by changes in the price of oil. When the price of gasoline drops, the demand for hybrid cars decreases leaving the hybrid car manufacturer in the lurch. To get new alternative industries started they need to know there will be a demand for their product.

6. Create a permit reserve pool. This further stabilizes the price of energy by creating a ceiling. A reserve pool would be set up to sell additional pollution permits when the permit price reaches an unacceptable high threshold. At this time the house bill is falling short of these key elements. We need to urge our representatives to include these elements in the new legislation so that it truly accomplishes a significant reduction in carbon emission.

–Marcia

Don would like to alert the group to the following campaign sponsored by Credo Action:

“The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) has a bone to pick with Michelle Obama.

MACA represents chemical companies that produce pesticides, and they are angry that – wait for it – Michelle Obama isn’t using chemicals in her organic garden at the White House.

We are not making this up.

In an email they forwarded to their supporters, a MACA spokesman wrote, “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” MACA went on to publish a letter it had sent to the First Lady asking her to consider using chemicals — or what they call “crop protection products” — in her garden.

Michelle Obama has done America a great service by publicizing the importance of nutritious food for kids (she’s growing the garden in partnership with a local elementary school class) as well as locally grown produce as an important, environmentally sustainable food source.

MACA’s letter is part of a larger propaganda effort to convince people that chemicals are a necessary part of produce growth – when we know that’s not true.

Sign this petition today to tell the board members of MACA (virtually all of them big chemical executives) that we don’t appreciate their telling Michelle Obama (or any of us) to use pesticides in our gardens. We support Michelle Obama’s organic garden, and we’ll thank them to keep their propaganda out of it.

(Click on the highlighted text above to go to Credo Action to sign the petition)

Simplicity

I just came across this study, which finds that ‘natural,’ homemade cleaning products do not, in most cases, clean as well as mainstream commercial ones, but that used together (in separate steps; the study did not look at concoctions) do a reasonably good job.  I’ll note that my hero, vinegar, scored in the “most effective” category for reduction of microbial contamination.

I think it’s important to tell the truth about natural cleaners.  Commercial detergents generally work better–or at least faster–and most of us use them because they do.  They usually work in one step, without requiring rinsing or much scrubbing, and of course they are ubiquitous.

They also come with a price.  So we have to ask ourselves, I think, which price we’re most willing to pay:  sore elbows and ten extra minutes for rinsing, or environmental degradation?

Maybe we also need to look at our addiction to power and speed.  Isn’t part of the principle of simplicity the willingness to slow down and honor the processes of our lives?  Could we learn to cherish the simple act of mixing together a batch of vinegar and lemon juice, to enjoy the scent of lavender wafting up from the tub we’re leaning over, scrubbing our frustrations away?

From Quinn:

I’ve been finding a lot of people are interested in our Sunday bus service issue, so I’m not worried about getting plenty of signatures on a petition.  I talked to folks from Fair, from the Green Party, and from the Housing Commission.  All are keen on pushing for Sunday bus.  Not to mention the many who themselves desperately need the service.

Here is a draft for a petition — would welcome suggestions regarding any changes or additions.

We the undersigned believe Sunday bus service is a critical need in Iowa City.  During the last ten years Iowa City has experienced a substantial increase in the number of transit-dependent people living here:  An ever increasing number of unemployed living in outlying districts who need to find a job but without Sunday bus service are unable to take weekend positions.  Low income people who cannot afford a car, or even if they have a car cannot afford gas.  The elderly and/or people with disabilities who cannot drive.  Many too young to drive.  Many who cannot attend Sunday worship services for lack of Sunday bus service.  At the same time growing numbers support expansion of public transit as a way to protect the environment.  We therefore ask that the City Council place the issue of Sunday bus service on their agenda for consideration.

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