Capitalism and the Climate

One of the hardest decisions that faces a progressive right now is how to consider the environment when there are so many justice — race, class, and immigration — issues confronting this country. And yet it is arguable that the Trump administration is doing more harm to our environment than it is even to undocumented immigrants.

I just finished reading Naomi Klein’s excellent 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. One of Klein’s central points, as the book’s subtitle suggests, is that combating climate change requires all the elements of the progressive worldview, not just the traditional environmental conservationism. It has become clear that the values of free-market capitalism will do nothing to slow down climate change; “only mass social movements can save us now,” she writes in her Conclusion, just the sort of movements that are emerging more powerfully now than in a long time.

Where can we look for a time when social movements made a huge change to the U.S.? We can look to the gains of the labor movement in the Great Depression, and to those of the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century. In times like this, “activism becomes something that is not performed by a small tribe within a culture…, but becomes an entirely normal activity throughout society.” This is arguably what the succession of marches and rallies is seeking.

Klein writes that “any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of world-views, a process of rebuilding and reinventing the very idea of the collective, the communal, the commons, the civil, and the civic after so many decades of attack and neglect. … [I]t requires breaking so many rules at once—rules written into national laws and trade agreements, as well as powerful unwritten rules that tell us that no government can increase taxes and stay in power, or say no to major investments no matter how damaging, or plan to gradually contract those parts of our economies that endanger us all. … [T]he task is to articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.”

Fighting climate change requires the same ideas, attitudes, and methods as fighting income, wealth, educational, racial, and criminal justice inequality. The biggest difference with climate change is that we have so little time, and that what our society has done, and what the current administration is doing, hurts not just our country, but the world, and not just now, but for a long time.

At a more local level, Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven recognizes the importance of environmental concerns in urban housing in its new Environmental Leadership program, which starts in mid-June.

CT’s Annual Environmental Report Is Out Today

The CT Council on Environmental Quality’s annual report on environmental conditions came out today. The summary paints a mostly negative picture. While the state has continued to clean up the Sound, and “many municipalities are innovating and working hard to reduce runoff, reduce petroleum consumption, recycle garbage, and improve and preserve habitats,” there are three big problems that stand in the way of further progress.

One is the climate, that is, more heat and more extremes of drought and rain. “Heat is a problem because it leads to the production of ground-level ozone, the most injurious of Connecticut’s remaining air pollution problems. Heat also warms watercourses and Long Island Sound. Oxygen conditions in the deep Sound were nearly the worst they had been in the last ten years.” And heavy rains “wash uncounted tons of pollution into streams and rivers.”

This runoff is exacerbated by a second problem, our roads and parking lots. “The task of reducing runoff from already-developed areas, while doable (and to some extent required in most municipalities), requires decades. Lawns can be transformed into environmentally-helpful features more quickly, but widespread change is not evident.” There is a Stormwater Education Kit that contains a great deal of information on improving one’s lawn. Click here for a short summary of EPA stormwater recommendations, and here for ideas for improving a sloped lawn.

The third big problem is “lack of investment in land conservation and management. ‘Investment’ does not mean money only, as there is no effective strategy in place to effectively spend (a hypothetical) windfall. … The small size of the average parcel of land in Connecticut renders current conservation strategies unrealistic. Connecticut will adopt new approaches or fail to reach its conservation goals.”

Then there is a fourth problem:  the Trump administration and the states to our south and west. Less energy efficiency and more fuel combustion in these states “would lead to the types of air pollution that generally blow toward Connecticut.” And a cut in federal grants, which “have been used very effectively by this state to improve Long Island Sound, protect forests and farmland, put economic life back into contaminated properties and restore wildlife habitats along coves and rivers,” could be harmful to the future of the state’s environment.

The Progress and Problems section of the summary ends very sadly:

The potential for retreat is an unusual and regrettable reality. The Council always focuses attention on the steps that are necessary for conditions to improve; this year, it must conclude that gains already made are now in peril.

Things don’t look good right now, but there are a lot of things each of us in our homes, and all of us working together through the state’s many environmental organizations and through our municipal and state governments, can do to limit environment backsliding and continue to improve our land and water conservation practices, and limit the amount we pollute air and water and add carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.


Earth Day Activities – April 22

The biggest local Earth Day activity in Greater New Haven is the Rock to Rock Earth Day Ride, a fundraising event for a wide range of nonprofits.

Another big event is the March for Science, the goal of which is to call for public funding of scientific research and education, to promote empiricism and objectivity in regards to all fields of science, and to convey the nonpartisan nature of the scientific method. This march (some are really rallies and fairs) will be held in various locales:

New Haven, starting at 2:00 at College Woods Pavilion, East Rock Park – speakers and actual march
Hartford, 12-3 rally at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza
East Haddam, 10-4 Science Fair at the East Haddam Grange
Southeastern CT, 11-1 teach-in and march starting from Hole in the Wall Beach along the Niantic Bay Boardwalk in East Lyme.Washington, DC, buses leaving from Hartford just after midnight

For other Earth Day events (not all of them on Earth Day itself), see this list compiled by the CT Dept. of Energy & Environmental Protection. Other events in New Haven area:

Yale Peabody Museum, April 21, 11-3
Energize CT, 22 Universal Drive N., North Haven, April 29, 11-3
Grace Farms Foundation, 365 Lukes Wood Road, New Canaan, April 23, 10-4

For those who want to get earthy on Earth Day, you can plant saltmarsh grass to help restore the eroding shoreline at Stratford Point, April 21-22, 11-6. Also beach cleanup and nature walks. Sponsored by the Biology Dept. of Sacred Heart University.

Please add in other events as comments.

Rock to Rock Service Day This Saturday

This Saturday, April 8, from 10 am to 2 pm, the Rock to Rock coalition of local food, farming, environmental, and other nonprofit organizations, which sponsors the Earth Day bike ride on April 22, will be holding a day of service. Below are the choices one can make when signing up.

  • Common Ground- 385 Springside Ave get ready for growing season, also for Rock to Rock ride, make signs, stuff prize bags for riders etc
  • Massaro Community Farm-Ford Road Woodbrige-general activities include mulching, clearing garden areas for planting, raking, clearing and weeding of pollinator planting areas, trimming away dead growth from last season, moving materilals (dirt, compost or rocks) with wheelbarrows, possibly light painting. Dress for outdoor work; closed toed shoes a must. Have work glovesOption 7
  • Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail-Hazel ST Triangle and 2 others TBD clean up graffiti removal, mulching, watering
  • New Haven Farms- Two sites Phoenix Farm 5 James Street and Ferry Street Farm-clean up crop bed prep, mulching
  • Neighborhood Housing -Sherman Forest (across from 603 Sherman Ave) Clean up and mulching
  • Urban Resource Initiative -Scantlebury park clean up
  • Friends of Edgewood Park- Hobart St-Ranger Station-Picking up trash on the hillsides
  • Save The Sound Pond Lily Nature Preserve-S. Genesee St.-Stream & riverside cleanup as well as removing invasive species
  • New Haven/Leon Sister City Unitarian Church 608 Whitney Ave-Love to make art? Join for Environmental art project

#Be the Change: Fourth Annual CT Campus Sustainability Conference on Friday in Middletown

Although the subtitle sounds tame, the theme of this Campus Sustainability Conference is anything but:  Engagement and Empowerment around Climate Change: Fostering Inspiration and Action at the Local Level.

The workshop sessions are:

  • Climate and sustainability action, engagement, and empowerment on CT campuses
  • Engaging in state policy and legislation
  • Engaging in your community and municipal action
  • Engaging at the grassroots level

The nearly daylong program (Registration at 7:30 am, over at 3:00 pm) is free, with breakfast and lunch included. The registration form is here. The location is Beckham Hall at Wesleyan University.

The keynote speaker is former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. The sponsors include Eastern CT State’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, CT Green Bank, Wesleyan Green Fund, Energize CT, Blue Earth Compost, the CT Alliance for Sustainability, the Allbritton Center, and Bye Bye Mattress (a program of the Mattress Recycling Council).

New Haven Climate Movement’s To Do List (For Us)

At the hearing this week on the New Haven Climate and Sustainability Framework (see March 20 post), I talked with Jeremy Shulik, a member of the New Haven Climate Movement, which was greatly responsible for getting the Framework process going.

Jeremy was handing out a flier that focuses on a few things each of us can do to make a difference with respect to climate change. Some are commonly known, such as insulation and solar panels. But others are not, such as simply consuming less, because “most of the carbon footprint is in the manufacturing.”

When it comes to food, the flier reminds us that livestock (mostly cattle) are responsible for 15% of climate-warming emissions, more than all transportation combined.

One thing that made me especially happy was the recommendation that, since large banks tend to support fossil fuel projects by, for example, lending money for pipeline construction, you can make a difference by moving your account from a large bank to a credit union (which are cooperatives) or a community bank such as Start Community Bank in New Haven (which is a Community Development Financial Institution). This also keeps your money in the area. The flier also notes that cities, universities, businesses, and even countries (such as Ireland) are divesting from fossil fuel companies (and there is a push to get Yale and the City of New Haven to do this). But we can all do our little part, even if we don’t play the stock market.

Last but far from least, we can switch our electricity supplier to one that provides 100% renewable energy. The options have recently increased, and some are even less expensive than regular UI or Eversource service (see the Energize CT site to learn how to make the switch, the options one has, and the cost of each option).

But don’t think that wind and solar energy is suddenly going to flow into your house or apartment. Instead, these companies are purchasing renewable energy credits from other New England and Northeast states that are ahead of us in producing renewable energy. It’s not that Connecticut produces none of it; it’s that what we produce (about half of all energy produced in the state) comes from the Millstone Nuclear Facility in Waterford. And nearly all the solar energy produced in the state is private, that is, on top of houses and businesses.

The New Haven Climate Movement is also interested in public art projects to promote climate change awareness. One that caught my eye is to draw a chalk line where it is expected that the water will rise to in New Haven at some point in the future. Check out this map that shows this line in 2100 with two scenarios:  3.6 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit increases. This sort of public action could go a long way to raise consciousness in the area.

The Climate Movement’s goal is to get New Haven to become a 100% renewable energy city, like Burlington, VT. It would even be better if the entire area could reach for this goal, but that would require a great deal more work in the more conservative towns and cities of Greater New Haven.

Final New Haven Climate & Sustainability Framework Hearing This Evening

The final hearing on the New Haven Climate & Sustainability Framework draft reports will be held this evening from 6 to 8 at the Hillhouse High School library, 480 Sherman Avenue. This is a huge endeavor, encompassing six areas, for each of which there is a report on goals and recommended actions:  Buildings, Electric Power, Food, Land & Infrastructure, Materials Management, and Transportation. The reports (in PDF format, in English and in Spanish) can be found here. The reports are more interesting than their titles sound; in fact, Materials Management is one of the most interesting reports.

The New Haven Climate and Sustainability Group, consisting of municipal and community stakeholders, wants to hear from citizens about its reports. If you can’t make the meeting, you can fill out a survey (but only if you live in New Haven itself) and send comments electronically at the bottom of this page (where you can also enter your e-mail address for announcements of future meetings and activities). You can see others’ often enlightening comments by clicking the links on this webpage. At the bottom of the same page, you can sign up to receive further announcements.

The Group hopes to have final reports completed this summer. After attending the meeting this evening, I will report back on further things that individuals can do to help turn these exciting recommendations into real programs.