Looking for a practical, ongoing way to make a positive difference post-election?

I thought you might be!

Here’s one idea that checks all of the following boxes:

  • It will keep us thinking critically and articulating our thoughts about political issues in the coming year and beyond, on a regular basis
  • It will let our elected representatives know where we stand on key issues likely to be affected by the Trump administration (climate change, freedom of the press, reproductive rights, racism, immigration…)
  • It doesn’t cost anything but a couple of postage stamps and a bit of printer ink each week
  • It can be accomplished at any time of day or night, in the comfort of your home (and in your pajamas, if you so choose), in 30 minutes or less, once a week
  • It will introduce you to a grip (so far 110 and counting) of excellent people nationwide who are also committing to this peaceful act of democracy
  • Unlike complaining to our already-sympathetic friends and family in our living rooms (which I also fully intend to go on doing), this actually might help us sway decision-making at the highest levels of government

What is it??

Why, it’s a good old fashioned letter writing campaign!

Letter writing campaign

Image borrowed from DayAgainstHomophobia.org

My new friend Katie is organizing people nationwide who pledge to send one brief letter a week to our respective state’s senators (and district reps, too, if we choose) about important issues we want to weigh in on. We’ll start right after the inauguration. The group is pooling ideas for topics to write about and talking points to include, so the letter-penning task won’t turn into hours of homework for anyone. (AKA: You don’t need to be a policy wonk to make your letters meaningful! You just need to show you care.)

While of course we’d love for anyone and everyone to get in on this, we’re especially looking for people who live in “red” or mixed states or congressional districts to get on board, as well as people who live in places that experienced an unexpected swell of Trump support in the voting booths.

Here’s a document Katie drafted called The Big Idea which explains everything a little more, and one I drafted with a fun photo at the top.

If you think you might want to take part, awesome!! Just fill out this quick form, or send an email to Katie at shallnotperish2016@gmail.com with the subject “Deal Me In” and your city and state in the body. She’ll give you more details and you can decide if you want to take part.

Thanks, fellow travelers! I’m glad to have you around as we gear up for the unknown.

More trees, fewer cows = Our best shot at climate change survival

One of my beloved clients is throwing a wonderful conference next Thursday and Friday at the beautiful Bronx Zoo called Wood at Work: Elegant Strategies for Architecture, City-Building, and Forest Conservation. The two-day affair will gather together some of the best minds in architecture, forestry, policy, ecology, and urban planning to talk about how sustainable wood use in cities can actually protect global forests and rural economies and cultures.

2015 Wood at Work conference

In addition to many brilliant presentations and panels, there will be beaucoup de time for informal conversation (and networking) over breakfast, lunch, snacks, and drinks. Plus super fun-sounding workshops like “Japanese Sawing” and “Tree Music”!

I’m not getting paid to say that if you’ll be in New York City and care about a) design or architecture, b) climate change, c) trees and forests, d) native cultures, or e) being in a room packed with brilliant, hard-working, potentially world-saving people, I think you should consider coming. Tickets are pretty cheap, and if you email me, I’ll even send you a magic code for 50% off!

Nice, but what does all of this have to do with cows?, you ask (as you hastily go to the Wood at Work website to purchase a ticket). Perhaps surprisingly, a lot!

As the great Jeremy Radachowsky of the Wildlife Conservation Society explains in a story he just wrote for National Geographic:

Oregon forest by McD22 on Flickr

Flickr’s McD22 captures some Oregonian forest grandeur

There are two existing [climate change-related] technologies that are ready to be acted upon today, whose collective impact could be larger than any future technological breakthrough.

The first technology is a 400-million-year-old solar-powered device that extracts CO2 from the atmosphere and converts it into material useful for construction, essentially “printing” solid materials layer by layer like a 3D printer until a finished product up to 300 feet tall is achieved. Once deployed, the device requires no human input – just water, sunlight, and molecules found in most soils.

This technology is called the “tree.”

A more recent technology extracts tons of carbon already trapped in vegetation and converts it into a small amount of protein-rich food for human consumption. Along the way, large quantities of climate-damaging gasses are emitted. In the moist tropics, the process also requires the clearing of climate-friendly forests and is ten times less efficient than many other methods of food production.

This technology is called the “cow.”

Cows were domesticated by humans more than 10,000 years ago and made sense in the context of a small human population and abundant resources. However, in an era of high population density and climate change, cattle are now an antiquated and obsolete solution to today’s environmental and food security issues. Trees, on the other hand, remain vital to our continued existence.

Makes sense, right? Plus, now that vegan food has gotten so plentiful and delectable, our excuses for massive meat consumption have dwindled to all but nil.

Jeremy’s going to give a talk titled “Trees, Not Cows” on Friday, October 30 at Wood at Work. Come listen with me, then we can share our thoughts over something delicious that’s not beef.

Who’s the greenest of them all?

Trick question—it’s me! Well, I’m the Greene-est, I guess.

But I’ve had the pleasure of making acquaintance with some other super-green folks lately: Eric Duchon and Akanksha Sharma, two of too-many-to-count members of the Urban Green Council, the New York chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

A building in NYC’s meatpacking district, ripe for an environmental retrofit! (courtesy Professor Bop, Flickr)

I started writing for Urban Green this past June and have been having a particularly good time with the member-profiling assignments.

Why? Because Urban Green members say the greenest, most interesting things!

EricEric:
“I’m always bumping into people on the street—not because I’m looking at my phone, but because I’m looking at buildings. ‘Are they doing a window replacement up there?’ I think to myself. Or, ‘Why are there so many halogen MR16s in this restaurant? Don’t they know there are incentives for LED bulbs that could save them so much energy?’ ”

Akanksha

Akanksha:
“Initially, sustainability is not the smoothest path in terms of career stability! It’s not like other career paths that go by the book. But there is a lot of room to innovate, and it’s engaging and rewarding because you have to drive yourself. You have to constantly recalibrate your approach so you’re attuned to what’s out there now.”

If I weren’t already happy with my job as a writer—and if I believed I had even a whit of the ingenuity, agility, and skill required—I’d consider endeavoring to join Eric and Akanksha’s esteemed ranks as city- and world-bettering Sustainability People.

As it is, I’ll just enjoy writing about them.

And the cube goes to…

Last week, I had the super-pleasure of attending the Urban Green Council‘s fourth annual EBie Awards (pronounced EE-bee!). These “Oscars of Existing Buildings” recognize improved environmental performance: measures that reduce energy consumption, efficiently use storm water runoff, improve indoor environmental quality to promote better human health, etc.

Please proceed to GOOD TIMES

I was there as a guest of the terrific designer (and my good friend) Claire Hansen and her equally inimitable husband Russell Unger, executive director of Urban Green, so the conversation over dinner was guaranteed to be good. But, to my delight, the merriment didn’t stop there.

The evening combined all the great things about classic awards shows—Broadway numbers, presenters ribbing presenters, and an open bar—with not-so-common actual importance: these people were being celebrated for saving millions of kilowatts of electricity, saving even more millions of gallons of water, and educating building owners, tenants, and visitors about their life-saving best practices. I’ll raise a Super Sap cube to that!

I covered the EBies for Urban Green’s blog, and I’m happy to report their communications crew was just as nice and fun to work with as I’d imagined. They organize and host great events all the time; I hope to hang out at and write about many more of them!