The Next One in the Nest

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Current Affairs, Local Economy, Local Government, Nancy Love Robertson, Oklahoma City, Public Works, Travel | Posted on 16-05-2009

0

by Nancy Love Robertson

I love Oklahoma
City. I really do. I am a life-long resident and have watched our community ebb
and flow over the span of my 53-year lifetime.

In my life, it
seems we’ve ebbed more than we flowed for so long, and I, like many of us,
experienced discomfort when people from other parts of the U.S. would grimace
when I’d tell them where home was.

Today, however,
I sing a different tune. I defend my hometown with the fierceness of a momma
lion. I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past 15 years or so.

As a community,
we invested in ourselves and made the first MAPS happen in 1992. We marveled at
our pretty new ballpark, and applauded when we stepped into the Civic Center,
Downtown Library and Cox Convention Center for the first time. It all looked good
and making progress FELT good.

We the people
stood tall on April 19, 1995 and survived the Oklahoma City bombing with
dignity and compassion. The whole world watched us in awe, and through the
profound sadness of that time, we found our voice as a community with heart.

The momentum of
the 1990s propelled us to further our city’s promise when we took a stand to
advance public education in our city in 2001. We made a down payment toward our
future by telling children in our town that they mattered when we passed MAPS
for KIDS in November of that year. “Good for us,” I thought at the time. “I’m
proud of you, Oklahoma City!”

So, that’s our
community basket of golden eggs we laid over the past 15 years. And, to
paraphrase a Joni Mitchell line from For the Roses, “Who’s to know if the next one in the nest will
glitter for us so?”

Don’t mistake my
question as doubt or as a complaint. That’s not my intention at all. On the
contrary, I have an idea on how we can produce another golden egg that will
sparkle for our city long into the future.

Thankfully,
Oklahoma City as a micro-society is finally beginning the dialogue of what the
pressing environmental issues of the day mean to our way of life. Don’t forget,
we used to pride ourselves on being the largest city, in landmass, in the
United States. Thankfully, Jacksonville, Florida, now owns that dubious
distinction. However, in our quest to “be somebody” back in the 1950s and
1960s, Oklahoma City sold its soul to developers and thus created a scenario
that took decades to create. Now, it will take decades to unwind.

For what it’s
worth, I am throwing my voice behind my fellow Oklahoma Cityans who’ve been
calling us on our BS for the past several years about having one of America’s
most livable cities. They’re correct. If we really want to be a livable city
then where are the sidewalks? Where is the network of running trails and bike
lanes? Nothing spells “l-i-v-a-b-l-e c-i-t-y” more than a community that
encourages walking, running and cycling. 
So, what have we done to put our collective muscle to work on this
issue? First of all, doesn’t it make sense to create a world-class city for the
residents who live and work here before we cast our net to the larger world?

Fortunately,
we’ve been blessed with the hard work of a few. A case in point: Every year,
thousands of us enjoy the fruits of the labor of those dedicated staff members
and volunteers who breathe life into the Lake Hefner Trails. I have personally
logged many hours and miles running or cycling around that lake. And, as a
birder, I truly enjoy the opportunity to connect with nature in such close
proximity to my home.

Or, take the
mountain bike trails at Lake Stanley Draper. In less than half an hour, my
partner, Shelly, and I can be resetting the little computers on our mountain
bikes (one of us captures time, the other distance) at the Draper trail head.
Generous people give their time and sweat equity to creating and maintaining
the patchwork trail system at Draper Lake so folks like Shelly and I can have a
getaway that is restorative far beyond the two hours we spend flying through
the woods, practicing German and playing like two little kids. For those of you
responsible for making that space the oasis that it is, I say, “Thank you.”

I am certain
there are many more examples in our city that illustrate my point. All of them
can inspire us to do more to make our city livable and sustainable. And, these
examples of what could be might be the indicators of the next golden eggs we
produce in our nest.

So, how does a
grassroots initiative get traction in Oklahoma City? In reality, it starts with
civic and business leaders.

Attention please!
Mayor Cornett, take note. Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, tune in and pay
attention. Your constituents might be onto something here.

How marvelous it
would be if the next MAPS project involved a network of sidewalks and
cycling/running trails that would be the envy of forward-thinking cities like
Portland, Oregon? We’ve had MAPS and MAPS for KIDS. How about MAPS for LIFE (Living in
Full Enjoyment)? Like two of the other three MAPS
projects, (MAPS for Millionaires was a step backwards) this MAPS project,
Living in
Full Enjoyment…of our community, of our healthy bodies, of
our scenic beauty (our sunsets have been known to take one’s breath away) and
of each other…has something in it for everyone in our community. I also like
the metaphor of a network or web of life for our city. What a gift to be
connected to people and places, via a bike trail, to parts of town that are off
of our beaten paths. How awesome it would be to figuratively stumble onto a
celebration of a culture that’s different, while running along a trail that
connects one part of town with another.

I like imaging how
this could weave together for the good of our community.

In addition to
promoting recreation, fitness, a sense of community, sustainability and
livability, there’s a pragmatic side to bike lanes, running paths and
sidewalks, and it’s called safety. Here’s what I mean, and it begins with an
image that’s burned into my mind’s eye that I never want to see again. It’s an
image borne from years of unsustainable city planning for our way of life and a
visual that would’ve been less painful to see had there been a sidewalk.

Right before
Christmas, Shelly and I were driving on May Avenue just north of N.W. 63rd.
It was a freezing cold and blustery Saturday afternoon. Against the curb as
close as they could get for safety, was an elderly couple. The man was bundled
up in a wheelchair and he had an oxygen tank in his lap.  Behind him a few paces, was an old
woman in a car coat, clutching her purse and holding onto what was left of her
dignity. In the face of this dangerous situation, both of them appeared stoic.
Shelly and I were stunned at the sight, and I am confident that the other
motorists who saw it were equally as horrified. There was so much traffic,
there wasn’t an opportunity to stop and help them, so we moved our car as far
to the left in our right-hand lane to give them as much room as possible under
the circumstances. Nothing was in the headlines the next day, so I trust they
made it to where they were going.

Now, back to
sidewalks. Is this the image we want to project as a city?  Does the scene I’ve just described
bespeak a community that’s forward-thinking, sustainable, livable?  For those whose jobs it is to bring
commerce and people into our town to expand our tax base, it might be a wise
investment of time to take a look at an initiative that has broad implications
for the common men and women in our city. MAPS for LIFE would not only promote
a healthy lifestyle for our community, therefore enhancing the quality of life
for everyone. It could also say to residents and ultimately the rest of the
country that we are doing our part to be sustainable and leave a smaller
footprint as a city. While this utopian network of sidewalks and trails isn’t
the light rail system many of us dream will someday connect our suburbs with
the city center, it is likely to come into being more quickly and for less money.
Yet the long-term benefits would be far-reaching. 

What about the next
golden egg? MAPS for LIFE could be the next one in our community nest that
could glitter for us so. 

Infinity and Beyond

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Current Affairs, Energy, Public Works, Shauna Lawyer Struby, State Government, Transition Town | Posted on 27-02-2009

0

by Shauna Lawyer Struby

I love Buzz Lightyear. His optimism in the face of reality (believing he can fly on pop-up wings), makes this diminutive Toy Story hero full of geeky bravura and sincerity incredibly endearing. But it is his mouse-sized roar of, “To infinity and beyond!” that makes him my way cool, sustainable hero.

You’ve probably noticed energy discussions are as ubiquitous as chewing gum these days. The growing awareness we’ve got to do something has folks from cowpokes to CEOs grappling with their “holy electricity switch” moment, that dark point in time they realize cheap, easy energy days are floating away like so many plastic Wal-Mart bags in a sweeping prairie wind.

But start talking about designing sustainable energy systems and things get considerably dicier. While just about everyone supports being energy independent, the notion that the equivalent of Star Trek’s dilithium crystals will be found to satisfy our energy addiction is so deeply embedded in our psyche that some of our elected leaders tend to grasp at any energy solution like desperate junkies in need of a fix. 

The recent deceptive blathering about nuclear power in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives is a perfect case in point. Two bills were approved by the House Energy and Utility Regulation Committee Feb. 17 after nuclear energy advocates manipulated the fear factor that other energy sources alone such as solar, wind and geothermal, will not be enough to meet future power needs.

While there are many reasons nuclear energy is not a sustainable option (and reasons why other truly clean renewable energies like wind and solar are), one of the most under discussed reasons for axing nuclear energy out of any future energy mix is this — nuclear energy production is totally dependent on yet another finite resource — uranium. Dr. David Fleming, author of “The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy” estimates if the entire world’s electricity were generated by nuclear power, we’d have around three years of uranium left and writes:

“Shortages of uranium — and the lack of realistic alternatives — leading to interruptions in supply, can be expected to start in the middle years of the decade 2010-2019, and to deepen thereafter.”

Clearly nuclear energy is not a Buzz Lightyear, “infinity and beyond” option. And even more obviously, we need to dig deep into proposed energy solutions and thoroughly evaluate them with a stringent list of sustainable criteria.

A few thoughts on the criteria:

  • What is the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) for the resource? Energyreturnonenergyinvested_edited-1
  • What is the carbon footprint of the energy source? Carbonfootprintenergysources_edited-1
  • What is the water footprint of the energy source?
  • What is the waste footprint of the energy source?
  • With all environmental, waste, water, infrastructure and production costs factored in, how much does the energy cost per kilowatt hour?
  • Since taxpayers subsidize our energy systems, who will profit and how much, i.e. what are the CEO and executive staff salaries, perks and bonuses of the energy producing company, and what is the anticipated return to shareholders on new infrastructure?
  • Are the energy company’s middle and lower-level employees sustainably and equitably compensated with living wages and adequate benefits?
  • How will the proposed energy source impact the area where production is located, the people, non-human animals, eco-system and general environment?
  • What other factors do we need to be thinking about?

As Rob Hopkins notes in “The Transition Handbook” a future with less energy is inevitable. Richard Heinberg extensively covers many of the various pros and cons of a variety of energy sources in his latest Museletter, which beautifully illustrates the depths of the challenges facing us and the urgent need for massive energy conservation programs.

The Transition Movement, founded by Hopkins, takes these realities and helps us see them as opportunities for creatively rethinking how we live in the world and how we use energy, to envision something better, something hopeful, less toxic to ourselves, to our fellow species and congruent with this amazing planet we call home. The first Transition Town initiative in Oklahoma, Transition Town OKC, launched last month, aims to enhance opportunities for our communities to imagine, envision and implement this energy transition together, to capture the power of every person's creativity and move us together toward a positive future.

We know reducing energy consumption will go a long way toward solving the energy puzzle, as will investment in energy technology and clean, truly renewable energy resources, but every energy technology and resource needs adequate and thorough vetting using sustainable criteria. And that means thinking not just about the next 10, 20 or even 50 years, but in Buzz Lightyear speak, “To Infinity and beyond!”

Compostable Corn-Plastic? Yes and No

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Compost, Public Works, Science, Tricia Dameron, Waste Management | Posted on 23-01-2009

6

by Tricia Dameron

New "bioplastics" are labeled "compostable" but require industrial composting processes.
Human ingenuity has discovered yet another use for corn: bioplastic,
specifically in the form of 
disposable flatware. Have you seen these
products? You might not even know the difference, except that they melt
a lot easier. They look just like their petroleum-based counterparts.
What's the attraction? Well, for one, they are not made from petroleum.
That's a plus. But, they are made from a foodstuff, which is a growing
concern in this age of corn ethanol. Another advantage of polylactic
acid (PLA), the technical name for the resin, is that it's compostable. Well, at least that's what one
would assume from reading the product label. However, that's not the
complete Five months in the compost pile has caused no change in the "compostable" corn-based plastic cups.
story. It's compostable, yes, but only in a commercial
facility.  According to this Scientific American
article, there are only 113 
industrial-grade composting facilities in
the U.S. I wonder how many of these facilities accept public drop-offs?
Some of these products are labeled with the term "biodegradable." To be
clear, these items are not biodegradable in a landfill; they might
degrade in 100 or 1,000 years. Landfills are designed to entomb our
waste to prevent contamination of the environment; in turn, the
"bio"—the sun, air, fungus—of "biodegrade" is removed from the process.

Products marked code 7 are accepted by Waste Management, but it is unclear whether they are actually recycled.
So, if backyard composting doesn't work, can you put them in your
recycle bin? Apparently, it's not that straightforward. NatureWorks, a
PLA manufacturer owned in-part by Cargill, says PLA has no negative impact on the quality of flake produced from recycling PET and HDPE plastics. Yet, this Smithsonian article states that PLA is considered a contaminant when found in the recycle stream of PET. Some bioplastics may be imprinted with resin code 7. If so, these are accepted by Waste Management in Oklahoma City, but are they actually recycled? No industry representative would go on the record to confirm or deny it.

In
situations where reusable plates and flatware are not feasible, it
would be nice to have an option like these corn-based plastics—an
option made from renewable resources that biodegrade. However,
at this point it seems our infrastructure does not support the intended
benefits of these products. It would also seem that there needs to be truth in marketing to reflect these limitations.

Parsing Proposed Changes to the Endangered Species Act

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Current Affairs, Endangered Species, Politics, Public Works, Science, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 13-10-2008

1

by Tricia Dameron

In August, the Department of the Interior proposed self-described “narrow” changes that would revise the consultation process (Section 7) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as clarify the lack of interplay between greenhouse gas emissions and the role of the Act.

As it currently stands, the Act requires federal agencies (referred to as ‘action agencies’) to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (referred to as ‘Services’) on planned projects—such as dams, highways, mining, logging—that may affect plants and animals (or their habitat) that are listed on the endangered or threatened species list. Informal consultations are required if there is no effect or if the effect is insignificant or impossible to measure; in any case, a consultation (formal or informal) is required. The rule change will require action agencies to consult with the Services only if the project will likely harm a listed species.

Mark Howery*, a wildlife diversity biologist in Oklahoma, summed it up by saying, “Right now, the USFWS has the final authority for determining what actions constitute a significant impact to endangered species and which ones don’t. Where there is a conflict in interpretation, the burden of proof, so to speak…falls on the other federal agencies. I believe that if the proposed rule change takes place, what it will do is shift that burden of proof on to the USFWS when there is an interagency dispute.”

What do these changes actually mean? Has the Department of the Interior tried to foresee the unintentional (or perhaps intentional) consequences? After reading the proposed changes, I am left with more questions than answers. Below is my attempt to parse some issues of importance to me.

What good will result from these changes?

Ken Collins is a biologist with the USFWS and does consultation work in Oklahoma. He says the changes could reduce the consultation and litigation workload. “The FWS is often sued on decisions we make or assist in. If the Federal action agency would make the determinations, as outlined under the new regulations, future lawsuits would likely be directed at the Federal action agency who made the determination and not the FWS.”

What incentives encourage the action agencies to conduct a fair assessment?

Litigation. ESA watchdog and interest groups that initiate litigation will have to navigate the bureaucracy of multiple agencies, rather than just two.

What about agencies that do not have in-house biologists?

“[M]ost agencies other than Forest Service, [Army] Corps [of Engineers], and [Bureau of Land Management] typically have very few biological staff in house. They would either need to hire additional staff or allow consultants to gather information and discuss the possible effects. The final determination would still be made by the federal action agency in those cases,” says Collins. The proposed rule assumes federal agencies have acquired adequate expertise from working with the Act for nearly 35 years, but it requires no qualifications on behalf of the staff conducting the self-consultations.

What about the provisions related to climate change?

The proposed rule summary states: “[T]here is no requirement to consult on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions’ contribution to global warming and its associated impacts on listed species….GHG emissions from building one highway are not an ‘essential cause’ of any impacts associated with global warming. Moreover, any such effects are later in time, but are not reasonably certain to occur.” The revised ESA will not acknowledge the complicated situation presented by climate change and will not attempt to mitigate losses of species or habitat due to climate change or the causes of climate change.

Rather than conduct a thorough overhaul of the ESA or leave it to its successor, the current administration is hastily pushing the mutated ESA through while many constituents are consumed by the economy and the elections. Neither is there hope for Congressional deliberation—the changes do not require [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rulemaking] Congressional review or approval.

Oklahoma has 19 of the 1,358 threatened and endangered plants and animals.

The public comment period for the proposed rule ends Wednesday.

 

*Editors Note: Mr. Howery agreed to speak with Fresh Greens as a private citizen. His comments should not be construed as representing the views of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife or any other state agency.

Walking OKC

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Local News, Oklahoma City, Public Works | Posted on 08-09-2008

3

The OKC Gazette has a great article this week about the "walkability" of Oklahoma City, or the unwalkability some would say. I thought the topic was a good one for us to discuss.

How much do you rely on your own two feet for transportation? Do you have any horror stories about trying to cross NW Expressway sans wheels? What do you think our city could do to encourage more walking? Join the discussion with your thoughts and passions on getting around the oldest of ways.