Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Spring - and a look back at projects of 2013-14

It's been a long time since my last entry in this blog - nearly a year - but the return of spring seems a good time to refresh it.  
For many years, I've had parallel lives.  A conventional day job that pays the bills, and a string of volunteer sustainability projects.  The latter is chronicled here.  Here's a look back at my green projects in 2013 and 2014.

In 2013 I wrote a series of blog posts.  They summarized my research into sustainable project areas that I might have been able to transition into from 
Long Island City Partnership. Not that it worked out that way. 

  • People are more likely to sign up for a program after being contacted by a community group they know than by the program’s outreach staff, who they don’t know. We proved this at LICP with our successful promotion of an energy efficiency program to western Queens businesses.  We were motivated because of our environmental agenda.  Many other nonprofits could do the same – but would find money a better motivation.  What sustainability programs could offer enough income to get community groups to promote them?  

    Community groups can promote solar for income.
    Over the last year, Beyond Oil NYC has explored how community groups could earn income from sustainability initiatives. There’s probably no easy money in either compost or urban agriculture. Good news: CBOs can earn money from promoting solar energy systems right now – and start conversations on sustainability and resilience. It's easy and we'll show you how, on request.

  • Seeking urban agriculture business opportunities for community groups with limited budgets. If your group has lots of cash, you can build costly rooftop greenhouses for very profitable year-round production. Can’t afford that? Maybe your group would be satisfied with starting more gardens, boosting local environmental literacy and food security. Combining two innovations could dramatically increase the amount of gardening space in your community, at minimal cost.

  • Promoting urban agriculture in NYC.   While there are 3,000 acres of flat roof space suitable for farming, it’s easier to start with vacant lots. Here’s how to engage community-based nonprofits as local organizers: movable farming projects on vacant lots.

In June 2013 I accepted an offer to work as District Manager at Manhattan Community Board Six, and left LICP. 

Queens Gazette ran a very positive interview with me, in which I pitched my green projects, and a series of sustainability film screenings I hosted at Coffeed Cafe from fall 2013 to spring 2014.  

Screenings would start with one of these fine short videos:

Besides the screenings, I also pitched my proposal for community groups to refer their constituents and neighbors for energy conservation and solar energy projects.  Why would they bother? The financial motivation of referral fees from contractors for a small percentage of any jobs that were installed. It had worked in LIC, and the community solar models being touted by the big solar institutions seemed suspiciously optimistic on why community groups would go out of their way to promote solar with nothing in it for them.   

I wrote an article about Transition founder Rob Hopkin's NYC presentation, and the UK movement's focus on local economic development.

The Transition movement is a unique organizing method that catalyzes community level responses to climate change.  Co-founded by Rob Hopkins in England in 2005, there are now over 1,400 Transition initiatives in 44 countries.  They all support a transition to clean renewable energy, which is often blocked at national and international levels by politics, the domination of big over small businesses, and the myth that endless economic growth is possible on a finite planet.  As Hopkins explained to a small NYC audience, Transition is increasingly focused on local economic development.  A series of reports on the financial benefits from localizing food production, energy conservation and renewable energy capacity, and case studies of entrepreneurial ventures in these sectors, outline building blocks of a new green economy. 

Carried along by the rare burst of enviro fervor that accompanies Earth Day, in 2014 I did three enviro events in a row: 

In spring 2014 I attended Age of Limits, a tiny conference in rural Maryland. A big perk was lots of personal time with the presenters - John Michael Greer, Albert Bates, Dmitri Orlov, Gail Tverberg, climate scientist Mark Cochrane, Peter Kilde of Community Action Partnership.  It was everyone's collective honor to have as keynote speaker Dennis Meadows, the lead author of the original Age of Limits report from the 1970s.  That report was one of computer analyses of population, environmental and natural resource trends.  It concluded that either the world slows growth in the 70s and 80s to attain a sustainable plateau of resource use, or if growth continued, would push us over the cliff followed by sharp declines in human population and resource use in the 21st century.  He said recent data was right on track with the original report.  The conference was rare for him in that everyone listening was already thoroughly familiar with this discussion. Albert Bates wrote a great article about it.

Radio podcast host KMO interviewed me.

KMO welcomes Dan Miner of Beyond Oil NYC to the C-Realm to talk about talking about Peak Oil, Climate Change and other big picture, existential issues with busy New Yorkers. A messenger who presents the situation in its full gravity to people caught up in the collective trance will seem like a lunatic, but how much sugar-coating is too much? Does it make sense to humor people’s expectations that renewable sources of energy will power the lifestyle that citizens in the heart of empire have come to regard as normal? Are minor gains that pale in comparison to the scale of industrial civilization’s dilemma worth the effort? The conversation turns to “Preppers” and the way that they are portrayed as clueless and damaged social rejects in the corporate media…"

In June 2014 I was on a peak oil panel at Left Forum. Here's the video. My 20 minute presentation starts at 39.30.  They asked me back again so I guess someone liked it.  (BTW, here's a short video of me speaking about climate change and fuel depletion for five minutes to a small group in Tompkins Square in Dec. 2012.)

However, the film series didn't start off any sparks and the solar referral pitch didn't have any takers... so at that point I was out of gas.  

Around that time my longtime colleague John Bell, organizer of Transition in Westchester, said that he would introduce me to the new northeast regional organizer for Transition, Pamela Boyce Simms.  Like him, I quickly signed up as a volunteer for the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub, and a new chapter began.