Sunday, July 19, 2009

Here Comes Everybody

Last year when I was researching how social networking tools can enhance grassroots movement on toxic issues (it was soooooo before Obama), I read a book called Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. Mostly I read it in order to back up my arguments at work. We had a communications director who refused to read blogs, talk to bloggers about our work, or even entertain the idea of using new types of online media tools to engage our supporters. Here Comes Everybody is a great book and gives tons of examples of societal change making events through online social media tools from all over the world. So now that I have an understanding of what tools are out there and are experimenting with their effectiveness - I twitter, facebook, blog, comment on blogs, etc. I'm now interested in seeing how access to information on contamination and toxic chemicals can change the way we purchase and make real change in addition to providing us new information.

The major thing that we are seeing right now is through the elimination of Bisphenol-A (BPA). The chemical deemed safe by FDA, but understood by scientists who are not hiding behind corporate and political pressure to bring gifts of reproductive disorders for generations to come is being banned in townships and states at an escalated rate. An entire marketplace has been created around this shift. At Target you can find BPA-free waterbottles and you can roam around websites dedicated to children toys that are BPA and Phthalate free. Alot of this movement is due to online media tools. Mommy bloggers have passed the dangers around so that any new mother now knows or has heard about the impacts of ingesting BPA.

But what really makes me question all this is, what kind of change is this really making on our society? What is eliminating one chemical from a particular types of products (children's toys and water bottles) doing to move our society to a toxic free place? I'm not sure that our movement is getting us where we want to be right now. I don't doubt for one moment that we are not doing good work, that eliminating toxic chemicals is a good thing. But I do think that though it may be good, it hasn't set us on the path in which our laws and products are created from the precautionary mindset.

My fascination with how online social media tools can help set us on the right path was sparked by this book along with having to escalate two different campaigns with barely any money, no team, hardly any experience and just coming out of an organization that has endless amounts of all.

pg 171: "Social tools create what economists would call a positive supply-side shock to the amount of freedom in the world. The old dictum that freedom of the press exists only for those who own a press points to the significance of the change. To speak online is to publish, and to publish online is to connect with others. With the arrival of globally accessible publishing, freedom of speech is now freedom of the press, and freedom of the press is freedom of assembly. Naturally, the changes occasioned by new sources of freedom are most significant in less free environments. Whenever you improve a group's ability to communicate internally, you change the things it is capable of. What the group does with that power is a separate question."

In the issue of school siting, there is no marketplace. People can't stop buying a product that will encourage their school district to only build schools on non-contamination land and out of way of major water and air pollution sources. So what are the models to help achieve precautionary laws on school siting?

Online tools help parents become more informed, but does it make them attend PTA and school board meetings so that they are always aware of potential land purchases? Online tools enable concerned people to send letters to EPA about the importance of strong and comprehensive school siting guidelines that can then be passed as policy locally, but does that make them want to be part of the process to pass a policy?

There has to be an answer somewhere and it is somewhere between traditional door knocking and the connections being made through social media tools. It is beyond information gathering and a very large budget with a field team. I have no field team and I never will. But can't online social media tools be my makeshift field team?

pg 159: ". . . Social tools don't create collective action - they merely remove the obstacles to it. Those obstacles have been so significant and pervasive, however that as they are being removed, the world is becoming a different place. his is why many of the significant chnages are based not on the fanciest, newest bits of technology but on simple, easy to use tools like email, mobile phones, and websites, because those are the tools most people have access to and, critically are comfortable using in their daily lives. Revolution doesn't happen when society adopts new technologies - it happens when society adopts new behaviors"

During the Sotomayor hearings last week, she was asked if she would share her experiences of having tv cameras in her courtroom with the other Supereme court judges. I've never really thought of it before but the only way to know what is happening with the Supreme Court is by listening to NPR and hearing the transcripts read in the morning of verdict (my favorite shows!) or by waiting in line on the hill to get inside or by simply reading the entire transcript yourself. Or as I have recently discovered read a blog dedicated to SCOTUS. The idea that the general population has no way of knowing what is happening in this public forum is pretty amazing. That's a huge information access problem in our country.

As much as lawmakers and judges like to say that policy does not get made in the court's, it does on a regular basis. The courtroom has been a source of great societal change in our country, not always for the best. Senator Graham acknowledge that the court was able to integrate schools when lawmakers were too weak to do so and then said that he would have been too weak to do so if he had been in the Senate at that time. Also, the first time the 14th Amendment was used to create corporate personhood, which currently impacts small farmers in rural areas of our country who are fighting against large agricultural farms in their townships. (note: the small farmer always loses to big Ag because of corporate personhood. a township in PA went so far as to pass a policy stating that the state Attorney General does not have the right of oversight of their township because he threw out their local law to prevent corporate ag from building factory farms in their community.)

Would people be more likely to be involved in the democratic process if there was a greater access to the judicial system? Maybe. Actually I think more than maybe. Anti-death penalty organizations have done great work moving people from wanting to get informed to voting for the abolishment of the practice. Though it is a mixture of traditional door knocking and newer online organizing tools and the shock value once you learn more about the issue. With the ending of so many newspapers, we have to change the way in which we receive and generate news. We have to use these emerging tools in a strategic and mainstream way. If our organization is too far out there in the newest technology we wont have the numbers to make real change.

But where does that leave school siting? Where does that leave passing state and local laws preventing the building of schools on or near sources of pollution? How does that get the toxics movement on a path that will really guarantee a toxic free future?

If you have any advice, let me know!

Friday, July 17, 2009


Today is my third to last day of my staycation. It's been pretty good. Though I almost feel more tired today than I did last Friday. I've done lots of exploring of the district and not too far areas in the past couple days. Here is what we did:

Saturday - Yoga and hiking at Quiet Waters, Annapolis
Saturday - Monday - drank wine, beer, and BBQed on a boat in Annapolis for three days: It doesn't sound tiring, but its exhausting to jump on and off a yacht, nap during the day while still finishing a bottle of wine, and keep adquately hydrated
Tuesday - Ate oyster poboys and lavendar lemonade at Eatonville on W and 14th. Took the 92 bus (nobody was shanked or deemed certified insane) to Eastern Market, drank iced coffee, ate Red Velvet Cupcake, drank beer at a pub and read books. The boy explored that crazy little book store and bought me presents. Ate dinner at Busboys and Poets, then wondered home to watch Kung-Fu Panda.
Wednesday - Took a very large puppy for a hike and canoe ride in Annapolis. Ate lunch at a place called Grumps where everyone wore their pajamas and the large puppy almost ate this old crazy woman. Rented a room at Hotel Monaco, drank wine, got $100 discount on our room and a free upgrade along with a free bottle of wine. Ate burritos and pasted out while watching TV in a jumbo super comfy bed.
Thursday - Woke up to a beautiful Kimpton room and watched Regis and Kelly, where they proceeded to explain the definition of a staycation. They stole my word!! bitches. Worked out . . .hmmm . . .well I left after 10 minutes and took a nap, while the boy worked out. Then we had lunch at this great mexican place near by apartment. You can get a pitcher of Margaritas, chips & guac and share a large burrito for $23. Drank beer and played Uno at Looking Glass. Wondered home, almost melted from the humidity and heat, took a long shower, and snuggled in bed with a cup of tea and watched the Constant Gardner.
Friday - Left the house around 1030 to have lunch and drop the boy off at the bus. Napped. Drinking wine. Might wash clothes but will probably just read instead.

I'd say I have the right to be really tired. That's a whole lot of staycating there.

Of course, we also listened and watched most of the Sotomayor hearings. It was interesting, boring, and weird. Senator Graham is a fucking weirdo. I can't tell if he hates her and is just saving his anger for other things or if he is secretly in love with her. I mean there were a few times I really thought it was going to slip out, "Run away with me, you wise latina you!!" But then there were these highly rehearsed questions where you know the only reason he is saying these things is because of his debt to South Carolinian campaign funders. "You say things that bug the hell out of me" -- and then ends his questioning?

I've been looking into some DC related social justice issues . . . hmmm. . . don't worry I won't name them all, neither one of us have that much time. I just finished The Turnaround by George Pelecanos. It wasn't as good as I would have liked, but did take me into DC in ways people like John Grisham just can't. Though as a producer and writer for The Wire I just thought it would go more into the character of the city. I also just rediscovered DC Central Kitchen, which is this amazing food distribution place in Shaw area, but though I had heard great things about their work training program, I had never looked too much into who works there and what they do. I guess the place started during the 1989 Presidential Inaugration, where the founder Robert Egger got a bunch of restaurants to donate left over food to remake into meals. They now make 4,500 meals a day from left over food and distribute it among other organizations in the area. They also have street teams that serve breakfasts. He also wrote a book called Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All. I want to read it.

As you might know, I'm obsessed with making nonprofits more effective and efficient. I'm much more of organizational person than a campaigner, though I am learning the ropes through much trail and error right now. I think that a big problem in the nonprofit world is that we don't run more like corporations as in effective project management and prioritizing the lowering of transaction costs. I work in a small organization so transaction costs can make or break us. I'm looking forward to reading this book and seeing what he has to say. I just ordered it from Amazon! Robert Egger is a pretty interesting guy. He got his start booking bands in the DC area in the 80's, which I've heard from the long time natives was an exciting time for the district in terms of music.

Anyways, my staycation is almost over but it's been pretty productive I think. I have had to do a couple things for work (its just because we are such a small organization, I am really am my entire team) but that's ok. My work is good.

And since us liberals get our news from the Daily Show . . .

Keep enjoying summer, we're half way through!
Renee Claire

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pollution Insurance

A lot of our current environmental justice movement gained momentum in the late 1970's as large communities began to organize around the clean up of their land because of reckless contamination on the part of a local company. The Superfund Act was passed during this time, in the wake of Love Canal, where two elementary schools were closed due to contamination. Love Canal was also the first time a community was relocated because of toxic chemical contamination.

Part of the Superfund program in EPA is to collect fines from polluting companies and use them to clean up Superfund sites. There are a couple problems with this program. Ok there are a shitload of problems with this program. One of the biggest being that it is bankrupt, since the Bush administration refused to actually fine companies for violating things like the Clean Water Act. The EPA brownfields program was created to shield a lot of this. Why call a piece of land a superfund site if you have to clean it up, when you could call it a brownfield site than give tax incentives to develop it instead of significantly cleaning it up. (Whoaaazzzza! My company is now green! Hmm . . . we should build a school here too, maybe use this old landfill as a soccer field.)

Regardless of how this all plays out in reality (a company isn't actually in defiance if it says that it will fix the problem, so it can't be fined regardless of how long it takes to fix the problem, which isn't exactly the law, but it's what happens), the fact is establishing precautionary policies in all aspect of our lives will help keep real costs down. Including insurance.

Since polluting chemical/coal companies are responsible for much of the climate change problem, shouldn't there be a tax that companies pay which goes to climate change insurance. People's livelihoods are being destroyed because these impacts. And just like cleaning up toxic spills and contaminated land they were responsible for, companies should be investing in climate change insurance for each state. Insurance companies are pulling out of places like Florida, New Jersey, and Louisiana because of higher levels of risk. Florida is currently in an insurance crisis, where the state is the only flood insurance provider and is about to lose State Farm, the only company that stayed in the state after Hurricane Andrew in 1994.

Climate change insurance could help mitigate some of the economic impacts, but the money has to come from polluters. I think that's the only way to encourage companies to clean up. It's kind of like that scene in Kill Bill 2 where the strip club owner makes Budd give up days because the only way you learn is when someone fucks with your money. We need to fuck with their money.

Here is an interesting article, though I don't really agree with a lot of what it says, such as "If I am a farmer and the insurance company tells me my premium will be cheaper if I plant sorghum which is drought-resistant, then that gives me an incentive" That sounds dangerous and counter-productive. I just see a pre-existing condition clause in this. oh here it is: ""Some people are going to be excluded," says Suarez. He points out that this is already true, for instance, in shanty towns in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which are flooded every year."

But there needs to be some balance of insurance companies being able to offer something and polluters having to input somehow. What I found most interesting in this article that it says insurance companies are putting pressure on government to cut emissions. Talk about unlikely bedfellows - insurance companies and sick contaminated communities organizing against coal fire power plants. Though I'm sure coal fire power plants have large investments in insurance companies. So maybe you would first have to leverage some shareholder activity around divestment. I think this is a campaign I could get behind. I see tons of action potential in this one.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Interesting Way to Combat Climate Change By A Very Very Rich Man

Pickens drops Texas wind farm plans

Posted on: Wednesday, 8 July 2009, 10:35 CDT

Billionaire U.S. oilman T. Boone Pickens says he is putting aside plans to build the world's biggest wind turbine farm in the Texas Panhandle.

Jay Rosser, a spokesman for Pickens's BP Capital Management, said the ambitious, $10 billion effort has been shelved for the time being because of a tight credit market and because electric utilities are opting to build natural gas-fired generators at a time of low gas prices, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

"Boone still remains committed and focused on developing wind energy in the United States," Rosser told the newspaper. "The timing is not as aggressive as he originally outlined because of the collapse of the capital markets and because of the steep downturn of natural gas prices."

Pickens instead will build three or four smaller-scale wind farms costing $2 billion, telling The New York Times in an interview that he is unsure at this point if he will ever be able to revive the giant wind project.

The Times said Pickens had ordered 687 large wind turbines from General Electric to be placed in the Texas wind farm, but now aims to split them up into smaller farms, possibly in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Alberta, Canada.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TN Ash Spill Times Forty-Four

I've been to hundreds of protests. Well, maybe not hundreds actually. But I'm a professional. I walked with thousands of people during an anti-war march in 2002 and at one point we all turned to our left, lifted our pointer fingers and chanted 'shame on you, shame on you' to the treasury department. It was pretty great. I've chanted 'this is what democracy looks like' more times than i could possibiliy remember. I'm pretty sure I've said it in meetings at work as well. I recently attended a protest outside the EPA joining the effort to end mountaintop removal. I chanted "Windmills Not Toxic Spills" Best ever!

I helped run Change It two years in a row, the Greenpeace week long summer camp for activists. The first year this college guy from I don't remember created an entire song for an event where one line was 'mountaintop removal, acid rain, blah blah blah blaaah blah blah' I totally can't remember the words but it was awesome!

Anyways, on Monday EPA announced that 44 coal fire waste sites were extremely dangerous and could possibily do the same thing that the TN ash spill did. You know ruined communities forever and now the governor of TN is saying that he won't tell anyone all the new toxic sites that have been created because of the spill because its just too devastating to say out loud. Well, now we could have 44 more of those incidents around the country, well mostly in 6 states.

And today EPA approved a plan to dispose of the additional coal ash at the TN site that runined the area in AL. Yea! more low wealth communities to poison!

EPA Approves Plan for Disposal of Coal Ash from TVA Kingston Site at the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, Alabama

Contact Information: Davina Marraccini, (404) 562-8293,

(ATLANTA – July 2, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to transfer coal ash from the Emory River near the TVA Kingston removal site in Roane County, Tenn., to the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, Ala. EPA’s Administrative Order on Consent with TVA requires that the coal ash from the site be disposed of in accordance with the most stringent protective disposal standards for municipal solid waste landfills. The Arrowhead Landfill was selected because it meets and exceeds these standards.

TVA identified potential disposal sites for disposal of approximately 3 million of the total 5.4 million cubic yards of ash spilled at the Kingston site, and submitted a disposal options analysis for EPA's review and approval. TVA received 25 proposals from potential disposal sites and, of those, three sites accessible by rail and four sites accessible by truck in Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Tennessee met screening criteria and were evaluated.

Arrowhead Landfill complies with all technical requirements specified by federal and state regulations. The landfill is permitted to accept waste materials such as coal ash and has the capacity to accommodate the anticipated volume of material. The landfill features a compacted clay liner and a high density polyethylene liner; a leachate collection system that gathers liquids and pumps them to the surface for treatment; and a protective cover. The landfill staff conducts regular groundwater monitoring, and plans to conduct air monitoring to ensure worker safety. Norfolk Southern has a direct rail line from the TVA facility to the landfill. Rail transport is preferred over truck transport because there is less potential for accidents, greater fuel efficiency and no burden on road traffic. In addition, the thickness and extremely low permeability of the Selma Chalk Group geologic formation beneath the Arrowhead Landfill provide for natural protection of groundwater.

Prior to approving the Arrowhead Landfill as the disposal site for the coal ash, EPA visited the landfill and met with local leaders and members of the surrounding community to review the disposal plan and answer questions. The landfill is in an isolated area, located 4 to 5 miles from Uniontown, the nearest population center. The site has a 100 foot buffer that surrounds the landfill property. EPA and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management will conduct ongoing monitoring of the landfill to ensure it is operated properly.

It is important that ash be removed from the Emory River and the river be returned to its natural state. Coal ash at the Kingston site contains low levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium and zinc. The coal ash should be disposed of properly and as quickly as possible in order to minimize the potential for flooding or other disturbances that may cause more ash to flow downstream and impact water quality. Ash can also smother aquatic life and make the river bottom unsuitable for insects.

Since the ash disposal needs to begin immediately, the public will be invited to comment as work begins. For longer-term response actions, including the removal and disposal of the remaining 2.4 million cubic yards of ash from embayments and surface areas, the public will have an opportunity to review and comment on proposed actions before decisions are made.

For more information about EPA’s oversight and response activities at the Kingston site, visit: and


Hey EPA and Obama, how about investing clean energy instead of the dirty community distorying type.

Windmills Not Toxic Spills!!