Monday, April 29, 2013

The Bicycle is a Catalyst for Nature Conservation

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer despair for the future of the human race. H.G. Wells
Fast, efficient and individualistic, the bicycle is no ordinary mode of transport. It’s a church, a gym, a community creator, a cash printer, a protest placard, a dopamine generator, a mechanical expression of self-determination, an icon of hope. It is touchable, attainable freedom.
It is also a tool for nature conservation and one that the City of Cape Town—indeed, any city—stands to benefit from.
Bicycles enhance our freedom. Photo: Georgina Avlonitis
Bicycles enhance our freedom. Photo: Georgina Avlonitis

My father is a boisterous character, half-man half-bicycle. Last month, he cracked two ribs after tumbling over his handlebars. I profited from his misfortune by taking his place in the world’s largest individually-timed cycle race, the Cape Argus. Egged on by minstrel bands and reels of cheering supporters, some donning fancy dress, I joined over 30,000 competitors to pedal 110 km around the breath-taking Cape Peninsula. The race is a magnificent celebration of sport, healthy living, unity and nature. It physically exposes and connects people to the region’s awe-inspiring natural beauty. The organizers are well aware of this, having furnished all finishing medals with images of iconic local species and the words, “Our Natural Heritage”.

The experience left me wondering whether bicycles could meaningfully contribute to nature conservation in a broader sense. The answer appears to be multifarious.

1. More bikes = more connectivity, awareness, compassion, and innovation
Exposure to nature nourishes the soul and fosters compassion for wildlife (and for fellow humans), especially in children. Urban citizens who never encounter wildlife, who never marvel at the complexity and fragility of nature, may feel indifferent to its plight.
By liberating green space and enhancing mobility, bicycles can reconnect people to nature and to each other. On a bicycle, one cannot turn up the music, wind up the windows, lock the doors and adopt tunnel vision. On a bicycle, one is exposed and alert to their surroundings. One is manoeuvrable, approachable and distractible. One can divert, slow and stop to examine oddities, follow intriguing scents, chat to curious strangers, explore unchartered streets, or just quietly observe wildlife.
With eyes and ears on the ground, cyclists feel a greater sense of place and a stronger connection to their neighbourhoods. Such interaction may ignite compassion for a city, its nature and people; inspire innovations for improving urban liveability; and instil the motivation to set about doing so. Certainly, cycling can render us happier, healthier, wealthier and calmer with more time and money to spare for community-centred activities including nature conservation.
  • A community of cyclists, proactively interested in their city, its nature and its people.
  • The ideas they will devise, develop and share, aimed at improving their city.
Bicycles enhance our mobility and connectivity. They enable interactions that would otherwise be impossible.  Photo: Georgina Avlonitis
Bicycles enhance our mobility and connectivity. They enable interactions that would otherwise be impossible. Photo: Georgina Avlonitis

 2. More bicycles = more space for nature
I recently visited a suburb of Johannesburg. Ecologically dull, aesthetically grim, traffic congested, socially segregated, it is dominated by roads, car parks and shopping complexes—a superb example of bad urban planning, a suburb designed for cars not people. Yet it resembles much of the modern world—a world that is rapidly transforming through low-density car-infatuated urban sprawl.
A bicycle consumes only a slither of the space that a car does, both in terms of lane width and storage/parking area.
  • The potential for reducing traffic congestion by converting car drivers into cyclists.
  • The projected urban sprawl that could be averted and the natural habitats that could be saved.
  • The area of concrete and tarmac that could be reclaimed, liberated and transformed into ecologically-vibrant, socially-inclusive multifunctional public space.
 3. More bicycles = less pollution, more resources
The life-cycle of vehicles and the road infrastructure that they necessitate is resource-ravenous and waste-flatulent. At the point of sale, a new car has already inflicted ecological damage globally not least through the extractive industries that support its manufacture. Regardless of manufacturing, conventional cars are woefully inefficient. Why do we need vehicles that are typically 25 times heavier than our own bodies? What a waste of natural resources! What needless environmental degradation!

Even if distant impacts are “out of sight, out of mind” then surely local impacts elicit concern. Vehicle emissions contribute to urban smog, impart respiratory illnesses and stain our lungs grey. Hydrocarbons, break fluids and other chemicals leak from cars poisoning our waterways. Noise pollution from traffic and road construction shakes the ground, awakens the sleeping and stresses the awake.

An average bicycle, on the other hand, produces comparatively negligible pollution. It weighs around one-sixth of our body weight and less than one-hundredth of an average car. It moves in silence, causing little disturbance to wildlife. Its full life-cycle impacts are dwarfed by those of a car.
  • The potential reduction in air, noise and water pollution by converting car drivers into cyclists.
  • The consequent enhancement of a city’s resource-efficiency and the reduction of its ecological footprint.
  • The water, mineral and energy resources that could be saved.
 4.  More bikes = more environmental justice
Green infrastructure generates multiple ecosystem services that support human wellbeing including education, recreation, spiritual fulfilment, storm water absorption, climate regulation, and food production. In an increasingly urbanized world, maintaining direct access to such benefits is challenging. Communities may suffer ‘nature deficit disorder’ which hinders child-development and induces psychological ailments. You are not alone if you can identify the logos of obscure commercial brands better than common bird or tree species. Affordable, safe public transport is not always available for carless families wanting to visit green spaces beyond walking distance.
Bicycles can address such environmental injustice: (1) by alleviating road traffic to allow for the establishment of additional green space; and (2) by extending one’s radius of accessible area to encompass otherwise inaccessible ecosystem services.
  • Establishing more equitably-distributed green space.
  • Enhancing the mobility of carless citizens to enhance the accessibility of ecosystem services.
Love is a dangerous game
Despite the enormous enthusiasm for cycling, so palpable at the Cape Argus, only a tiny, albeit increasing, proportion of Cape Town’s inhabitants dare to cycle on a regular basis. Their reasons appear multifarious yet rooted in fear: fear of colliding with reckless drivers (taxis deserve a special mention here for frequently endangering the lives of cyclists); fear of exposure to violent crime; fear of inhaling noxious traffic fumes; fear of arriving sweaty at work; and fear of being stigmatized.
These fears are legitimate, but all can be overcome. Local movements like the monthly Moonlight Mass and the annual Naked Bike Ride are helping to raise awareness of cycling in the city. For over a decade, NGOs like the Bicycle Empowerment Network have been addressing poverty and mobility through the promotion of cycling in low-income communities. However, the keys to a more bicycle-friendly city that reaps the aforementioned social and ecological benefits, lie primarily in the hands of the local government.

Thousands of cyclists gather under a full moon at Green Point in Cape Town, before cycling in mass through the city. Photo: Russell Galt
Thousands of cyclists gather under a full moon at Green Point in Cape Town, before cycling in mass through the city. Photo: Russell Galt

The City of Cape Town will become the 2014 World Design Capital presenting unprecedented opportunities to support urban initiatives fostering social and environmental progress; an opportunity to deploy the bicycle as an agent of urban transformation and as a catalyst for nature conservation.
To achieve this, the local government must:
  • Strengthen the protection of cyclists, better inform drivers, and enforce road safety;
  • Expand the network of formal cycle lanes and allow bicycles on board public transport;
  • Improve street lighting and tighten security to reduce crime;
  • Improve air quality by taking meaningful measures to reduce traffic congestion;
  • Launch a well-framed public campaign to promote cycling;
  • Incentivize employers to provide showers in the work place;
  • Identify and pedestrianize priority roads (e.g. Long Street and sections of Main Road).
By embracing the bicycle and its associated benefits, Cape Town will truly stand apart as a forward-looking, innovative city designed not for its cars, but for its people and the nature that underpins their wellbeing and prosperity.

Russell Galt
Cape Town

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Being a Citizen Naturalist

"In every bio-region one of the most urgent tasks is to rebuild the community of naturalists, so radically depleted in recent years, as young people have spent less time in nature, and higher education has placed less value on such disciplines as zoology……The times are right for the return of the amateur, twenty-first-century, citizen naturalist. To be a citizen naturalist is to take personal action, to both protect and participate in nature.”
-Richard Louv, author of the Nature Principle

There is much excitement in the urbanist community about how the millennial generation are forgoing driving in favour of living in dense cities; however few people talk about this generation’s complete disconnection and ambivalence toward nature.

Lisa Rochon recently wrote an article in the Globe and Mail asserting that cities of the future will belong to the millennial generation - nearly two million people born between 1980 and 2000 who live in Canada’s major cities and inner suburbs. Yet, according to Environics’ values-based data,their attachment to nature is ambivalent:

“Don’t expect many millennials to turn up at the opening this summer of the big, flood-protected Don River Park in Toronto’s east end. What would fire up their Facebook and Twitter accounts would be the much-anticipated, much-delayed reinvention of John Street in Toronto’s entertainment district.”

This may be a sweeping generalization, but there is some truth to the claim that my generation spends more time loving our iPhones and drinking craft beers at a hip new downtown pub than hugging trees.

In Vancouver, I am fortunate to live in a city that is so surrounded by nature that it is impossible to ignore; however many city-loving millenials don’t have the same access to nature and will suffer as a result.

I recently finished the Nature Principle, a book by Richard Louv. Louv created the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe possible negative consequences to individual health and the social fabric as children and adults move indoors and away from physical contact with the natural world. Louv cites research pointing to attention disorders, obesity, a dampening of creativity and depression as problems associated with a nature-deficient lifestyle.

Our society is so dependent technology that we don’t realize or even adequately study how human capacities are enhanced through the power of nature. According to Louv, tapping into the restorative powers of the natural world can boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds.

Spending time in nature was a big part of my childhood and even teenage years. My parents took us camping every summer, and skiing, hiking and canoeing on weekends. Growing up in Vancouver, my primary and high school education always involved lessons on local First Nations and the salmon life cycle (bet you don’t know what an “alevin” is unless you grew up in BC). I also took high school courses on local fisheries and ecology (we even had a “salmon club” where you could participate in the local fish hatchery).

Unfortunately now that I, like most millennials, am a city-dwelling adult working 9-5, I don’t get to spend as much time in nature as I used to. But, before you pick up your iPhone and go back to social media surfing - this doesn’t mean we millenials can’t be one of Louv’s citizen naturalists. Here are some tips to appreciate and support nature in an urban environment.

Try guerilla gardening: most of us living in cities don’t have access to a garden, but there are many opportunities to go rogue and plant local species of trees, flowers and bushes in empty lots around the city. For tips, check out this site:

Residents of neighbourhoods across the city have been quietly adding flowers and other plants to lanes, boulevards and traffic circles. In Vancouver, along the boulevards of 100 block West 10th they have added planters, bicycle baskets, wheelbarrows and flower beds. Residents near McLean and Grant, 8th and Sasamat, 16th and Trimble and 20th and Fleming have also planted their boulevards with flowers. One east-side resident plants her boulevard with beans and other vegetables for public picking.

Laura Sandberg is a guerilla gardener in Prince George. She transforms vacant lots into vegetable and flower beds. (Photo c/o CBC)

Get educated on local flora and fauna: There are organizations in and around Metro Vancouver (and cities around the world) that host nature walks, bird watching excursions, etc. where you can get to know the local plants and critters in your bioregion. For more information on Metro Vancouver nature events, visit these sites: Every week eventsNature VancouverMetro VancouverOngoing Natural Walks.

Support and introduce local plants in your neighbourhood: If you really want to support your local ecosystem, plant local species to support the bugs and animals that live there. According to Audobon at Home: 

“The most significant factors in the decline of bird populations are habitat loss and degradation. One solution to curb habitat loss is for each residential area (new and established) to provide birds and other wildlife the necessities for survival — food, water, nesting area, and shelter……By creating healthy habitat for birds and wildlife in our yards and neighborhoods, we can temper the habitat fragmentation and displacement caused by urban and suburban expansion by helping to build that matrix.Your yard is an important piece of the matrix. Its singular importance is magnified by the combined efforts of others.”

You could even plant a homegrown Butterfly Garden!

Enjoy your local parks and nature: Take The David Suzuki Foundation’s 30 for 30 challenge and spend 30 minutes a day outside in nature for 30 days this May. You will be amazed at what this does for your happiness and sense of peace, trust me. This great infographic illustrates how nature impacts human health.

Pick up litter: Canada just celebrated its Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup last weekend. But, we can do our part every day to pick up litter in our back alleys, parks and beaches.


Use clean transportation: Riding a bike or taking the bus means you spend more time in the outdoors, get more physical activity and reduce your carbon footprint. ‘Nuf said.

Shop local: support your local farmers market, co-op grocer, health food store, florist, etc. Money spent at a local business generates 3.5 times more wealth for the local economy compared to money spent at a chain-owned business. And, it is better for the environment since major chains burn 1 billion metric tons of CO2 shipping products around the world. Here is another infographic that provides further evidence on why you should shop local.

“Close the landfill, and own your shit!”: This was the response from Jennifer Marshall, partner in Urban Arts Architecture, in a Tyee article last year that asked local Vancouverites what paradigm shifts would enhance the city. In her words:

“If we all took ownership of our consumption, if there was no such thing as “away,” if we closed the landfill… what would the consequences be? I believe it would reduce waste, reduce unnecessary consumption, and reduce unnecessary production and use of raw materials. But it would also shift our paradigm. For one, we’d value what we have more. We’d demand higher quality, more durable goods. We’d create new industries of reuse, and foster community through sharing resources and means to recycle. Call it Craigslist on your block.”

These are just a few simple tips to help you get outdoors more and appreciate and conserve nature in your city. I would love to hear more. What do you do in your daily life to be a citizen naturalist?

Friday, April 26, 2013

City-Level Decoupling: urban resource flows and the governance of infrastructure transitions (2013)

Cities-Annex Case Studies

Cities-Facsheet - English
City-Level Decoupling

Building upon previous work of the International Resource Panel on Decoupling Natural Resource Use and Environmental Impacts from Economic Growth, this report examines the potential for decoupling at the city level. While the majority of the world’s population now live in cities and cities are where most resource consumption takes place, both the pressures and potentials to find ways to reconcile economic growth, wellbeing and the sustainable use of natural resources will therefore be greatest in cities. 

Analysing the role of cities as spatial nodes where the major resource flows connect as goods, services and wastes, the report ‘s focus is how infrastructure directs material flows and therefore resource use, productivity and efficiency in an urban context. It makes the case for examining cities from a material flow perspective, while also placing the city within the broader system of flows that make it possible for it to function.

The report also highlights the way that the design, construction and operation of energy, waste, water, sanitation and transport infrastructures create a socio-technical environment that shapes the “way of life” of citizens and how they procure, use and dispose of the resources they require. Its approach is innovative in that it frames infrastructure networks as socio-technical systems, examining pressures for change within cities that go beyond technical considerations.  The importance of intermediaries as the dominant agents for change is emphasized, as well as the fact that social processes and dynamics need to be understood and integrated into any assessment of urban infrastructure interventions and the reconfiguration of resource flows.

A set of 30 case studies provide examples of innovative approaches to sustainable infrastructure change across a broad range of urban contexts that could inspire leaders of other cities to embrace similar creative solutions. Of course, innovations in and of themselves do not suffice if they are not integrated into larger strategic visions for the city, and as each city is unique, interventions need to be tailored to the set of challenges and opportunities present in each case.

Curriculum & Resources: The Food Project

Sustainable Agriculture Curriculum

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Learning to Plant Seeds
Learning to Plant Seeds
During our summer programs, we use a series of workshops to introduce youth participants and their youth leaders to the principles of sustainable agriculture and the food system. Here is the eight-part series that we have developed through the years.

Workshop 1: Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (click here for PDF)
Introduction to sustainable agriculture principles and how they are used on the farm
Workshop 2: Soil Sleuths (click here for PDF)
Introduction to soil function, components, and its impact on sustainable farming
Workshop 3: Compost Happens (click here for PDF)
Compost 101: the importance, and how to create it
Workshop 4: Wayward Weeds (this curriculum is itself wayward, i.e. missing)
Introduction to weeds and weed management
Workshop 5: Insects-ploration (click here for PDF)
Introduction to insects and their role in agriculture
Workshop 6: Trace The French Fry (click here for PDF)
Discussion of two types of food systems: global/industrial and local/sustainable
Workshops 7-8: Food Systems Debate (click here for PDF)
Debate and discussion of the merits of different types of food systems

Academic Year Program Manual (free download)

Annually, this program employs young people who have completed our Summer Youth Program to work on community-based projects during the school year. Members of the D.I.R.T. Crew (Dynamic, Intelligent, Responsible Teenagers) dedicate Saturdays and after-school hours to lead over 1700 volunteers on our rural and urban farm sites, work in shelters, and attend conferences to speak about their experience working for The Food Project. This manual discusses every aspect of this program and is a great resource for those looking for ways to engage young people throughout the year.
Download (PDF)

Rural Agriculture Manual (free download)

The Food Project manages a over 40 acres of farmland in eastern Massachusetts and distributes over 250,000 pounds of produce annually. This manual explains how to run a sustainable production farm while integrating thousands of youth and volunteers throughout the season. You will learn how to set up a farm to accommodate, celebrate, and utilize the labor of people who are walking onto a farm for the first time and will be forever changed by their experience. Included in this manual are tools for crop planning, labor management, and produce distribution, as well as tips for an abundant harvest.
Download (PDF)

Urban Agriculture Manual (free download)

 The Food Project grows produce on urban farms in Boston and Lynn, Mass.  This manual details how we created healthy soil, how we intersect with the community, how to work with the young people involved in The Food Project’s programs, and how to plan urban food lots. This manual specifically addresses the trials and successes of agriculture in an urban arena.

Farmers’ Market Manual (free download)

The Food Project runs farmers’ markets Boston, Lynn, and Beverly, Mass. These markets bring local, fresh produce to customers who do not have easy access to this type of food. Our manual discusses setting up the market, selecting produce, training workers and young people, marketing, and keeping business records.
Download (PDF)

Volunteer Manual (free download)

 This manual is a thorough introduction to The Food Project’s Serve and Grow farm work volunteer program. The Food Project depends on over 3,000 youth and adults to assist us in growing food, keeping our city food lots beautiful, and reclaiming urban land. This manual outlines recruitment, scheduling, and designing programs for volunteers.
Download (PDF)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The World without Landfills

Nohra Padilla in action
Goldman Prize recipient Nohra Padilla at a recycling facility. Photo by the Goldman Prize.
There is a growing global movement to significantly reduce the amount of trash we produce as communities, cities, countries and even regions. It’s called the zero-waste movement, and it received a major boost this week as two of its leaders were awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

Nohra Padilla and Rossano Ercolini are two of the winners of this year’s Goldman Prize, which awards $150,000 to each of six grassroots environmentalists who have achieved great impact, often against great odds. On the surface, Padilla and Ercolini seem to have little in common. Padilla is a grassroots recycler—also known as a waste picker—from the embattled city of Bogotá, Colombia. Ercolini is an elementary school teacher from the rustic farmlands of Capannori, Italy.
Though their experiences are different, they share a common cause: organizing to reduce the amount of trash—everything from cans and bottles to cell phones and apple cores—that ends up buried in landfills or burned in incinerators.

What is zero waste?

Here in the United States zero waste is often thought of as a lifestyle choice, if it’s thought of at all. Blogs like Zero Waste Home and The Clean Bin Project attract a readership of thousands through tips on how to buy less, reuse more, and recycle and compost in the home. The popularity of these projects, along with the success of Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, show a growing interest in reducing what we throw into dumpsters.
Zero waste systems are designed with the goal of eliminating the practice of sending trash to landfills and incinerators.
Padilla and Ercolini’s stories show that zero waste is not only a personal choice, but also an organized system that works at multiple levels including the community, municipality, nation, and region. Zero waste systems include:
  • composting, recycling, reuse, and education on how to separate materials into these categories;
  • door-to-door collection of recyclable and compostable stuff; swap meets, flea markets or freecycle websites to exchange reuseable goods and encourage people to buy less;
  • policy change, including bans on incineration and single-use plastic bags, and subsidies and incentives for recycling;
  • regulation of corporations to require them to buy back and recycle their products once they are used by consumers (glass soda bottles and tires are examples of products subject to this regulation in some countries).
Zero waste systems are designed with the goal of eliminating the practice of sending trash to landfills and incinerators. Not only is this possible, it’s already beginning to happen. Ercolini’s hometown of Capannori, Italy, has already achieved 82 percent recycling and reuse and is on track to bring that figure to 100 percent by 2020.

Taking on Europe’s incineration industry

Rossano Ercolini is an elementary school teacher. He began organizing against incinerators in the 1970s, when he learned of a plan to build one in Capannori. Concerned for the health of his students, Ercolini began a campaign to educate his community on the dangers of incineration, including how the burning of garbage releases particulates linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.
Rossano Ercolini
Rossano Ercolini. Photo by Goldman Prize.
Over the course of the next 30 years, Ercolini led a David-versus-Goliath struggle, with education as his slingshot. In the 1990s, waste incineration was embraced by the Italian government as well as by big environmental organizations, all of whom bought into the premise that it was a safe and effective technology. Big business and the mafia also supported incineration because of the 20- to 30-year lucrative contracts and large government investments it involved.
The conjunction of economic and political interests behind incineration left citizens alone, not only to fight against incineration but also to develop sustainable alternatives. Ercolini worked for several years as a grassroots educator, inviting scientists and waste experts to give workshops to residents on the health effects of incineration and potential alternatives.

As a result, when the residents of Capannori succeeded in defeating the incinerator proposal, they also had gained the knowledge necessary to develop a better way of handling garbage. Ercolini himself was tapped to lead a local, publicly owned waste management company and began implementing a door-to-door waste collection system that maximized the quantity and quality of the recyclable materials recovered.

Soon after, Capannori became the first Italian municipality to declare a zero waste goal for 2020. Since then, Ercolini has helped to defeat 50 proposed incinerators and has also helped the zero waste movement to spread across Italy. Thanks to the Italian network Legge Rifiuti Zero, or the Zero Waste Alliance, and with the support of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, there are now 117 zero waste municipalities in Italy, with a population of about 3 million people.

“Incineration is no longer wanted or needed in these areas,” Ercolini says. “Instead, they have established comprehensive recycling and composting systems guided by zero waste goals. This has helped improve community health and has sparked strong collaborations between communities and local governments.”

Grassroots recyclers unite

Nohra Padilla is a third generation recycler. For decades her family has survived by salvaging plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper scraps, and the like from dumps, curbside trash cans, and collection centers. They made a living by reselling these materials to junk shops and also to businesses, which used them as raw material to create new products ranging from blue jeans to paper.

In the 1980s, Padilla began organizing her fellow recycling workers, creating the first grassroots recycler cooperative in Bogotá. Since then she has helped to form the Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá, or Bogotá Recyclers Association, where she now serves as executive director. The association includes 24 cooperatives representing 3,000 people. She also played an important role in forming and leading Colombia’s National Recyclers Association.

“Grassroots recycling is a key component of a zero waste system,” Padilla says. Through their network of cooperatives, grassroots recyclers in Bogotá recover 20 to 25 percent of all material thrown away by city residents. This amounts to about 100 times more recyclable material than is collected by the city’s large private recycling companies.
Padilla has shown how recycling can incorporate workers into unionized labor, with a clear agenda to reduce trash and carbon emissions.
In March the association won a milestone victory: Grassroots recyclers are now city employees. They will be paid $48 per ton of material they deliver to collection centers, and will be eligible for government pensions and health coverage.

“After years of battling for recognition from the Bogotá government, we will finally be treated as dignified workers and paid just like any large company would be,” Padilla says. “I believe this is a victory that can be replicated across Latin America.”

Padilla has achieved this success in the face of powerful political opponents, a violent environment for worker organizing, and climate subsidies that cut recyclers out of the picture. In 2009, for example, the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism awarded carbon credits to the Doña Juana landfill gas project. This project threatened the livelihoods of Bogotá’s 21,000 informal recyclers by making it more profitable to landfill waste than to recycle it, and by limiting access to recyclable materials.

Padilla and the Grassroots Recyclers Association worked to mitigate the impact of the project, but faced many challenges in making sure that their community benefits agreement was implemented. In contrast to large landfills like Doña Juana, Padilla and the association have created infrastructure to recycle waste instead of bury it. They raised nearly two million dollars, about 75 percent from outside funds and 25 percent co-financed by the association, to build the biggest grassroots-run recycling center in Latin America.

A future without landfills

The stories of these two organizers show how zero waste movements from around the world share common problems and goals, as well as a need to confront powerful opponents with a vested interest in the business of trash.

Both stories also demonstrate the potential of zero waste organizing to bring people together across issues and sectors. For example, Ercolini has organized at the intersection of food sovereignty and trash reduction, advocating for a “Zero Miles, Zero Waste” approach to promoting local food. Meanwhile, Padilla has shown how zero waste approaches, and recycling in particular, can incorporate previously excluded workers into unionized labor, with a clear agenda to reduce trash and carbon emissions.

Padilla and Ercolini’s work has created a model for building viable zero waste alternatives to landfills and incinerators. The struggles of the Colombian recyclers’ movement, and the Bogotá Recyclers Association in particular, serve as an inspiration to recyclers throughout Latin America and beyond.
Meanwhile, the example of the Zero Waste network in Italy is being copied in many other places in Europe, decreasing the popularity of and need for incineration and sparking the creation of a continent-wide organization that advocates for zero waste.


Learning from Nature: A Course in Biomimicry

An open-source curriculum by Sustainability Leaders Network designed to strengthen and inform the biomimicry movement among educators and learners locally and around the world.
The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone. – Janine Benyus, leading biomimicry scholar
What is biomimicry?
Biomimicry is a growing discipline that studies nature’s systems and then imitates these designs and processes to sustainably solve current challenges. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example of biomimicry. Studying the intertwined complexities of a watershed to understand systems thinking is another. While biomimicry may be an emerging discipline in western culture, it is preceded by the practice of biomimicry embedded in many indigenous cultures.

Why teach biomimicry?
Using biomimicry, you can help expose your students to new ways of knowing and loving the natural world of their home. An overarching goal is to contribute to a shift in mindset – from seeing nature as something to exploit for short-term human benefit – to seeing nature as an invaluable teacher and model. This shift can help us understand how to regenerate natural resources, organize our societies, and live lightly on the Earth.

About this curriculum
This course offers an introduction to biomimicry and how to learn from nature. With an emphasis on getting outside and exploring the land around you, the biomimicry curriculum that we have designed, tested, and refined focuses on observing, appreciating and learning from nature and natural systems in your locality. Cognizant of the ways in which consumption and population growth have degraded our environment, we focus on positive solutions learned from nature and ways to take meaningful action.
I know all of the statistics of destruction, but I have chosen to come to this out of love, because I love this place. And I want to stay here. I want to stay home. – Janine Benyus
Course goals
Through this course, teachers and learners alike will:
  1. Become knowledgeable and enthusiastic about biomimicry.
  2. Get outside and strengthen relationships with the local environment.
  3. Learn to better recognize, observe, and think creatively about processes and systems in nature.
  4. Shift to see nature not as something to exploit, but as a teacher and model.
  5. Collaborate with nature to devise and apply practical solutions to current challenges.
Course reading
  • Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus
  • Dancing with Systems by Donella Meadows
  • Additional short articles, resources, and websites as assigned
Course outline
I. Introduction to Biomimicry and Systems
  • Introduction to One Another and Biomimicry
  • What is Biomimicry?
  • What is a System?
  • A Biomimicry Approach to Change
II. Innovation Inspired By Nature
  • A Focus on Shelters
  • Completing Shelters
  • Example Field Trip to Luna Bleu Farm: A Focus on Food
  • A Focus on Healing Ourselves
  • Example Field Trip to the Living Machine Rest Stop: A Focus on Cleansing and Energy
  • A Focus on Storing Knowledge
  • A Focus on Conducting Business
III. Being a Biomimic: Designing and Acting to Change Systems
  • Creating with Nature and Being a Biomimic
Course Materials
The complete curriculum is provided here, including field trip examples and an outline of the general preparation needed to teach the course, in addition to slides and other handouts.
Using our curriculum and providing feedback

Our curriculum is flexible in terms of content and order, encouraging adaptation to local surroundings and realities, and getting students outside as much as possible. With minor adjustments, it can be made appropriate for a learner of nearly any age, including teenagers, university students, and adults. Our pilot course was taught to 9th and 10th grade students at The Sharon Academy in Vermont. This curriculum may only be used for not-for-profit, educational purposes.

When using the course, please credit the Sustainability Leaders Network and let us know of your successes and challenges and how many students you have worked with, either through a comment at the bottom of this page or by writing to us: info [at] sustainabilityleadersnetwork [dot] org. We are very open to feedback on the curriculum and, like nature, are always seeking to evolve.

Acknowledgements and credits
A great deal of thanks is due to Janine Benyus, Dayna Baumeister, and the staff at Biomimicry 3.8 who have built a rich foundation from which courses like ours can grow. We are grateful to administrators and students at The Sharon Academy who supported and participated in our pilot teaching of this semester-long course. Their feedback was valuable in refining the curriculum that we share here.

We are also grateful to our donors the New England Environmental Education Association (NEEEA), who awarded us an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant, and the Wellborn Ecology Fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation (NHCF). Please note: Although our curriculum was funded in part by the EPA, it may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred.

Edie Farwell and Dominic Stucker designed the original curriculum, Edie taught the course at The Sharon Academy in autumn 2012, and Dominic Stucker and Alex Bauermeister further developed the course for publication.

Disaster risk management in post-2015 development goals: potential targets and indicators

Disasters can hamper economic growth, affect poverty levels and cause human suffering. Without significant action, the extent and impact of economic and social damage associated with disasters will get worse over the next 20 years, largely as a result of growing exposure of people and assets. This has the potential to reverse development progress in hard-hit areas.

Including measures to promote disaster risk management (DRM) in the post-2015 development goals is needed to incentivise investment in advance of shocks to protect lives and livelihoods – but also save money.

This report examines options for including DRM in the post-2015 development framework. Its eight chapters, each authored by leading international experts, combine to explore three scenarios for including DRM:
  1. A standalone goal on disasters, supported by targets. The report assesses targets on reducing mortality, reducing economic losses, preventing impoverishment and protecting and improving health systems;
  2. A target on disasters within a goal on ‘resilience’, ‘security’ or ‘tackling obstacles to development’; drawing on the detailed assessments of the targets mentioned above.
  3. Integration of DRM into other goals. The report particularly highlights how DRM could be included in poverty reduction and education goals.
Disaster Risk Management in Post-2015 Development Goals: Potential Targets and Indicators (pdf, 1.58M)
Executive Summary (Mitchell, Jones, Lovell and Comba) (pdf, 110.64k)
Chapter 1 - Introduction (Mitchell, Lovell, Comba and Jones) (pdf, 92.59k)
Chapter 2 - Disasters and their economic impacts (Ranger and Surminski) (pdf, 412.26k)
Chapter 3 - Disaster Deaths (Guha-Sapir and Hoyois) (pdf, 262.21k)
Chapter 4 - Disasters and their impact on poverty (Clarke and Reid) (pdf, 107.31k)
Chapter 5- Health in a Disasters Goal (World Health Organization) (pdf, 140.66k)
Chapter 6 - Disaster resilience in a poverty reduction goal (Sumner) (pdf, 157.96k)
Chapter 7 - DRR in an education goal (Zook Sorensen, Rumsey and Garcia) (pdf, 143.46k)
Chapter 8 - Synthesis (Jones, Mitchell, Lovell and Comba) (pdf, 118.77k)
Annex (pdf, 165.04k)
References (pdf, 91.03k)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Seeing the Bigger Picture: Together on Earth

by Madisyn Taylor

When we see a photo of our earth from space, it is hard to feel ourselves as being separate from all others.

Seeing an image of the planet Earth taken from space inspires awe in many of us, since we can clearly see the connectedness of all of us who live upon this planet. We have created imaginary boundaries, sectioning ourselves into countries and states, forgetting that in reality we are all living together, breathing the same air, drinking from the same water, eating food grown from the same earth. We share everything on this planet, whether we are conscious of it or not, with other people, and those people are our brothers and sisters. Keeping a photograph or painting of the planet Earth in a prominent place in our homes can be a positive way to remember our interconnectedness.

Meditating on the fact that any sense of separation we have from one another is truly an illusion, we will naturally begin to make more conscious choices in our daily lives. The simple act of preparing food, or determining how to dispose of our refuse, can be done with the consciousness that whatever we do will affect all our brothers and sisters, no matter how far away they live, as well as the planet herself. When we foster this kind of awareness in ourselves out of a feeling of awe, it becomes easier to be conscious than to fall back into old habits of thinking of ourselves as separate.

When we contemplate the earth in her wholeness, we attune ourselves to the truth of the bigger picture, which is the Earth, and all of us, every one of us, living on her body. We are connected to one another in the most intimate way, because we literally share our living space. As more people become aware of the reality of our interdependency, things will shift in a positive direction, and much of the discord that we see now will give way to a more cooperative, loving conscious. This is happening already, so as our consciousness grows, we can join with the many other minds working to live in the spirit of togetherness.

How a Community-Based Food System works.

It begins with small farms working with natural cycles and ends with fresh food and stronger communities in nearby cities.
Hover over the top banners to see How a Community-Based Food System works.

Everybody Eats1 link2 link3 link4 link

Clean energy such as solar, wind, and biogas provides clean power for farm machinery.

Closed-loop cycles mimic nature and eliminate waste. Nutrients are returned to soil.

Grass-fed livestock has a smaller carbon footprint and leaves grain for humans to eat.

Crop diversity increases yield, keeps soil fertile, helps fight pests.

Homegrown seed keeps old strains alive, produces new varieties adapted to local conditions.

Fact: Since 1900, 75 percent of vegetable varieties have disappeared worldwide.

No-till farming reduces soil loss and sequesters carbon. Edible prairie produces grain while building soil.

Fact: If all farmers in the U.S. used no-till, crop rotation and cover crops, they'd sequester 300 million tons of carbon a year.

Other characteristics: Fruit and nut orchards, farm waste converted to to biogas fuel or compost, manure converted to fertilizer, clean water runoff.

Regional Processing: Local cooperatives can replace giant corporate processors for frozen and canned foods. Food processing waste is composted and goes back to farms.

Short Haul Distribution: Using electric vehicles to move food from railheads and ports to markets in cities will result in cleaner air and a new automobile industry.

Fact: A regional diet uses 17 times less oil than the typical American long-distance diet.

Long-Haul Distribution: Use trains to transport goods over large distances.

Fact: Moving goods by rail instead of truck reduces fuel use by two-thirds.

Money spent locally increases a community’s economic health.

Fact: Every dollar that stays in a community has three times the effect of a dollar that goes to a distant corporate HQ.

Cooperatives allow farmers to share the cost of buying land and supplies, and to share labor and equipment.

Fact: Farms of 27 acres or less produce 10 times more dollar value per acre than larger ones.

Where we get our food: Farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) leave out the big-retailer middleman. Small farmers make a living; communities get fresh, healthy, affordable food. Buy local food from farmers markets, urban food vans, co-ops and CSAs.

Lawns, abandoned lots, balconies, roofs, and even windowsills become gardens. Neighbors build community gardens and share the bounty at neighborhood feasts.

Fact: During WWII, Victory Gardens produced 40 percent of the vegetables people ate.

When you grow your own, use homegrown seeds, use garden waste to compost and allow household food scraps to be composted by worms.

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In the United States farms of 27 acres or less have more than ten times greater dollar output per acre than larger farms.



US Dept. of Transportation via Appalachian Regional Commission,

Institute for Local Self-Reliance,

A regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country

Michael Pollan, New York Times,