LIVING DANGEROUSLY

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

“Today, I am as optimistic and resolved as ever that we will solve the climate crisis. Our collective efforts are dependent not on politics or ideology — or elections — but on our commitment to each other, to the health of our planet and to a sustainable future for all…. Now, more than ever, our planet needs us — and I’m inspired by the knowledge that we’ll take the path forward together.”
Al Gore, Founder & Chairman, The Climate Reality Project, November 09, 2016 24hours-logo

The last presidential candidate who won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College went on to use his free time to give us “The Inconvenient Truth.” Perhaps, it is now obvious to Hillary Clinton she should have made this year’s election about climate change.

Turns out I had pre-booked my post-election group therapy by getting tickets with other colleagues of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA to hear Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org. I’m sure all in the audience were looking forward to hearing about all the progress on climate action that was awaiting us over the next four years. While McKibben shared the audience’s frustrations, he inspired me with his story telling on how 350.org was founded.

In 2008, 350.org began with six Middlebury college students of McKibben’s. One of the first environmental organizations to use a website as its moniker, 350 signifies the 350-vs-400concentration of carbon dioxide in parts per million (ppm) that the atmosphere can safely hold without changing our climate. Too bad for us, we are currently around 400ppm.

The group first focused on an International Day of Climate Action to encourage the world’s most widespread day of political action reporting 5,245 actions in 181 countries on Saturday October 24, 2009. This resonated with me for several reasons.

First, college students sparking this initiative shows the strength of service learning projects such as ICA’s Accelerate77 convening the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network. Second, the breadth of the international engagement challenges ICA to collaborate with our ICA-International colleagues to commemorate in 2017 the 40th anniversary of ICA’s “Band of 24”which created human development projects in all 24 time zones across the globe.

Then there is the flashback memory to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta speaking truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the early Reagan years of deregulation for profits.

McKibben outlined the arguments for divestment in 2012, when he boiled down the future of the fossil fuel industry to simple arithmetic – companies own at least four times more fossil fuel reserves than we can safely burn, so it must stay in the ground, so the reserves and the companies are overvalued when these become “stranded assets.” Not a good long-term investment.

Divestment movements continue to spread on campuses across America. 350.org’s fossil fuel divestment campaign is shifting money faster than any divestment movement before it. Now it’s time for local governments to enter the fray and protect the future of our citizens.

If you’re looking this fall for real “reality TV,” check out season two of Years of Living Dangerously, airing on Nation Geographic Channel. In the October 30th opening episode, BLOCKING THE SUN, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong traveled to Florida and Nevada to investigate what’s blocking the growth of solar energy in the U.S. I know it’s shocking to discover it’s our publicly regulated utility companies.

On the good news side, Florida voters in the “Sunshine State” rejected on November 8th, a misleading utility-backed campaign promoting a referendum as protecting consumers and encouraging solar. Their promotional materials did not include an explanation that the amendment would open the door to new fees and costs to rooftop solar users. As Cecily’s interviews captured, solar industry advocates argued that instead of expanding rooftop solar generation, the amendment had the potential to make it less economically viable and limit its expansion. So the battle will continue for more solar in the Sunshine State.

But as other episodes on Years of Living Dangerously document local battles abound. David Letterman’s trip to India —soon to be the world’s most populous but with 300 million people living in rural villages without power – focused on India’s dilemma of using dirty fossils fuels like coal or leading the way with the renewable energy.

central-valley-caIn California, the worst drought in 1,200 years is devastating the nation’s most populous state and the world’s seventh-largest economy. A global water crisis is forcing family farmers off their land in the parched Central Valley and threatening our food supply.

In the remote corners of the African Sahel, migrants are being forced to make the deadly trip across the Mediterranean as “climate refugees.” senegal_ricci_shryock-111-1024x683

“We have a choice, we can build walls or we can build gardens. If we don’t help people build gardens here in Africa, they’re going to come right over our wall,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Perhaps, the President-Elect can find the time to watch a few episodes and learn how all this is connected and why climate action is an imperative. Otherwise, we all will be living dangerously over the next four years.

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TILLING & KEEPING IN THE TWIN CITIES

“Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. — Paragraph # 67 ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS

So I made it almost half way through Pope Francis’ encyclical on my flight home from Minneapolis. The section above captures the efforts of those I met this past week. The potential for collaborating in the Twin Cities on sustainability initiatives to address climate change (the focus question for my visit) is substantial.

The range of those already engaged include mentor Technology of Participation (ToP)® trainers, Minneapolis city officials, policy researchers, sustainability leaders, artists, community developers and service providers. All shared the urgency of climate change and the challenge of identifying appropriate actions to initiate. Acknowledging that Minnesota is already the “Land of 10,000 Coalitions”, there was recognition perhaps one more would be timely.

Conversations included:

• connecting the environmental issue to the grass-roots and engaging minority leaders from low-income communities;
• pending expansion of community solar gardens transforming energy consumers into owners of renewable energy; and
• how to best shift images and cultural values to build consensus for behavioral change.

One anecdote from the wisdom of the young was the 8th grade hip-hop composition: How is hurting the earth not criminal?

Sean & SolarThe Alliance for Sustainability, among its many activities, is working with congregations to explore community solar options and watershed stewardship. They have produced a YouTube Video that explains the benefits of joining a community solar garden. Sean Gosiewski, the Alliance’s Executive Director, has 30 years of experience bringing community leaders together to envision and build sustainable communities, providing hands-on tools and training to build community, health, wealth and local resilience. He has received a Technology of Participation Champion’s Award from the Institute of Cultural Affairs.

The Minneapolis Office of Sustainability is launching a “green zone” initiative to provide a framework for city policy and investment for minority, low-income communities that are over-burdened with pollution. The City’s Neighborhood and Community Relations department strives for equitable access by addressing and removing barriers to civic participation and meaningful engagement.

Many potential collaborators in the Twin Cities are already “tilling and keeping” to assure that climate change is not inevitable; it’s preventable.

Don’t know if it’s on the Pope’s playlist; but here’s this week’s addition to the U2Cando playlist:

Whenever God shines his light on me
Opens up my eyes so I can see
When I look up in the darkest night
I know everything’s going to be alright
In deep confusion, in great despair
When I reach out for him he is there
When I am lonely as I can be
I know that God shines his light on me

“Whenever God Shines His Light On Me”
Van Morrison

SHIFTING CULTURAL VALUES ON FOSSIL FUELS

SHIFTING CULTURAL VALUES ON FOSSIL FUELS

Fundamentally, the task is to articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis…. This is required not only to create a political context to dramatically lower emissions, but also to help us cope with the disasters we can no longer avoid. — Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

Last weekend was my first in-person board of directors meeting as the new CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA. It was a full agenda over 48+ hours.

ICA’s GreenRise, located at 4750 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago’s Uptown community, was designated as a Chicago landmark building in 2013 and was the first building owned by a nonprofit to join “RetroFit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative.”

ICA’s GreenRise, located at 4750 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago’s Uptown community, was designated as a Chicago landmark building in 2013 and was the first building owned by a nonprofit to join “RetroFit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative.”

The quote above was picked by one of our directors for Sunday morning’s opening reflection. It resonated with me and the other directors for the urgency of its message, since we began Saturday morning with a discussion of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything including viewing a poignant less than 10-minute video from her webpage.

As followers of my blog know, this book has been significant for me in this new chapter of my community development career, including a book review for SHELTERFORCEThis Changes Everything resonates with ICA-USA’s mission to “build a just and equitable society in harmony with planet earth.” Klein stresses a strategy that is at the heart of ICA’s method:

“This is another lesson from the transformative movements of the past: all of them understood that the process of shifting cultural values – though somewhat ephemeral and difficult to quantify – was central to their work.”

In September 2014, ICA-USA activated the second largest solar array in the city of Chicago (only the Shedd Aquarium is larger). The array consists of 485 solar panels deployed over 35,000 square feet of roof space on two separate roofs consisting of three distinct arrays. They are producing 150Kw and reducing our building’s dependency on external electricity by 25%.

In September 2014, ICA-USA activated the second largest solar array in the city of Chicago (only the Shedd Aquarium is larger). The array consists of 485 solar panels deployed over 35,000 square feet of roof space consisting of three distinct arrays. They are producing 150Kw and reducing our building’s dependency on external electricity by 25%.

As ICA-USA begins to explore how and where to best deploy our methods for action on climate change, our board of directors took another step to investing for a sustainable future by voting to divest from fossil fuels and re-allocating our modest capital into fossil fuel free portfolios.

The movement for fossil fuel divestment exploded in early 2013, and socially conscious investors have increasingly been requesting fossil fuel free investment strategies. 350.org (founded by Bill McKibben) is calling for divestment especially by colleges from the stocks and bonds of the 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies with the most proven reserves of coal, oil, and gas.

ICA-USA invests with socially responsible firms of First Affirmative Financial Network. Their briefing paper on Fossil Fuel Free notes that the global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) increased to 400ppm (parts per million) in 2013 from a pre-industrial value of approximately 280ppm.

“We need to reduce and limit our use of fossil fuels in order to reduce the level of atmospheric CO2 if we want to live on a planet similar to what has supported life to date. Scientific evidence states that we have a 50% chance of staying under the 2⁰C warming ceiling at 450ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. If we want a greater than 50% likelihood of staying below a 2⁰C increase, we must reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to 350ppm – 400ppm…. The growing evidence of climate change, and the likelihood of increasing financial risks of investing in fossil fuel extracting companies, has become a significant motivating force around fossil fuel free investing.”

Climate change is personal for me. It’s only May and we are already having multiple days of temperatures in the 80s here in Chicago. Four times in past summers, my body has over-reacted to heat in excess of 90 degrees; twice resulting in trips to the emergency rooms, the last by ambulance.

Action now is paramount. If you haven’t yet read Naomi’s book, move it to the top of your list. If you have, recommend it to others. If you have personal investments or serve on an organization’s board or can influence your company’s policy, divest from fossil fuels. It’s past time for the market to speak in the best interest of our own survival. It’s time for us all to act now.

“Because in the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilization and barbarism.” — Naomi Klein

This is my 39th weekly blog. I have yet to repeat lyrics for the U2Cando playlist. But it’s appropriate to do so now in case you missed it back in February. If you didn’t check out the music video then, be sure to do so now. We started off our discussion on climate change at the ICA-USA board meeting by singing along:

We’re on a planet
That has a problem
Time to solve it, get involved and do it
NOW, NOW, NOW
We’re out to build a better future
And we need to start right now.

SING FOR THE CLIMATE

OUT TO BUILD A BETTER FUTURE

“Building a just and equitable society in harmony with planet earth” is the mission of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) in the USAll of its work is grounded in a set of strategies which facilitate sustainable community development by drawing upon assets and social capital in a collaborative manner. ICA-USA is a member of ICA International (ICAI), a global network of 35 organizations that use participatory processes for community development.

ICA-USA headquarters is a 166,000 square foot landmark building that is the largest nonprofit service center in the Midwest. Tenants include over 15 direct-service nonprofits providing safety nets and resources to the Uptown community and Chicago at large. Branded in September 2014 as the GreenRise Uptown Learning Laboratory, it now has the largest number of solar panels (483 each producing 310 watts) on a building outside of Chicago’s downtown as I noted in an earlier blog.

This is my 26th weekly blog, a half year of sharing stories, profiles of colleagues, my opinions, and what has become an eclectic playlist of songs. As I noted in my first blog on August 30th, I have always regarded my now 40+ year community development career not as a series of jobs but as a vocation, seeking a just economy. I posted the lyrics for that first blog (Does Anyone Have Bono’s Cell Number?) on my blog’s home page: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking.

Well I’m pleased to announce I may be getting closer. I have accepted the position as the new CEO of ICA-USA. Starting part-time this week to implement a transition plan with my predecessor, Terry Bergdall, I will go full-time by the end of March at the earliest or the end of April at the latest. Terry’s done an incredible job as CEO over the last five years. He merits a future blog even though he is a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

I have appreciated ICA’s vital facilitation work since 1984 when I became CEO of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations [CANDO] and ICA was a member. ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP)® facilitation methodology harnesses the energy and wisdom of a group to build consensus and create and implement strategic plans. ToP participatory processes draw upon decades of ICA’s worldwide community development experience. Currently, the ToP Network consists of over 130 licensed trainers and certified facilitators who deliver facilitation services and training around the country.

ICA accelerate 77 logoICA-USA’s current initiatives are a testimony to the dedication of board and staff to pursuing their mission. ICA-USA is the organizing sponsor of accelerate 77, a five year project to increase the role and positive impact of local community action across Chicago. Its key strategies are to identify current sustainability initiatives in all of Chicago’s 77 community areas; connect them with one another to inspire new ideas and practices; and engage them in collaborative action and peer interchange. Currently accelerate 77 is organizing the formation of the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network.

ICA’s GreenRise Uptown Learning Laboratory is a national model for deploying renewable energy. Chicago’s PBS affiliate WTTW Channel 11 featured ICA’s GreenRise in a broadcast. The Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network’s engagement of communities to pursue local actions is an example of the cultural paradigm shift required.

I spent recent vacation time reading Naomi Klein’s inspirational This Changes Everything. Subject for a future blog and book review, this book does change everything for me. Its message resonates with ICA’s mission and solidified my decision to accept this CEO position. Naomi ends the book with a question for us all: “History knocked on your door, did you answer?” I have and I’ll keep you posted.

For this special announcement blog, I asked Jim Troxel for his U2Cando lyrics recommendation. Jim was one of my first ICA contacts back in the mid-80s and encouraged me to apply for the CEO position. He submitted a very timely and appropriate song with a link to an amazing video: Sing for the Climate.

The tune “Bella Ciao” was a song sung by the Italian anti-fascist resistance movement between 1943 and 1945. In September 2012, 80,000 Belgians sang it in 180 town squares. In October 2012, 725 schools organized Sing@School, with 300,000 children singing it. In December 2012, a video of the song was shown at the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 18) UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Qatar.It is the anthem of the Sing for the Climate Project calling for meaningful action on issues of climate change. This version includes edits made by ICA-USA’s Accelerate 77 singers in November 2013.

ICA's GreenRise

ICA’s GreenRise

We’re on a planet
That has a problem
Time to solve it, get involved and do it
NOW, NOW, NOW
We’re out to build a better future
And we’re on the march right now.

Make it greener
Make it cleaner
Make it last, make it fast, and do it
NOW, NOW, NOW
We’re out to build a better future
And we’re on the march right now.

No point in waiting
Or hesitating
Let’s be wise, no more lies and do it
NOW, NOW, NOW
We’re out to build a better future
And we’re on the march right now.

When Will Attitudes Change Towards Solar?

It was a bright sunny day in Chicago on September 24th. The celebrants were singing “You Are My Sunshine” as the solar panels were already saving $64 since the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) in the US had started them up just a few hours earlier.

With 483 panels (each producing 310 watts), ICA’s 166,000 square foot landmark building in Chicago’s Uptown community now has the largest number of solar panels on a building outside of downtown. Yearly savings are projected to exceed $16,000 and reduce the 8-story building’s dependency on external supply of electricity by 23% with over 150 kilowatts of solar power.

Terry Bergdall, ICA-USA’s CEO, shared that the ICA GreenRise Uptown Learning Laboratory sign on the building had just been completed the day before the celebration. He emphasized:

ICA's Green Rise Uptown

 “The installation of the solar panels is a huge step toward our ambition of taking our building off the grid and providing guidance to other organizations for incorporating green technology. It’s not just about the dollars but more importantly taking action on Climate Change. The long-term return on investment is taking care of our earth.”

So how long before we all learn to tap the sun? A lot longer if the Koch brothers continue to buy politicians’ votes to repeal and weaken green policies. But they are not the only ones opposing solar. The Chicago Tribune ran a story by Evan Halper on August 18th “Sunny, with slim chance of solar” reporting how utilities in the South back laws that keep people from installing solar panels by banning leasing arrangements.

Illinois has passed legislation to allow “net metering” which guarantees homeowners and businesses with solar panels on their roofs the right to sell excess electricity back into the power grid at attractive rates. This is recognized as the cornerstone of the solar energy business model.  However, utilities here have delayed implementation, curtailing market demand for solar and the green jobs we are still awaiting.

As the largest nonprofit service center in the Midwest, ICA is not only creating a learning lab here in Chicago but also demonstrating a sustainable future for us all; so we don’t go insane.

It’s those changes in latitudes,
Changes in attitudes; nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running and all of our cunning,
If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.

Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes
Jimmy Buffett