Response to Pro Jo articles on the economy March 2012

I read your series on the Rhode Island economy in  the Sunday March 25 projo.  My comments will probably be  bit longer than a letter to the editor.  Maybe if your find them interesting enough  we might open the discussion of  how to fix the RI economy a bit wider.   You may choose to ignore what I say here.
Among my many projects is ProsperityForRI.com   https://prosperityforri.com/       a blog about the ecology/economy interface in Rhode Island and how to bring prosperity to our communities.
I especially recommend beginning with 2 essays
I begin my analysis where you do, that the Rhode Island economy barely functions today and that there have been repeated efforts to make it work better.  Where we differ is in what direction sustainable prosperity lies and what the obstacles to prosperity are.  My understanding of the economy, or rather the intertwined economies of the communities on the planet, begins with the ecology.  Maybe influenced by the trend that no civilization has ever arisen without an abundant supply of wood, and then immediately began to deplete its forests, ruin its soils, and despoil its fisheries.  When the job was done, especially when the forests and its wood products were gone, the civilizations then faded away. Now we are doing this on a global scale and we go through resources faster than ever.  Will we last the hundreds of years that the Maya survived?  Ponder a world without forests and ponder if you think you will be richer or poorer?   Resource use and resource depletion are key issues for our future prosperity.
Ultimately my concern with your articles is that in the current situation unleashing the engines of growth in the ways you suggest will only lead to greater inequality, greater ecological destruction, and a less prosperous populace.  We need another way.
That other way is ecological healing and focusing on the needs of the poor.  We have to heal RI ecosystems enough that they can provide a significant proportion of our livelihoods.  We can either go blindly over the abyss of a smaller economy or we can plan for it.  If we accept it and understand the implications as a community, we shall make smarter choices.
” You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems”
If you look at RI today, the most vibrant sectors of the economy are dependent upon ecological healing, the building of soil, the clean up of the rivers, and the return of life. Agriculture has been almost the only thing growing in Rhode Island the last 10 years with the exception of the medical industrial complex.  Despite the pushing of the knowledge economy for umpteen years (I have been reading the reports from commissions on economic growth for 20 years), you change the names of the flavor of the week sectors, and it reads exactly same. Community gardens and commercial growing of food for local consumption is growing rapidly.    The revitalization of farmland and the production of green energy  (and not pseudo-green projects) is sparking the neighborhood.      In your articles you suggest that the knowledge industries such as the medical industrial complex and green energy are where RI needs to go, but you do not go far enough in your ecological analysis , thinking of the green economy as an add on to the real work of video games and high tech patentable life forms.  I would simply point out that the more dependent we become on the medical industrial complex for the job base of our community, the more people lose everything to medical bills. We need to rethink that one.
My experiences in forestry, soils, agriculture, compost, construction, activism,and politics have been combined with a background in ecology and anthropology.
These days my largest project is the RI Compost Initiative.  On February 27 I ran the 2012 RI Compost Conference and Trade Show.  I understand your frustration with regulation, but ultimately the best way to do anything is to do it with a totally clean process that restores an ecosystem while creating value for the community.  Right now in Rhode Island It makes more dollars and cents, but no real sense, to throw valuable goods and resources in to  the dump in ways that increases our carbon footprint and stink to the neighborhood. Compost does not work if you cut corners, nor in an environment in which to appease the towns and keep their costs low the price of landfilling garbage is cheaper than recycling it,  but it is a critical component of improving the economic health of our communities.  The legislature controls the tipping fee, so I am trying to figure out a strategy for changing it, which I see as a multi year organizing project. I am also advising JWU in their efforts to incorporate compost into their curriculum and campus . JWU’s hauling of food scrap to the dump is a major cost, and on site composting will allow them to teach future members of the hospitality industry about a future without garbage.  My next project may be an industry trade association to do a bit of lobbying for better access for composters, as well as banning compostables from the dump. It may not meet the standard of no investment in the future that our state seems obsessed by in its austerity kick, but  throwing stuff into the landfill sure is not helping our economy even if it is cheap.   I wish we were all going faster, but it goes as it goes.
Another facet of my work revolves around the reforestation of a vacant lot covered in an invasive plant, Japanese knotweed.    When the project started 13 years ago I had 15 years of woodlot management experience combined with many  hours of looking at the ecosystems I passed through.  As research director of Ban Clearcutting in Maine in 1996 I put that knowledge to use, then I moved to the urban forest and discovered a few things that made it seem possible that we can revitalize communities and suppress alien weeds by developing forests.  Japanese knotweed does not thrive in the shade, and we are creating a closed canopy forest, a semi natural new England forest, to suppress it.
Come see my forest.   It is officially a project of Friends of the Moshassuck   www.themoshassuck.org
I learned much when I was an active participant in both the CSO stakeholder process and the Quonset Megaport stakeholder process.  When the NBC came to the table in the final CSO stakeholder event, they held in their hands a radically altered document from the preliminary plan they had presented two months before.  They agreed to the principle that the future lay in managing water, not building big tunnels.  They were stuck big time and were going to build the tunnel, but they were going to incorporate  more green techniques in the whole process.  They adopted the language I had submitted, and I was proud to support the document as presented knowing it was better and more forward looking than they had come to the table with the first time.
My part in the Megaport controversy was multi faceted.  One thing I did was put a great deal of heat on the way RIEDC director John Swenn ran public meetings.  My other role was to regularly point out the very destructiveness of global trade, and the very real implications for Rhode Island depending on which specific goods come here.  The vehicle I used for the work ended up as an essay called Containerships and Cannibals, but the original is lost to time and an unfortunate computer crash many years ago.
The argument was as follows.  The containerships were loading up all the goods and resources collected in what were once the forests of Southeast Asia and were now plantations and sweatshops, with Singapore being the hub, as it has been for 2 centuries.  The deforestation and sweat shops were not the only part of the story.  It was the violent repression and killings of people by the armies of Indonesia, and other countries to keep opening up more forest to exploitation.  This was the cost of the container trade, made explicit in the story that I found in Utne Reader about how the islanders of one of the islands the Indonesian government was flooding with immigrants from other islands to turn into palm plantations and sweat shops tried to stop the flow and retain their land.     They fought back, and one of their traditions was that if they ate the hearts of those they killed in the war they would absorb their strength.  Of course that only worked against the villagers who were colonizing their forest, but not against the automatic weapons, often subsidized by the US, the Indonesian army carried.  Reminded me very much of the Ghost Dance on the northern plains  when the Lakota put on their sacred beads and dance the sacred dance in an effort to find the strength to keep their freedom.  Of course they were slaughtered and put in cages and on reservations.  And it was happening in Indonesia to feed a megaport in Rhode Island.
You should have had the opportunity to talk to Kho Tararith when he lived in Rhode Island last year.  He was a recent refugee from Cambodia for human rights activism and was staying at Brown as a Watson Scholar.  One of the leading poets in Cambodia and the former head of the local chapter of PEN.  He had to leave town.  We talked as I saw him waiting with his 7 year old for the school bus on my way to work several times a week and we started talking.  Now we email about Cambodian forests and the corruption that is leading to their destruction, and the sorrow and poverty that brings to the villages all to feed the Chinese sweatshops and fill the coffers of corrupt officials.
What eventually killed the Megaport was that it needed huge subsidies to be built, was guaranteed to not be profitable, and the state was sold a bill of good s by the two con men who whipped Lincoln Almond and his fell travelers into a megaport frenzy.  The con men had been throw out of ports around the world with their lines that they could get funding and shipping contracts.  And given the recession the US went through, about the time the construction would have been finishing up, it is a good thing my friends stopped the port.
The point that  what you import through a port matters, tends to get lost in the quest for volumes and anything goes if it ships.  But it does make  a difference.
A thing about healing ecosystems, is that it requires actual democracy in order to occur.  No place in which the rich and connected can run rough shod over a community with no due process and no ways to legally protect their community will ever have an economy that works for the long term.  Communities must have the right to say no, that is not appropriate for a variety of environmental and community based reasons.  All over the world it has been shown that communities that control their forests, instead of turning them over to global logging conglomerates, have a higher per capita income in the community and healthier diets.
In the USA the issue has turned into environmental justice.  In most of America healing ecosystems is the only way the poor will survive.  We can not poison the air and the water and expect prosperity.  When the 99% get .2% growth it is funny money and they are poorer, as the statistics show. Giving all the money to the one percent slows growth, as countries with fairer and more equitable income distributions than ours show quite readily.
One key observation is that people who are poor almost always live in degraded environments.  This is shown by the  millionaires on the beach with the poor folks in the swamps or ghettos , and it is shown  by people who have enough forest to feed them well, but despite being out of the cash economy,  do not feel poor.
A thought to ponder is that as we are not seeing any real growth, only funny money growth for the 1%, maybe we ought to acknowledge that growth is really no longer possible in a world of ecological collapse, and that if we are to have prosperity in a shrinking economy, we need more justice and an equitable distribution of resources , underlain by healthier ecosystems,
I am thinking that Americans are going to the a lot happier at the global mean income using our fair share, then we will be if  global homogenization and rising inequality continues.  Where climate change and resource wars do not devastate communities, it will be because justice prevailed. No one cleans brown fields properly except when the community is actually part of the process, so lets do it right.
Sorry for the jumping around, but I am trying to give you a flavor of the breadth of information about where the RI economy is headed that y’all have not yet considered and why the road to prosperity may not run through the standard methodology and ideology.    Rather than bore you more now, If you write back I will continue the dialogue and offer  resources.  But first a short list  of some of the elements to be considered in planning for future prosperity in Rhode Island
A very short plan.
Restore fish runs on all rivers.
Collect and compost all food scrap
Increase recycling to 90%
Eliminate fossil fuel use
Turn all vacant lands into gardens and forests to sequester carbon and provide resources to the community.
Grow a lot more food
Practice preventative health care and turn payments in the system to reflect prevention and community health rather than the greater profit of the giants.
While we are at it, single payer is the only thing that is going to fund a prevention based system. And a health care system we can afford.
Accept a reduction for the retirement incomes of the one percent of same percentage that union workers for states and municipalities are being cut.
Focus on community revitalization through ecological healing, with a prime example being Olneyville in which the Greenway lead the way.
Cutting taxes for the rich will only increase inequality, so do not do it.
Regulations can be nightmarish.  Simplify them but require any project being built to demonstrate that all relevant ecosystem services will be enhanced rather than degraded.  If all relevant standards and systems healing requirements can be met, the methodology does not matter much.
Greg Gerritt

A short explanation of weird weather

I was talking with a friend today and she asked me to write this.  I was explaining to her how climate change was working, and how it created the very warm March we are now experiencing.

The weather we see daily is influenced by many things.  The atmosphere of the planet has many different things happening, some of which people have given names to.  El Nino/La Nina,  the Arctic Oscillation, and who knows how many other fluctuations that occur in semi regular ways.  These things are constantly interacting.  Some years they cancel each other out, some years they reinforce each other.  Every so often all the cycles line up and create an extreme year.

If the system was non directional, if the climate was stable, wet and dry years, hot and cold years would balance each other out.  But in a situation in which the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has gone from 280 parts per million to 392 parts per million in approximately 250 years, with the lion’s share taking place int he last 50 years, and the  rate of greenhouse gas emissions polluting the atmosphere continuing to increase, we see a different phenomena.

Just like in the past the various atmospheric systems interact and counter balance or amplify each other depending upon year, with occasional years of a lining up of the various systems so that we get some sort of record year.  But the atmosphere is getting warmer due to the retention of greenhouse gases, which work by blocking more and more of the suns rays striking the earth from bouncing back into space, thereby trapping the extra energy and heat.

 

Now when we get forces lined up, every so often, there is a spike in high temperatures, or a series of exceptionally large storms.  Then we go back to a normal distribution of the weather except each cycle of records is followed by a “normal period” that was warmer and more unstable than the last.

 

A description might be

1. Record heat wave

2. a series of 5 years with a normal variation, but warmer than the last series of 5 years.

3. a record heat year

4. followed by a number of years of normal variability, but hotter than the previous 5 years and therefore also slightly more unstable and extreme

5 followed by another record heat year and the cycle continues, getting hotter each cycle as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues its climb.

 

Menhaden in the spring????!!!

Today i saw a new phenomenon.  I saw a big school, hundreds if not thousands of fish in the Woonasquatucket River next to the citizens bank building.  pretty sure they were menhaden.  the odd things is that in 15 years of watching menhaden i have never seen them in the spring.  Only in the fall.  What a weird winter.

Caught up

I have now transferred all of the pages from the previous incarnation of this Prosperity For RI blog to the .com version.  I have a  few things to put in that were written in the time since the blog crashed, Pretty soon I can add mew materials.  It will be nice to have this tool again.

North Main St vision

North Main St vision

I am absolutely sure that my vision of NMS does not completely coincide with yours.  No two visions are identical.  But I am sure we can all benefit from reading a spicy variety of visions.  I offer mine.

The context for me is that what will create a vibrant prosperous NMS is  not business as usual.  Not business as usual for the last 40 years, not business as usual in the current phase of urban redevelopment in 2011.  Maybe this is why I am a consultant, researcher, and advocate running NGOs and think tanks rather than a retail establishment.

Where I differ most from the mainstream is that I am not at all sure that the American economy is capable of growth in the 21st Century.  The world has changed.  Resource extraction becomes ever more difficult, and with that change all the real growth in the American economy for the last 30 years has been sucked up by the rich, the medical industrial complex, the fossil fuel industries, and the war machine.

In other words the numbers are clear that for all but the favored few the American economy is already smaller, they have less money.   If you can not actually increase through put (essentially infrastructure and ecosystem rebuilding) then all growth is in funny money. With the collapse of global forests and fisheries, soil degradation, the continued diminishment of mineral resources, and climate change, prosperity in the future will be determined by how well we provision ourselves and build resilience to climate change.

What that means for NMS is that it might work much better as an agricultural corridor than a raggedy business district.  If we could farm the vacant strip (by deed) along NMS in the North Burial Ground, AND farm all the run down properties along NMS, with the exception of those we turn into high density housing along the new super bus line/trolley serving all those people and those who start leaving cars at home.  Agriculture would bring retail.  Community gardens and small farms selling produce will bring people saving money and improving their nutrition and health.  With more of their diminishing money to spend on other things.   Maybe we partner with Camp St Community Ministries and Mt Hope NA on the food and nutrition components.

We would of course increase recycling and composting massively, providing new resources for farming and industry.

Walking would be enhanced by better NMS crossings for pedestrians, trolley stops could become true nodes with a little jazzing up and communications infrastructure.  With pushcart vendors?

More trees, but if we have to take out the median strip for a trolley line, so be it.  Maybe trees that produce something for the community like walnuts.

Somehow predictably what happens by the NBG and its facing street scape seems to be the key for me.

Greg Gerritt
6th St
ProsperityForRI.com
Friends of the Moshassuck

Menhaden in the Moshassuck

enhaden in the Moshassuck

In 1998 I founded Friends of the Moshassuck and have been intently watching the river ever since.  I watch most of the lower half of the river, but walk along the tidal portion of the river, from just north of Smith St to the confluence with the Woonasquatucket River at least 4 days a week.  I have watched the river in all seasons, at all times of day, in all tides.  I have watched the river enough to actually be able to predict pretty well what life forms will be visible when.  The highlight of every year in the river is the menhaden run from Mid August to late September/early October.

The Moshassuck is a small urban river that runs from near the Lincoln Mall into Downtown Providence, shallow enough that often one can see from Canal St. right to the bottom of the river.  It is filled with the debris of urban life, including the ubiquitous shopping cart.  The shallowness, combined with the view from Canal St giving one an opportunity to look straight down into the river, really allows people to see the life in the river.  This year the highlight has been the large number of blue crabs that have frequented the river. Never before this year have I noticed the blue crabs that far inland.

The menhaden have been coming in to the river for as long as I have been watching.  Every year about the middle of August they start appearing just above the Citizens Bank building, which sits at the confluence, extending as far north on occasion as just north of Smith St.  The number of menhaden varies every year.  I first noticed them about 2000, when there was a very large run in August and September, you felt you could walk across the river on their backs.  The following years the runs were much smaller.  If you looked frequently you saw some, but not every day, and only small schools were visible.  2005 was another bumper year for menhaden.  They were everywhere in huge numbers.  You saw them on all tides, again feeling you could cross the river on their backs.  The run lasted until early October. Several times I saw flocks of gulls landing on the river and catching fish, a behavior I had never seen so close up before.  I also frequent the Seekonk River at Swan Point cemetery.  One does not normally get as good a look at the water there but what we are able to do is gauge the fish runs from the birds.  But in 2005 you could see huge menhaden schools from the shore at high tides, they were swimming along the shore in schools 100 foot long.  One school right after the other. On days with big schools readily apparent the gulls, cormorants, herons, egrets, and osprey were also very noticeable.

2006 had a much smaller run of menhaden than 2005 (I should note that as I write this the menhaden are still in the lower Moshassuck) but still larger than some of the other years of the last few.  Schools are smaller, less frequent, spread further apart, and have not extended north of Smith St. The best watching this year has been in the basin between Citizens Bank and the remnants of the building that covers over the river, across from the Roger Williams Historic site. I have not observed a gull frenzy, nor have cormorants been frequent visitors, though I did notice a black capped night heron on several occasions.

The smaller runs have also been apparent on the Seekonk River with large bird feedings being relatively infrequent, though on one perfect low tide I observed 5 Great Blue Heron  all catching  fish while standing next to the reef right near the channel just off Swan Point.

2005 sticks out for several reasons.  One was the previously mentioned gull feeding frenzy right downtown.  Another was that on night there was a Waterfire and the menhaden were everywhere in huge numbers. The shiny bodies were showing up in the firelight and people were amazed. Everyone was commenting on the fish.  And finally with the fish in the Moshassuck in huge numbers the predators moved in as well.  It was interesting to nearly every day see some larger predatory fish move in among the schools.  It was like the parting of the Red Sea when a bluefish would swim up with waves of menhaden parting to let them by.  It was pretty clear that none of the menhaden wanted to be on the edge  of the school, clearly the most vulnerable spots, so the fish were constantly circling back to be on the inside of the school.

This year I have extended my fish watching to the Providence River, along the walk on the eastern shore from Point St to downtown.  Menhaden have been frequently noticeable, and one day I noticed a feeding frenzy directly under Rt 195.  The Bluefish were chasing some fairly large schools of menhaden.  The menhaden were so unnerved that several of them jumped right out of the river, landing on the shore and unable to return to the water.  A mallard was eating the ones that landed on the shore.  Also observable were the bluefish, though only as moving phantoms.  One would see shapes about 9 inches long darting, and occasionally see a moving shape that was dragging a silvery menhaden through the water in its mouth.  You could barely see the bluefish, but the silver menhaden were very visible and clearly not swimming despite their rapid motion.

Menhaden have been in Narragansett Bay probably since the glaciers left, but the industrialization of Providence and the covering over of the sewers that the rivers of Providence became probably excluded the menhaden from downtown through most of the 20th century.  But the water is cleaner, the rivers have been daylighted and it is great to see the aquatic life that has returned to the City.

If I ran the compost zoo

If I ran the Compost Zoo

If I ran the compost zoo

September 8th, 2010

If I ran the Compost zoo:           Greg Gerritt  9/8/10

Home compost.  Many practitioners using a variety of technologies from piles to machines.
Materials that can not be composted at home ( primarily animal products that need high temperatures for composting, something the small piles at home have a hard time achieving or maintaining) would be collected for composting in a centralized facility of some scale that could handle those types of food items, by generating enough heat to break them down.   Weekly collection at the municipal level for compostables in all 39 cities and towns.  Full scale collection from commercial and industrial sectors.  Not all industrial food scrap will be composted as there are other beneficial uses (such as feeding pigs) for some types of food scrap.  A big part of what we need is a source separated post consumer collection of food scrap or we never stop the methane escaping from the landfill, a very large scale greenhouse gas pollution.

Collection systems would include food scrap and leaf and yard waste.  Households would have counter top collector (many varieties available) and wheeled bin to bring to curb, with or without home composting. Food scrap in compostable bags? Or just loose?  Good training materials for all households.  Statewide ban on landfilling organics, with specific exceptions if necessary. Possible role for MORPH,  or a wheeled collector without the extras that begin the composting process

Community gardens all have their own compost program including some collection from the neighborhood as well as from the gardens/gardeners.  Maybe even bicycle based collection systems.  Gardens with sufficient capacity may have a small anaerobic system to generate gas for ??? Heating greenhouses???   All gardens and gardeners also integrated into statewide/municipal and commercial collection systems for items that need higher temperature composting .

Commercial and institutions  Either develop their own composting facility or participate in a source separated collection system.  When appropriate incorporate MORPH into collection systems.  Other systems for collection, such as specialized trucks, also a possibility.

Types of facilities:

Some sort of centralized composting facilities will be necessary to handle everything not composted at home or in community gardens/other small scale operations.  Centralized facilities will handle compostables from municipal and commercial collection.

Possibilities include large scale windrowing either outdoors such as Earth Care Farm or under  covers, indoors such as Bristol Transfer Station facility that composts biosolids (processed sewage) and leaves and yard waste inside a building, in vessel aerobic composting units, and anaerobic digesters that produce methane that can be used to create green energy.  All centralized facilities require outdoor space for curing compost after the initial processing, and in the case of anaerobic digesters, the digestate must be put through a full composting regime, though the processing for the digestion process and the digesting does mean that the later steps take place faster than if the material was just stating in the composting process., and the initial volume of material to work with is much reduced, saving some space for the facility.

It will be interesting to see what scale compost businesses are able to develop.  How will the large size of a digeester/electricity system, and its need to have about half the food scrap in RI on a daily basis effect what else develops if one is built?  Will investment capital be available for smaller and regional facilities or will it be one facility fits RI like the RIRRC facility?  RI is a unique place, so it will be interesting to see this aspect.   Can we actually eliminate the organic component of what goes into the landfill, revolutionizing collection issues? Maybe even collect trash less frequently while continuing to frequently (weekly) collect compostables.

What scale facilities fit particular neighborhoods?  Smell issues seemingly can be minimized, but never eliminated.  What scale works for low tech, low impact collection systems in a neighborhood? How do farms and right to farm fit into the development of composting facilities in rural RI?  Do dairy farms become composting operations as well for agriculture and energy in their community?

We shall have large quantities of compost , high quality compost excellent for growing food crops, if we succeed in capturing and compost nearly all of the food scrap in RI, all 250 tons a day.   That gives us about 25 tons per DAY all year round, 9,000 tons a year of finished compost.    Enough to make a big difference in our emerging agricultural sectors including expanding community gardens and start up commercial operations.

All this feeds into community development in a carbon challenged world with economic stagnation intimately connected to depletion of forests, disappearing fisheries,  soil erosion, and massive floods.  All this flows into a world in which the redevelopment of a strong local food system is going to be a critical component of community resilience.  And it begins at composting our food scrap.

The best of all worlds would have perfectly sized facilities integrated into neighborhoods in ways that maximized efficiency, minimized transport, reduced our carbon footprint and provided compost and energy in the community. We are likely to get a variety of compost  facilities and practices evolving into the future as we learn more and reduce our carbon footprints.

The new evolution is anaerobic digestion, which gives us the possibility of capturing methane for use while also having the compost to put back on the land to grow more food.  Digestion may be economic at community garden size scales with the low tech solutions being tested and implemented now.  Even considering the home and community solutions that arise, RI is still going to develop a large scale facility, most likely in the neighborhood of the RIRRC facility in Johnston. This will serve municipal home collection and the commercial sectors, with a focus on source separated organics, but with some sectors being machine processed.

Unless the current slump saps all will to live from RI eventually the economics are going to favor energy production that reduces carbon footprints and increases community resilience. With a  resource like food scrap, for which the alternatives are only cheap in the short run, eventually it has to make sense to build a large scale electricity producing digester in RI.  As people crunch the numbers around the country it is clear it makes sense , though RI with its strange trash market (artificially low tip fees set by the legislature)  will require various people to crunch their own, plugging in the costs of collection, tipping and electricity in RI.  EPA has generously offered to help pay for that study. Various businesses will want to crunch their own, but having pretty good numbers, such as the 9000 tons of year of compost at the end, and how much electricity can be produced and bought for what price, makes it easier for communities and entrepreneurs to begin to build solutions and easy to operate systems. Something this good for us has to make dollars and sense.

An integrated large scale central facility would do digestion, electricity production, and finished composting, but it is possible to finish the compost at a remote  but nearby location, possibly one closer to markets.      I am unsure what any particular digestion/electricity production company would do, but it seems useful to start planning as if someone other than the digester company was going to finish the compost coming out of the digester, possibly bringing in other materials, especially yard waste and leaves,  to mix with it.  It will take a considerable investment to create a large scale composting facility that took in the digestate from the large digester in Johnston and finished and distributed compost.  I am thinking very hard about Rhody Compost, marketing it as a truly community sustaining product coming from your dinner plates to fill your dinner plates, or something like that.  I am sure we can figure out how to market it and replace what we bring in from elsewhere.

Investment in a compost facility would include land, permitting, pad creation, turning machinery, loading facilities, trucks, and a marketing plan. Right now we need to bring folks together to figure out what the entity doing the compost could look like if it was to focus on agricultural compost.  Then figure out who will do it and how to finance it. One way to reduce risk and early investment is to phase in a  composting operation focused on agriculture, with RIRRC using the compost for their purposes with an ever increasing amount of the digestate going to the outside composting facility as its capacity and markets develop.

Given the location and ownership status of Urban Edge Farm, there is at least some logic in considering UEF as a location for a commercial composting operation of some size.  In September 2010 a number of RI compost stakeholders will meet there to begin the discussion of what is the right thing to do, and where is the best place.  It will be good to have that discussion on the land, and I greatly look forward to that convening in mid September, though I know it is only the start of the discussion.

Good Food For All

Good Food For All

 

Good Food for All and The Healing of Ecosystems

Greg Gerritt

Our work is cut out for us. If there is a future, it will be Green, so we can and must start spreading the news that by 2036 most of what we eat will be grown much closer to home, and much of that abundance will be the result of things we did to heal ecosystems.

I have used Rhode Island as an example for this article, though almost any other metro area in the eastern US would do. Rhode Island is a good example as Providence is the 12th most densely populated city in the United States with 10,000 people per square mile. Rhode Island is the 2nd most densely populated state with approximately 1000 people per square mile.  And as Rhode Island is the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, its waters have been more damaged for longer than any other place in the United States.  Providence is also exemplary of cities in which agriculture has almost completely disappeared, and if agriculture can be reborn here, it can be anywhere. Approximately 2% of the families in Providence had food gardens in 2006. This compares with nearly 40% of the families in Toronto, a vastly larger city, having some sort of food garden.

Prediction:  By 2036 the people who live in the metropolitan area with Providence as its center will live in a much greener place than they live in today, and will produce a much greater percentage of their food.  The increase in local food self reliance in southern New England, especially in its urban areas, will move much faster than it has since 1980, 28 years in the past.  This trend will not only include more local farms, better local markets, a more diversified agriculture, and more organic agriculture, it will also include building healthy soils and growing food in places now paved, and it will also include rivers and estuaries returning to abundances not seen in 300 years, and therefore providing a more significant part of the local diet.

Soils, erosion, rivers, and productivity.

On Earth, where there is water, there is abundant life. The places where water and land meet, river banks, salt marshes, coral reefs, mangroves, eel grass beds,  riverine forests, are the most productive ecosystems on earth. The civilizations at the beginnings of modern culture were all river dependent: Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, everywhere big cities sprang up.  To irrigate crops and to transport grain and other goods. Rivers and estuaries were the heart of the economy for every human inhabitant of the Narragansett Bay watershed beginning with the first people who arrived after the retreat of the glaciers and continuing right up until Roger Williams arrived as a refugee. He too settled close to the water.  It is only in very recent times that we have pretended that our rivers and bays were not critical to our daily survival.

It is hard to imagine just how abundant the life in New England’s rivers was 400 years ago. Fish dipped from the rivers were used to fertilize agricultural fields as well as feed people. Across coastal New England people could pick up lobsters along the shore and servants complained when forced to eat lobster too often. Cod supported thousands of jobs along the northwest Atlantic. When the salmon fishery in Pawtucket was destroyed by Slater’s Dam in 1793, the fishermen sued to maintain their livelihood and rioted when the courts ruled against them.

It is similarly hard to imagine the abundance of life in our forests and soils as they were before commercial agriculture and industrialization.

Prior to industrialization the high population densities in New England were always along the rivers and estuaries due to their abundant life and the fertile soils of their floodplains. Once industrialization began the population density was related most closely to how devoid of life the river had become, how much waste it was carrying away and how much power was being generated by the dams that were built, but people still lived close to the rivers so they could walk to work.

Ecosystems and the food system are falling apart

In 2008 there are a variety of trends coming together that make it seem likely that the people of Providence will be eating alot more local food in 2036 than they are today and that local food will be a much bigger part of our economy than it is today.  The changes in where our food comes from between 1980 to 2008 will turn out to be much smaller than the changes between between now and 2036. Here are a few of the reasons why.

Global warming will have devastating effects on some of the world’s key agricultural systems, through rising temperatures, floods and droughts, and the loss of irrigation water, especially in those places where irrigation is fed by glacial melt water or the annual melting of winter snows over the course of the summer.

High energy prices/the depletion of oil.  We have reached peak oil.  The cost of shipping everything will increase as the oil runs out and the wars for oil get more desperate, even as we attempt to find some substitutes.  It will make much more sense to grow something as bulky as food closer to where it will be eaten if at all possible. Even if we think we can afford monetarily to ship the food we want to buy, we may be reluctant to contribute to  carbon emissions in this way knowing that it speeds disaster and there are alternatives. Replacing the rapidly depleting fuels for our transportation system with zero carbon emissions substitutes may or may not be possible,  but at least for a while it will be a very expensive process. Then add in the petrochemical basis of the fertilizer industry and the food situation becomes even bleaker.

Deforestation.  Globally deforestation is increasing.  More forest products are being used, and tropical forest lands, despite their poor soils, are being torched so they can be used to grow all manner of crops for food and fuel. Deforestation displaces millions of people, leads to flooding, diminishes the amount of rainfall in continental interiors lead to devastating droughts, and contributes about 1/5th of the yearly emissions that drive global warming.

Soils.  Soil erosion is a major problem everywhere.  The best agricultural soils are being paved over for automobiles and to build housing. The only places being brought into agricultural production are in tropical regions with very poor soils and at the cost of the world’s forests.  Runoff from farms is responsible for much of the damage to the productivity of rivers and bays and huge deadzones such as those found in the Gulf of Mexico, are becoming more and more common around the world.

Global grasslands, the source of much of the animal protein we eat, are also severely damaged, over grazed, subject to drought, and being sprawled.  The feedlots we use as a substitute for grasslands use massive quantities of grain, directly competing with low income people for grain supplies, driving low income people further into poverty and hunger while creating massive pollution problems and fostering drug resistant strains of bacteria.

The empty ocean. Every major fishery on the planet is being over fished, fishing pressures continue to rise, and the demand for fish is mostly being met by oceans with fewer fish.

The food crisis.

Today the headlines are about food riots in Haiti and other countries enmeshed in poverty. Here is what a  recent article said about the global food situation.

Eric Reguly  4/12/08  Daily Globe and Mail

For the first time in decades, the spectre of widespread hunger for millions looms as food prices explode. Two words not in common currency in recent years – famine and starvation – are now being raised as distinct possibilities in the poorest, food-importing countries.

Unlike past food crises, solved largely by throwing aid at hungry stomachs and boosting agricultural productivity, this one won’t go away quickly, experts say. Prices are soaring and stand every chance of staying high because this crisis is different.

A swelling global population, soaring energy prices, the clamoring for meat from the rising Asian middle class, competition from biofuels and hot money pouring into the commodity markets are all factors that make this crisis unique and potentially calamitous. Even with concerted global action, such as rushing more land into cultivation, it will take years to fix the problem.

The price increases and food shortages have been nothing short of shocking. In February, stockpiles of wheat hit a 60-year low in the United States as prices soared. Almost all other commodities, from rice and soybeans to sugar and corn, have posted triple-digit price increases in the past year or two.”

RI also has more hungry people than ever, food stamp use is at record levels, food kitchens and pantries can not meet the need. And prices are skyrocketing.

The RI Economy.

Everyone thinks the RI economy is sort of stuck .  Mostly we get tossed on the currents of the global system, but we have problems uniquely our own as well. The current system is based on the practice of continuos growth, focusing on this hot industry or that one, a concept  of limited utility as we reach ecological limits.  Clearly their are major problems with the current system. Maybe a different model of prosperity, one based on ecological healing and enough might suit Rhode Island better. A truly sustainable approach to producing for material needs has to be on the agenda, and starting this process in a big way better prepares us for the  hard times ahead no matter what happens.

Green jobs will help the transition, but you can not make more and more of them infinitely. Mass transit will help, more farming will help.  But we are also going to need to reevaluate the growth ideology and what it gives us.

Another world is envisioned.

If an economic visionary had come up to you in 1980 and said that by 2008 many of the major cities of the United States would be focusing their economic development plans on bringing rivers back to life, and that many of the restaurants serving the people drawn to the revitalized rivers would be emphasizing locally grown foods, you might have thought them a bit daft.  It is not as if no one was talking about these things, by 1980 New Alchemy and a whole host of others were demonstrating Green technologies and community activists were reinventing greener neighborhoods from the most remote to the most urban, but it was not exactly a mainstream idea.  It was not on the agenda of the RI Economic Policy Council or whatever they called it back then, or being debated in the General Assembly.

But in 2008 the greening of American cities has gone further, in fits and starts and with some interesting twists, than most of the public expected in 1980, while failing to meet the expectations of those with the most interest in the subject (note the collapsing ecosystems on the planet).

Current trends and extrapolating into the future

Fewer carbon emissions are on everyone’s mind, which means windmills, solar panels, cleaner cars. Peak oil means ethanol and high speed rail. There is general community support for cleaning up and reusing brownfields, building fish ladders, developing community gardens, and saving the rainforest.  But it still seems we are not taking our transformation seriously enough and that it will take something more dramatic than most are ready to imagine if we want our communities to thrive.

Here is one example of the trajectory of transformation. Plastic Bags. 10 years ago only the most radical were seriously talking about banning them and replacing them with reusable bags. Now it is a world wide movement and even in RI we are contemplating laws to radically reduce their use.  And supermarkets sell reusable bags even as they oppose banning or taxing plastic bags.

Work on improving river quality and restoring the productivity of watery ecosystems is already underway.  Combined Sewer Overflows and road runoff are being dealt with across the continent.  Unused dams are being removed, fish ladders, including in Providence, are being built, revegetation of river banks is the rage.    We have new standards for dealing with rain water runoff from roads and parking lots. The National Park Service supports workshops on swimmable and fishable rivers.

Local foods and farmers markets are on everyone’s mind.  Rhody Fresh, winter farmers markets, local food restaurants, and agri tourism have impressed even those who only see the bottom line.  Awards are given to communities that preserve the most farmland, comprehensive plans include community gardens, and funding is available for the occasional demonstration project, though only the most visionary are focused on reassembling our local food system.

A hard transition.

The combination of peak oil,global warming, and rising prices are already making it more difficult for RI to rely on distant lands for food. We can as a society afford to buy food right now, but we still have hungry people.  The situation seems primed for getting worse, with rising prices, using food for the production of ethanol, and water problems.  We are also seeing major problems with the state economy so we have to ask, what will many of us eat?  The answer seems to be local food.  If we are to  produce more it will require fully stocked and diverse ecosystems, better farming techniques, healthier soils, more forests. The flip side is that better land use will create healthier waters. which means more productivity there as well.

Here is an example of how a systematic approach to ecosystem restoration can help move us forward on a variety of societal fronts.

When was the last time your neighborhood river clean up did not produce huge numbers of fast food wrappers? You know the kind of foods that while cheap causes heart attacks and are a uniform product shipped around the world and served by underpaid workers. Can we afford the energy and carbon intensiveness of a big mac, what do we eat without the mega feedlots that poison the land and waters? Scratch the surface a bit, dig a bit deeper. The trash is just a symptom of a deeper issue, one we are having to confront. An economy that requires 15 planets to produce the resources it wants when it only has one planet to exploit.

Rhode Island 2036

There is no doubt Rhode Island will have a much cleaner electricity supply in 2036.  There will be windmills and solar power installations all over the place. The degree of certainty that  RI will produce a much greater percentage of its food in 2036 is probably a bit lower,  but the until very recently anyone pointing out how much more important local agriculture will be in the future was looked at in the same way those talking about other forms of ecological restoration were looked at in the 1980’s.  But think about how far we have come since the 80’s. In 28 years we have moved through 4 or 5 stages of river restoration. We started in the 1970’s closing off factory drain pipes and putting in treatment systems, and now the rivers are clean enough that the next step is landscaping the watershed to reduce erosion.

Then consider the ever greater local food consciousness and reality in our communities; farmers markets that are sprouting up all over, CSA’s delivering to our neighborhoods, community gardens that are springing up.  Then toss in significantly higher food prices,shipping problems, carbon footprint issues, and the irrigation water problems that will influence the global food markets, and it seems quite reasonable to figure RI will HAVE to produce more food by 2036 or there will be even more hungry people than their are now.

This is not to say the transformations will be complete in 2036, there are no final transitions except death on this planet.  But the speed of change towards sustainable communities will continue to increase even as some trends go the other way.  The collapse of ecosystems is going faster and faster, and the collision between what we want and what the Earth can support grows ever closer.  Our work is cut out for us.

If there is a future, it will be Green, and we must take a lead in spreading the news that in 2036 most of what we eat in Providence and elsewhere will be grown much closer to home, and much of that abundance will be the result of things we did to heal ecosystems.  Our rivers and estuaries will be much more productive as a result, so local fisheries will be a normal part of our diet to a greater extent than they are today as well. So celebrate and support your neighbors starting farms, building gardens and installing fish ladders, its your future – and mine too.

BIO
Greg Gerritt has been a Green activist for 40 years.  He built a solar powered homestead in Maine in the early 1980’s, was the first Green Party candidate for state legislature in the United States, and currently serves on the Urban Agriculture Task Force in Providence, RI as well as co chair of the Green Party Presidential Campaign Suport Committee.  His most recent book is “Green Party Tempest” about the 2004 presidential campaign, and he has contributed to publications on global warming and water issues in Rhode Island as well as “Urban Agriculture in Providence”.  His day job is with the Environment Council of Rhode Island.

Quotes

By 2036 the people who live in the metropolitan area with Providence as its center will live in a much greener place than they live in today, and will produce a much greater percentage of their food.

The combination of peak oil,global warming, and rising prices are already making it more difficult for RI to rely on distant lands for food. We can as a society afford to buy food right now, but we still have hungry people.

in 2008 the greening of American cities has gone further, in fits and starts and with some interesting twists, than most of the public expected in 1980

consider the ever greater local food consciousness and reality in our communities; farmers markets that are sprouting up all over, CSA’s delivering to our neighborhoods, community gardens that are springing up.

blog transformation the first time

From RI Prosperity Project to Prosperity for RI

Press Release

Prosperity for Rhode Island
Contact Greg Gerritt  401-331-0529  gerritt@mindspring.com

Washington DC Lobbyists for biggest businesses in America force small Rhode Island organization working for a better community to give up name and website.

The Business Industry Political Action Committee, an organization focused on stuffing thousand dollar contributions into the hands of Congressmen so they will vote for the big business agenda (such as the bailout of Wall St to the tune of $700 BILLION this fall, wars for oil, and refusing to address global warming) has decided that the RI Prosperity project violated its trademark on Prosperity Project.

RI Prosperity Project founder Greg Gerritt noted ”I was honored to be attacked by an organization composed of the Vice Presidents and top Washington DC lobbyists for General Motors, Exxon, Shell, Verizon, International Paper, the National Mining Association, Florida Power and Light, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Business Roundtable.  They found out about the Rhode Island Prosperity Project when I helped organize RI events for  the Sept. 27 Green Jobs Now national day of action.  It is flattering that when there are so many Prosperity Projects on the web, that mine was singled out as a threat to their good name.  I must be doing something right. “

Considering that the agenda of of the Business Industry Political Action Committee is to elect pro business Congressmen,  the same Congressmen who voted to bail out Wall St and their floundering businesses despite the looting of America by the criminals with a pen, I am glad they find me a threat.  The Business Industry PAC has never had a Rhode Island project, has no interest in Rhode Island, and has such a distorted view of what brings prosperity to communities that you have to wonder if they have any interest in our communities at all except to loot them.  General Motors has been losing Billions of Dollars and betting on gas hogs.  Exxon Mobil has done everything it can to prevent our country from stopping global warming. Rhode Island is seriously at risk from the behavior of these corporations, with the highest unemployment rate in the country and skyrocketing home foreclosures.   Yet they are attacking the RI Prosperity Project, despite BIPAC having no RI project.  The Rhode island Prosperity Project initially replied to BIPAC and its prosperity project that Rhode Island could really use some prosperity, and that a more community based and ecological approach was going to be necessary to create prosperity here, but in any case, we would be happy to work with them around revitalizing the RI economy.

BIPAC, through their lawyers replied that if you do not relinquish your website then we shall take you to court, clearly having no interest in actual prosperity in Rhode Island

The work is more important than the name, so  the Rhode Island Prosperity Project is changing its name to Prosperity for Rhode Island and its website home will soon be www.prosperityforri.org   The work on helping Rhode Island prepare for an ecologically based prosperity in our communities, an economy based on clean rivers, healthy soils, good food, carbon free homes, solar power and meeting local needs in ways that corporate America has forgotten to do continues. Look for us next at the 12th Annual Buy Nothing Day winter coat exchange on November 28 on the State House lawn and check out www.prosperityforri.org for ideas on how to improve the RI economy.

For more information on Prosperity for Rhode Island and efforts to create prosperity in our communities Greg Gerritt can be reached atgerritt@mindspring.com and eventually via the www.prosperityforri.org website.

Forensic forestry

Forensic forestry

I finally got to check out some of the key forest sites in my local watersheds now that the hurricane has passed.  In my recent wanderings I have seen lots of trees broken and down, but had come to see that most of the damage was to trees that were not very healthy.

Today i got to check out the healthiest forest spots in my local watersheds in the city and found similar results.  There are some forest giants sitting on the ground along the Seekonk River, but all relatively unhealthy trees.  The one giant I saw that seemed healthy before it blew over seems to have been hit on the way down by an unhealthy one.

Yes, I know it would have been great to be spared, but the overall loss of canopy is not great and most of what was lost seemed in need of pruning, so for such a storm, not a bad result in my watershed.

Prosperity For RI returns as a new site

This blog is the follow up to Prosperity For RI.org which became corrupted. Eventually I will place all of the content from that site on this one and then add new content on the relationship between ecology and economy in the modern world.  My work is based on the premise ” You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, and you can not do anything useful if we do not stop the war machine”  The other premise is that it is possible to actually achieve prosperity in Rhode Island, but that the model that the mainstream follows is a complete failure and will only make the problems worse.  We are not going to grow the RI economy, but we shall make it stronger by using less and sharing more.