Late winter musings

Writing on a rainy late winter morning.  The days are getting longer, it is light at 6 AM.  This rain will take much of what is left of the snow.  I have been very focused on events and meetings and not done much writing recently.  But I have been pondering what to say to Gina Raimondo at the meeting in 10 days.  I know i can not give her the full force of my assault on Wall St, so I have to be very clear, concise, and laid back that day.

I had a piece of it walking last night, see if I can reconstruct it.  if not today, tomorrow. I have to convey the relationship between the end of growth except for the funny money growth of the 1%, using the statistic from 2011 that the 1% received 121% of the rise in income that year while the rest of us, the 99% on average received 0.4% LESS income. So an investment strategy that focuses on growth like the stock market saw in 2012, about 6% then becomes the target for pension fund investments, investments that make money for the pension fund while at the same time harming the average Rhode Islander and contributing to excessive consumption on planet earth.  That a better strategy might be investing directly in the state in adaptation to climate change such as decentralized power, much more local agriculture.  Maybe in farmland to get new farmers into business.

I think I am going to have just about that much time.  I need to make swift concise points. No more than 5, 3 is better but not enough to make a circle. Can I include the end of growth?  The end of growth for who?  Are we headed for the next bubble? How wasteful are those?   Who benefits from bubbles are the rich. The end of more jobs with this phony growth unless we practice more economic justice and equity.  Can i convey the spirit level stuff about how clear the evidence is that economic inequality is bad for an economy, and really works less well as we approach a steady state and begin the shrinkage.  Can we shrink smart, can we accept interest and return rates at ecological speed.   2%

Can we start to account for ecology and community in our measures, using full cost accounting in our investment policies. Could we do more good here with smaller returns? Improve the situation of our citizenry, improve gross state happiness with a more level economy?  Using ecological healing as a way forward?

Not going to get to all of that.  maybe this week i write one of these  a day.  See how well I can hone the elevator pitch.




disconnected by snow plowing

I live right off one of the oldest roads in North America.  North Main St was originally the foot path used by the people of the Narragansett nation  traveling  between the confluence of the rivers in what became downtown Providence and the settlement at the falls at Pawtucket.  The reason N Main has been used by people walking the approximately 4 miles from Providence to Pawtucket for so long is  that it takes you out of the Moshassuck valley at a relatively easy place to climb up to the terrace, keeps you out of the swamps and the up and down terrain of what became the North Burial Ground, and then crosses the divide in to the Blackstone watershed at the easiest place to walk over the ridge.  Considering how long people have been walking this trail it is rather ironic and sad that when it snows the route along N Main and at its southern end Canal St is not passable to pedestrians.  The road is plowed, the traffic moves, but long stretches of it are either unshoveled or have their connectivity blocked by mounds of snow at the corners or next to driveways.

For pedestrians throughout Providence and surrounding urban communities the connectivity is broken in the snow due to the accommodations to the cars that are one of the key components in the global weirding bringing us these crazy storms,    It appears the neighborhoods are accessible, with more shoveled sidewalks, more corner cut throughs, and less crowded streets, but the connections between the neighborhoods, and the areas between the neighborhoods and downtown, especially some of bridges over the Interstate which seem to be orphans, are rather weak.  It happens that the overpass on Broad St was shoveled, but then,  and I found this in many places today, when the plows came back to widen the streets, it pushed snow back onto the shoveled out sidewalks.

Being the obligatory walker I know routes that expose me to less traffic, I avoid most of N Main St, traveling up on the hill rather than the old road I can get to downtown in one piece.   But if we are to be a walkable city, we are going to have to strike a new balance between opening the way for cars, and keeping the old trail accessible to people on foot.

Compost Op Ed published in Projo Feb. 13, 2013

The promise of composting in R.I.
By almost any indicator the Rhode Island economy is not performing all that well. The indicator I tend to focus on is food security. And in Rhode Island too many kids go hungry. The only way we are really going to reduce childhood hunger and food insecurity is to provide the opportunity for almost every family in Rhode Island to grow more food. The record is clear. Compared to their neighbors in similar straits, families with community garden plots have healthier kids, who are eating more nutritiously.
To increase gardening Rhode Island needs a key ingredient — one that we could produce in abundance if we quit tossing it into the state Central Landfill. Agriculture only thrives with a ready supply of compost and to produce that ready supply Rhode Island should quit tossing food scrap into the landfill and start composting it in backyards, community settings, and commercial scale facilities.
Currently Rhode island tosses away about 250 tons of food scrap a day, half a pound per person a day, 365 days a year. Nearly all of that can and should be turned into compost. Across America and around the world more and more communities are ending the disposal of food scrap and beginning its reuse.

When food scrap is buried in a landfill anaerobic bacteria, bacteria that live in places with very little oxygen, break down the food scrap.  In situations where oxygen is abundant a very different set of bacteria break down the food scrap.  When food scrap is digested by bacteria without oxygen the emissions include large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  In addition a variety of sulfur compounds are created in the decay process,   These stink, and are responsible for some, but not all,  of the odor issues at the Central Landfill.  RI Resource Recovery Corporation currently uses a methane recovery system in the landfill, selling the methane to an electric power plant, but the overall efficiency of methane capture is estimated at 50%. An alternative to burying the food scrap and recovering the methane is the building of large scale anaerobic digesters to create and capture methane.  These systems are much more efficient than burying and recapturing, dramatically reduce methane emissions and allow the residue to be used for fertilizer or feedstock  for aerobic composting.

If all of the food scrap was composted or digested under much more controlled conditions, including much of the leaf and yard waste of the Ocean State in the mix, the odor issues would be much reduced and methane emissions nearly eliminated. A huge resource formerly thrown away, would be providing Rhode Island jobs, possibly some green energy, and boost local soil fertility.
After exploring the compost industry in Rhode island for five years I can say people are much more knowledgeable, and that there is much more composting going on than five years ago. Further many people want to further develop the commercial potential of composting and digesting food scrap.
A big obstacle holding back the Ocean State compared to many other places is the very low price of disposal at the Central Landfill. We should note that in one of the few sectors where it appears that Rhode Island has a cost advantage of our neighbors and some of our competitors — the cost of trash disposal — we have a situation in which the low cost increases pollution and causes us to squander a resource that could very much help us overcome poverty and food insecurity. There is a larger lesson in there about economic development but I will leave that for another day.
The tale of how Rhode Island came to have such a low price that it impedes commerce and contributes to food insecurity is just the usual inside baseball and cost-shifting we see so often, but one that we are hoping the legislature will tackle soon. It will take action by the legislature to readjust the economics enough to kick open the door for the compost industry.
The Compost Initiative of the Environment Council of Rhode Island, as a partner with the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, the Resource Recovery Corporation, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and others have more recently been tackling some of the regulatory issues start ups in the industry face. We hope that while maintaining strict environmental and community standards — in other words the neighbors will not have to deal with odor or runoff from the facilities — it should be possible for community-garden-sized operations to develop without having to hire engineers and submit plans. In addition we hope very small commercial operations will have reduced filing fees as long as they demonstrate a clear knowledge of proper composting and have no adverse impact on their neighbors.
Every year Rhode Island has moved closer to a fully developed system to safely recycle the nutrients in food scrap., Maybe this is the year of the breakthrough.