Take away points December 2012

I am preparing to give a short briefing to the staff of a public official.  Here is what i intend to talk about and to leave behind for sharing with their boss.

2 major topics  the economy and solid waste/compost

The economy:

The framing of the economy in the debate about how to create prosperity in our communities is one of the biggest obstacles to prosperity in RI.  As long as the debate is about how best to kowtow to the 1%,  the 1% will make out like bandits, while the rest of us, and the public infrastructure and our democracy, wither on the vine.

The evidence is becoming quite noticeable that economies that are more unequal work very poorly and inefficiently.  Everything we do to kow tow to the 1%, tax breaks, subsidies, tax policies, trade policies, military adventurism, hurts our communities.  Low taxes for the rich serves no good public purpose.

We have to think very carefully about the conditions for growth in modern economies.  Rhode Island does not meet any of those characteristics.  efforts to create faster growth therefore backfire, creating more inequality and slowing growth.  There is no room here to explain, but I would be happy to either by directing you to other writings or specifically setting up a time to talk about that.

Rhode Island will only get to a more equal economy if we practice economic democracy.  Communities have a right to determine what is not appropriate for our communities.  We give this option to towns about casinos, but not really much else.  We end up getting poisoned and with less prosperity.

38 Studios was a failure to practice democracy.  Compare and contrast to the stakeholder process on the Quonset container port.  The entire leadership of the state was on board screaming this is nirvana.   The public hearings demonstrated exactly how not true that was, and we made it obvious that the 2 con men had conned everyone except the public.  Based on conversations I had with some prominent RI business people and thinkers, public hearings would have exposed how bad a deal 38 Studios was.

In addition to the requirement of economic justice, prosperity in RI will not come about without ecological healing.  Not just in one area, but in many including climate, oceans, fisheries, biodiversity, soils, agriculture, and forests and retreating from the coastline.  Dismantling environmental protections or making it easier for businesses to do the wrong thing harms the economy, not helps it.  Claiming environmental regulations hurt business is old hat, and totally not true.

Solid Waste and Compost

RI should seek to become a zero waste state.  This will enable us to capture much more value out of the resources we already use.  And create more jobs while reducing our carbon footprint. If you are creating commissions to look at trash issues, a comprehensive approach is going to give us much more value for our efforts.

A big part of zero waste is compost.  We have to get the food scrap out of the waste stream so it can be used to grow more food.  Climate change and other factors are going to create a much less food secure RI unless we grow a lot more food here. And that does not happen without compost from food scrap.

RI needs to raise tip fees.  As long as it is dirt cheap to throw stuff in the dump, our communities will demand to do just that.  We can not raise tip fees without a comprehensive approach that creates clear community benefits.



The real pension fund dilemma in Rhode Island

Today on the news I heard that RI state pension funds had a return on investment of 1.5% in the last fiscal year.  Grew right along with the growth of the economy for the 1%.  Rest of us fell further behind.   But what the pension fund really fell behind on was its expected growth, the growth that allows the fund to make payments to retirees. The official expectation for the pension fund is growth of 7.5% each year.  This is recent as previously the rate of return expected had been close to 8%.  In either case the actual return was only 1/5 of the expected return.  Adding to a long string of years in which growth targets were missed by a wide margin.

In a place without an out of control ruling class seeking new ways to loot the populace, the state would tax the wealthy to make up the difference in the pension funds because there is a clear understanding that equalizing the wealth strengthens the economy.

But even that will not really solve the problem that the pension funds are going to get smaller and smaller returns over time.  Not due to mismanagement, but because the economy is going to get smaller.  The stringing out of the recovery after the bubble burst being only the latest and most abundant clue that we have essentially reached the end of economic growth in the west, especially any growth that actually flows into the hands of the 99%.  There are many levers that can be pushed to create more economic growth, but the one thing economic growth is unable to survive is ecological collapse.  The loss of soils, clean water, forests, fisheries, and biodiversity, combined with the fires, droughts, floods, and heat waves of climate change is eating up all the actual growth and many people are ending up poorer even if a few in the cities are getting richer.

This is why over the last 15 years the west has either been in the midst of some bubble or in recession. We have gone from HI Tech and internet, to Housing and strange financial instruments as the bubble we obsess over, but the results are the same.  A small class makes out, everyone else falls behind, and the Earth becomes a less hospitable place with diminished life.

Rhode Island’s pension fund is hurting even with the current “fix” and the economic shenanigans used to grow the economy faster are a disaster (remember 38 Studios).  Rhode Island needs a new course, based on ecological healing and economic justice if it is going to have prosperity.

Potomac Fever

The President and the Congress suffer from an extremely virulent form of Potomac Fever.  It seems to strike many who go to Washington to hold power.  Unfortunately Potomac Fever is a disease that only kills those who do not have it.  The uninfected it kills by the millions, while the biggest bubble on earth insulates the Washington elite from dying of the Potomac Fever they rain down on the rest of us.

Austerity does not work

Rhode island voters normally approve bond issues for infrastructure, schools, and protecting the environment (broadly defined).  2012 was no exception.  The legislature had to be dragged kicking and screaming to put the bond issues on the ballot, the people approved them overwhelmingly.

There are many reasons for the people being ahead of the legislature on this.  The primary reason is that most of us never have our ears twisted by millionaires promising re-election if they just cut services more and lower taxes.  Out here where most of us live it becomes more obvious daily that good public services, good schools and well thought out transportation systems for example as well as robust emergency systems, make a huge difference in the health and prosperity of the community, and we have seen little evidence that privatizing all services will save us money or improve service.  All it will do is undercut the middle class.  We have also figured out that the health of the ecosystem and the natural and agricultural areas around us makes a huge difference in our lives, and the prosperity of our communities.

So the people voted quite strongly for better infrastructure and a healthier environment, for investing in the future.  Hopefully the legislature has learned a bit, and figures out the next budget crunch needs to be balanced on the backs of the wealthy not on the rest of us.

Further buttressing the argument is the recent work noting that economies with less economic inequality work better.  Demand and supply are more predictable, and much less money is hoarded.  Money stays circulating in the community longer as well.

Come to the conference on October 12 2013 Ecological Healing, Environmental Justice, and Prosperity for RI communities.  Registration will open soon.




reacting to comments on the election

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are prepared for the changes that climate change is bringing. They are unprepared for shrinking the military, making healthcare truly affordable and based on prevention, and building resilience and self reliance in our communities as the road to prosperity. Both parties set us up for a failed economy because they think growth is essential, while the planet tells us that smaller and more equal is going to work better

The 16th Annual Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange

Friday November 23, 2012

If you have a coat to give, please drop it off.
 If you need a coat, please pick one up.


Rhode Island sites and their specific activities and times


Providence  State House Lawn  brick patio across from the mall

Collection and give away   November 23 10 AM to 2 PM

Rain location  Gloria Dei Lutheran Church  15 Hayes Street  Providence

Contacts Greg Gerritt: 331-0529; gerritt@mindspring.com;

Phil Edmonds: 461-3683; philwhistle@gmail.com

Pawtucket –  175 Main St   Blackstone Valley Visitors Center

Coats accepted at the visitors center and many other locations in Pawtucket  all through November during business hours.

Collection at November Winters Farmers Markets Wednesday evening and Saturday morning at Hope Artiste Village

Coats given away Friday  Nov. 23  10AM  -2PM

Contact  Arthur Pitt 724-8915; kingarthur02940@yahoo.com   http://www.neighborhoodlink.com/NAP-_Neighborhood_Alliance_of_Pawtucket/home

Newport – St Paul’s Church United Methodist Church

12 West Marlborough St.

Coats collected and given away Friday November 23 10 AM to Noon  Coats Collected Sunday mornings  in November at the church.

Contact Maggie Bulmer 849-3537.

Wakefield St. Francis Church, 114 High Street,
Coats collected and given away 10AM to Noon

Contact Tom Abbott 364-0778

East Providence  Breed Hall  610 Waterman Ave

(EP Senior Center Complex)  Coats collected and given away Friday November 23  9 Am to 1 PM  Coats collected throughout November at various locations in East Providence and Seekonk including the Newman YMCA.

Contact  David or Lisa Spencer  401-965-9099    Dspencer@atlanticpaper.com



Bristol Elks Lodge  1 Constitution St

Coats Collected throughout November  Coats given away Friday November 23  10 AM – 2 PM

Contact Connie Ganley  mcganley@comcast.net  508-837-0467


YMCA of Greater Providence

2012 Winter Coat Exchange Drop-Off/Pick-Up Sites


Drop-Off Collection    November 1 – 22

Pick Up     November 23              10:00 a.m. – 2 p.m.



Cranston YMCA                    Kent County YMCA

1225 Park Avenue           900 Centerville Road

Cranston, RI 02910        Warwick RI 02886

401-943-0444                 401-828-0130


West Bay Family YMCA

7540 Post Road

North Kingstown RI 02852



Drop Off coats at the Y November 1 – 22 to be distributed at other sites on November 23


East Side/Mt Hope YMCA                   YMCA of Greater Providence Association Office              Providence Youth Services

438 Hope Street                                  371 Pine Street

Providence, RI 02906                            Providence, RI 02903

401-521-0155                                     401-456-0604


Drop off locations, with coats distributed at other Coat Exchange sites

Newman YMCA                                South County YMCA

472 Taunton Avenue                             165 Broad Rock Road

Seekonk, MA 02771                               Peacedale RI

508-336-7103                                        401-783-3900




Questions for candidates answered

There is good evidence that the US economy is coming to the end of growth.  For most Americans incomes have been dropping for 30 years, and all the recent growth periods were simply economic bubbles, with housing being the final one that tipped the applecart big time.  But we still need prosperous communities.  What is your plan for full employment in Rhode Island as the size of the monetary economy diminishes, and how will you keep a full suite of governmental services, something more critical for managing such dangerous transitions?

There are probably no good political answers for this, especially given the American predilection to only elect people who tell us good news.  We are among the most good times craving people in the world, and therefore very prone to a swinging gate in politics, with neither party able to effectively govern when things go wrong.  Our parties are poor at middle ground, but even weaker at realizing something other than the deficit has gone over the edge.

Manifest Destiny continues to define our approach to economics, and especially our view of the ecology/economy interface.  While we have many conservationists there is continuing pressure to allow more and more resources to be used up faster and faster on the grounds that it produces a few jobs, but mostly because it makes a few fortunes.   Everything is about outsourcing  because those with fortunes no longer want to pay decent wages, so if it is not outsourced to a low wage high pollution place, the workers have been outsourced by machines.

The first thing to understand is that given the state of the world wages in the US will continue to come down, moving towards the global mean.  The speed at which the wages sink is directly correlated with the state of  inequality in America.  If the rules continue to be skewed so that 1% of the population receives 93% of the new wealth, wages will drop very fast.  If we adopt a strong policy of use less, share more, un-American in every way, but critical in the age of climate change and extinctions,  the economy lands much better for most of us.

Another part of use less, share more is interest rates, and the use of credit.  Clearly capitalism could not have evolved without the  extensive use of credit.  It is a major change from what came before, in that it demands a constantly growing economy in order for debts to be repaid.  The immediate result, often the first result since forests and wood products are the building block (literally) of all civilizations, (because of wood’s versatility and properties, and because it can be appropriated as a free good by killing and displacing the the people who live in it) Is to cut down all of the forest.  To this day everywhere economies are seeking to grow swiftly forest people are being displaced to cemeteries if they resist, or shanty towns and slums if they do not.   Cultures often crash after the forest is gone because they lose their soil and water.

Given this incredible reliance on forests (try imagining your community without wood products or the flood control that forests do) One would think that the first rule of keeping communities healthy would be do not cut the forest faster than it grows.  This would mean that loans for businesses that work in the wood and wood using industries can not be expected to pay more than about 2% interest if they are to leave healthier forests than they found via management and wood removals.  In other words a 2% return on investment is all that is proper in places like New England given that in a very good year a New England forest will increase in woody biomass by about 3% and our depleted forests need rebuilding

Fisheries and other animal based systems can stand higher harvest rates, but soils and  substrates build even slower than forest biomass, turning farming and fishing into soil and ocean bottom mining rather than sustainable activities if they are harvesting too much.  Farming must become about building soil if it is to feed 9 billion of us each year.  That says 2% loans, 2% return on investment is all that can be produced while healing the ecosystems.

Another factor to consider is that using fossil fuels to work the land constantly displaces people while contributing to greenhouse gas emissions that threaten the food supply and forest health.  I often say, only a bit in jest, that there is enough oil on the planet to destroy all of the forest.   People can work the land much more lightly than machines, and are able to build soil much more effectively without large machines.  Or cut more selectively or fish less intensively.  A factory trawler tries to catch everything.  Catching with rod reel or similar technologies leaves fish behind to breed.  And takes more people rather than investments in technology.

Which gets us back to how are we going to create more jobs as the economy shrinks.  We are going to have more farmers, fishers, and forest workers using less technology and paying a lot more attention to the health of the ecosystem they are working in.

Yes, I am aware of the idea that working the land will never pay the wages that a modern economy pays, but the reality is that planet Earth can not pay them either, so we have an plan that fits the reality of a diminished capacity on planet earth.

As to how we maintain government services under such dire circumstances, we need to figure out what our communities really need.  And the first thing we do NOT need is the war machine.  Start by reducing military spending by 10% each year.  Take half of that and spend it on education for people of all ages,  research, development and implementation of clean energy and working the land and oceans properly, and rebuilding infrastructure for the 21st century.  This then allows us to massively shrink the prison industrial complex, again diverting the money to maternal and child health, good food for all, and healthy housing.  Finally, tax the rich, tax speculative investments, tax carbon emissions, and take sufficient royalties for the community for the use of the commons and for patenting things developed from living things to support critical services including preparing our lowest income communities for climate change by building up their resilience.


What role does economic inequality play in the overall health of the economy?

Evidence is pouring in that the more inequality in an economy the less well it functions.  Too many stick points for markets to work efficiently, too poor a distribution of resources, which creates a need for additional services, either health and education or police and prisons.  With a higher percentage of our population in poverty, prison, and ill than almost any other industrialized nation, clearly we have chosen poorly by increasing inequality.  Often writers on the topic such as Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz think that if we can reduce inequality we can get the economy growing again.  I disagree, the economy is not going to grow, but clearly reducing inequality will make the economy function much better.


All politicians know a bit of math, and if I said to you that a community was spending 135% of its income each year, you would likely be looking at a community with a massive debt problem.   Now consider the Earth.  People are using 135% of the biological productivity of the planet each year.  And just as towns, families, businesses hemorrhage money if expenses are 135% of income, the Earth is losing forests, soils, fisheries, wildlife, clean water at a rate that is only partially covered up by the vastness of the Earth, and shows up every day in the lives of people with less to eat and the loss of the resource base that feeds them and their families.    It is likely that we shall be unable to maintain community prosperity if the resource base is too degraded, so what is your plan to return the health of the ecosystem, in other words reduce the amount people are using until it is below the carrying capacity and the systems can be rebuilt, and how does it fit in with your plan to balance the budget, since ecological disasters will overwhelm any budget you create that harms ecosystems and does not account for the need to heal them in your fiscal expenditures.

While politicians are apoplectic about the budget deficit, they seem almost completely undeterred by the ecological deficit our economy is running.  Unfortunately ecological deficits are more likely to cause collapse than budget deficits.  Politicians have gotten so used to be bailed out and supported by the huge storehouse of planet Earth that they forget how much conditions have changed in the last 65 years.    Population has tripled and the amount of stuff used per person has increased even more,so our ecological footprint has skyrocketed beyond all reason or ability of the Earth to stay healthy.

Politicians always assume a growing economy will help them balance the budget, but in our case the more we try to grow, the further behind we fall.  Therefore the only things that will balance the budget are spending less on things that harm us and taxing the things that harm us and the rich at higher rates.  Prime places to reduce spending include the police/prison industrial complex, payments to insurance companies (which can be replaced by a less expensive health care system based on prevention)  and subsidies to industries that increase inequality in the economy.  Taxes on the income of the wealthy, capital gains, and speculation should all be increased. Taxes on carbon should be implemented,

An essay on the spirit of Buy Nothing Day 2012

Every year  write an essay on the spirit of the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange and how to heal the economy, ecosystem, and communities of Rhode Island using the principles of use less, share more.  Often I dedicate the essay to those trying to end poverty, war, or planetary destruction, or in jest dedicate it to those making things much worse in the community.  Last year I dedicated the essay to Occupy Providence and their brethren around the world challenging the power of Wall ST.  i was going to dedicate this year’s essay to Curt Schilling, 38 Studios, and their enablers in Rhode Island for squandering $100 million of our money on violent video games, but today as I was preparing to write I saw an article on how the Rhode Island Foundation was going to put $1 million into a fund that would be used to help grow the Rhode Island economy.  https://prosperityforri.com/38-studios-and-economic-development-in-rhode-island-2/  is an essay I wrote this past summer which tells you how much I think a growth fund will work, which is essentially not at all.
People are already using 135% of the biological productivity of the planet each year, which means that every year the global forest disappears, fisheries are diminished, and our soil washes to the bottom of the sea, carrying its nitrogen fertilizer load and thereby creating huge dead zones in the ocean. We need to get well below 100% if life on earth is to continue.  And if you look at the American economy the only thing that passes for growth are the economic bubbles  and the pumped up funny money that the 1% pay themselves.  Over the last 30 years 93% of all growth in income in the US has gone to 1% of the population.  Everyone except the 1% and the next few percents behind them has gotten poorer.  Economic Growth no longer is real and every time I turn around I see another article about why it is no longer a useful concept.
The Rhode Island Foundation therefore joins a long line of rogues in suggesting that we ought to grow our way out of our misery.  Whether by another tax cut for the millionaires, a call to drill baby drill, more wars for oil, or the growth fund of the Rhode Island Foundation, the thrashing around in the name of growth benefits the 1% and kills the rest of us and the planet.  Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently pointed out how poorly economies do as they become more unequal.  Robert Gordon of the National Bureau of Economic Research recently published a paper on the end of growth, with rising inequality being one of the bigger factors leading to the demise of growth.  Yesterday I received an article from the New Economics Foundation on how economic growth has no role in alleviating poverty, it just makes inequality worse.
If the Rhode Island Foundation wanted to do something useful for the RI economy it would call for an end to tax breaks for the rich, which do nothing but make the economy more unequal. Then   stop the bubble economies, reregulate the banks and investment markets, and do more to protect and heal ecosystems.  The Rhode island Foundation does many wonderful things, supports many worthy causes, but it continues to view the world through the lens of the 1% and therefore is sort of clueless about what economic growth really means on this finite planet and what the thrashing around in search of ever more growth does to our communities.
Given the state of the world, and the state of Rhode Island, on November 23 I will be out on the State House Lawn collecting and distributing winter coats. The generosity of Rhode Islanders will salve my soul, while the poverty we see among those lined up to get coats will drive me to work harder to alleviate the twin ills of poverty and ecological collapse.  Volunteer or donate to the 16th Annual Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange.  There will be more sites around the state than ever before with the Greater Providence YMCA opening their facilities to the collection and distribution of winter coats in November.  We can not solve the problems of the world in a day, especially if we do not address the root causes.  But using less and sharing more on November 23 is a good thing to do along the road to a better Rhode island.   Hope to see you.

Jill Stein for president

Neither of the candidates of the two largest political parties in the US, nor the largest parties in general, have anything to offer us on how to solve and salve the ills  of our time.  The only thing they can do any longer is debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  There is nothing in economics these days that seriously suggests that tax breaks for the wealthy will do anything to improve the economy of the United States, nor any reasonable doctrine that says killing more people in Asia with drones will make us safer or contributes to a better energy policy.
To me only one candidate for president actually grasps the nature of the catastrophe that has befallen the people of the US, a catastrophe brought about by the rich and powerful driving America into the ground.  Only Green Party candidate Jill Stein among presidential candidates, with her Green New Deal, offers the rebuilding of our communities and the shrinking of our military, especially a withdrawal from violent foreign entanglements, as a path forward.  Putting mitigating and reversing global warming as a priority of her administration, as well as having the wealthiest Americans carry more weight for fixing the problems they have caused, including the housing crisis, the Stein plan naturally leads to economic changes that put resources in the hands of our communities with local production for local needs, rather than maintaining military might to prevent Asians from managing their own resources.  Anyone pretending that the deficit can be reduced without taxing the rich more and closing the vast majority of US military bases over seas is deluding themselves.  Jill  gets it.
So get out and vote for a candidate who really stands for the way the 99% want to solve the problems.  Vote Jill Stein, Green Party Candidate for Presiden

western civilization

A response to an article by Calebo Jacob


I am less and less enamored with the idea that western civilization has something special to offer humanity.  I support reading great literature, have read a good sprinkling of it, but the perspective of the civilization that has driven the global ecosystem off the cliff with its greed and demand for more does not uniquely hold wisdom that automatically is useful to salvaging the cascading disasters on planet earth.  Many other cultures hold wisdom that the west ought to learn from equally.  Western imperialism is a fact on the ground, but that does not make it a good thing for the mind.

Questions for candidates

I came up with the first question for the SNA candidates forum.

There is good evidence that the US economy is coming to the end of growth.  For most Americans incomes have been dropping for 30 years, and all the growth periods were simply economic bubbles, with housing being the final one that tipped the applecart big time.  But we still need prosperous communities.  What is your plan for full employment in Rhode Island as the size of the monetary economy diminishes, and how will you keep a full suite of governmental services, something more critical for managing such dangerous transitions?


Then when i started to post here I realized it would be fund to think of a few more.  So here goes.


What role does economic inequality play in the overall health of the economy?


All politicians know a bit of math, and if I said to you that a community was spending 135% of its income each year, you would likely be looking at a community with a massive debt problem.   Now consider the Earth.  People are using 135% of the biological productivity of the planet each year.  And just as towns, families, businesses hemorrhage money if expenses are 135% of income, the Earth is losing forests, soils, fisheries, wildlife, clean water at a rate that is only partially covered by the vastness of the Earth, and shows up every day in the lives of people with less to eat and the loss of the resource base that feeds them and their families.    It is likely that we shall be unable to maintain community prosperity if the resource base is too degraded, so what is your plan to return the health of the ecosystem, in other words reduce the amount people are using until it is below the carrying capacity and the systems can be rebuilt, and how does it fit in with your plan to balance the budget, since ecological disasters will overwhelm any budget you create that harms ecosystems and does not account for the need to heal them in your fiscal expenditures.



Press Release on the RIPEC report

You can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty
Press release
Contact information
Greg Gerritt    401-331-0529      gerritt@mindspring.com
Press release;
ProsperityForRI.com states RIPEC report completely misses the boat.
Think Tank ProsperityForRI.com, an organization focused on creating sustainability for Rhode Island’s communities notes that the RIPEC report “Defining Government’s role in Economic Development in the Ocean State” suggests that the RIDEM be included in a Secretariat of Commerce, and that this is directly opposite of what is needed to return Rhode Island communities to prosperity.  Focusing on the needs of the 1% RIPEC continues to insist, as its corporate funders always push it to do, that a streamlining of Rhode Island to make it more business friendly is just what will bring RI to prosperity.  But as ProsperityForRI.com founder Greg Gerritt notes, “the economy has changed dramatically, and the only way forward is an economy that works well for the lowest income Rhode Islanders and the ecosystem.  The RIPEC report continues to insist on an economic development model that has failed for 50 years and will continue to fail as it does not account for ecosystem collapse or the need for greater equality in the economy.  Given ecosystem collapse it is not surprising that the most vibrant part of the Rhode Island economy today organic agriculture, which only the DEM among state agencies supports.  Hamstringing DEM is likely to have extremely adverse effects on Rhode Island.
Recent reports by Robert Gordon of Northwestern University and the National Bureau of Economic Research on the end of economic growth, and ProsperityForRI.com on a new approach to creating prosperity in the Ocean State note how important greater equality in the economy is for proper functioning and ecological healing.  The continued attempt by the 1% to dismantle environmental protections works against the health of the RI economy and against the prosperity of our communities.
The problem with economic development in RI is not so much the practioners, but that the goal is wrong.  As long as it is believed that making the rich happy  brings prosperity Rhode Island will continue to stumble.  Relying upon corporate funded groups such as RIPEC to chart the economic course for Rhode Island will continue to cause us to stumble.  For more information please check out https://prosperityforri.com/38-studios-and-economic-development-in-rhode-island-2/

More fish

Today at noon time the river was teeming with fish.  From north of Citizens Bank to north of Smith St.  not only huge schools of little menhaden, but the first schools I have seen of larger sized fish.  I did see the night heron catch a larger fish yesterday, and several of the menhaden had fresh cuts like the birds tried to catch them and they got away.

Moshassuck Wildlife today

Today I saw huge schools of menhaden by the Smith St and broken wooden bridges along
Canal St and the Great Blue Heron that has been hanging out between the bridges took a poop that crated a white circle in the water 18 inches in diameter.  Watcvhing it come out was amazing just one giant whoosh.

In the NBG I saw tadpoles in the4 big pond for the first time since late June.  i have been wondering where the new crop is, and saw a number of them today.  The murky water makes observation difficult this time of year, so it was interesting that today was the day to see them.

Menhaden in the Moshassuck September 2012

It’s mid September and the menhaden are back in the lower Moshassuck.  If the conditions are right, sun, rain, tide, temperature, then you can see thousands of small, 2 to 3 inch menhaden in schools in the river along Canal street.  The menhaden excursion to downtown in September is something I have been watching since I moved to Providence in 1996.

It varies every year. Including when it arrives.  This year is dominated by small fish.  Their big sisters are around as I saw them in the Seekonk River today making some very sizable splashes.  Several years ago the big ones came to downtown in huge numbers, estimated at 10,000 fish, and stayed for two months.  For years the only ones i saw very small ones, first year mostly,  But three times in the last 8 years large ones dominated.  And some years you hardly see a one. Hopefully the days of none are behind us.  The fish bring much to the urban core.

The places to see them are in the canal immediately north of the Citizens Bank building, going up Canal street.  Especially fruitful has been the pool immediately north of bridge spanning  the river at Park Row.  Several times this summer a 40 inch eel was seen in the pool, but at shallow water the menhaden stand out against the wall in the middle of the river.  Crabs are also a daily siting.

I wandered along the Woonasquatucket River this week as well and found an abundance of menhaden along the Promenade.  I am a bit jealous of my friends at the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council their river is bigger and gets a lot more fish.  The herring runs of spring are even more of a sign of ecological healing in the Woonie despite the superfund site.

Maybe that makes the sitings in the mighty Mo’s estuary more of an enjoyment. They are harder to come by.

My favorite accompaniment to the menhaden run is found below the collapsing bridge below the Statehouse on Canal St.  The broken bridge holds up a large pile of woody and trashy debris, with its bones being trees that have floated down the river.  The pieces change, but the overall structure is pretty stable and survives floods.  The bridge may not survive many more big storms.  But until it washes out to sea the herons, Great Blue and Night will use it for refuge and hunting.  This morning i saw the Night Heron nab a little fish and swallow hard.  Yesterday it was a young Great Blue that I greeted on my way to the office.  Often the taxi drivers who wait at the taxi stand along the river on Canal and I converse about the birds and fish we see.  Sometimes we do not share a vocal language, but gestures work.

Thats the news from the lower Moshassuck.  I will be checking out the headwaters later in the week, and co leading a hike with The Nature Conservancy on September 22, so maybe a headwaters report will follow as well as updates if I see anything interesting at the North Burial Ground or along the tidewater.




38 Studios and Economic Development in Rhode island

38 Studios and Economic Development in Rhode Island   Greg Gerritt Aug 30, 2012
When i started writing this essay 38 Studios had just gone under.  I thought in a week or two of writing I could produce an essay about some of the lessons learned.  It turns out I needed to write a longer and more expansive piece on economic development and the future of the RI economy.  So, after several months of daily writing,  using 38 Studios as a place to start the conversation, I offer 4 things.  A very brief overview of the 38 Studios debacle,  a brief discussion of how economic development is practiced in Rhode Island and the United States, a discussion of a new economic development paradigm based on ecological healing, democracy, equality, and justice, and suggestions on how best to move forward in RI.

Read the rest at


or just click on 38 studios in the pages column to the right


A geography of my summer vacation

For 10 days in early August 2012 I vacationed in California.  My wife and I flew into Sacramento, in the Central Valley, drove to Fort Bragg on the Mendocino coast, spent several days exploring the coast and the coastal watersheds, drove east to the Sierra Nevada, spent several days at about 4500 feet elevation, and then returned to Sacramento before flying home.  This is a short description of what I saw.
I have now been in California’s Central Valley several times, and have seen much of what can be seen from I-5.  The Central Valley is a very dry valley hundreds of miles long, with rivers coming out of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east and running to the sea.  What has not been turned into suburbs and strip malls is farmland.  All kinds of crops, with a vast system of agricultural canals carrying water from the mountains to keep it growing.  It is the heart of America’s agricultural system, growing more vegetables than any other state, and supplying the whole nation.  You can occasionally see from mountain range to mountain range, and in between it is all farmland.
Going west from the central valley as you enter the hills there are trees.  There are trees in wet spots in the Central Valley, but I a not familiar with what the vegetation was prior to the 49ers.  I am guessing some sort of sparse grass/shrub mix except where it was wet along the creeks and rivers, with dry country oaks, but who knows.  Today most of it is farm and suburb and it all runs on irrigation.
Going up into the hills is a mix of open terrain grassland and trees.  Much of it rangeland, with low carrying capacity.  It is very steep hills with narrow valleys.  The direction of a slope strongly influences what grows there, with the hottest, driest spots being more grass, and wetter spots, less evaporative spots, having more trees.  Higher up conifers mix in and then replace the oaks. As we continued towards the coast through the lakes region on route 20 it got wetter, and more forested.  After crossing 101 you are in the coast range and on the western slope, there are redwoods.
I did not go to any of the parks with big redwoods, spending much time walking the dirt roads and tracks in one little river valley, which was cleared, sort of farmed/ranched flats along a small river and a tributary stream, and low steep hills filled with second growth redwood.  I read a personal history of the valley by the father of the present owner of the ranch.  It was a logging camp when the camps relied upon railroads to transport men and materials in and out of the hills.  The area was logged from about 1910  to the early 1930s.  The valleys were cleared and farmed to provide food for those logging the hills.   The valley once grew many different kinds of crops, but now other than kitchen gardens the fields were growing grass for cows, horses, sheep, and goats.  Rough pasture to be sure. I did notice that they did not put orchards on the flats, but used the very lowest part of the steep hillsides for orchards, and near the house my relative lives in the hillside was covered with apple and plum trees.   Blackberries lined much of the road network, and were just becoming ripe the first week of August.  I found some very juicy berries, but many were still green.  Bears were in on the plums and leaving giant turds full of plum pits in the dirt roads during the night.  There were also a number of black tail deer in the area, mostly pretty tame as they were not hunted on the ranch or the adjacent ranch.  The ravens were very bold.
The particular valley i was in was not really being worked, it had sheep and horses in the pastures, but there was an agricultural renaissance going on all over the area with new farmers markets helping farmers get back to feeding the community.  A very different setting from Rhode Island, small isolated communities cut off by steep mountains.  But the surge towards ecologically healing activities as the way forward is strong.
I did climb one of the little hills once.  They are very hard climbing, steep and forested.  I found coming down more difficult as the subsoil seemed to come from broken up rock and it was easy to slide down the face kicking up sandstone remnants or something like that.  I heard that several folks around had paths up some of the hills that they used for various activities, but I never found any.
The other ecosystem explored on the coast of California was the coast line and its bluffs.  Close to the ocean one finds large areas of grass and shrub.  Often they end at 30 or 40 high bluffs falling down to beaches, and only rarely is there some easy path to the beach except at the mouth’s of rivers. .  The coastline is indented with many streams as the coast range gets quite a bit of rain over the course of the year, and it is pretty cool even in the summer.  Very hot days were those over 85. I can not describe the beaches other than as an amazing array of slopes, materials, and arrangements based on the erosive power of water in a gravity powered system.  The coastline is so spectacular, with cliffs so high, that I do not like being on Route 1 as I no longer do very well peering off the edge of cliffs as I ride by.  I do not ever remember running into so many osprey in California.  We saw them numerous places, and i do not remember them being so prevalent in previous trips. have been watching for them most of my life, so I am guessing that it may be the result of healthier ecosystems in CA.  Or at least fewer persistent pesticides in the water and fish. We also saw harbor seals, whales, and a variety of birds while standing on the cliffs.
After several days on the coast and in the little valley 2 miles from the ocean we drove east the entire width of California and went up into the Sierra Nevada, passing back through the Coast Range Forest and the Central Valley, then climbing the foothills into the mountains.  Coming up the hills into the Sierra Nevada the grasslands and shrubs give way to forests as you rise.  The roads primarily follow the rivers except where one must go over the divide. The switchbacks are almost as scary as the ones along the coast.  We stayed at a resort at about 4500 feet elevation in an area almost completely covered with Jeffrey’s pine, which produce very large pine cones.  The trees are widely spaced with sparse grass and sagebrush  in between.
The resort was about a mile from the Feather River which could be reached by walking down a dirt track.  A small river, it ran among the hills, swinging back and forth as the hills crowded in from one side and then the other.  The bluffs varied from 20 to about 100 feet high over looking the river, and rocks, granite, that had fallen from the hills filled the valley.  When the bluffs were a bit removed from the river course the river had a relatively gentle slope with vegetated wetlands making for treacherous walking.  Where the bluffs were close to the water boulders filled the channel, including several spots in which the entire river ran under boulders and you could walk on top of the river crossing back and forth as if on dry land.  It was a great place for a little easy climbing and playing on the boulders.  Among the boulders in less constricted spots there were pools that were great for swimming, with the water temperature perfect for cooling off on the 90 degree days.  Nights were much cooler. The pools contained several types of fish, an iridescent small green fish in schools seemed the most common, and followed the rule of the bigger the pool, the bigger the resident fish.  There were also dippers, frogs,  and tadpoles.  Walking to and from the river through the Jeffrey’s Pine forest the most common ground dwellers were little lizards.  In New England one does not run into lizards, but on previous trips to California I had seen many. Once I got a good look at something scurrying along I remembered, and then saw them frequently.  The ground squirrels were also pretty.
Returning to the 107 degree furnace of the Central Valley to fly out, I had an evening to explore an area near the Sacramento airport and basketball arena.  Farmland until recently, the area was under massive development pressure until the real estate bubble broke at the start of the Great Recession.  Now it is littered with half empty strip malls and office parks, concrete shells held up by rusting poles, and outdoor food malls with drive ways, wires, plumbing, and no buildings.  The Jackrabbits have reclaimed the abandoned areas with scores living among the detritus of the real estate bubble.  The scale of what was abandoned and never occupied in this area was astounding.  It was a clear statement on how far the Golden State has fallen, but it does not appear they have learned the lesson yet, They are just waiting for the next boom.

Rally for Jobs, Peace, and Planet

My apologies to those of you receiving this email who do not live in Rhode Island or nearby places.  You will miss out on one very cool rally.
This spring I spent much of my time watching tadpoles develop into Gray Tree Frogs in the little pond at the North Burial Ground.  I think next year I am going to have to make a video.  As tadpole season progressed Rhode Island was rocked by the collapse of 38 Studios, the video game business created by Curt Schilling.  That debacle is going to cost the taxpayers of RI $100 million.  It was all inside baseball with the governor personally working the system to get Schilling the money.  I started writing on the failure of economic development policy in Rhode Island from an ecological perspective in an essay that has taken on a life of its own.  It will be months before it is done.
In some ways the Rally for Jobs, Peace, and Planet combines my work on these two topics, ecology and sustainable economics,  with one of the other things that is close to my heart, Green Party presidential politics.  Some of you know that I had a major hand in developing the process by which Green Party presidential candidates are chosen.  This year the system really worked well, and we have a great candidate, Jill Stein.  In Rhode Island we are currently petitioning to get Jill on the ballot, it takes 1000 signatures signatures of registered Rhode Island voters, and to culminate that petition drive, get some votes in November, and really get out a message on these issues that is drowned in the issues free dog and pony show that is the current state of American Presidential Politics, a bunch of us are putting together a rally on August 18 called “A Rally for Jobs Peace, and Planet”.  Jill Stein will be the keynoter, but we are also lining up a great lineup of speakers, including me, and some fabulous entertainment including the Duopoly Jalopy.
The site for the rally will be the Roger Williams National Historic Site, a beautiful park in downtown Providence where Roger Williams found a fresh water spring that he used to provide drinking water for the first Europeans to live in Providence.  A community center based on clean water for the lively experiment in democracy that Williams fostered seems perfect for a Rally on Jobs, Peace, and Planet.
Saturday, August 18 @ 3pm
The Roger Williams National Memorial
282 North Main Street  (along the lower end of the Blackstone Canal and the Moshassuck River) 

I encourage all of you to attend, and i encourage all of you to help in other ways if you can.
To bring Jill’s message to the Ocean State, the Green Party of Rhode Island is paying for park services, sound systems, space rentals, and permits. We’re using public venues and our expenses are reasonable, but we do have to pay them, from our local Party budget. You can help! Please visit RIGREENS.ORG to make a secure donation, hosted at PayPal, in any amount you can.
You can also support the campaign of Jill Stein, and her vice presidential running mate Cheri Honkola where ever you are.  By going to the campaign website, http://www.jillstein.org/  you can donate, volunteer, and learn.
Look forward to seeing many of you on August 18, and hope you will support this rally and campaign efforts in other ways as well.
Greg Gerritt


This week’s observations at the NBG.


The little pond is much smaller due to the dry weather, and the rain friday night did not enlarge it.  The arrowroot(I think) (the emergent plant with purple fllowers in a spike) makes it very difficult to see more than a few feet from shore, so hard to know what is going on, but in the one area that I can still see into the  water there are only a few tadpoles left, and these have lightened in color and developed legs.  Looks like this latest hatching class will be gone very soon, joining their conspecifics in the woods.    Yesterday I thought I saw a bullfrog tadpole, and the bullfrogs are still around, but again, with limited visibility it is hard to know.

Plenty of action over at the big pond.  It appears that all of let years tadpoles have now become froths, with hundreds around the edge of the pond.  While I was not watching the number of jumping tadpoles rapidly diminished and the number of frogs on shore expanded.  Looks to be nearly complete, and now in the water you are seeing the much smaller rings and lower jumps of the new crop of tadpoles, probably very similar to the bullfrog tadpoles I saw in the little pond.

I saw two muskrat one day this week, I saw a night heron this morning.  And walking home there were a pair of goldfinch along with the usual assortment of robins, jays, sparrows, flickers, hawks, and doves.


Tadpole update

This week the little pond in the NBG is shrinking fast while at the same time every day a new crop of tadpoles comes out of the water as little tree frogs.  It is the second year I have kept track of the timing, and this year the tadpoles are morphing a bit earlier than last year.

NBG Pond update 6/10/12

On a beautiful June morning I went over to the NBG to check out the life.  On my way in I saw an Oriole.  I think there is a pair in that neighborhood.  At the large pond I counted 14 turtles, which is the highest number I have ever counted there.
Several years ago 6 was the high for the year, last year it was 9.  They line up on the log sunning themselves as the morning starts to get warm.  They range in size from small to large, seemingly 4 or 5 ages classes represented.

The little pond is in full swing with its brief Gray Tree Frog tadpole season, with the first tadpoles appearing May 19, and this week the earliest of the hatchings, (3 or 4 several days apart producing noticeably different size classes) the largest tadpoles have  developed legs.  Tree frog tadpoles tend to either be swiftly on the move, eating, or lying on the bottom sort of dug into the mud.  There are hundreds if not thousands in the pond.

This year I have noticed a second type of tadpole which despite much observation time the previous two years, I had not seen before this year.  I think they are bullfrog tadpoles, as last summer a crop of about 20 bullfrogs came over from the larger pond as part of the new frog dispersal that follows the transformation from tadpole to frog. I know at least a  few of them made it thorough the winter.

The tadpoles are bigger, greener, and have a more transparent tail than do the tree frogs.  What they also do is move quite differently, with today the noticeable habit of hanging out tail down int he water column near the surface and occasionally breaking the surface readily observed.  This is exactly how the big second year tadpoles act in the larger pond, supplemented with large jumps by the big tadpoles.  Like breaching whales in miniature.  The new babies are not jumping yet, but you can see it coming.

I get to the NBG in the dark all winter, but rarely6 when the days are as long as they are now.  But after I got home front he EJ conference I went over to the NBG and just after 9 PM the little pond was loud with the calls of at least 2 different kinds of frogs.  Going ho have to check the recordings of what is what before I can offer identification of the callers.



Tadpole update June 3, 2012

I went down to the North Burial Ground twice today. It is a beautiful June day, it rained hard yesterday, but sunny and 70 today. At the big pond there were turtles sunning in the morning and we watched the fish. At the little pond I saw my first tadpole with legs.

When i went back this afternoon at the big pond I saw a Great Blue Heron eat two fish, once on my way in, and once on my way back from the little pond.

The little pond had filled back up after yesterday’s rain, and with that the Gray Tree Frog tadpoles were much closer to where you can stand with dry feet, and for some reason there were many more around than I have seen on any day so far this spring. There are still some very little ones, some larger ones, and some that are starting to sprout legs.

I also saw another kind of tadpole, just 3 of them. They were a different color, a lighter gray, with a clear tail, and yellow spots. They also swam differently from the tree frog tadpoles. The pond did have an invasion of Bullfrogs last fall, and they breed later, so it could be bullfrog tadpoles, but I need to do more research.

The other animals of interest today in the NBG included a hawk being chased by little birds, and oriole and a goldfinch.


Grey Tree Frog Tadpoles

With the drought this winter the pond where the Tree Frogs breed in the NBG had gone dry.  It was dry most of April, so I was concerned that there would be no breeding season this year.   The pond refilled in late April with the rains, so I was hopeful that it had filled in time.  On May 19 I saw tadpoles.  Last year the tadpoles appeared on May 12,

Keith Stokes and economic development

Sent this as a letter to the editor

To the editor,  I have seen a number of people praise Keith Stokes on his way out of the door at the RI Economic Development Corporation, but I think it bears remembering that 38 Studios is the second major blunder of this sort in his economic development career.  Mr. Stokes was completely taken in by the con men who convinced most of the economic development establishment of Rhode Island that they could be a successful gigantic container port.  Eventually the public won out and the con men were unmasked, but right until the end Mr Stokes was a proponent of their port.

38 Studios shows Mr. Stokes in the same light.  Completely taken in by the celebrity of Curt Schilling even though he also had no track record of success and wanted someone else’s money to build his fantasy scam.
I will note that that the problem in the economic development game that is Rhode Island is not just Keith Stokes, it is that the establishment in Rhode Island is still convinced that give aways to the 1% is economic development, while the reality is that only ecological healing, reducing inequality in income, and more democracy and transparency is the road forward economically.  I hope Governor Chafee takes this opportunity to rethink what he wants from the EDC, but it appears that he will find another economic development guy with their head in the sand about where the economy is really going.

Studio 38 strikes out

18 months ago or so when the RIEDC decided to give $75 million to Studio 38 so it could develop video games in RI instead of MA a number of people in Rhode Island, myself included , but also many people with extensive business experience, noted that this was a poor choice for the state.  the reasons people objected were varied.  In my case it is because I do not believe the video game industry is ever a good bet.  Other people objected to the state of RI doing anything that smacked of having an industrial policy.

I tend to be a believer in industrial policy, that the state should be making a smart use of the people’s money, and helping industries that will help the state in its development and job creation, but it is pretty clear that the RIEDC has a very poor track record in this area, and the video game industry is so uncertain that this was a long shot at best.

So it is with a little bit of I told you so, and a whole lot more regret that the state has wasted its money, that I have been reading the headlines and stories this week about the uncertain future and financial picture of 38 Studios.   This fiasco will give industrial policy a bad name when it should be another nail in the coffin of the EDC.  It also reflects rather poorly on Curt Schilling, the right winger who hypocritically took money from the state and squandered it. I would say he should have stuck to pitching but he was done with that by the time he took up video games.

beyond inequality

Not coincidentally the larger the inequality in the society,                  the more damaging the environmental ethics pursued.            Healing ecosystems, real democracy, an equitable income distribution, non violence, are all connected.

Response to comments on the French election

I find it interesting that neither the pro austerity camp nor the anti austerity camp are actually talking about what is really going on, which is ecosystem collapse and the need to create prosperity by shrinking the economy and our footprint.
My research suggests that the only true economic prosperity anyone is going to get is founded on several principles that no political party on the planet other than the Green Party is talking about.
1.  The ecology is larger than the economy and is always a factor.  No fish, no soil, no economy.
2. Ecological healing is critical, and in old industrial economies is the only way forward
3. Stop climate change and remediate and adapt to  what we can not fix by going to a zero carbon economy because there is already a massive amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
4.  Economies work better when there is less spread between rich and poor.  The purpose of government is to protect the poor from the rich and give voice to the voiceless.  Without that, hard times.
5. Democracy is critical as unless the poor and the indigenious have vested rights in their communities, which means they have a right to determine what happens in their communities and especially have the right to stop all inappropriate development the economy will tilt towards inequality and excessive pollution as well as hard times.
6. Forests are critical to the functioning of civilization.  No civilization has ever been built without ready access to an abundant wood supply.  Europe came out to fhe Black Death and the Middle ages with abundant forests that had regrown after the loss of 1/3 of the people.  The US was built upon forests.  Think San Francisco in 1906 and New Orleans in 2005.  SF had abundant forests for rebuilding, and rebuilt fast.  NOLA is in a place in whicvh forests were already seriously depleted, and rebuilding has been very slow.
China looks like an anomoly, because it has almost no intact forests, but it has simply displaced its wood cutting to the rest of southern Asia, to the severe detriment of the people of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, New Guinea, and Indonesia.  China gets rich, the forest people die.
7. Rebuild the soil.  Chemical agriculture is not cutting it.  Go organic and rebuild soil fertility, waterholding capacity, and carbon reserves. Yeilds will take care of themselves if the soil is taken care of.

Limits to Growth revisited

Greg Gerritt • I read Limits to Growth as a young person in the 1970’s, and loved reading Donella Meadows’ columns in the 1990s. This summation is a good reminder that we are in overshoot (using 140% of the annual biological production each year, which shows up as eroded soils, diminished forests, and empty seas among others, and 392 ppm CO2 and the warmest March ever) and that no one really knows where along the curve we are. Several things I have seen recently say that if anything we are so far into the BAU model that overshoot moves faster than ever and collapse seems more likely. i view my work as an effort to prevent collapse by managing the decline in our footprint, and our greedy ambitions.

What we are also seeing in this overshoot is growth moving around the world and leaving new and different places collapsing in its wake. I happen to live in one of the places where the ecological damage of industrialism started hundreds of years ago. And despite 50 years of effort no one has been able to return Rhode Island to the fast growth track.

I remind them that maybe we need another approach, based on the managed decline (not the language I use, but exactly the language of Limits to Growth, so i use it here) if we are to have prosperous communities.

I am getting an EPA award tomorrow for my work in developing a compost industry, To me my work with compost has always been about making sure we can grow food in the neighborhood when the trucks from California can no longer feed us. I do not think the EPA wants to really recognize the latter part of the previous sentence, but it motivates me and feeds more into the idea of ecological healing as the only way forward.

Seeing the video on the Limits to Growth revisited, is just a reminder that my job continues to be staying just a bit ahead of the curve on what folks are talking about so that next year it can be what they are talking about. and some years later is old hat to everyone.

As we say, the hippies were right about everything.

Live long and prosper

In what is likely to be a continuing shrinkage of still too high house prices, more and more mortgages coniniue to fail.  The only way to purge this from the system would have been to make the banks eat the toxic losses and have the owners take a new mortgage with payments based on what the house is really worth if the prices are not inflated by speculation and housing shortages, especially housing for the working folks.
Governments and communities need to prepare themselves for a smaller economy, expecially in the industrial west.  Low income countries will continue to see some income gains as long as they keep their forests and have wood for their communities, but high income countries are going to see lower standards of living and more equality in income if they are to survive, economically and ecologically.  Use less, share more, heal ecosystems, grow more food in the community.  Live long and prosper.

Letter to Projo April 2012 economics

John Kostrzewa and the Providence Journal,  I was disappointed today to see in the excerpts from comments on the economy series that every comment except the one caliing for the legalizaqatiion of marijuana presented the conventional wisdom.  I know that submissions from another point of view were offered.
Anyways here is what would be a prescription for Rhode Island, one that does not repeat the failed policies of the last 50 years.
Use less, share more.
Make justice a centerpiece of the economy.
Economies that have a more equal distriburtion of wealth work better, redistribute wealth through taxation and the provision of better services to those in need to reduce inequality.
Heal ecosystems.  This is the only way to provide more actual resources for the economy.
Build resilience to climate change while doing everything possible to reverse it through ending the use of fossil fuels and expanding forests.
It was interesting today, Earth Day, April 22, the same day the journal’s editorial on building a wall in Matunuck, Beachfront bathos, clearly stated how trying to stop the ocean was futile, the article on the economy highlighted as a good thing the mindset that called for making it easier to futilely attempt to hold back the ocean.  It is time for those making economic development policy in this state to begin to understand that working with ecosystems is the only path to the future.
Greg Gerritt

Response to world weather report in the economist april 2012

Recently I saw that about 80% of China’s growth each year is due to fixing disasters created by the ills of industrialism. People have more money and less food security. people have more money and are ever more vulnerable to storms and drought. People have more money and their is less useful soil on the planet.

Where I live in post industrial Rhode Island, the economy is already on a long term downward trend. All the kings horses and all the kings men have tried to repair it for years, but they have 50 years of failure.

the way forward is ecological healing. Rebuild the soil, heal and reinhabit the waters, reknit the forest, turn waste into food instead of burying or burning it.

Every society on earth has failed when they have run out of wood and forests. Now we threaten to do so on a global scale.

Heal ecosystems, generate equality, practice justice, allow local communities to say no to inappropriate madmen economic development scams and corrupt governments powered with American weapons. its the way forward

Notes for talk at RIC 4/17/12

The context of this work
Carbon foot print
Food security
Rebuilding soil
Healing ecosystems
RI can not build prosperity without rebuilding soil and ecosystems.
Trash mentality
Getting started
Easy small systems
Ecosystem approach, small diverse, adaptive, decentralized
Big scale
On or off site
Static air
In vessel

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


Today in the North Burial Ground I saw bullfrog tadpoles, turtles, and a large number of fish in the larger pond.  the small pond is nearly dry and I worry about the Grey tree frog breeders in a few weeks.

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
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.

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.


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.