December 24th, 2011
December 13th, 2011
To the Editor, The smell from the landfill is primarily the result of the decay of organic matter buried in it. If we stopped burying food scrap and other organics, and instead composted them, the smell from the landfill would be greatly diminished over time, and we would be producing compost that can be used to revitalize agricultural soils in Rhode Island, improve the economy in our communities, and increase our community resilience in the face of climate change. More and more communities all over the world are composting every day.
Unfortunately in Rhode Island it is so cheap to just pick up everything and dump it on the hill at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation’s Central Landfill in Johnston. Taking proper care of the materials we have, including those that are critical to growing food, costs a little more than just tossing trash on the hill and burying it. But if we take proper care, we dramatically over time reduce the smells and the high emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane that are 21 times as effective at reflecting heat waves back to earth as carbon dioxide. Yes, in these hard times no one can afford to pay more to dispose of things, but we can not afford to keep throwing valuable resources away and polluting at the same time.
Landfills are the largest source of methane emissions in the United States and the simple solution is the one that creates the most value for the community. Compost all food scrap instead of burying it.
For many years I lived near paper mills, and when the wind and clouds were right, it was enough to make you gag, so I have some idea what the folks near the landfill are experiencing. In fact the releases are mostly the same sulfur containing compounds. We need some short term solutions to reduce the smell today, but we also need the long term solution of collecting and composting food scrap. I am asking all of our policy leaders to join in the discussion of how best to remove the structural impediments that prevent us from taking advantage of a valuable resource and fully develop our compost industry. We will all breathe and eat better.
Coordinator RI Compost Initiative A project of the Environment Council of RI and the Greater Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force
37 6th St Providence RI 02906
November 24th, 2011
I have in the past referred to the work of Immanuel Wallerstein. He describes the conditions for rapid economic growth as access to an urbanizing population and access to forests.
China proves the point again. Read the other day that China is using half the globally traded wood, and running into all sorts of snags because of how much of it is cut and imported illegally. Chinese consumption (and re-export of finished products) is driving deforestation all across the tropics and in Siberia.
Australia is serving the iron craving of China, and seems to do it willingly, but the people feeding the forest craving are most definitely not willing sacrifices. People who are trying to save the forest are being killed by corporate thugs and being sent to jail by governments around the world while deforestation becomes more devastating.
It is going to be critical to rein in China’s wood consumption and require that wood feeding it be harvested sustainably and in a fair trade mode if we are to not wipe out the forest people of the planet. Unfortunately nearly every government is filled with people ready to sell out the forest and its people for a little bit of money.
I had a friend from Cambodia who tried to get me to go there to help him stop the corrupt generals selling off the forest to China.
Reminds me of the Rhode Island merchants of the 19th century damming the rivers both for water power to run the mills, but also because they knew if they cut off the fish runs the farmers would no longer be able to practice subsistence farming in the hills and would come to town to work in the mill.
Being Thanksgiving day in the US I will remind everyone of the native people of eastern Massachusetts showing the Pilgrims how to put fish in each corn hill. European transplants retained the practice when they drove the natives off the land, and it persisted until the mill owners put in dams to end the runs and drive the white folks off the land too.
So the patterns, economies industrialize and grow when they can drive rural folk off the land resulting in land to take, forests to cut and proletariats to work in the factory. And when it all runs out, which is happening in more places faster than ever, the oligarchy thrashes about ever faster to suck in more and more resources, eventually turning the economy into a casino as the only way to feed them fast enough. Then we occupy the public squares and throw the bums out or they mow down enough of us to hold on a little longer.
I am guessing the Communist Party of China is praying very hard they can hold on to the mandate of heaven when the real estate bubble bursts and the floods destroy another crop.
November 12th, 2011
Final Report on USDA funded section of the RI Compost Initiative
It is like ancient history to remember meeting with Sarah Kite on Valley St in December 2008. We started talking compost, and I was hoping RIRRC would be a willing participant in sparking the compost industry in RI. The USDA had promised the grant, but the long wait for the wheels of the federal bureaucracy to grind forward and start funding the work was just beginning. But there were some reserves to draw on, so I plunged in. Eventually the federal wheel moved and three years of funding flowed. The first 6 months I accumulated knowledge and made connections. From the beginning the city of Providence wanted to be a part of the action. I tried so hard to accommodate them that occasionally the project would slow down while I waited for them to move or answer. I learned to keep moving and have multiple strands moving while waiting for the laggards.
Every day I worked on the project I had to figure out what needed doing next and invent and imagine the way forward. Katherine Brown provided wonderful mentoring. The periods when there were partners available, things often moved faster, and in more different sectors, than the times when I was working alone. I had to wait occasionally for things to find me before moving forward, but by being open to the possibilities and knowing to wait, they always did, and often as soon as I was actually ready for them to find me. It became a matter of learning enough so that when something was ready to flow by, I was positioned to catch it.
I barked up a lot of empty trees, as well as some with fruit, willing to work with every entrepreneur that come through with an idea for a business. I learned much each time one came through, and I hope they enjoyed working with me. I provided all the information and connections I could and think something positive from each encounter that has endured in the Initiative and the industry.
The first spring I took the Master Composters Class at the URI botanical center in Roger Williams Park. Great program, and Sejal Lanterman is a great ambassador for compost. After 25 years of composting, I became a much better and more knowledgeable composter. I had always been a little lazy because I was cleaning barns and taking shares of the manure to compost at home, so I did not have to be very diligent. Here in the city I needed better technique. It shows in my home composting operation. I have now added some MORPHs to the repertoire and continue upgrading. Standing on actual composting experience and learning new techniques gave the initiative more credibiility.
The compost initiative went public when putting on the first RI compost conference in January 2010 at the Rhode Island Foundation. More than 50 people attended and I spent months after that following up with folks around the state to see if their idea for compost in their community could be fanned into flames. I spent time on several initiatives on Aquidneck Island, none of which have quite panned out yet, but likely will eventually. We tried various kinds of committees. What worked, what moved things forward, were alliances between the various folks actually doing something in the compost industry, whether it be technology, or facilities. We still work together where we can, and have expanded that cadre. The EPA offered some help and began providing information and helping connect resources.
The March 2011 RI Compost conference attracted more than 200 people to RISD. To prepare myself and the community for the conference I distributed the following document http://www.environmentcouncilri.org/pdf/CompostRI.pdf Again I pursued a variety of initiatives coming out of the conference. The results were again the folks actually doing stuff remain in communication after the initial shakeout, and the rest of the community is more informed and will be more ready to act when events line up.
Where we are today is that Orbit Energy is in the permitting stage of developing an anaerobic digester to turn commercial food scrap from this region into green electricity and pelletized fertilizer for the industrial park adjacent tot he landfill in Johnston. Brown and RISD are again composting in conjunction with Michael Bradlee and the MORPH. ECORI has been collecting compostables at farmers markets and getting it composted by local farmers. Local haulers are investing in compost. Businesses and communities are discussing what to do and will it save them money and help economic development. Johnson and Wales University is pondering how to mainstream compost in the hospitality and culinary curriculums. The EPA has a draft document designed to help New England communities develop a system to compost their food scrap. The need for compost expands.
On February 27 2012 the RI Compost Conference and Trade show take place at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, appropriately moving the conference to a private sector facility and turning it into an event that will support the work nurturing the industry done by the Compost Initiative. I would say it was $30000 over three years well spent and achieved the desired results, even if the supply of compost for the expanding community garden system is still not settled.
The Grant is over, the work goes on. It has been a great 3 years, and I look forward to more.
Greg Gerritt 11/12/11
October 19th, 2011
We are into fall. The leaves have barely started to turn, but nights are cool and the fall rains last all day. When last reported upon the gray tree frogs had fled for the trees and the bullfrogs have developed legs and lost their gills, completing the transformation. The bullfrog pond had at least 100 frogs lining the pond, but many disappeared very quickly. I wonder how many of them fell victim to the green herons that hung around for several weeks. Green herons show up most years, but this year one or two have been in near permanent residence. What were scarce were the great blue herons.
The large pond slid towards hibernation with daily counts of about 20 frogs around the inlet, outlet, and peninsula, down from the hundred soon after emergence. The tree frog pond became covered in pickerel weed, and never dried up. In fact most of the summer it was pretty full, and the fall rains have really raised it up.
This fall for the first time I noticed fall frogs in the pond. I had never seen frogs at this pond after the tree frogs dispersed for the year, so it really caught my attention. I never got a good look at them, they were very skittish. I took inventory in the usual way, counting how many frogs jump as I walk around the pond. About 20 frogs would jump. The alarm call was that of a bullfrog. So it appears a population from the other pond dispersed after leaving behind their tadpole life. Having not witnessed this before, it will be interesting to see if they can persist in the pond, and if they effect the breeding of the tree frogs. I look forward to next spring.
Final note, the big frog does have a new crop of tadpoles. I am not sure how big a population it is, visibility has been very poor in the water this year, But I look forward to the jumpers when the next round starts in March or April.
October 8th, 2011
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.
Friends of the Moshassuck
October 7th, 2011
Greg Gerritt • The article referenced above is why I try to remind public officials dealing with economic planning in my community that it is important to contemplate creating more jobs with fewer dollars circulating. The economy in the west is actually shrinking. it is very hard for them to get their hands around the idea, but it is slowly seeping in.
Everything i read says the way forward back to prosperity is to heal ecosystems and become more self reliant. Political forces, and the forces of empire are all aligned against the idea that the way forward is a smaller more healthful economy, but it is not only the way of ecology, it is the way of justice. The smart shrinkage we should be engineering is exactly the building of resilience that is the whole premise of this forum.
September 9th, 2011
Friends, It is after Labor Day and with the fall rains I began to think of The Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange, and then started to think about rain gear and how to get more into the hands of people living outside in this community. For anyone who walks to get their life’s work done, like me, it is essential. And when I lived outside, it was essential too. So I begin the 2011 cycle with an email. I love to organize this event with y’all. Those of you who actually see me in the community, and those of you in remote locations, and increasingly across the country.
I have copied last years flyer, with just an update of the date, but not the connections/events/ contact people. Those of you who are connected directly to the various events, please get back to me and let me know if you are signed on again and if anything needs to change. Thanks. Those of you who think you might want to catalyze the bringing of an event to your community, we can help you get started, please get in touch. Any of you who can translate, get materials into the media, or produce beautiful flyers, feel free and we can share it. I am not a social media person, though I have a blog where these materials get posted. If you use the various media and would like to devote a bit of your bandwidth to this event, feel free, and if there is anything special I can send you to help your efforts, happy to oblige. I can use this network occasionally to publicize these links.
This project has a special place in my heart. It is one of the ways I connect with my community, connected me to many folks I would never have met any other way. And as much as anything I work on it ties the strands of the universe together. I have a little couplet I use sort of as the tag line for my consulting work. “You can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, you can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty”. The BND Coat Exchange seems to fit.
When we did the first one on a whim 15 years ago, 1997, none of us knew what to expect. That my friends have spread it around the state and the country, and that now it is popping up in new places organized by people with only viral connections to me is a true source of amusement. I truly enjoy this event, and I hope all of you get to bring a sense of joy to this work despite the conditions in our communities which makes the event a greater necessity each year.
In any case keep me informed about how this work goes in your neighborhood and I will share it. Send edits for the flyer, but feel free to circulate.
Greg Gerritt 401-331-0529 Providence RI
15th Annual BUY NOTHING DAY
WINTER COAT EXCHANGE
If you have a coat to give, please drop it off.
If you need a coat, please pick one up.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25 10-2PM
State House lawn (directly across from Providence Place mall)
rain location St Johns Cathedral 271 N Main St Providence
Pawtucket Visitors Center, 175 Main St. Pawtucket
On November 26th 2010 – the busiest day in the American retail calendar and the unofficial start of the international Christmas-shopping season – thousands of activists and concerned citizens in 65 countries will take a 24-hour consumer detox as part of the annual Buy Nothing Day, a global phenomenon that originated in Vancouver, Canada. Some see it as an escape from the marketing mind games and the frantic consumer binge that has come to characterize the holiday season, and our culture in general. Others use it to expose the environmental and ethical consequences of over-consumption. In Providence as part of International Buy Nothing Day, we hold a winter coat exchange on the lawn of the State House directly across from Providence Place mall. In Pawtucket the transfer of coats takes place at the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center. Events are also held at 4 other locations in Rhode Island. There are many partners for this event: community organizations, places of worship, civic, and environmental groups. Volunteers are needed to help with this life-affirming event.
Contact information: Providence Greg Gerritt: 331-0529;firstname.lastname@example.org;
Phil Edmonds: 461-3683; email@example.com
Pawtucket – Arthur Pitt 724-8915; firstname.lastname@example.org
Other participating locations
Newport – St Paul’s Church 12 West Marlborough St. 10 AM to Noon Maggie Bulmer
Woonsocket St Ann’s Arts and Cultural Center 84 Cumberland Street Wally Rathbun Stannartsctr@aol.com
Wakefield –St. Francis Church, 114 High Street, 10AM to noon Tom Abbott 364-0778
Barrington Bayside Family YMCA 70 West St Connie Ganleymcganley@comcast.net
August 31st, 2011
I am reading the World Economic and Social Survey 2011 a UN publication. I get notices of lots of these and they are free to download. Fit the budget well.
This one is talking about my favorite topic, how do we get to a sustainable future. The answer is with great difficulty.
I am just beginning it but something really caught my attention, the statement that the frequency of natural disasters has quintupled in the last 40 years. quintupled. They are putting most of the blame on climate, and a good deal of blame belongs there, but they are neglecting a factor.
Natural disasters in places with no people hardly rate. A hurricane hitting a healthy beach and dune system with no development sustains much less damage than a beach and dune system with condos or a boardwalk and hotels. in other words, one of the characteristics of our system is that for the last 40 years people have been putting more and more infrastructure in more and more vulnerable places so that we are not only seeing climate exacerbated damages, but those associated with people moving into more and more fragile places.
No one in their right mind builds a house on sand dunes and sand spits along the gulf coast or anywhere along the atlantic south of Delaware Bay. Hurricanes are just too likely even without global weirding. But we have more and more houses, and when we call for fewer houses along the beach the developers go crazy. When people try to protect mangroves the economic interests are screaming louder and louder to let commerce run amok (well they do not call it run amok, but that is what it is)
So we are are seeing climate change cause more and more problems, but we exacerbate the problem by pushing into ever more fragile and vulnerable places. part of it is there is no where else to go, all the rest is taken, and part of it is the these are places of great beauty (after we have destroyed it elsewhere)
We are going to need a new term for these types of “natural disasters” so that we can be reminded of how much of the damage is due to human greed and and unwillingness to do proper planning.
August 29th, 2011
Recently a myriad of events and writings have pushed the case for prosperity as defined by me, ecological healing and a better distribution of wealth as integral to community prosperity. The stock market, Irene, unemployment, rainforest destruction, fracking, Keystone, and the conference on alternatives to GDP growth as the basis of our economy including options such as the Gross National Happiness measured by Bhutan remind us daily that the alternatives are garnering notice. Americans are disgusted by the Tea Party, tax breaks for the rich, and growing inequality. And the belief that the era of mass affluence is over, by retailers and consumers, says we need a new plan. One based on healing ecosystems, and more justice. We need to keep pushing the conversation.
July 11th, 2011
To the Editor, The July 11 Providence Journal contained a small article “RI economy has been stalled for 3 months”. Part of the continuing reporting on how and why the RI economy has performed so poorly. It seems that none of the experts or the politicians have come up with anything that actually works. I believe this is because they are approaching economic development from the top down rather than the bottom up. They insist on catering to the rich rather than to the people and the planet.
Here is a simple 4 point plan that would help strengthen the RI economy.
Invest in healing the ecosystems we rely upon. Reduce our carbon footprint to nothing. Clean the water and the air. Rebuild forests, soils, agricultural potential, fisheries. Grow more food, organically. Remember that you can not grow infinitely on a finite planet and plan accordingly for prosperity.
Tax the rich. The more unequal societies become economically, the more damaged the community and ecosystems become. More equal societies share the prosperity.
Stop using the medical and biotech industries as the main economic growth generators. Using the medical industrial complex as an economic engine guarantees that health care will never be affordable, will harm job creation in the rest of the economy, and will bankrupt the country, as well as give us declining life expectancies in about 1/4 of American counties.
Build housing for lower income residents of our community that uses no fossil fuels. The real estate bubble formed because people were forced out of rental housing and into buying a house by the shortage of housing people could actually afford to live in. From the early homestead acts to public housing the American government had taken some responsibility for providing housing for low income individuals. Now we offer homeless shelters at three times the cost of housing.
37 6th St Providence RI 02906
July 3rd, 2011
Today I realized that in the larger pond by the esker in the NBG almost all of the bullfrog tadpoles have made the transformation to frogs. All week the frog to tadpole ratio was changing and now the shore line has hundreds of frogs instead of the pond having hundreds of tadpoles. The little fish have also come to the point this week. I was paying more attention to the tree frogs by the maintenance building, seeing as that is a much more visual tadpole experience than the cafe au lait waters of the larger pond. But it turns out that the transformation experience of the two species had a considerable temporal overlap, both happening late June into Early July. I say that as even today there were just dispersing tree frogs around the maintenance building despite not having seen any tadpoles for 4 days.
I also saw 6 turtles today in the larger pond, a very rare sighting to see the whole clan in one trip.
Over at Swan Point this morning there were schools of very small fish swimming by the beach on the north side of the point and 3 things swimming I think were eels. I have to check some time. They are somewhere between two and three inches long and about as big around as a fat piece of wire. They look like a little snake swimming in the water. I have seen them before up at the Pawtucket boat launch, where the swimmer was maybe smaller by a little, but of course there is variation in size, and they grow over the course of the summer.
June 26th, 2011
I am thinking the bullfrog tadpoles in the NBG pond are starting to develop legs, and it almost seems as if there are more frogs every day from last year’s tadpoles, but it is unclear.
At the little pond the Grey Tree Frogs have been starting to leave the pond, and dispersing to the trees, with the first sighting of transformed froglets on Wednesday. Friday I went with my little niece so I brought a net for netting tadpoles, and she loved them. I also got to see the various stages of leg development and how it related to tail shrinkage. Today the transforming tadpoles were sitting on a white piece of trash in the pond and with the contrasting background, as opposed to the mud of the pond, it was easy to see the legs. Almost every tadpole has legs, and I expect they pond will be empty of tadpoles in a week or 10 days.
June 3rd, 2011
The last few years it seems like my favorite times of year are tadpole season and menhaden season. Menhaden show up in the urban upper Bay most years beginning in late August and i take every chance I can to go watch the schools.
Tadpole season is right now. In Providence’s North Burial Ground there are two ponds. Many people are familiar with the bigger of the two ponds. It sits below the esker, has vegetated buffers, has a bench near the point under the Oak.
It is a lively place. Over the years I have seen Otter, Muskrat, turtles, frogs, fish, 3 kinds of herons, egrets, swifts, swallows, bats, and myriad smaller birds. But my favorite is the jumping tadpoles. Today the overwintering bullfrog tadpoles were jumping. They are about 3. inches long, pretty solidly built, and with hundreds in the pond there is a steady stream of tadpoles rising an inch above the surface of the water. I am not sure why they rise, but it is fun to watch.
Yesterday Michael pointed out a jelly mass with hundreds of tiny black eggs sitting on the surface next to the shore, so I will be keeping my eyes on those the next few weeks. And today, for the first time all spring, I got a good look at the big bullfrog that I regularly hear jump when I get to the pond. I managed to get close enough for a good look without spooking it. My lucky day.
The other pond is near the maintenance building in a low spot in an open field. It fills with road runoff when it rains, and is probably pretty close to the level of the river, which is flowing under I-95 when it goes by. Most of the year it appears to be nearly devoid of life, but for a few weeks in the spring, right now in fact, there are hundreds of Grey Tree Frog tadpoles.
Right now it looks like there are 3 size classes of tadpoles. Probably born 3 or 4 days apart. Yesterday it seemed like it was hatching day for the youngest tadpoles. Right on the shore line in the tiny coves the shoreline was black with tadpoles. Thousands in a square foot. Today the congregations were gone, and it looked like there were a lot fewer tadpoles. My explanation of the day is that the Killdeer that nest in the field seem to have fledged young birds that are now leaving the nest. When i got to the pond a larger bird and two smaller birds seemed to be hunting in the shallows. They could have been catching anything, but the obvious choice is tadpoles.
Over the next few weeks it will be enjoyable to watch the tadpoles grow, and then grow legs. One day I will come by and there will be hundreds of little frogs in the grass next to the pond, and two days later they will be dispersed for the year, and if you did not know, you would never guess what a spectacle of life you have missed.
May 17th, 2011
posted on the comments section of the economist for an article about measuring things other than GDP
prosperity for RI wrote:
As a student of economics and ecology, it is my considered opinion that the ecological catastrophe going on on planet earth at this point means that for the industrial world we are essentially at the end of growth. Therefore we need to measure new things and have a new focus for economic policy. I believe that we can use less, share more and develop a true prosperity. We can have healthier communities while the GDP shrinks, and therefore a new way of measuring would be very helpful. Check out ProsperityForRI.org for more info.
May 17th, 2011
Copy of a little note i sent to my neighborhood list serve in response to a discussion of non profits and property tax that was starting to range widely.
I am only a little off topic with this, but I note the rate increases by Blue Cross, well above the inflation rate.
RI touts its medical industrial complex as an engine of economic growth. (many in summit are in the business) But the clearest result is Blue Cross raising rates so much that everyone is poorer and fewer peo;ple can afford health care. A recent survey noted that the US has a smaller percentage of self employed people than many Euroopean countries and a lower percentage of workers in small manufacturing plants. The difference was that people stayed in jobs for health care benefits and the authors concluded the cost of healthcare was a serious drain on innovation. The remedy every other country uses to allow people to innovate is national health care. How many folks on this list would find it easier to start a business or change jobs if they were not afraid of leaving their family without coverage or draining the business account to pay for it? I know it is an issue in my family.
What we do not get back to is that what drives double digit increases every year in medical industry costs is that we want people to make lots of money in health care and therefore health care has to cost more and more each year.
I hope our public officials start to pay atttention to this and give more scrutiny to how the medical industrial complex functions in the economy.
February 20th, 2011
A conference for municipal officials, industry, entrepreneurs, the hospitality sector, and institutions.
Tuesday March 22 1 to 4 PM Metcalf Auditorium in the RISD Chace Center 20 North Main St Providence
Registration and Exhibitors begin at 12:30.
Sponsored by The Environment Council of Rhode Island Education Fund, the Southside Community Land Trust, ECORI.org, RISD
With the cooperation of community partners
The City of Providence, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, USEPA Region 1, Ecotope.
Angel Taveras Mayor of Providence
Michael O’Connell Executive Director Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation
Janet Coit Director Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management
Michael Merner Earthcare Farm
Reese Howell President Orbit Energy Inc.
Michael Bradlee Vice President Ecotope
Landfill space is getting scarce and many communities are beginning to realize that food scrap can become an asset for the community rather than an expensive liability. Around the country and the world communities are starting and expanding compost programs.
Nearly all of Rhode Island’s food scrap is currently buried in the landfill creating large quantities of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. If we collected and composted or digested our food scrap the benefits include:
Fewer Greenhouse Gas emissions
Jobs making and distributing compost
Compost to build the soil fertility for our local agricultural renaissance
Longer life for the Central Landfill
Every community faces slightly different challenges in moving towards the collection and composting of its organic scrap. At this conference there will be information on a variety of composting programs currently in use . You will also learn a variety of best practices from professionals and leaders in the field to help determine what can work well for your business or community and how your elected and appointed officials can help.
To register click http://www.environmentcouncilri.org/compost2011.html
For more information, contact Greg Gerritt email@example.com or 401-621-8048.
January 7th, 2011
To the editor,
I was struck that the January 3, 2011 Opinion Page of the Boston Globe had two essays immediately adjoining, James Carroll’s “Now the rich will get rich quicker” and Steve Pagliuca’s “The next big thing”. Carroll does a fine job of linking the issues around the decline of democracy related to the Supreme Court decision on campaign finance with tax breaks for the rich, the rise in poverty, the transformation of Americans into shoppers with borrowed money as an economic development strategy, and the growth of the military industrial complex and the need to go to war to keep the production of war machines going.
Healing the sick may be the opposite of war, but I think Pagliuca’s essay on growing the medical industrial complex is exactly an example of what is wrong with the American system. It is a perfect description of an economic system designed to make a very few people extremely wealthy while making health care unaffordable. If these are to be high profit, high wage businesses, it can only be paid for by more people paying more money for health care. In other words all of this is paid for by the consumers of health care. Over the last 60 years the percentage of the American economy in the health care business has grown from 5% to 17%, strangling the rest of the economy with its outrageous costs. If the price of insurance goes up 10% a year to keep the medical industrial complex growing at 8% a year while the rest of the economy contracts, it is absolutely clear that every penny Pagliuca and his cohorts make from the state investing in the medical industrial complex will come from the people who need health care, and fall further and further behind paying for it.
Yes, the medical industrial complex was deliberately expanded to provide some resilience in recessions as health care is still needed in a recession, and some sectors can not be offshored. The medical industrial complex buoys the economy of many communities around the country, the Providence and Boston metro areas as much as any, but it is a strategy that is dragging us down. Our economic development gurus tell us to have more, but its result is the same as with the military industrial complex. It starts to grow for the sake of growth and to enrich the wealthy, and it eats our communities. The result is first in cost, 37th in health care delivery and thousands of medically induced bankruptcies a year. The most unaffordable system in the world making the Steve Pagliuca’s extremely wealthy while bankrupting people who get sick every day. Investing more and more in this industry will create a few very wealthy men and a smattering of jobs, while at the same time it is costing jobs and lives by making health care more unaffordable. If it was not going to drive up the cost of health care, it would not attract the investment that makes a few men wealthy. It contributes to the greater and greater inequality in our economy.
Which is why the placing of these articles right next to each other was so interesting. Pagliuca offering us the traditional economic development wisdom, which the wealthy make sure becomes the policy of our government so it can fill their ample pockets, while it contributes directly to harming the economy and our communities, Carroll pointing out the problem. Thank you Boston Globe for making the contrast so clear.
January 3rd, 2011
The new mayor of Providence, Angel Tavaras made a serious mistake today. He went back to business as usual in his approach to economic development, said he would get an expert to help grow the economy of Providence. Just the mistake I was trying to help him avoid. Guess I should have tried harder to get that meeting because he now has hoof in mouth disease. Here is the quote
To implement his job creation agenda, Mayor Taveras said he would immediately begin a national search for a cabinet-level, economic development director, who will be charged with supporting local businesses and creating new jobs to put Providence’s residents back to work. To grow the Providence economy, Taveras said his administration would:
Maximize the development of the newly recovered I-195 land.
Develop 21st century public transportation for Providence’s residents and its commuters.
Make business interactions with the City predictable and consistent.
Aggressively pursue every economic development opportunity, large or small.
Strategically invest in Providence’s arts and entrepreneurs and in environmental policies to reduce the City’s carbon footprint and grow its green economy.
Recognize that sustained economic development comes only when accompanied by a well-trained workforce and world-class public schools
The economy is not going to grow, the resource base has crashed. The price of housing still needs to come down. What the mayor needs to do is think about how to shrink the economy while creating more jobs. Shrink the economy, heal the ecosystems, widen prosperity.
Tavaras, like all politicians in America thinks he can grow the green economy and the knowledge economy. But for the last 30 years the results have been the same, no growth except for the 1%. But lots more depletion of the ecosystem, more global warming, more deforestation, fewer fish, eroding soils. Poor get poorer and the middle class slips further behind.
I wish Tavaras had gotten it, but he has shown himself unwilling to pay attention to anything other than the traditional models, and will going sailing along into failure following a model that has failed for 50 years. Just another politician barking up the wrong tree.
Read the previous post for a much more detailed description of the economic morass Tavaras has just bought in to. 1/3/11
November 28th, 2010
Alternations of political power and the economy Greg Gerritt Fall 2010
For weeks after the 2010 elections media was filled with stories on the election that began with the premise that the American electorate is very good at kicking out the party in power when the economy is not doing very well. Not doing so well appears to mean the economy is not growing fast enough, at least 3% and preferable 4 or 5% a year. Without this rate of growth unemployment rises and a swath of Congress pays with their seats. The stories often followed up with some comments along the line that it appears that neither of our large parties is any longer able to govern effectively, which appears to mean get the growth going again in the economy in a way that reaches most Americans or at least appears to do so. The various authors state that Republicans will find that their policies may have little positive effect and that the Tea Party can not jettison the New Deal and much of government spending if they do not want to crash the economy and get kicked out of Congress, just as Democrats find that they can not jettison all of the agenda their liberals find loathsome without some other sort of disaster that gets them kicked out of Congress. This pattern makes both parties crazy. Neither party has been able to find a path out of the endless morass we find ourselves in, at least not using the conventional wisdom and approach to governance. So we end up in gridlock and a holding pattern that allows the large corporations and Wall St to continue to loot America while the rest of us struggle. We throw the bums out of Congress whenever we have to bail out the rich after another bubble bursts. We replace them with other bums who will continue to bail out the rich. Such is progress
Many of the authors of these essays make very interesting points about economic policy and American politics and much of what they write does explain various aspects of what we face. A few have even mentioned the costs of empire, not only the cost and the blood spilled, but also the hollowing out of the American economy to create modern economies around the world, with America simply being the home of consumption as our schools fail and our cities flood. None of the essays I have seen specifically tackles the possibility that economic growth may no longer be possible in the United States. If economic growth is no longer possible, and yet both parties base all of their hopes on it, it is after all integral to the American Dream, alternations and gridlock are inevitable in the growing disconnect between economic reality, myth, and policy.
My premise, and that of many others who look closely at the linkage between ecology and economy, is that the conditions essential for rapid economic growth are relatively short lived, and no longer applicable to the United States or for the most part on Planet Earth. Cycles of prosperity in the industrial west are becoming ever shorter, and are based more on bubbles and chicanery than actual production. If the US adopted some sort of Full Cost Accounting, refusing to count capital depletion as income, not adding the repair of the damage done to communities by industrialism to the economy, but rather subtracting the damage and cost of repair from the economy, the numbers would show the US economy was actually shrinking, not even registering the phony growth we now see only during bubbles. The key factor in the economic slowdown is not the tax structure or the size of the government. Rather it is the destruction of ecosystems and depletion of natural resources: the overfishing, deforestation, erosion, elimination of wild things, dirtying of the water and fouling of the air, that has caught up with us. Our technology is not going to fix this in a way that opens the door to growth ever after. Until the political parties describe what is really going on, why a gearing down is appropriate and necessary and how they are going to engineer it rather than doing ever crazier things to prop up the appearances of growth, they shall alternate in failed policies and majorities in Congress. Getting the political parties and the ruling class to speak the truth may be the biggest obstacle.
The notion that economic growth may not longer be possible for the industrialized world (and the implications of such an occurrence) has been written about extensively. Herman Daly may be the best known and most honored practitioner. http://www.eoearth.org/article/Herman_Daly_Festschrift_%28e-book%29
Herman Daly,: quoted in Andrew Revkin Growth Economics on a Limited Planet. Interview with Herman Daly October 13, 2008http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/growth-economics-on-a-finite-planet/
“Growth in U.S. real wealth is restrained by increasing scarcity of natural resources, both at the source end (oil depletion), and the sink end (absorptive capacity of the atmosphere for CO2). Further, spatial displacement of old stuff to make room for new stuff is increasingly costly as the world becomes more full, and increasing inequality of distribution of income prevents most people from buying much of the new stuff—except on credit (more debt). Marginal costs of growth now likely exceed marginal benefits, so that real physical growth makes us poorer, not richer (the cost of feeding and caring for the extra pigs is greater than the extra benefit). To keep up the illusion that growth is making us richer we deferred costs by issuing financial assets almost without limit, conveniently forgetting that these so called assets are, for society as a whole, debts to be paid back out of future real growth. That future real growth is very doubtful and consequently claims on it are devalued, regardless of liquidity. “
Dr. Daly does not practice punditry, so he is not writing about the 2010 election. This is matched by the pundits who do not write about ecological economics. So I offer my take on the relationship among the electorate, the economy, and the ecosystems of planet Earth .
The Republicans sweep nearly all contested Congressional seats
The 2010 election cycle has resulted in a Republican sweep of nearly every Congressional swing district in the country. Democrats held onto seats in almost every Democratic stronghold district, about 180 districts, Republicans held their 180 stronghold seats and swept most of the contested districts. It reverses what happened in 2006 and 2008. What happened? Some of it is the very well funded Tea Party channeling anger, some of it is the Republicans masterly misstating their agenda, some of it is young voters staying home, some of it is racism. But most of it is that the economy sucks when compared to what the American Ruling Class defines as the American Dream, and when the American public feels the unemployment and anxiety, the party in power gets swept away.
One would like to think that the great minds in finance, business, government, and economics could figure out how to get the American economy working well, and that at least one of the American political parties that dominate the electoral system would have figured out policy prescriptions that could provide the framework for long term steady and heady growth, but this appears to be mission impossible, and impossible in ways they never considered. More and more it appears that the American economy is not capable of performing the way the ruling class tells us that it ought to, in other words growth fast enough to provide large profits and inflated stock prices while creating enough new jobs to keep the unemployment statistics from getting out of hand and keeping inflation low. Both parties appear to be more and more ineffective at economic governance. Neither seems to understand what is going on nor have they the appropriate tools to analyze the situation and make the appropriate adaptations in policy and governance. Something is missing in their analysis and models.
The ruling class, corporados, media and their well funded henchmen (the economists, think tanks, and Congressmen) have been unwilling to look around and accept how the world, the living system that is planet Earth, has changed in the recent past and what that means for the people who live on it. No longer is the Earth a place of vast untapped wealth. All the easy pickings are long gone. No more new forests to cut, no more arable soil to bring into production, fresh water is scarce, mineral deposits are harder to find, there are no easy to tap oil wells, only those at the bottom of the sea, and the fish are disappearing fast. The flip side is that there are no longer any cheap and easy places to throw all the garbage, at least those that do not come back to bite. Global warming is the most obvious example of this. The economists, uber rich, politicians, and governments seem to ignore is ecosystem collapse which is progressing at an ever faster pace. The mantra the spokespeople chant is any manner of community prosperity depends on growth and we shall get the growth going again. No other approach to prosperity is allowed to be discussed. The official policy is that rapid growth is the norm and that any other ways of thinking about the economy are deviant.
The election results leave us swung towards greater governance by the Republican Party, though the result is likely to just be more of the same bad news. The Republicans are the only political party on the planet to officially deny that climate change is being driven by human pollution. If a political party can not accept the reality that pollution is warming the planet in ways that have settled science at their cores, and an abundance of evidence beyond, then why would anyone believe their pronouncements that “There is No Alternative” to the current economic system and that growth is around the corner if only you gave the rich another tax cut. The Democrats are only marginally more believable, and their results are similar. Both parties are papering over the frantic death spiral of an ever “growing” economy. The Economy of the Empire continues to have no clothes, only a waterboard.
By the Numbers:
How was your Recession
Regionally, the Rocky Mountain area performed the best last year and the Great Lakes the worst. At the state level Nevada clearly had the ugliest 2009, with a drop in state output of 6.4%, while Oklahoma did the best, enjoying an increase in output of 6.6%. Only 10 states had economies that grew in 2009. Michigan’s economy has shrunk by more than 9% in the last 10 years.
From 1999 to 2009 median household income rose in only five states, and in four of these the gains were driven by soaring commodity prices. The biggest drops in income were all in states that depend on low-skill industries: Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
Nationalizing banks <http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26803.htm> Joshua Holland, Information Clearinghouse –
The states with growing incomes include the 4 with the lowest unemployment rates in the US now; Wyoming, N Dakota, S Dakota and Nebraska. All states with large resource sector economies. Small populations, wide open spaces, agriculture, and minerals. North Dakota has had the best economic performance overall, and has a special resource as well, its State Bank.
Nicholas Kristof <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/opinion/07kristof.html> , NY Times – The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series <http://www.slate.com/id/2266025/entry/2266026> on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana. C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.”
<http://www.measureofamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/AHDP-INCOME-FACT-SHEET.pdf> The wealth of the top 1 percent of households rose, on average, 103 percent (to $18.5 million per household) from 1983 to 2007. The poorest 40 percent of households experienced a 63 percent decline in wealth during the same period (to $2,200 per household).
The global ecosystem:
70 percent of the world’s natural fishing grounds have been over fished.
Besides the immediate crisis of overfishing, habitat destruction is also an issue.
Catch records from the open sea give a picture of declining fish stocks.
In 2003, 29% of open sea fisheries were in a state of collapse, defined as a decline to less than 10% of their original yield.
Bigger vessels, better nets, and new technology for spotting fish are not bringing the world’s fleets bigger returns – in fact, the global catch fell by 13% between 1994 and 2003.
But it’s not just bluefin tuna that is in serious trouble. According to a report on the state of seafood, “Turning the Tide,” published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in October, “Most commercially important populations of ocean wildlife have been in decline for decades. Food webs are becoming less robust, and marine habitats are continuously being altered and degraded.”
Deforestation is clearing Earth’s forests on a massive scale, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land. Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but swaths the size of Panama are lost each and every year.
The world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation.
Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005 UN Food and Agriculture Organization
The report, Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 (FRA 2010), shows that global forest loss slowed to around 13 million hectares per year during the 2000s, down from about 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s [NOTE]. It finds that net deforestation declined from about 8.3 million hectares per year in the 1990s to about 5.2 million hectares per year in the 2000s, a result of large-scale reforestation and afforestation projects, as well as natural forest recovery in some countries and slowing deforestation in the Amazon.
The GLASOD study estimated that around 15 per cent of the Earth’s ice-free land surface is afflicted by all forms of land degradation. Of this, accelerated soil erosion by water is responsible for about 56 per cent and wind erosion is responsible for about 28 per cent.
This means that the area affected by water erosion is, very roughly, around 11 million square km., and the area affected by wind erosion is around 5.5 million square km.
The area affected by tillage erosion is currently unknown.
Because soil is formed slowly, it is essentially a finite resource. The severity of the global erosion problem is only now becoming widely appreciated.
Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centerhttp://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/
Since 1751 roughly 321 billion tons of carbon have been released to the atmosphere from the consumption of fossil fuels and cement production. Half of these emissions have occurred since the mid 1970s. The 2005 global fossil-fuel carbon emission estimate, 7985 million metric tons of carbon, represents an all-time high and a 3.8% increase from 2004.
Earth’s Limited Supply of Metals Raises Concern” LiveScience Staff
19 January 2006 08:39 am EThttp://www.livescience.com/strangenews/060119_scarce_metals.html
Debt and growth
Our modern economy seems to require debt for its operation. An economy based on debt requires growth for its functioning just so people can pay the interest on the debt. Any time there is an economic slowdown, people can not pay back debts with interest, and bad debts and a shrinking pool of money to pay back loans pinballs through the economy. For this reason the practice of using the creation of debt to trigger the creation of more money has evolved. Unfortunately planet Earth is not infinite, nor do the ecosystems of the planet continue to increase their conversion of sunlight into the stuff of living cells when they get burned, buried, paved, or poisoned in the pursuit of economic growth. As ecosystems collapse before the human onslaught there is less conversion of sunlight into living cells just when we are asking for more, so we have to wonder about the mismatch between an economic system that uses debt to grow, the planet, and the people who still need to eat.
The current depression is the result of any number of factors converging. The deindustrialization of America as a way of lowering the wages of workers. Outsourcing and Free Trade, twin angels of the apocalypse when it comes to jobs in America, but an important source of prosperity and cancer in the countries willing to let the corporations do their dirty deeds, dirt cheap. The depletion of global resources. Peak oil. Shortages of minerals. Blood coltan. Eradicating forests and calling the destruction of capital income. Loss of farmland to the automobile and soil to industrial farming. Wars for the preservation of the Empire. A deteriorating infrastructure.
But the proximate cause was the financial games the rich were playing to give themselves bigger and bigger fortunes as the real economy shrank. Zero real growth, driven by forces that are not amenable to solution by financial chicanery (such as ecosystem collapse and climate change) seems to induce the rich to create crazier and crazier bubbles so they may get richer. Each boom bust cycle sinks us further into debt as the rich order the government to bail them out. Everyone else is taxed to pay for it which results, as expected, in shifting more and more of American wealth to the 1%. Millions lose their homes, Goldman Sachs is made whole. Unfortunately most of what we really need to understand as a community is off limits in either government or media discussions. Therefore, each boom bust cycle leads to another throw the bums out election without ever actually addressing the issues.
What growing economies need
Immanuel Wallerstein in his world system writingshttp://www.iwallerstein.com/the-article-list/ describes several factors critical for the continuing growth of economies. The world system does not have all the answers, but it suggests major exploitation of previously uncut forests and the massive migration of rural people to urban sweatshops are intimately connected with rapid economic growth (as long as we only add and never subtract the losses we suffer as a community from deforestation and displacement), and that places without access to new forests and other natural resources and/or large scale population migration will be slowing down economically. We live on a planet with fewer and fewer places to exploit for the first time (more than 50% of the global forest is gone, nearly all arable land is currently in use, all the easy places to find oil and minerals have been exploited), while the growing population and an ever complexifying built infrastructure place ever more strain on resources. Even when each particular item uses less stuff per piece, the goal is to sell more of them, so that total resource use expands. And getting more dollars per tons of stuff ripped from the earth adds to the inequality.
These days all the economic buzz revolves around the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) They all have economies that have been growing relatively strongly through the current recession and they are being looked to for models of growth. They are also expected to supply the buying power that Americans no longer bring to the table due to the end of American growth. It happens that the world system factors describe what is going on in the BRIC pretty well. Brazil has everything right now. New energy sources, large areas of un cut forest (expected to be ecologically gone in 30 or so years), huge swathes of rural poor streaming to the urban shanty towns, a vibrant democracy, and an innovative social safety net. Russia has forests, hydrocarbons, and a shrinking population. Once Russia recovered from the disaster that western economists created when the communists fell, it became a gangster capitalism natural resource economy, and non renewable commodity prices are good, providing the same sort of economic boost being experienced in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Wyoming, the American states doing best right now. Commodity prices will remain high as long as supplies of natural resources continue to diminish until the economy completely collapses. Natural resources are not going to be abundant and accessible ever again. India and China have huge very poor rural populations rapidly urbanizing. China is using the state to build huge infrastructure projects and bulldoze the people off the land. India is using GMO’s to trap farmers into debt, driving farmers from the land either by suicide or foreclosure. The next stop in both places are urban slums and low wage factory work. Their middle classes and consumption are rapidly traveling up the success ladder, while per capita income remains low due to the hundreds of millions of people still on the farms. But both see some of the handwriting on the wall. It is only by exploiting the forests of Myanmar and Indonesia that their wood needs are met. Both are running out of irrigation water, experiencing massive floods, fighting disease causing air pollution, and unable to adapt to climate change effectively despite ever greater efforts. In China there are about 300 anti government demonstrations each day that have something to do with ecological harm to communities and the efforts by the people to retain their lives. In addition a considerable share of the economic growth is being eaten up on repair projects repairing ecosystems and the lives disrupted when the ecosystems were harmed.
What happens after the party of virgin forests and massive migration
The US is actually gearing down. A system of Full Cost Accounting would clearly demonstrate less is available after subtracting all the damage. The new immigrants wax and wane according the the relative strengths of the economies in their home communities and what they would be able to send home from their jobs in the USA. As the economy of the Colossus of the North spirals down, staying home is a more viable option. Our old forests are gone and we struggle to keep the second growth we have regained. Our oil is depleted and more and more found in very difficult places to work like the bottom of the Ocean. Food is cheap but has a huge carbon footprint and more and more of our soil sits at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico creating dead zones. We have already made it harder for working people to retire safely, have made medical care harder to access and ever more expensive, fallen behind the rest of the world in clean energy production, our bridges are failing, and the talk is of shrinking government investments that ameliorate the worst effects of the games the rich play. Detroit is coming back as an agriculture center, not a builder of cars.
Rhode Island is probably a bit further along the road to ruin than most places. The starting point for the Western Hemisphere’s industrial revolution, Rhode Island is highly urbanized, has few natural resource industries, dammed rivers, poor soils, depleted fisheries, little agriculture, slowly recovering forests (the flip side to little agriculture), and more industrial brownfields than you can shake a stick at. It has some design based industries, many artists and other knowledge workers, but what it has placed its hopes on, besides windpower, seems to be the medical industrial complex, which is by far the biggest industry in the state. One of the problems with that is that the faster the medical industrial complex grows, the more it sucks the life out of the rest of the economy by making health care for all unaffordable, and draining resources that might be productively utilized elsewhere. ( http://prosperityforri.org/?page_id=37http://prosperityforri.org/?page_id=29 “Health Care in the Economy” RI Policy Reporter issue 17 March 29, 2006 ) Healthcare is acknowledged and encouraged as the biggest engine for growing the private economy, so it comes as no surprise that what it really costs to grow the healthcare industrial complex is left out of all the discussions about how to get to affordable healthcare. The unacknowledged fundamental incompatibility between using health care as a growth industry and affordable healthcare for all, and the squeeze this puts on businesses, households, and communities has become unbearable and an economic disaster but has not yet made it to the legislative chambers or city halls. Like Detroit, the fastest growing industry in Rhode island is agriculture.
Could we do something else?
Part of our problem is how we measure the economy. More and more the idea that GDP is a useful measure is fading. Measuring GDP means counting every penny that changes hands as a positive no matter what manner of human created disaster harmed a community and how much it costs to clean it up. Spending more money is considered good under any circumstances except when the government spends it. Maybe we could try to measure things such as the Gross National Happiness Index or the General Development Index. Maybe then we can come to peace with understanding that borrowing more money from China to keep up the frenetic buying will not help either our communities or our planet.
US debts, both individual and governmental are astronomical. Instead of managing the shrinkage of the economy intelligently we have raged in the darkness demanding more, unelecting any politician willing to tell us that we shall have less in the future, and creating a mercenary army willing to make any place on earth safe for corporate profits. The US has military personnel on more than 700 bases in 175 countries. It is as if China is propping us up, lending us money, simply so we can keep weakening ourselves faster, spilling our blood and treasure to protect the profits of the corporations while kids are malnourished and more and more folks live on the streets. The bi partisan consensus on foreign policy is indistinguishable from that of a failing empire pushing out faster and faster to avoid looking at the decay within.
Look at the results of intentional blindness by our governing class. The parties reward their paymasters with tax cuts and bail out Wall St when it loots the economy and crashes. The public gets bad schools, falling bridges, damaged ecosystems, more folks losing their homes, an over extended military bankrupting the country, more people living on the streets including veterans of the new Asian wars, and America falling ever further behind in developing an infrastructure that will provide resilience in the climate change of the 21st century.
Tax cuts are the ruling class answer for everything. There does not seem much else they can do to pay themselves an ever bigger piece of a played out planet. But it is not working very well. Other than the next bubble, what do we expect. A big rise in health care costs providing the lion’s share of growth and making health care even more unaffordable? The financial services industry paying themselves more and more, but still not solarizing our communities and economies? Dirt cheap food that sends our soil, and lots of poisons to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, causing dead zones that were large and growing even before the Deep Horizon disaster? The steady shrinkage of the buying power of the average working family? K Street lobbyists buying Congressman?
A new approach?
Honesty would be a start, a real description of the economy and the war machine, a real measuring of costs and losses in our communities, not one subject to spin doctoring, would help us make much better choices. Maybe we could share the pain more equally and do a better job developing community resilience? Interestingly the state that has done the best in the current recession is North Dakota. ND has natural resources that have stayed pricy in the current economy, but even more it has a state bank that has been able to maintain lending into its communities, insulating them from the business practices of Wall St. Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz noted <http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26803.htm> “that if we want to get off the roller coaster of an economy moving from one financial bubble to the next, a bolder approach is necessary: permanent nationalization of banks that can’t survive without public dollars.
How bad will it get?
The last decade has seen the American public whip sawed by boom bust cycles mostly fueled by a Wall St desperate to make ever greater sums of money and unable to figure out how to invest in a way that will actually produce real useful goods while doing that. So we have seen a high tech/internet bubble and bust followed by what has to rank as the least productive bubble ever, a housing bubble fueled by fraudulent securities and loans to folks that were expected to default on them. It was a license to steal and Wall St walked away with a bundle when their bought and paid congressmen, who buy into the TINA model of cut throat capitalism as it pays for their reelection campaigns, bailed them out to the ever lasting detriment of the American public.
The corporados benefit from both political gridlock and the slow progression towards more corporate rule that gridlock encourages and spend their money accordingly. It almost does not matter which party is in power for the corporate paymasters, both parties pay obeisance to the same growth obsession and corporate paymasters, and propose the same useless solutions to our economic woes. Therefore American voters, more and more frantically, flip flop like a fish out of water and the politicians make it harder and harder for alternative voices and parties to be heard. Expect the looting of America to move full steam ahead with the current election.
A way out of the vicious cycle?
All over America, and for that matter all over the world, people are experimenting with new forms of economic development. Microlending, clean energy, organic agriculture, community gardens, Zip cars, and mass transit just to name a few. It is still on the edge, on the margins, and ignored by Wall St until it becomes the next big thing, such as the pseudo organic agriculture being touted by biotech industries, but it is exactly these new ventures, focused on doing well and doing good simultaneously that are transforming and bringing prosperity to communities undone by Wall St.
Anyone running a campaign to rein in corporate power and ecosystem abuse knows how tough a row to hoe that is. The advertising money flows, the lies and spies are employed, and the media are as implicated in the looting of America as any other industry,. The exclusion of alternative voices on the economy is their choice as well. You almost never see the distinguished peace activist pointing out how many are dying in the crusade and how much it is costing to no purpose on the Sunday Morning Talk Shows, nor an ecological economist pointing out the difference between capital depletion and income. The program that would create a real prosperity in the US is one that focuses on healing ecosystems and ending poverty. It does not get the publicity, but it is starting to develop and mature. Every day people are rebuilding forests and soil, creating low cost housing that uses no fossil fuels, eliminating cars and moving to clean mass transit systems that generate their own electricity from clean sources. We see more local production for local needs, often beginning with the revitalization of local agriculture to eliminate food miles. Use less, share more. Produce lots of compost. Create prosperity without growth by sharing the wealth and substituting community for doodads. Blasphemy to corporate economists who insist that growth is the only answer. Common sense for the ecological economists who see the desperate straights the planet is in, how much damaged ecosystems are costing us, and the cost of the militarism that seems to be what holds together the final threads of the corporate ruled empire passing for a democracy in which we find ourselves.
The American election system is broken. A poll in The Economist found 77% of respondents believed that. Some of the new tools of democracy would help. Ranked Choice votes and proportional representation would help insure that all voices are heard and that new ideas have an opportunity to filter up from the practitioners. But any democracy would be threatened if basic honesty about the conditions we find ourselves in are kept from the discussion. Until discussion of the American economy takes into account ecosystem collapse and the end of growth, we shall continue to get governments that can not solve the problem and wildly swinging electoral cycles. We shall throw the bums out but keep the mess they made.
November 4th, 2010
Press Release; Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange goes Coast to Coast
Contact Greg Gerritt 401-331-0529 firstname.lastname@example.org and local contacts listed below
For the last 14 years the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange, where winter coats stashed in closets in Rhode Island are transferred to those who could use them to keep warm in a joyous frenzy, has steadily grown: in number of sites holding events, in the number of people volunteering and collecting coats, in the number of people it provides warm clothing for. This year 4 additional sites have joined the celebration: Barrington RI, Louisville and Radcliff KY, and Eugene Oregon. Those of us already celebrating the event in 5 locations in Rhode Island and Salt Lake City UT welcome them, wish them successful events, and hope the word and events keep spreading.
This statement found in the flyer for Rhode Island events speaks directly to our mission.
14th Annual BUY NOTHING DAY
WINTER COAT EXCHANGE
If you have a coat to give, please drop it off.
If you need a coat, please pick one up.
On November 26th 2010 – the busiest day in the American retail calendar and the unofficial start of the international Christmas-shopping season – thousands of activists and concerned citizens in 65 countries will take a 24-hour consumer detox as part of the annual Buy Nothing Day, a global phenomenon that originated in Vancouver, Canada. Some see it as an escape from the marketing mind games and the frantic consumer binge that has come to characterize the holiday season, and our culture in general. Others use it to expose the environmental and ethical consequences of over-consumption. In Providence as part of International Buy Nothing Day, we hold a winter coat exchange on the lawn of the State House directly across from Providence Place mall. In Pawtucket the transfer of coats takes place at the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center. Events are also held at 4 other locations in Rhode Island. There are many partners for this event: community organizations, places of worship, civic, and environmental groups. Volunteers are needed to help with this life-affirming event.
All locations have their own style, their own special flavor, but all essentially operate the same way. Beginning at 10 AM on the day after Thanksgiving all sites are open for anyone who wishes to bring by winter coasts for others to use, for all who need a winter coat, and for all those volunteering to make the transactions celebratory in the dark days. All of the events accept coats on the day of the event, and a few collect coats throughout November for distribution on November 26.
14th Annual BUY NOTHING DAY
WINTER COAT EXCHANGE
If you have a coat to give, please drop it off.
If you need a coat, please pick one up.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 26 10-2PM
Providence: State House lawn (directly across from Providence Place mall)
rain location St Johns Cathedral 271 N Main St
Greg Gerritt: 331-0529; email@example.com;
Phil Edmonds: 461-3683; firstname.lastname@example.org
Pawtucket: Blackstone Valley Visitors Center, 175 Main St.
Arthur Pitt 369-1918; email@example.com
Newport – St Paul’s Church 12 West Marlborough St.
10 AM to Noon Maggie Bulmer 849-3537.
Woonsocket St Ann’s Arts and Cultural Center 84 Cumberland Street
Wally Rathbun Stannartsctr@aol.com
Wakefield –St. Francis Church, 114 High Street,
10AM to Noon Tom Abbott 364-0778
Barrington Bayside Family YMCA 70 West St
Connie Ganley (508) 837-0467 firstname.lastname@example.org
Louisville: The Green Building, 732 East Market Street
Ted Loebenberg, 401.952.6566 email@example.com
Radcliff: Colvin Community Center, 230 Freedom Way 10:00am-1:00pm
Jeff Peden, 502.817.4706 firstname.lastname@example.org
Salt lake City: Library Plaza 200 East 400 South
801-631-2998 email@example.com www.coatexchange.org
Eugene: Bad Egg Books Infoshop, 112 E. 13th Ave
October 11th, 2010
Buy Nothing Day 2010
Consumerism and growth seem to dominate policy thinking in the United States. Politicians are obsessed with economic growth, or recently the lack thereof. Everything except the military is at risk of being defunded if tax revenues do not rise. Maybe it is just the priorities that are askew, both those raising economic growth above all other values and those funding the military before all other priorities.
I tend to think we are essentially at the end of economic growth. The collapse of global ecosystems means that growth will be very hard to create, and what growth we do see will mostly be the result of financial manipulations rather than real economic development. The housing bubble and the financial bubble were the direct result of a lack of productive places to put investment capital. There are no new forests to cut, no new fisheries to exploit, no country that has not already been brought into the market economy. Without new resources and consumers economic growth slows to a crawl. The rich go crazy and invent new economic shenanigans to suck up more money, since the old and tried (tired) methods, no longer have juice in a world of airplanes, the internet, and 7 billion people.
Eventually we are going to have to reach a new equilibrium for our economy. That new equilibrium will be underpinned by the understanding that we have to use less and share more. We have to heal the ecosystems that feed and cloth us, and the only path to this requires us to end poverty rather than foster ever greater accumulations of wealth by the few. Often I describe the way forward with this quote: You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems.
It is this dual mission that lies at the heart of my understanding of the Buy Nothing Day winter coat exchange. Without a serious effort to end poverty we shall forever be caught up in the more game, the use of ever more, ever faster, until it completely runs out. Without cultivating a serious ethic of healing the ecosystems of planet earth so that they can continue to support us we shall see an ever widening gap between rich and poor as resources are more and more reserved for the rich, driving the vicious circle that leads to wars for oil, massive oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, the destruction of the forests that are the lungs of the world, and fishermen resorting to piracy to keep the industrial fishing fleets away from the areas they fish to feed their families.
It it important beyond what I can describe that the piracy in Somalia worked well enough that local fishermen are again able to catch fish and feed their families now that the industrial trawlers are staying way. Why did it take these extreme measures so that people can feed their families? Must the rich take everything they can grab?
Instead of screaming I try to channel the instinct to heal the world into something productive. Much of my time this year has been taken up seeking ways to collect up all the food scrap in Rhode Island so we can turn it into compost and use the compost to revitalize a local agriculture here focused on growing our own food. The benefits of this are vast. Reduced carbon emissions, healthier food, more local jobs. Buy Nothing Day in Rhode Island works the same way. A resource that is being squandered (in this case winter coats sitting in closets) can save landfill space, save on the emissions generated buy making and shipping coats, and place new resources in the hands of people who can most use them, without generating new dollars of funny money.
I am dedicating my work on BND this year to the people who live along the Gulf of Mexico. The rush for oil has lead to massive pollution, the loss of livelihoods, the destruction of the foods that feed them. A new economy, one based on using less and sharing more is the only way forward in the Gulf, and in Rhode Island. Join us at a Buy Nothing Day winter coat exchange in your neighborhood ( there are 5 sites in Rhode Island; Providence, Pawtucket, South Kingstown, Newport, and Woonsocket) on November 26 and take that step towards a better Rhode Island.
14th Annual BUY NOTHING DAY
WINTER COAT EXCHANGE
If you have a coat to give, please drop it off.
If you need a coat, please pick one up.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 26 10-2PM
State House lawn (directly across from Providence Place mall)
rain location St Johns Cathedral 570 N Main St Providence
Pawtucket Visitors Center, 175 Main St. Pawtucket
On November 26th 2010 – the busiest day in the American retail calendar and the unofficial start of the international Christmas-shopping season – thousands of activists and concerned citizens in 65 countries will take a 24-hour consumer detox as part of the annual Buy Nothing Day, a global phenomenon that originated in Vancouver, Canada. Some see it as an escape from the marketing mind games and the frantic consumer binge that has come to characterize the holiday season, and our culture in general. Others use it to expose the environmental and ethical consequences of over-consumption. In Providence as part of International Buy Nothing Day, we hold a winter coat exchange on the lawn of the State House directly across from Providence Place mall. In Pawtucket the transfer of coats takes place at the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center with . There are many partners for this event: community organizations, places of worship, civic, and environmental groups. Volunteers are needed to help with this life-affirming event.
Contact information: Providence Greg Gerritt: 331-0529;firstname.lastname@example.org;
Phil Edmonds: 461-3683; email@example.com
Pawtucket – Arthur Pitt 724-8915; firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com>
Newport – St Paul’s Church 12 West Marlborough St. Maggie Bulmer 849-3537.
Woonsocket St Ann’s Arts and Cultural Center 84 Cumberland StreetWally Rathbun Stannartsctr@aol.com
Wakefield –St. Francis Church, 114 High Street, 10AM to noon Tom Abbott 364-0778
September 29th, 2010
Thoughts on the Gubernatorial Debate on the environment. Greg Gerritt 9/29/10
While the event and the turnout for the gubernatorial debate on environmental issues were excellent, the candidates for governor were uniformly ecologically illiterate, and boring. They demonstrated no understanding of ecosystems, no understanding of how ecosystems underpin our prosperity, and a lack of concern about the crisis the Earth faces. The only thing they did was avoid answering questions.
Those of us who developed the questions ( including me, I served on the debate planning committee) need to take some of the responsibility, we developed questions based on what goes on on Smith Hill, what the key issues the legislature and governor will seemingly have to work on, but then we got Smith Hill answers, or rather non sequitors passing as answers.
If we were to do this again, or maybe as a reminder to ourselves for next time, maybe what we ought to have done is treated this as an opportunity to see if any of the candidates had any actual ecological literacy
So instead of asking insider Smith Hill questions here is the questions we might want to consider next time.
1. Explain the physics of climate change.
2. Explain what happens to beaches and salt marshes when sea level rises, and what happens if beaches and marshes are backed up by hardscapes. How will you protect tourism in RI if the hardscapes interfere with the needs of a tourism undeprpinned by healthy landscapes?
3. What role do forests play in alleviating flooding, and how much forest is needed to ncrease infiltration and alleviate run off. What program would you implement in order to save Rhode Islanders millions and millions of dollars in flood damages that would also provide for cleaner water and livelier and more abundant wildlife and fisheries?
4. RI receives almost all of its food from places vulnerable to climate change, and shipped here by ever more expensive and climate changing dirty fossil fuels. What would you do to increase RI’s food security, what are the inputs needed for that task, and how does this relate to your economic development strategy
5. Ecosystems change over time, with much of the process either explained by Darwinian thought, or mimicking its effects in the physical universe. Pick an iconic RI landscape, beaches, saltmarshes, farm land, forests, river valleys, or another of your choosing, and describe how healing that system might help us make progress both in social and evolutionary terms. make specific reference to Darwinian principles in doing so. Then describe the economic changes that would contribute best to the healing process and the prosperity of the community.
September 23rd, 2010
The economist had an article on forests http://www.economist.com/node/17093495
I then commented on it, which is posted at
This is my response
prosperity for RI wrote: Sep 23rd 2010 5:20 GMT
Immanuel Wallerstein in his world system points out that fast growth usually occurs in countries with access to forests and large rural populations that are being moved off the land. Since both resources are depleted rapidly, through deforestation and migration to the cities, this fast growth is a relatively short lived phenomena, even shorter lived today as the speed of deforestation and migration are today much enhanced by technologies unavailable 100 years ago.
The US should no longer expect much growth, much to the chagrin of the chattering class, and it is likely that the current growth spurt in India, China, Brazil, and Indonesia will be short indeed unless they reforest their neighborhoods and we all reforest the planet.
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.
September 7th, 2010
Greg Gerritt 9/7/10
The draft Providence Tomorrow Downtown Plan has much to recommend it, but is based on some very flawed assumptions, requiring us to call into question much of what it presents. These flawed assumptions are that something resembling traditional economic growth will come back after the current slump, and that the growth of the medical industrial complex is an unmitigated good. The conventional wisdom in the planning and economic development communities is that the traditional economic system will continue. But alternative scenarios are just as likely to play out, and the city would be advised to take that into account.
The growth of the medical industrial complex means an ever greater percentage of the economy tied up in health care. With growth in the medical industrial complex several times the rate of growth in other parts of the economy, it does seem appealing to want to get some, but when the effect of higher health care costs and an ever greater percentage of the economy in health care (actually the same thing) are actually looked at, more and more we are seeing that high health care costs are damaging the rest of the economy, which generates ever higher health care costs as uninsured people end up in hospitals rather than finding earlier and lower cost interventions.
The argument about the future of economic growth is one Providence must start to account for sooner rather than later. Globally natural resources and sinks are in collapse and millions are losing their livelihoods as consumption cleans out forests, fisheries, and minerals. With diminished resource bases to draw from, most especially that more than 50% of the global forest is gone, and that more than half the world’s population has already been drawn into the urban economy, there is at least one school of thought that points out the stagnation evident as more and more places urbanize. China , India, and Brazil lead global growth as they are still urbanizing (only about 1/3 of China’s people are now urbanized, and all have access to newly exploited, though rapidly depleting forests, Brazil in the Amazon Basin, China and India in Southeast Asia’s and Africa’s dwindling forests.
A serious move to sustainability, critical in an age of global warming, will pull us through, but the city will not develop according to this plan. The adaptation and resilience that this city needs will come in the wake of a smaller cash economy based much more on meeting our needs locally. Maybe Downtown is the last place that the strategy of localizing the economy will come to dominate the discussion, but it just might be the place that needs this type of thinking the most as we wrestle with our long term economic slide.
September 3rd, 2010
Boogie Boarding and explaining the climate wave Greg Gerritt 9/3/10
One of the dilemmas I, and I am sure others, face in the phony climate debate is how come the temperature does not just get hotter every year? Why was 2005 the hottest year and not 2009. I have been working on how to explain it, and I think I have something here that makes sense, and is probably not original, it has to be out in the web and ether somewhere, but I am writing it down and will pass along my hypothesis and how I arrived at it with the hope that it will eventually arrive on the desktop who is actually working on this issue and can explain to me what is really going on.
My hypothesis is pretty simple. The Earth’s weather is strongly influenced by the interaction between a number of cyclic components. One of the best known of these is El Nino, La Nina, but similar phenomena occur around the world. These cycles are linked, but also display some independent traits. They all vary from year to year if not season to season. You never get exactly the same monsoon as the year before. The east flowing current along the equator in the Pacific Ocean varies in temperature and strength over time. Sometimes these semi independent component cycles sort of cancel each other out, sometimes cycle A reinforces cycle B, and sometimes cycle C influences both of them in the same direction. Each year the mix is different.
But I am convinced that sometimes they line up in ways that produce a very hot year, and the analogy that pushes me in that direction is crashing of waves upon the shore. I like to boogie board, but this is a lesson that surfers, sailors, and anyone else catching a wave learns. Never in the ocean will you find identical waves crashing on the shore. Each wave that crashes is of a different height than the one before. There is an ever changing array of heights, crashing on the shore differently, but there are patterns and rhythms. Sometimes they seems to come in series of sevens, with the seventh being the tallest, followed by a series of shorter waves until it builds back up. Between the moon’s pull, the wind, the arrangement of the coast, the movement of the water in and out involves various motions that cancel each other out and reinforce each other differently on each wave and series of waves and when they line up right, that one wave is very tall. The system to create a very short wave could also be looked upon positively, though not by a boogie boarder, but it is the same phenomena, with the cycles lining up in a way that cancels out rather than reinforcing height, with other waves a mix of canceling and reinforcing trends.
The weather seems to do the same thing. One year the wind shear in the western Atlantic chops up the potential hurricanes coming off the African coast, the next year wind shear is down, but fewer storms develop off of West Africa, and the next maybe there are lots of storms, little wind shear, and Cape Hatteras ends up with a new shape. Temperatures, it appears, do the same thing, this year the flow in the Equatorial Pacific keeps it cloudier and cooler, the next year it warms and there are sunny skies in the places it influences, but the Atlantic is cooler because of some local cycle. And then every 5, 7 or whatever number it is years several cycles line up and we get a heat spike, followed by several warm, but cooler than the record years.
The warm but cooler than the record years are significant. The science is very clear, more greenhouse gases like CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere means more of the heat bouncing off the earth bounces back to earth rather than escaping into space. With more CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the air each year, the expected result would be that each trough between record years would be warmer than the last trough, and that appears to be exactly what we are seeing. Record temperatures every X number of years, with X being variable, but the warmest series of temperatures with each passing cycle.
Is this correct? Does it match the data? Is the driver a believable driver? Is this already a factor in the discussion? Should this idea be promulgated. Join the discussion and help me be a better educator/story teller.
August 28th, 2010
Prosperity Musings and increasing interest. Greg Gerritt 8/28/10
This blog has been all compost and nature writings for most of a year, but some things happened this week that reminded me that my broader work on prosperity is important and absolutely timely. Sorry for the personal and human centered entry, but that is where the world has taken me the last few weeks, a musing on prosperity everywhere I go. I went to the Pawsox game with Eric and we were talking about homelessness and the housing first approach. Everyone needs a good, comfortable, energy efficient place to live, and with that solved, tackling everything else becomes possible. Works for individuals and societies. The housing bubble continues to wreak havoc on a personal and societal level, but as housing prices are still too high for people to actually afford, we still need lower house prices. Lower housing prices are a part of the dramatic shrinking of the economy along the use less, share more mode, that we need to break the economic logjam. But lower house prices lead to lower stock markets, so we are falling into a double dip recession. The politicians and their pet economists are going to do everything they can to keep house prices up, despite the fact that it is slowly strangling us rather than giving us the quick jolt we could recover from. In the same vein they are loathe to give up on the idea of growth despite the fact that it is an express train going off the tracks of planet Earth.
I went on vacation to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Even beyond meeting an activist who knew some of my friends in RI when she attended Brown, I found many folks who understood and lived with on a daily basis the reality that the future prosperity of their community depended on ecosystems maintaining and being restored to good health.
I went to a talk August 26 by a speaker from The Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem team. I believe her name is Cindy Brown, but as she was a last minute substitute my paperwork does not have her name. She was excellent. Amongst her many points she briefly discussed the idea that restoring ecosystems along the Gulf Coast was essential to having a healthy economy. The oil interests in Louisiana make the transformation difficult, but it was reality being demonstrated daily even if the policy leaders in Louisiana are amongst the last to get it. I noted that in RI some of the policy leaders are starting to get the message, even if it is a difficult one for them to swallow. I like to think that the viral marketing I have done in RI on these topics over the last few years has had some effect on the policy arena, but the larger world has probably had an even greater influence, as the collapse of economy and ecology simultaneously has to influence folks a bit. “You can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, you can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty. “
Then I went to a community forum on the Miriam hospital 5 year master plan. I do not remember the name of the new CEO, but he definitely puts more of an emphasis on community relations than his predecessor, and for that I am glad. Mostly he talked about why Miriam was dramatically scaling back its growth plans. There are several reasons and he noted that all of them are actually linked to the larger issues of the role of health care in our community prosperity. The CEO of Miriam noted that the growth in medical spending just might be a drag on everything around it, and that the future of medical care in this country is moving towards keeping people healthy and out of the hospital, which means both less money for hospital expansion, and less need to grow hospitals. I began my work on this topic in response to Miriam Hospitals expansion plans a few years back, and I am glad to see that this time around a nuanced approach, based on our changing world, is prevailing.
I read a review of a recent talk by a friend I worked with more extensively several years ago. David Cobb is on message, and has really taken this analysis on the road in a way this stay at home never will do. In a short email exchange it was noted that I was reading a compost feasibility study from his neighborhood while he was speaking in my old neighborhood and talking to some of my closest friends in the business. Life is round.
One of my projects is a forest restoration at Collyer Field, along the Moshassuck River, at the bottom of the hill I live on. It is an attempt to create a semi natural New England forest in an abandoned section of a park next to the river. The site is over run with the invasive alien plant Japanese Knotweed. Building on the observation that Knotweed only grows in full sun, which I fell upon in the amazing gallery forest along the river at Collyer Field 13 years ago, we started an effort to restore forest and suppress the Knotweed. 10 years of plantings are starting to actually suppress Knotweed, and the project is getting a bit more notice and interest as the forest has grown enough to start to show the effect we began striving for in 2000.
Ever since the urban agriculture movement started to take hold in Providence, a movement that today was reflected by the streams of pedestrians, bicyclists, and ATM customers flowing towards the farmers market at Lippitt Park, complete with reusable bags with agricultural logos, it has been in the back of my mind that the area next to the Friends of the Moshassuck restoration site at Collyer Field would make a very nice community garden site. I made sure it was included in the neighborhood comprehensive plan that was written several years ago as a potential site. Recently the idea of putting a community garden in Lippitt Park was revived, to decidedly mixed reviews. With the mixed reviews folks were searching for another site, so I mentioned Collyer Field and gave a little tour the other day to an interested party, who put a review of the site on the neighborhood email list. Will take a bit more ripening, but I think Collyer Field may have a role as an agricultural in addition to a forest model for our community.
Last Saturday night I went boogie boarding at my favorite beach. There is one place that always seems to have the best waves, and the best landing zones on the beach. Happens to be where the dunes are healthiest. I think it is more than a happy coincidence, so I write a bit of an essay on the topic and sent it off to The Nature Conservancy who owns that stretch of beach.
Finally I would be remiss if I did not mention compost and the Compost Project. The beauty of the project continues to be that it actually address a very large swath of the issues related to long term community prosperity in ways that just fit together so well. It is both a product of a changing community and provides tools to continue the flow. It is also just incredibly fun to participate in, bringing me new friends and connections on a nearly daily basis and continuing to surprise me with how well it fits into the flow of the universe. I practice imaging the next steps, and when I think of something that will advance the project, in a very short order it finds me. Even occasionally because of this blog. It is an idea who’s time has come, and sometimes I feel like I am just along for the ride, but even so, the pushing , prodding and connecting I do feels like it is useful, so it is pretty easy to get up every day and go to work.
July 19th, 2010
Prosperity For Rhode Island is committed to the proposition that we must heal ecosystems in order for the economy to serve the human members of the community. I therefore devote a fair amount of time to looking at some of Rhode Islands most productive ecosystems to see how they are doing. My two areas of study are the two little ponds in the North Burial Ground in Providence, in the Moshassuck Watershed and the Swan Point section of the Seekonk River, a Upper Bay tidal zone with varied shoreline and protected forest.
This past week there have been large schools of very small menhaden in the shallows at Swan Point. The silver flashes when they turn sharply or jump through the air are very apparent, and we have even seen some of the little predators, barely bigger than the infant menhaden, darting among the schools. There were 3 herons hunting one day, yesterday we saw an osprey carrying a fish, and cormorants have been common.
I spent much of the spring wondering about the fate of the tadpoles in the Bull Frog pond in the NBG as none could be seen. There also seemed to be only 6 or so frogs along the western shore whereas in past years there had been many. With what seems to be an increasing fish population I was wondering if it was affecting the frogs. Or maybe the pond was just murkier. But in the last week I have seen many tadpoles jumping, more frogs along the shore, and an abundance of fish babies skittering in schools.
The little pond in the NBG is a breeding site for Gray Tree Frogs. The first year I noticed them they were changing from tadpoles to frogs in July, while this year early June seems to have been the season, with tadpoles disappearing around July 1 as the pond seemed to get stagnant and algae filled with the hot dry weather. Also this year I noticed a terrestrial frog away from the pond shortly after the frogs metamorphosed. i have no idea what the difference in timing means, so I guess I have something to look for next year.
July 12th, 2010
It is approximately 6 months since the Greater Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force convened our gathering at the Rhode Island Foundation to discuss compost and get energized by Bruce Fulford. Since that time many people have been busy working on more fully developing the composting of food scraps in RI, with the goal of producing high enough quality compost for food gardens and farms.
With a deep appreciation of the developing partnerships and the great work so many of you are doing I present here in outline form the various projects that are underway.
The Compost Project
· Thanks to Jeri Weiss and others’, US EPA New England has received an award from the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Innovation Work Group to fund the “Catalyzing Composting in Urban Communities project.” The project will provide technical assistance to help continue the good work that’s already being done in both Providence and Bridgeport (e.g. feasibility study, etc.).
· Ecotope, a recycling business based in South Providence, has begun developing and commercializing the MORPH and and related products and services as a way for restaurants to collect and hold until collection odor free food scrap. Ecotope will manufacture the units locally. The Morph was tested out by Chez Pascal on Hope St in Providence with pick up by Ledge End Farm, a licensed composter and organic farm. All parties are quite satisfied with how it is working out, and several of the partners are looking to expand production and collection.
· Dr. Vinka Craver of URI has built a very low cost anaerobic digester system on a small farm in Guatemala, and we are bringing together interested parties from several universities in RI to see what we can manufacture here in RI that we can also use here in our composting process. An Industrial design graduate student at RISD is the facilities sustainability intern this summer, and other local universities are also being drawn in. One community garden is considering a compost heated greenhouse.
· Also at URI there have been preliminary discussions between the Mallon Outreach Center (home of the Master Composter and Recycling program), the University Dining Hall management, a company trying to get into the compost business in that neighborhood and Ecotope about collecting compostables from University dining halls. Dr. Craver’s digesters may play a role in this discussion as well.
· RIRRC has begun upgrading its materials for home composters, and is also developing more new media outreach tools with a committee that developed out of our January gathering. I saw a recent draft and the materials are looking good.
· Cleanwater Action is coordinating a compostables collection at the Newport festivals…and arranging for it to be hauled to Earthcare Farm for composting.
· The UATF’s Plant Providence free city-wide workshop series hosted “Compost and Soil Fertility” training at RWPark Botanical Center, June 15th. www.plantprovidence.org
o In February I met with a number of people on Aquidneck Island who were interested in composting on a large scale. There has been some follow-up and a few discussions about how the restaurant industry on Aquidneck Island would be an excellent place to develop a system. A key issue here, and all over the state, is that there is a distinct lack of compost facilities. There is a commercial composter on the island with some capacity for composting food scrap. More capacity is needed before a strong system can develop. The next step may be to assemble a critical mass for the development of an Aquidneck Island facility and several organizations on the island, including the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission and the Newport Energy and Environment Commission have expressed interest in learning more.
What is Next:
A feasibility study under the auspices of EPA.
Further discussion with waste haulers.
Expansion of pilots projects, with the MORPH and restaurants pilot being at the top of the list.
More work with local colleges and universities.
Further exploration of entrepreneurial opportunities in the development of compost systems for RI.
Research, research, research on:
o The various ways of composting, which are appropriate at what scales and locations, and the costs associated with developing and maintaining the potential projects
- Technologies specifically related to anaerobic digestion/electricity production/composting facilities and associated costs.
Have you got a project? Do you want to connect to ongoing projects?
Are you working on something that would further the development of a compost system in RI? Do you need help and or new partners? Want to get involved in existing work?
The Compost Project is here to help.
ECRI, on behalf of the Greater Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force
June 3rd, 2010
Some responses I wrote for Providence Monthly. will they use them? I have no idea.
The most active project of FOTM is the Collyer Field Forest Restoration project. Beyond the baseball field lies the Moshassuck River and an upland of filled wetland that was entirely overgrown with Japanese Knotweed, and invasive species. Along the River, here and at other places there was a riverine gallery forest, a line of trees, one or two trees deep at its largest, with relatively old trees, trees growing since the area had been first industrialized, coming up on the canal walls. Under them was some serious shade, and lo and behold the knotweed stopped where the trees shaded the place all day. In other words closed canopy forest suppresses knotweed.
The Collyer Field site, especially beyond right field, was a perfect place to attempt a forest restoration, but no one in New England seemed to have attempted such a thing. I wanted a methodology that a small community group could do with a minimum of scarce volunteer time. We have it. It requires planting only a few large trees a year, and taking care of them for the first growing season, then they are on their own, and they flourish. After 10 years you can really see a forest forming, and some evidence that the plan will eventually work once the forest canopy closes.
We are going to have a forest. Tours available. Some pictureshttp://www.themoshassuck.org/treeplanting.php
Happy to talk more.
Friends of the Moshassuck has always had at the heart of its work two things. The restoration of the river and the revitalization of the community through which it passes. The Moshassuck is probably the most degraded river in RI, with a higher percentage of its watershed paved (over 50%), than any other. The headquarters are in a Nature Conservancy preserve (Limerock above the quarry in Lincoln) but even the headwaters are being polluted by runoff from the development above the pond. Serious bad erosion issues. The lower half of the river has been industrial forever, with the first mill on the river being built in 1675. It was the home of the cholera epidemic that forced Providence to build its first sewage treatment facility at Fields Point.
The lower river borders low income communities, immigrant communities, communities devastated economically since the textiles industry started heading south in the 1920’s. Revitalization is critical.
What distinguishes FOTM is our insistence that economic revitalization will only come about via ecological healing. Our watchwords are “You can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you can not end poverty without healing ecosystems.”
Based on my long agricultural experience in northern New England, the agricultural revitalization of the Moshassuck watershed has always been on the table. I actually ran a barn shoveling service in Maine with payment in manure, so composting is deep in my soul, and I really understand and have experience with how it transforms soil. I have therefore been an active member of the Greater Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force, with a variety of responsibilities including advocating at public hearings for changes in city documents to make the city more agriculturally friendly.
Some of my work on the task force has been funded by various grants. Eventually a partnership was formed between Southside Community Land Trust (spiritual home of the Urban Ag Task Force (and where the grants go)) and my part time employer The Environment Council of Rhode Island Education Fund so that I could put even more effort into the Compost Project. Recently I obtained another grant to fund even more of my time on the project. If you want more information on the Compost Project check out http://prosperityforri.org/ and look at the various compost files. It is a project bent on transformation.
But to bring it back to FOTM, FOTM has no official role, but it is the work I do there, the philosophical underpinnings and ecological knowledge I obtain through that work and the contacts I began assembling there, that helps the Compost Project move forward.
June 1st, 2010
Time for the Compost Project to move to a next phase. The last 18 months have been about getting the word out, infecting the community with the idea of compost. The next 18 months have to be about implementation. Getting things built.
I continue to focus on facilities, still assuming if facilities can be built, the rest of the system will fall in behind. But i am starting to wonder if facilities can be built here. The economics of trash in RI may make it much more difficult. Only the numbers will tell, now to collect the numbers and analyze them. June should be time to make strides on that. Maybe have a report with some good numbers by fall?
In the mean time keep other aspects moving. I have been talking about small scale machines for community gardens with Michael Bradley and Ecotope that could serve the restaurant market, while trying to figure out what pilots can get going. The Ohio University material provided a spark. I wrote to Wright engineering, and need to follow up with a phone call. Marty Grimes in Newport really wants to have Aquidneck Planning Commission take a serious gander at this based on the flyer from Linden Hills MN. Newport also needs a demo of Michael’s inventions. Going to call about that next week
The dance with a potential anaerobic digester/multidimensional facility company was ultimately unsuccessful, but very useful. I was sorry that Larry’s guys had the wrong technology, but I learned much, including how better to prepare for future dances. I sort of waited for them for a month while doing other things, but maintained momentum in other areas. I used the time to prepare most of a research plan, enough so that I can start collecting data, and start talking to towns and cities. Enough to put more pressure on the hauling business to prepare. I have made some calls in all of these sectors. But as noted above, the low tip fees and electricity markets make it iffy. I also need to figure out more how to lock up enough trash to make it feasible with long term contracts.
But it will take having the numbers to attract a private business to invest. I will continue to talk to those, feeling out what they need. In fact I did one today, and knew the answers before I started the conversation. Must be time to collect the numbers.
May 31st, 2010
The Frog Pond in the North Burial Ground is losing its frogs. This year I have seen no carryover tadpoles, and very few frogs. What I think has happened is that the fish population has exploded and eaten the frog eggs and tadpoles. I do not know if this is part of a cycle, or an aberration. I know when I started watching I saw lots of tadpoles and no fish, and over the last few years fish have become more and more prevalent. But it is only this year that there are no tadpoles.
On a brighter note, the pond over by the maintenance buildings has many tadpoles, and the hawk is still using the nest I saw it build.
May 21st, 2010
I was getting ready to write and update on the Compost Project for the blog, it has been a while when I was asked to write up a bullet point summary of work for the last year for grant reporting purposes. Once I did that I realized i had taken care of two projects at once. Here is what I sent in as a report
Compost Project activities for the year from June 2009 to May 2010.
Continuing research into collection and processing of compostables and the diversity of solutions available in order to get the food scrap in Providence composted and returned to the soil.
Spent time cultivating Providence city government contacts seeking support for Compost Stakeholder Convening and working with the city on logistics. Convening took place in January 2010.
Brought together facilities managers from RISD, Brown, JWU, and PC to share information and incite action as regards to composting the food scrap generated by campus dining facilities. Maintain regular contact with all 4 schools, and support efforts on all 4 campuses for independent and joint action. RISD bought compost machines, student organizations at Brown and JWU are asking their administrations for progress.
Viral marketing of the idea of compost everywhere.
Provided logistical and political support for introduction of Providence Greenup program. Learned much about how to roll out a program like this.
Preparations for compost stakeholders convening including expanding network
Discussions with waste haulers about the need for them to invest in preparations for compost. Discussions continue.
Conducted workshop on compost at Sustainable Living Festival
Continued viral marketing
Compost Stakeholders Convening in Providence January 15
More than 50 attendees including representatives form the RI legislature, City Councils, DEM, EPA, City DPWs, farmers, waste haulers, composters and recycling advocates.
Developed numerous partners with continuing relationships.
Received a variety of publicity including several articles in ECORI.org
Convened several committees that continue meeting based on conference attendees, with the most active being those focused on home composting and restaurant collection.
Began supporting work at Ecotope related to compost machines and collection systems.
Began exploring the entrepreneurial factors that might lead to faster development of compost facilities.
Began looking for technologies specifically related to anaerobic digestion/electricity production/composting facilities and for people who might be convinced to build and operate such a plant in Providence metro area.
Convened composters and food waste generators in several places around the state in effort to link folks for pilot projects
Gave 4 talks in 6 weeks at various conferences on compost and the possibilities in the current time with an eye on developing a plan to convince communities to mandate source separation for organics.
Developed a full scale research plan to provide the data that would allow project to go to city halls and convince them.
Worked with EPA to find technical assistance for research.
Continued viral marketing and information gathering.
Home Composting committee working with RIRRC to develop materials to teach and encourage all of the ways of home composting while keeping in mind how it integrates into a larger scale composting system.
Received grant from Anderson Rogers Foundation to support Compost Project staff time.
Keeping watch on bicycle cart collection of compostables in Providence
April 4th, 2010
Note, The Compost Project fills my brain. I have to think about it a lot and discuss it extensively with my colleagues. I write about it this way in my blog hoping it will help me better understand what i have to do to move this work forward. . I share it with my colleagues. Forgive my trespasses, I am hoping this helps me be more effective on a project that is truly stretching me. greg
Compost files 4/4/10
I have started giving talks to groups about the Compost Project. I spoke at the Science Cafe/Green Drinks and the Land and Waters Summit. Several more gigs coming up including the Toxics Action conference and the Grow Smart conference. I spoke to JWU students and will be speaking to Brown students.
Following the January stakeholder convening we(essentially Katherine and I discussing strategy) tried the functional committees, pilots, feasibility, communications, etc. It was hard for folks to get their hands around things. My colleagues asked for a different approach. We moved on to 4 sector committees. Home composting, restaurants, institutions, and municipal. Municipal currently has zero members. The others all met this last week.
The home composting working group will be effective. There is an intersection between this work and their other work. RIRRC has a vested interest in producing the right materials for the community. Thank you Krystal, Ellie, and Nicole.
The other committees, especially the Institutions committee, are likely to evolve more into networks than committees. Each of the schools in the current consortium has in the last few months stepped up their work on compost. I like to think that the Compost Project talking to all of them independently and together has helped them speed up their work, but in all cases they are primarily responding to internal pressures. (compost is an idea who’s time has come.) Their students are very interested. People working on these things at the various schools do not really need a committee to progress, but could use a network to share information and ideas and occasionally collaborate on gathering specific information. Together we can foster innovation, we can help create the climate of compost, while the various institutions implement projects that dramatically reduce food waste being landfilled. We can convene when there is a good reason to. This group is capable of finding solutions for themselves. My goal is that the various campus solutions build to an even better whole that works for them as well as other institutions.
The restaurant committee may eventually evolve in the direction of a network as well. it is small now and needs attention , but as more people in the industry start to ponder….. The network would at least share information everyone could use in making decisions on where to send the food waste and what technologies to use in their own business, and might collaboratively develop local solutions. The restaurant committee gave themselves some research to do.
While we work on collection systems, it is still likely that ultimate success, the full scale removal of food waste from the waste stream in Rhode Island so that it is turned into compost, is going to rely upon the development of a compost facility/facilities. Therefore my effort continues to drift towards facilities, and how we are going to develop the capacity to compost half a million pounds of food waste a day in Rhode Island.
I have been pondering about developing a fifth committee, the facilities committee. Katherine and i did not discuss this one in our most recent rewrite, but I continued to think about and was beginning to think about assembling it. But recently things happened to change my approach.
All along it has been clear that Compost is an idea who’s time has come. It has been clear since the start of the project 16 months ago. As I began to talk it was clear that in the depths of the depression folks were looking for ways forward more appropriate to the times. The Green economy has become not only hip, but relevant even for the laggards. Compost fits all of that. Waste clean up, carbon footprint, resilience, local jobs, good food, less chemicals, nicer neighborhoods.
Many communities have begun composting recently, with more starting daily. This denotes that it presents an opportunity that is affordable for communities. Much of the money needed to run the system is already in the system.
Because compost is an idea who’s time has come, moving forward in this project has been relatively easy. Doors have opened, reception has been good, when i needed resources they would show up fairly expeditiously.
Facilities hold the biggest challenge. They require more than a little investment. There is a lot to do without more scaled up composting facilities, but some parts of the system, and our ability to ultimately compost nearly all food waste, requires that we develop composting facilities in RI. What kind of facilities, depends on the specifics of a particular location. The latitude of what is available is wide.
I have had some conversation with EPA and DEM about redeveloping a Brownfield in the city into an compost facility. The conversation continues.
For all of these reasons a traditional facilities committee was not the way to go. Therefore i held off developing the committee even while thinking about who to work with on this more closely. I started to ponder whether i needed to be an entrepreneur rather than an organizer for this phase of the project. Having never done anything quite like that, I started preparing, in my thinking, and by seeking out conversations that would help me learn and swim at the same time. I specifically sought the advice of New Commons. Michelle and Speck sat with me for a hour discussing entrepreneurship as a useful tool for this project and finding partners. Glad to say that I had already thought about much of what they said to me.
The next day I spoke at AS 220 for Science Cafe/Green Drinks. At the end I talked to Larry Sprague about building compost facilities and what might be most interesting in Providence. We continue the conversation, thinking about what kind of a team to assemble to build an inner city composting facility on a brownfield. Since then I have continued other conversations about entrepreneurship as well and pondered where else to go. Maybe this is how to better position efforts on behalf of facilities rather than forming a committee. See how it goes. Right now it is where i am putting most of my effort.
But even as facilities fill my brain in the eddies, parking lots, and back burners I continue to ponder transportation, supermarkets, and waste haulers and how best to bring their presence and information to the discussion/evolution. It is clear the garbage business is changing very fast. Businesses are repositioning themselves for a RI throwing away a lot less trash. Will the timing match that of Providence so that we can surf? I am trying to keep in touch with various organizations working in these realms, but i need to step up my efforts.
The work Cleanscape/Ecotope and Michael are doing is very independent of what I am doing, and intimately linked. Machines, recipes, restaurant pilots, browns. Opportunities. Partner where we can, maybe quite a bit
I ought to at least briefly note before ending this the possibilities at URI and in Newport. I continue to prod./stay involved, But this will happen on the schedules of those with food waste and composting capacity to bring together. The putting together of numbers by various parties, will help, and thankfully several volunteers have found the Compost Project recently and are now putting these numbers into useful formats. The better our numbers over the next few months, the more likely things will work.
All in all, I am feeling very positive. We are going to transform what RI does with food waste over the next few years.
March 8th, 2010
A lot has happened in the last 3 weeks. I met with 15 people in Providence on Feb 24, most of whom had attended the Jan 15 meeting. Katherine and I had worked on the agenda, but it just did not fly. We were a bit ahead of them, they needed me to go slower and focus differently. Whereas I was really focusing on linking food waste producers and food waste composters, they needed to start looking at numbers. More on this after a description of the Newport meeting.
The next day, February 25 I conducted a meeting in Newport expressly about beginning the process of developing something on Aquidneck Island. 27 people attended. All had been invited because of their connection to some aspect of the business, recycling, government, farming, food waste production, composting. Many signed up for research/follow up, but as in Providence, few seem to be following through. Last week I was sick, but I have sent out several follow up notes, with meeting notes and a research plan. Will see what the response is, and do appropriate follow up, with those I think will do research, and with those who may be important to connecting food waste to a composter. We did make one good linkage, but they shall remain nameless here. Let them work at the appropriate speed without pressure.
Here is the research plan I sent out. Pretty much the same issues as everywhere except I did not single out municipal collection.
The first issue to look into is the demand for compost.
This might be broken out in several different ways:
Demand for landscape quality compost
Demand for high nutrient compost for growing food
Demand for organic high nutrient compost for organic gardeners/farmers
Demand for compost if agriculture become larger in RI/in the local area.
Demand for compost at different price points
I am not sure how to figure the demand for compost, so would appreciate any suggestions on what to look for to base calculations on.
Another issue is how much material is available to be composted:
Again, several components to the question:
In compost lingo there is a differentiation between Greens (high nitrogen materials) (food waste, grass clippings, seaweed) and Browns (high carbon materials) (leaves)
How much Green/high nitrogen material is available? 300,000 tons per year in RI??
can it be easily separated from various waste streams, and at what cost (monetary. Labor)
Several different streams. Municipal pick up, restaurants, institutions, supermarkets/produce stores
How much is in each stream, and what is the ease of separation in each stream?
How much Brown material is available (anecdotal evidence says some composters have a brown material shortage compared to the amount of food waste they might be able to gain access to)
How much compost could be created in addition to current production based on the materials available?
Separation, storage, pick up, transportation issues
Can the producers of large amounts of food and other Green compostable waste (supermarkets?) reasonably separate out the compostables?
Are there segments of this waste stream that are easier to gather than others? ( I had some of this discussion with URI food service recently)
Can this compostable stream be safely and cleanly and odor free stored for pickup?
What kind of containers would be needed, how often would they need to be picked up, what costs are involved (both capital and continuing)
What are the current costs of disposal for this waste stream? Transport/tipping
How much can be saved by diverting it/ what new costs come into play
an extra pickup? Less trucking? Changes in tipping costs
Some people are already writing back about what numbers they can provide, but most of it I will need to be more diligent on, and possibly collect on my own.
Following the cold that laid me down for a few days I went to URI to begin the process of helping them divert food waste to a composter. Sejal from URI Master Composters program was there as was a person from the URI Dining Service and Richmond Sand and Gravel. We need to collect much of the same information noted above in order to help them get started. I think that is what I need to focus on the next few weeks, knowing only a limited amount of data will come from elsewhere, though I have a few reliable colleagues for that part.
Instead of blogging I have been sending out grant proposals, all seeking $3900 to fund 3 hours a week of this project. Sent out 4 of them, we shall see. Big money is going to come from elsewhere like EPA or USDA, for on the ground work. But that I will get more help with I hope.
I was going to return to the Providence meeting and where that goes.
One thing is that the data is important, same data as we want for Newport and URI. But it also seems useful to reorient the research in Providence looking at the 4 waste streams separately. The streams we shall be looking at are home composting, municipal collection of food waste to be composted, restaurants, and institutions.
This is the draft research plan for Providence that I have only circulated to a very limited number of people for comment. Snce no one actually reads this blog, it is safe here until refined and sent out.
Focusing strictly on Providence, though readily transferable to other communities research would focus on
Municipal collection of food waste from all households/compost at a facility
In each case develop a full action plan with costs.
Develop materials and outreach program to educate households about composting and what resources ( bins, education) are available while working with URI, RIRRC to make sure capacity is up to snuff.
Suggest pilot projects to test various aspects
Examine what other cities such as SF are doing and how they did it.
Policies needed (no food waste in trash?, timing of collections, etc)
Costs for set up
bins, modifications for collection systems on trucks
contracts with waste hauler
facilities and capital costs
Education and roll out of program
how to do
what it would cost
Returning the compost to local gardens
Sources of Browns to mix with Greens
Potential Pilot projects
Source separation issues ( 3 sectors production waste , cooking waste, post consumer waste)
Storage/collection (what type of storage technology, how often to pick up)
Where to compost/how
Costs versus present systems
Sources of Browns to mix with Greens
Need all the same information as restaurants
Next step is to do the research in conjunction with those who are also digging in.
One other wild thing: Started talking about a project in Providence, one college and a site we need to develop. So far just a gleam in the eye, but the same research needed for all of this applies here as well.
Enough for Today. Greg Gerritt
February 13th, 2010
The past 10 days have been quite interesting. Recruitment for the Newport meeting has been excellent. We have the complete array of interest groups attending and the notice slipped beyond our control, meaning we are getting volunteers beyond where we recruited. Sort of like the tomato plants in my garden. Again we have the very pleasant problem that the room may be too small. My next project for Newport is to make a list of everyone who is attending and then draw up and circulate an agenda.
I have not done anything for the Providence meeting this week, but will be drawing up an agenda at the same time I draw up the Newport agenda. Developments this week were conversations with Michael Bradlee about how Cleanscape could be involved, and about compost machines which I will be more at liberty to discuss in the future. I also had a conversation with Matthew Stark of the City Policy office. I think my next meeting to schedule is with Head of DPW Paul Thomas.
I did nothing to follow up on a URI pilot this week, and had sort of put that on the back burner, but late Friday afternoon Sejal sent a note that URI is very interested in seeing what they could do with production waste at one of the dining halls. Think I will be going to URI for a discussion soon.
Finally I signed up to go the the Organics Summit in Westborough MA in April.
February 4th, 2010
Since the January 15 meeting things have speeded up. First I collected the notes and got them out to all of the attendees and interested parties. Then I started convening the committees. Policy and pilots have been the most active, so the pilot committee, as well as the completely intertwined ( mission overlap and membership overlap) committees related to Current conditions and Feasibility are being convened Policy has received quite a bit of information relating to rules and putrescibles so I can delay them a bit. The three committees (Pilots, Current Conditions, Feasibility) will meet together and separately on February 24. While I was at it I have been trying to instigate a few pilots including URI and Aquidneck Island. The Aquidneck Island effort seems to be gathering a bit of steam, so several of us are convening a meeting on February 25 in Newport to judge interest. I am getting some very interesting and productive introductions and hope to include the restaurant industry in the effort as well as farmers, recyclers, town officials, and interested activists.
The strategy continues to be talk to people and see where it leads, while trying to figure out how to start pilots with no money. That is going to take putting the right partners together, so I continue to probe for opportunities and people who have already been demonstrating interest who may be positioned to help make something happen.
Other work includes talking to Converted Organics in more depth to understand their project better, seeing a demonstration of RISD’s new desk top Naturemill composter, talking to Brown students about putting together Carbon Budgets, working to develop something in Providence, and beginning to think about funding. I am not applying for congressional earmarks this year. The deadlines are too soon and i really do not have enough substance to make the right presentation yet. With only a week to the deadline I have begun to familiarize myself with the process and opportunity but it seems that ripening a bit more might be useful there. If next year it will be a more fruitful choice, I can focus on that in 10 months. But it is time to do something substantive about funding.
January 29th, 2010
Two days ago Governor Carcieri in his State of the State called for more jobs, without saying where they will come from. Last night President Obama in his State of the Union did the same thing. The reason neither man was able to offer suggestions as to where the jobs will come from is that they continue to believe in the same failed model of economic development. They believe that on this small finite planet we can have infinite growth. Not going to happen.
The road to prosperity and job creation is in using less stuff and more people power. Dramatically reduce fossil fuel use, use clean renewable energy, grow food locally, compost all of the organic materials that we now throw away, build fish ladders. In other words heal our ecosystems and use more people intensive ways to do it rather than continually innovate our way to no jobs.
Another supposed source of jobs is the bio tech industries. The agricultural part of bio tech is designed to put small farmers out of business and replace soil with poisonous chemicals. Genetically engineered foods have not stopped hunger, and have lead to millions of farmers losing their farms. On the medical side of bio tech, the more biotech jobs you create, the less affordable health care is, so it defeats the purpose of job creation by harming many other businesses.
I am not holding my breath waiting for RI to create jobs using the old methodology and based on the old ideology. When our politicians start to understand that healing ecosystems is the road to prosperity I will believe we are beginning to turn the corner.
January 5th, 2010
My name is Greg Gerritt. I am the founder of a small think tank, Prosperity for RI, which focuses on the ecology economy interface, and the difference between prosperity and growth. Its tag line is: You can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, you can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty.
As a public policy think tank our approach is that the role of government is to give voice to those who can not afford to buy a voice, the poor and the planet. Anyone who can pay a lobbyist to get the government to do things that make them richer, give them a larger piece of the pie, does not need the help of the government. The job of representatives is to listen to all, but give voice and vote to the needs of the voiceless.
In looking for how to achieve a greater prosperity for Rhode Island there are several key things I think you should focus on. I can only give the bullet point version in my three minutes, but would be happy at any time to discuss this further with any of you.
- Health care. As long as we try to use health care as a tool of economic development health care will become less affordable. More of our money will be tied up in producing profits in health care, fewer people will get health care.
- Housing. A big problem for RI has been the unaffordability of housing for young people seeking to come here to work. But we continually hear people cheerleading for higher housing prices. Housing prices need to come down significantly in order for housing to be affordable for people making RI wages. It appears the powers that be want housing prices to go up so as to prop up the financial industries, but in doing so it tears down the productive part of the economy.
3. You can not have infinite growth on a finite planet. As peak oil and climate change become more and more apparent each year the smart approach is to equitably and intelligently shrink the economy so that it fits what the earth can actually handle.
4. The only real growth available to RI that will help us prepare for peak oil, climate change, and the shrinking of the global economy is local oriented agriculture, a field in which the number of people employed has grown 42% in the last 7 years. Further development of our agricultural potential will require us to produce much more compost, which we can do by stopping the landfilling of our food waste. Compost is likely to be the most useful field RI can invest in if it wants to take care of its people in the coming years.
December 19th, 2009
Greg Gerritt Compost 12/19/09
Compost, the product of the transformation of organic matter into the something a bit magical that renews the world has always been of critical importance on the planet. Humans have had a special interest in compost once they began practicing agriculture, and the communities that were better able to manage well the process of replenishing the soil were able to thrive better than those who watched their soil erode and fertility fade.
The hilly country of New England is a place that lost much of its top soil and fertility in its agricultural heyday. In the big oil age of agriculture Southern New England returned to forest and regained some fertility. Now we reach the crossroads of climate change. A place of great danger. Might be time for us to stop wasting our organic matter and focus a bit more on the nearly miraculous substance that renews the planet, compost.
The Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force is centered by the Southside Community Land Trust, and as a small part of the overall project to increase the number of people growing and the amount of food grown in our neighborhood there is a partnership with the Environment Council of Rhode Island Education Fund to pursue the idea of turning all of the food waste in the community into compost so that it could be returned to the soil and our neighborhood could grow more of its own food. Buying and transporting compost for community gardens is getting to be a big chore and an increasingly expensive one, so we started thinking more about the local potential for compost. We think holistically about our community and how this work fits, including the need to reduce waste going to the Central Landfill and the expansion of recycling efforts in communities throughout Rhode Island in recent years.
The initial strategy was to start a conversation about compost in the community beyond the usual suspects and to raise the idea that composting all of our compostables for return to the soil was doable and would benefit to the community. This work coincided with the ever deepening recession, a recession I believe is at least partly the result of ecological collapse, so while transitioning my focus more towards compost than other aspects of the Green economy I was talking to people at organizations like the Small Business Administration about the economic problems and how compost might be a part of the solution. Talking to folks beyond the usual suspects during the transition from previous projects confirmed the view that this is an idea who’s time has come. Often my conversation partners were not quite ready to commit to wholesale ecological restoration as the panacea for what ails us, but they could see real advantages in their world if composting became part of the fabric of the community.
The Urban Agriculture Task Force does not have the the ability to transform the management of waste in Rhode Island on its own. The only way this transformation is possible is if all of the potential partners, all of the organizations that deal with our waste stream, realize composting is in the best interest of the community and economically feasible. Therefore a key strategy of the project has been to build relationships and share the vision with those who actually collect, process, and manage waste as well ass those who produce large amounts of compostables.
Early on conversation and research was focused on collection and separation issues. A variety of communities around the country are collecting organic materials and composting, and every day more communities are waking up to their need to compost rather than bury their organic materials. Given our current state of affairs, our need to repair ecosystems and farmlands, the need for compost is essentially infinite. I thought the most difficult issue might be collection, but within a few months it was obvious that collection could be managed. San Francisco and other large cities have instituted a mandatory 3 bin system for collection of trash, recyclables, and compostables. We in Rhode island have the professionals and contractors who can do this as well. Shake outs can be hard, but it only takes a few weeks for everyone to get with the program once a community institutes collecting in a new way. Other communities are using bicycles with wagons to collect compost. Providence will see a neighborhood bicycle collection program in the West End in 2010 with the compostables being composted at a community garden.
The Public agencies, especially the City of Providence and the RI Resource Recovery Corporation have been an important source of support throughout this endeavor. DEM has been helpful recently providing much good advice. Conversations at the Farm Fresh RI conference got me thinking very hard about the role of institutions, restaurants, and other concentrated food sources in this overall system. I held several meetings with food service and environmental staff from 4 of the colleges in the city and their support has been much appreciated. Businesses like Converted Organics and Waste Management Incorporated and several local restaurateurs have been helpful and supportive. I started pondering the idea that there is not just one solution, that we may need to tailor various aspects of a compost system to various parts of the community. For instance we would NEVER discourage home composting even as we developed collection systems and larger scale composting operations.
Early on I became aware that Converted Organics was considering expanding into Johnston RI with one of their commercial in vessel composting systems with a business model of focusing on commercial food waste streams. I had some conversations with employees of the company and learned much that helped me appreciate more of the possibilities. I spend some time pondering what type of compost facility was most appropriate, ( with my limited typology consisting of long windrows of compostables such as is done at Earth Care Farm and In Vessel industrial style composting along the lines of Converted Organics). Then I progressed to what type of facilities would be most appropriate, and how would they best be scattered through the land if we were to create the most efficient system. I have no answer to this, nor can I answer it. Only we can answer it.
I took the master composters class from URI. I started giving workshops on the need to get all the food waste out of the waste stream and the need for and use of compost in the next economy. I was hoping to bring everyone here together earlier, but with the City of Providence rolling out Green Up, its mandatory recycling program, it was prudent to wait a bit.
About this time Katherine Brown directed my attention to Bruce Fulford and BioEnergy Farms. The combination of compost facility, methane collection system, electric power plant, and greenhouse or something like that seems to be a reasonable model of where to move to more in depth study. It seems to fit in with being in a densely populated urban core, the kind of thing we could build to fit different situations in our community.
Green Up had a bit of a rocky start, but is rolling now, with recycling in the city nearly doubled. We have had more time to expand the network and see other communities across the country move towards compost. We are reaching the time to put our thoughts and resources together , to find a way to work together to produce something that will immediately benefit our community economically and ecologically and help build our resilience for the changes ahead.
I am hoping that everyone who attends on January 15 when the Providence Compost Stakeholders Convening takes place is committed to moving forward and together creating a plan and putting it into action.
December 13th, 2009
Today i was reading about how small farmers are a big part of any carbon reduction strategy that is likely to work. Recently I read about carbon sequestration and organic farming. Every time we turn around another city has adopted mandatory recycling, compostable collection, or some similar program. And more and more of them are tied to returning the compost to local farm land to rebuild fertility so that more food can be grown locally, stimulating the local economy and reducing our carbon footprint.
Now we just have to get everyone on board and develop a plan in Rhode Island. The goal is to use the stakeholder convening on jan 15, 2010 to begin that process. We want to see who is really interested and who might have resources to bring to the table.
Back when I began looking at this issue I thought the hard part would be to develop a collection system. I now believe that is totally doable, and now I believe the key factor will be to determine what type of facility or facilities to develop and then figure out how to find the money, find the partners, find the investors.
December 10th, 2009
I am beginning a series of writings relating to the Providence Compost Stakeholders Convening that will take place on January 15 2010. As a way of getting myself clear on this and what needs to be done, blogging seems a useful tool.
It is pretty exciting, lots of people have already signed up, 48 hours after the invitations have gone out. I am more worried about a sell out/SRO crowd than an empty room. I invited the politicians today. Figured i better do that before it got too late. I signed the letter going out with the salutory of Life is Round. Jack DeJonette Thank you.
My evolution on the issue over the year is interesting, and I am very glad I have stuck to my intent to allow the project to ripen. This week the big story is that organic agriculture is a good way to shrink our carbon footprints, for the same reasons some of us have been talking about for 40 years. Healing ecosystems always has a more generalized effect than just at the locale the healing takes place. And in this case weaving the strands is exactly what is needed. We were always about compost for gardens, it is just everyone is acknowledging that it is important, whereas a year ago they sort of got it, but it was not front page news.
From beginning thinking mostly about collection systems, these days I am mostly thinking about the creation of a facility for composting, or rather a series of them around the state to reduce transportation of both compostables and compost going back to the land. Thinking about it in a global warming context, an agricultural context, as well as a collection and processing context.
December 7th, 2009
Greg Gerritt 12/7/09
The Copenhagen climate conference is this week. They diddle and fiddle while Earth burns. They deny, but that is mostly because they are unwilling to give up the oil drug that gives them so much power and control. 750 US military bases around the world. Most situated to protect access to oil. Short term thinking, just like a corporate charter. Just like a document predicated on inequality.
Maybe there will be a forest protection agreement. I am a true believer in reforestation, but I can not get excited. Unless we come to see how important the world forest is in any actual restoration of climate plan, heck, any future plan for a livable planet, we are going to pretend to protect. Just like we pretend about so many issues where the change is really only accomplished by a restoration of community power and an end to the coercion state. Only where governments and the rich can not violently threaten forest communities can we actually protect forests. With unequal power we get pseudo forests and plantations, Not a forest that actually brings life back, or sequesters carbon as well.
That is what they are most optimistic about. For the rest expect nothing. There is never an expectation of less. Never an expectation that we shall respect the limits of the earth, that human greed has limits. Zomia tells us that there are people who respect limits, but the low land civilizations always want MORE. No wonder the US is willing to kill Mountain People for the oil, they might just let it sit in the ground rather than feed our war machine. They must be fanatics.
And just think, then the US would not be able to support the 750 bases (support on borrowed money) that we use to protect all these places that do not want our protection for their oil .
Is it any wonder that Copenhagen is not looking good. Stopping global warming means stopping the war machine, and the powerful are not ready to give that up.
December 2nd, 2009
I heard it on the radio again today. Concern that the median price of housing is going down. Sales are up they say cheerfully, but prices are down they say glumly. What they fail to get is that house prices are still too high, and that prices need to come down a lot so that people will actually be able to afford housing, and afford to live in it and invest in making it greener.
We got ourselves into this big mess or a recession partly due to over use of natural resources, leading to ecosystem collapse, and partly due to the pumping up of housing prices as a way to create yet more wealth for Wall St when there was nothing else they could do, partly due to ecosystem collapse. House prices could be manipulated, the entire housing market could be manipulated, and folks were taught that house prices will rise forever, so buy NOW, even if you can not afford it, you can always refinance later, borrow against the ever rising value of the house, etc etc. The whole bill of goods.
This effort to raise house prices just feeds back into the Wall St craziness. The speed up of society to make up for the loss of community. The need to keep feeding growth so past debts can be repaid.
But the reality is that most Americans can not afford decent housing under these conditions. They pay prices that put everything at risk only because the alternative is sleeping under a bridge. It is time for the news media to realize the propaganda they are being fed and to understand that only if house prices continue to sink shall we be able to put our nation’s house in order and match economy and ecology properly. If we continue to create monetary value that is unshackled from the real economy, we continue our downward spiral of ecological collapse followed by greater poverty.
November 19th, 2009
An Open Letter to the Providence City Council
Greg Gerritt: ProsperityForRI.org
Dear City Council,
More and better recycling is one of the more important efforts Providence has undertaken in recent years, one that will save the city considerable money and contribute to its further development. Everyone is aware that the roll out of mandatory recycling has been a bit bumpy. But the roll out of mandatory recycling has been a bit bumpy in every city. But other cities stayed the course and the bumpiness went away in just a few weeks, as it will in Providence.
Rolling back mandatory recycling will be a huge waste of money and resources, setting back this effort by years, and will bring you nothing but shame.
I want to know why you waited until now to act? All of you are astute politicians, and if you were paying attention you would have known that city efforts to publicize the program were a bit weak. So where were you and your ward committees and block captains? Why were you not organizing neighborhood meetings throughout October preparing your wards and neighborhoods for this change? I see now that some council members are distributing recycling bins in the community, but why did you not do this in October?
The resolution to roll back recycling can only bring you shame. You should vote it down. And any council member who is not out this weekend with their ward committee distributing recycling bins ought to be ashamed of them self.
37 6th St
Providence RI 02906
November 10th, 2009
To the editor, The front page of the November 10, 2009 Providence Journal has another headline on how poorly the RI economy is doing, now using the term Code Red to describe it. Yes it is likely that the RI economy will continue to fall apart. All the kings horses and all the kings men can not put Humpty Dumpty together again.
We get experts in government telling us what to do, we get professors at URI telling us what to do, we get think tanks telling us what to do. But they fail, fail, fail. The reason they fail is that the prescribed wisdom is to do whatever Wall St wants us to do and to appease the rich. Lets be very clear. Wall St looted the country, and doing what they want us to do will only get us looted again. The prescriptions by the experts to appease the rich have been the standard potion for 50 years and they have been nothing but failure.
You can not fix the economy of Rhode Island from the top down. It must be fixed from the bottom up. If we are to fix the RI economy here is what we ought to do. Recycle a lot more, and get to zero waste. Compost everything that can be composted and use it to build soil fertility. Grow more food. Make our rivers fishable and swimmable, and return fish to abundance in them. Eliminate the use of all fossil fuels, make sure every building is fossil fuel free and actually affordable, use mass transit instead of autos, and stop confusing the depletion of the natural world with income. Using the medical industrial complex to grow the economy only makes healthcare more expensive and puts it out of reach of the poor. Focus on primary care.
I doubt the so called leaders of RI are ready for such an endeavor, but I also know that if they stick with the usual prescriptions they will fail to revive our community. If any of our leaders or candidates are ready to stop being stupid, they can find me at ProsperityForRI.org and I would be happy to help them develop an economic plan that will work. They can also stop by and see me at the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange on Nov 27 outside the State House.
November 10th, 2009
Today the headlines were all about how the RI economy is in the tubes and going down fast. You are going to see prescription after prescription on cutting taxes, increasing competetiveness. But what you will never see is the real prescription, which is get our ecology healthy and grow more food while reducing our carbon footprint. Even when they get the idea of clean energy right it is still in the old model of MORE. Let us intelligently shrink our economy and use that to move to prosperity. greg gerritt
October 28th, 2009
Check out the new, rather long page Points to Ponder in the list on the right.
September 8th, 2009
Early September 2009
Several events conspired to move me to write this little note on recent observations in the waters surrounding the East Side of Providence, specifically the Moshassuck River and the Seekonk River. Part of it is that the rivers spring to life in late August/Early September in ways they do not the rest of the year, and partly because one of my random river conversations paid off with a women from Smith Hill telling me to come see her collection of bird and fish pictures from the lower Moshassuck along Canal St. Hopefully soon we can add some of those pictures to the Friends of the Moshassuck website.
Late August is usually when the menhaden schools start to swim into downtown Providence, becoming very visible in the city from every water crossing and pathway, while at the same time the Swan Point area becomes alive with menhaden visible in huge schools and often performing aerial shows as they seek to escape from the bluefish. I have not been downtown since last Thursday, but last Thursday, Sept. 3, I saw menhaden in the river for the first time. Not in large numbers, but noticeably, with the flashes of silver that make menhaden so easy to recognize in the glimpses one gets. In both the Moshassuck and the Seekonk, the fish schools draw large predatory birds. Recent sightings along the Moshassuck, from the North Burial Ground south to where it joins the Woonasquatucket, with a shout out to the Canal Street stretch as especially important as a bird/fish congregation area, include immature and adult Black Crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and cormorants. The hot spot at the Burial Ground is the frog pond, with all of the heron hunting the frogs. One thing that I still have not figured out is the swarming fish I saw on the surface a couple of days last week. I am leaning towards a breeding swarm, but really not sure. When the fish were at the surface it appeared they were opening their mouths with red being the predominant color seen, a mystery that I probably will need to see in future Septembers before I can figure it out. Tadpoles were very much in evidence at both NBG ponds this summer (Bullfrogs in the big pond, some very small toad in the less permanent one), and now that the weather has cooled one sees turtles sunning more regularly in the big pond.
Tonight’s treat along the Seekonk River were the first jumping schools of menhaden. Yesterday (Sept 7) I saw lots of fish, and two Lesser Yellowlegs hunting them in the mudflats just north of Swan Point, but no fish jumping. Today schools of menhaden were exploding out of the water, often 3 swarms at the same time, often within 10 feet of the beach. Deeper in the cove I watched a Great Blue Heron standing in the middle of another jumping swarm, one of much bigger fish, and I regularly saw the heron catch and eat menhaden. In 3 minutes as I walked along I saw it catch at least 4 fish. South of the point an adult Night Heron was seen in exactly the same place one has been seen for the last 3 days. Sunday I saw an Osprey catch a fish for the first time this year. I have regularly seen them carrying fish this summer, but this was the first time I caught the dive and saw clear results.
Summer is fading, catch the spectacle while you can.
July 5th, 2009
I was doing my homework for the EJ stakeholder process writing new procedures to ensure Environmental Justice in RI when I came across Article 1 Section 17 of the RI constitution.
Section 17. Fishery rights — Shore privileges — Preservation of natural resources. — The people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the charter and usages of this state, including but not limited to fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore; and they shall be secure in their rights to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the state with due regard for the preservation of their values; and it shall be the duty of the general assembly to provide for the conservation of the air, land, water, plant, animal, mineral and other natural resources of the state, and to adopt all means necessary and proper by law to protect the natural environment of the people of the state by providing adequate resource planning for the control and regulation of the use of the natural resources of the state and for the preservation, regeneration and restoration of the natural environment of the state.
It was a revelation. I know Article 1 Section 17 is at the heart of the Separation of Powers debate around CRMC, but I never knew it required the restoration of the natural environment.
As a person who has focused for quite a while on the need to restore ecosystems in order to revitalize the RI economy, this gives me an additional tool. I can point out to the legislature and other governmental bodies that their mandate includes restoration, and that that wisdom is the economic way forward. I suspect i will be using it.
June 26th, 2009
I was listening to Marketplace Radio tonite, just for a few minutes while I did dishes. I do not know who the guest was, but he said he was not expecting an economic turn around soon. There was just way too much bad debt around on every body’s books and the odds of the values of the houses and other assets it was based on going up enough in the near future to make everybody reasonably whole was minimal.
I have been saying this all along, so it was nice to hear it from some recognized expert, even if I did not recognize him. The simple way I described this to someone today was that the powers that be seem to want to try to jumpstart the economy, and the first thing they need to do is get house prices up so that mortgages are not underwater and people can buy and sell houses. But a big reason we got into all of this mess is that houses are too expensive. People can not buy them because they cost too much, and in order for houses to sell again the prices need to come down a lot.
Some of the economists almost get this, but what they are still in denial about, except for folks like Herman Daly and the ecological economists, is that in an age of ecological collapse it is going to be very hard to grow the economy, and it is likely to be counterproductive in even the medium term. Every resource needed for growth is getting harder and more expensive to find, or is actually disappearing. Metals, wood, fish, soil, oil. And even more, there is no place to put the garbage, or the excess CO2.
The only thing that is going to get us out of this mess is to shrink the economy and share more. Spend our money on healing the ecosystems that feed us and spend nothing on war, chasing oil, blowing up mountain tops, and feeding the greed of Wall St.
You can not end poverty without healing ecosystems, you can not heal ecosystems without ending poverty. Use Less, share more. Peace.
June 21st, 2009
By any measure, cost, cost per person, percentage of GDP, the American health care system is the most expensive in the world, but delivers very poorly on the investment. The World Health Organization rated the American system 37th in the world in health care delivery. Alone among industrialized nations the American system does not allow universal access, and cost is what prevents people from getting health care. 50% of bankruptcies in the United States are precipitated by health care costs.
The American system is a patchwork system, in which about 15% of the population is just plain left out, and many others have inadequate coverage or lose coverage as soon as they become ill. Every other industrial nation provides a simple framework that covers everyone with access to health care that they do not lose when something happens. Medicaid and Medicare provide a large percentage of the dollars in the system, but the controllers of the system, the controllers of what Congress does to modify the system, are the insurance companies and the drug companies. The lobbying and political contribution money on Capital Hill and at every state legislature work powerfully to keep a system funneling huge profits to selected players despite the clear indications that the system is failing the American people.
Study after study is conducted, report after report is issued, but the American system continues to get more muddled. More people fall through the cracks, insurance company profits continue to climb, and government spending to keep up spirals out of control. The insurance companies continue to buy Congressman with legalized bribes, so that the one thing that actually has a chance of making sure all Americans get the care they need without going broke is kept off the table.
We are dealing with several separate but related problems. One aspect is the cost of administration. Millions of dollars are spent dealing with the myriad of paperwork presented by a patchwork with hundreds of insurance companies and plans. Medical offices hire staff simply to deal with insurance companies. Standardized paperwork and standardized coverage would solve much of that problem, which also suggests the possibility of one unified system. Insurance companies also seem to make more money if they deny coverage, and a unified system would do away with that problem by covering everything.
Another aspect of the problem is that while we want doctors to determine treatment, not insurance companies, but as our culture becomes one in which greed becomes more and more the dominant element, in some parts of the country doctors are ordering unnecessary tests in order to line their pockets.
The incentives we currently have all serve to drive costs up and drive more people into bankruptcy. Just tinkering with this system is not going to solve the problem, mostly it will serve to make the rich richer and leave the rest of us ever more exposed to disaster, medical and financial. The only way to get the incentives right for low cost quality health care for all is to place that front and center in the system. In other words, cover everyone, have people pay according to their financial means, and do not pay doctors according to how many MRI’s they order. There are a variety of ways to achieve such goals. Many countries around the world cover everyone yet still deliver better health care than is found in this country. Some countries have a National Health Care system. Others have the government pay the costs based on tax revenues but doctors work in the private sector. Canada has a system that is run separately in each province. But the principle that there is one payer and that everyone is covered, and that you do not lose coverage when you are sick or not able to work underlies it all. Call it a single payer principle. And that is what the US needs if the 50 Million people who do not currently get proper care are to get care, if medical bankruptcies are to be eliminated, and the medical industrial complex is to no longer suck up resources that would be better employed in other parts of the economy.
May 19th, 2009
Yes, the Rhode Island economy has grown more slowly than the national economy for most of the last 30 years. The RI unemplyment rate has not been stellar. State government has run into frequent budgetary crises. The public debate about what to do to improve economic performance has been a drum beat cacaphony, with lower taxes, more efficiency, less powerful unions, corporate give aways, the knowledge economy, and global trade being the remedy touted over and over again.
Each recession and crisis the drum beat gets louder , with every politician parroting the corporate party line. And still RI struggles in the competetive one upmanship of 21st century capitalism as if the policy setters have not done a good job of implementing the approved system. That if only they could get everything right and combine it with great management RI would be a land of milk and honey. This has lead some to recently crtiticize the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and to call for its abolition or transformation.
I will have some to say about the EDC, but even more basic than the EDC, what is not getting looked at in all of the commotion is the possibility that the model that RI politicians, business leaders, and bureaucrats are touting as the way to a healthy economy may not actually work, and that no matter how good the EDC was at implementing the plan, if the plan is all wrong, if it does not actually describe the situation we find ourselves in, then the results are likely to be less than stellar.
Lets begin with the unemployment rate, a measurement that nearly everyone in the US taxes to be a reasonable stand in for the health of the economy.
According the the US Bureau of Labor statistics http://www.bls.gov/lau/website citing March 2009 statistics as the latest available, thea national unemplyment rate is 8.9% while RI is one of eight states with an unemployment rate over 10%. CA, IN, MI, NC, NV, OR, and SC join us in the dubious distinction. DC, FL, KY, OH, and TN follow close behind at more than 9.5%. Coming in below 5% unemployment are NE, ND, SD, AND WY. Every state with unemployment below 7% , with the exception of VA and MD which depend highly on the recession countercyclical force, the spending power of the Federal Government, is in the energy and corporate agriculture business. It seems the states with huge wind resources, fossil fuel extraction, a large corporate agriculture sector, and low population densities are currently reaping the rewards of that natural bounty. As for the high unemployment states, they are a mixed bag. MI stands out with the car industry down the tubes, probably permanently, and the rust belt, in which I include RI with its former prowess in machine tools, as well as IN, MI, and OH, clearly has a problem. So do states heavily reliant on housing speculation as the underpinning of their economy such as CA, FL, and NV. I do want to focus a bit on the South, with KY, NC, SC, and TN cited here and several other states nearby also experiencing high unemployment rates such as AL at 9.0, GA at 9.2, and MS at 9.4.
I think the similarities in economic weakness between RI and the South require further mention. RI is constantly criticized for high taxes, strong unions, being business unfriendly, and bad schools that cost too much because of strong teachers unions. The south also has pretty bad schools, but the anti union legal framework, open for business attitude and low taxes stereotype of the south present a vast contrast to the stereotypical view of RI. North Carolina has always been considered a model with the Research Triangle foster knowledge economy growth, while South Carolina is stereotyped as a low tax, poor service, open for business state yet both places are suffering in the recession as much as RI. The South and RI also seem to share the ideology that it is a good economic development strategy to give big businesses almost anything they want if they will locate facilities in their particular state. (admittedly nearly every state seems to have that philosphy)
Since both the RI system and the rust belt system in general (high taxes, lots of school spending, unions, corporate give aways, and pretending to join the knowledge economy) is working just about as well as the Southern system (low taxes, little school spending, corporate give aways, no unions, and pretending to join the knowledge economy) we ought to at least consider that there is something wrong with the model and its goals rather than that the EDC is guilty only of poor execution.
Despite all of our attempts to ignore it, states with more robust rural natural resource based economies have lower unemployment right now. Could it be that for all of our high tech overlay, that we need to remember the importance of natural resources in determing our prosperity? Backing this up might be some of the stateistics on Rhode Island agriculture, the only part of the RI economy that appears to be vibrant. The number of farms has increased 42% over the last 10 years, the number of farmers markets has gone from 5 to 37.
Now RI does not have oil wells or coal mines like Wyoming, but like North Dakota it has a stagnant population and lots of wind. Some would argue argue that the Wyoming example tells us to ignore environmental constraints, just go crazy, but our situation leads even more to the North Dakota model with more and more organic farming and windpower. Maybe healing our ecosytems, tapping natural flows, building our soil, forests and fisheries, taping the offshore winds and solar power, and going whole hog for mass transit is going to be much more important than anyone is predicting and ought to be the center of our economic strategy.
I do know that leaders in the agricultural revolution in RI have tried to get agriculture on to the ageda of the EDC, but have gotten no where. The EDC touts windpower, but only in the last 12 months has it invested in it. Nowhere on the EDC agenda is rebuilding the fisheries to the point where they can feed us and support fishermen. Unfortunately the ecological transformation of our economy, the one tool we seem to have for prosperity in the new era of global warming, seems to be low on the economic agenda of everyone involved in state economic policy. And it shows.
The EDC gets the blame, but they are just parroting the policy the big corporations are looking for, the economic activity that keeps politicians coffers full with special interest money. In other words we get the best EDC money can buy, and that it works so poorly tells us their puppet masters are pulling thw wrong strings, not that all the people who work for the EDC are incapable of good work.
May 14th, 2009
A big part of the problem is that most communities are trying to use the medical industrial complex as an integral part of moving to a 21st century knowledge economy. The need to wring ever growing profits out of health care is what makes covering everybody more and more impossible. So our economic development strategy is a serious mismatch with our health care needs. Stop using health care as an economic growth strategy and much of the problem disappears. 5/14/09
April 14th, 2009
Compost and the future of Rhode Island by Greg Gerritt
Everyone likes to eat, and all of us need good nutritious food. But if you live in Rhode Island and are used to getting all your food at the supermarket, you might want to give a second thought to where your food comes from.
Global warming is threatening agriculture, threatening sources of irrigation water, around the world, including California, the source of much of Rhode Island’s food. Transporting food from distant places makes global warming worse. That says we need to grow more food in Rhode Island.
If we are to grow more food locally, the first thing to do is take very good care of the soil. In fact if you take good care of the soil, enrich it, feed it, build its texture, you can grow almost anything in abundance. The best thing to feed soil is compost, and the only way to create compost is to stop throwing things we could compost into the trash.
More and more places around the country and around the world are doing this. San Francisco uses a three bin system to collect all the compostables in the city. Some cities have gone to bicycle powered low tech compost collection systems. Some communities have begun by collecting restaurant and school food waste as a place to start that is easier than setting up a home collection and separation system, and can make the biggest dent easiest in the amount of compostables throw away.
None of us know what is really the best system for Rhode Island. Maybe it is a combination of best practices found throughout the country. But we need to develop something that is easy, efficient, comprehensive, and affordable so that we can get all the compostables out of the trash stream and into the compost stream.
If you can help contact Greg Gerritt at 401-331-0529 or firstname.lastname@example.org
April 7th, 2009
One of the things I have learned over the years is how to figure out why people chose one place over another for settling. There is an element of randomness and willfulness in where people choose to build cities, but most often they are located based on natural resources and configurations. Being able to read this and figure it out for each place you are helps you figure out how to help a community develop intelligently. What triggered this today was watching two kingfishers fuss and call today unlike I had ever seen them do. Kingfishers chase other kingfishers away, where as no one was leaving today, so maybe it was more that spring was in the air. A person coming up on the birds without any previous contact might guess right or wrong or have no idea, whereas I am not sure what I saw, I both know how I could find out, and can at least report it was like no other kingfisher conversation I have ever witnessed.
When i go to a city, one of the first things i do is try to figure out why a city was located where it is. I had always known that in Maine the larger the waterfall, the bigger the mill complex/city on the inland rivers. Providence is a pretty obvious place 2 small rivers with waterpower flowing into a pretty protected harbor, even if it needed dredging. In 19th Century terms it was a natural for industrial powerhouse. And the area all around the head of the bay and up into Mt Hope Bay is pretty much the same way.
In recent years a few trips I took gave me an opportunity to test my insights/knowledge based on observations. Reading PA, Chicago, and Milwaukee all demonstrated how the relationship to the water, both as a port and as a power generator effected their history. Milwaukee, with two rivers flowing into downtown and joining just before entering Lake Michigan is remarkably similar to Providence in layout and industrial history, substituting Narragansett Bay for Lake Michigan and the different mix in industries that evolved using the ore deposits’ and agricultural bounty of the Great Lakes and Milwaukee’s growth after New England had moved the US beyond the textile beginnings of the industrial revolution.
Chicago was founded as a city based on its place as the Great Lakes port closest to the Mississippi watershed and therefore the obvious transshipment place. Almost the crossroads of the continent. I did not know that when I arrived there, but with much of my walking along the lake directed towards finding out why Chicago was a big city there, it turned out to be a not very difficult mission to figure it out.
March 17th, 2009
This testimony will also be posted on www.ProsperityForRI.org
Senators and Representatives, This year you will have before you a number of bills on Global Warming, Greenhouse gas emission reductions, and using the transformation of our energy practices to improve our economy.
Several years ago I came before you and testified that your approach to dealing with Global Warming would be the most important thing you do in your entire time in public service. Since that time there is nothing to convince me that that assessment was wrong. If anything the situation has become more dire, especially as it has become mixed in with an economy that has gone into the tank.
While the immediate cause of the crashing of the economy was the financial games of Wall St and the hyper inflation of house prices that supported the house of cards, part of the reason for the inflation of house prices and the hyper financialization of the economy was ecological collapse.
We may think of ourselves as living in the modern age, but the economy is still based upon the food, timber, water, and minerals provided by our planet. Global Warming is just one part of the collapse of ecosystems effecting us. Soil erosion, water shortages, deforestation, loss of fisheries, dead zones in the oceans, and changes in the ph of the oceans are proceeding faster than ever, and dramatically effecting the ability of people to make a living. As Chateaubriand noted “Forests precede civilization, deserts follow”. As deforestation helps drive global warming it all connects.
You have before you bills this year to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions, promote solar and wind generation of electricity, and conserve various resources. There are many who will provide you support and amendments for the specific bills in front of you, None of the bills go far enough for my taste. The reason for this is that if we are actually going to reverse global warming, not just slow it down, the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities must drop to essentially zero. Between 1750 and 1950 CO2 in the atmosphere went from 280 parts per million to 315 parts per million. 315 ppm is still enough to effect the climate, but now we are at 387 ppm with the number rising every year.
If carbon dioxide emissions are reduced sufficiently the atmosphere can eventually cleanse it self. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would decrease. And this is exactly what we need. But as the amount of C02 in the atmosphere rose between 1750 and 1950, it is clear that even an 80% reduction from 1990 emission levels is not sufficient to actually reverse global warming, and to wait 40 years to get there is going to create massive problems for those who live on planet Earth. Every year the predicted sea level rise increases as we better understand how the Greenland Ice sheet deteriorates as the climate gets warmer.
Given my position that what you have in front of you is insufficient for the task I still support the efforts of my friends to get you to pass the best of these bills, and I would like to provide some suggestions to help you in thinking about your work that you might not hear about from others.
I believe that a considerable portion of our economic woes are related to ecological collapse. We may be at the end of economic growth as we know it. I know how hard that must be for you to accept, it makes all of your budgeting much more difficult if revenues are not rising and unlikely to rise in the foreseeable future, but it is something you might want to keep in mind as you deliberate. There are a few sectors of the economy from which you might wring further growth, but several of them present great danger. The financial and Insurance industries can always be pumped up with funny money, but as this is exactly how we got into the current economic mess, I urge great caution here. The military industrial complex has also been a source of growth recently, but its growth leads to entanglements like Iraq and Afghanistan, and eventually busts the government piggy bank so caution is advised here as well. The other large source of growth in our economy, nearly 40% of the growth over the last twenty years, has been the medical industry. Unfortunately the more the medical industry grows the more unlikely it becomes that we shall ever have affordable healthcare for all. In other words the growth of the medical industry makes your jobs balancing the budget and providing care for Rhode Islanders in need much more difficult.
I expect the solar and wind industries will provide good jobs in RI if we move smartly, but do not limit your thinking to them when you think about global warming and the economy. Even more important to our efforts to reverse global warming will be the healing of our ecosystems. I repeat. It will be nearly impossible to get Rhode Island’s economy righted unless, in addition to creating various forms of carbon free electricity and fuels, we also heal the ecosystems that give us life.
Taking better care of Rhode Island’s waters will provide a buffer for climate change, and be a boon to our economy, possibly allowing us to harvest more marine life. But of even greater significance is the restoration of local agriculture. Local agriculture is already just about the only part of the RI economy that is healthy, witness the expansion of farmers markets and local food restaurants in recent years. It is also a part of the economy that really helps us lower our carbon footprint because the more we grow here, the less we have to ship across the country or from around the world to feed ourselves. And the more resilient we become if the economy continues its decline.
California is currently the source of nearly 40% of the produce consumed in the US. But on March 1 irrigation water was cut off in the Central Valley due to drought. No one can say the drought is caused by global warming, but diminished irrigation water in California and many other critically important agricultural areas around the world, including China, is definitely going to be a result of continued global warming and will put massive pressure on global food supplies.
In closing. Pass the good bills you have before you. Others will fill you in on the details. Stopping global warming is intimately entwined in the rejuvenation of the Rhode island economy. Healing local ecosystems is as important in the process of rejuvenating Rhode Island as fuel efficiency and alternative energy. The expansion of local agriculture is a tool for healing ecosystems, reducing our carbon footprint, and feeding our community as irrigation agriculture becomes less tenable around the world as your global warming bills move us too slowly and the economy continues to crumble due to stress on ecological systems.
January 27th, 2009
Quonset Container Port still makes no sense or cents.
Over the last few months the Providence Journal has published repeated comments stating that RI would be well served by developing larger port facilities, including a container port. I was a stakeholder when the the RI Economic Development Corporation held its large stakeholder process on port development in 2000 and 2001, and have continued to follow this issue closely.
Lets be clear, the original proposal to build a container port at Quonset failed primarily because the State of RI brought in a couple of con men as its lead contractors, men who had been tossed out of ports around the world. They said if you give us the approval we can find private funders to build the port. There were no private funders for this project, and never will be.
In fact if one were to look carefully at the situation today, it is less likely than ever that private money could be found to build a container port in RI, and in fact the entire financial structure of global trade is more and more shaky.
My original opposition to the port was based on the fact that increasing the amount of global shipping is an ecological disaster on a global scale. On Jan 27, 2009 there was an article in the Boston Globe pointing out the invasive species issues are worse than ever, and that no solution is in sight. Global warming is more and more of an issue, and with shipping emitting more than 5% of global CO2 emissions, we have to ask why increase that. Much of what is put on container ships is made with sweat shop labor and at a price of continued destruction of rainforests through out Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The assumption that we need more ports is based on the assumption that economic growth will go on forever. But over the last 30 years humans have begun to consume on a yearly basis 120% of the global biological productivity, which has lead to massive destruction of fisheries and forests, greater dead zones in the oceans, and soil erosion. What it has also lead to is a situation in which creating economic growth is harder and harder, which has lead to the housing and financial bubble we are now dealing with. As growth became more difficult due to resource depletion, the economy leaned more and more heavily on financial trickery to pump up the growth. On paper there is lots of growth, but in reality the poor are getting poorer, the middle class is being squeezed, and the very wealthy were making out like bandits until the banks collapsed. If the growth was real everyone would have been sharing in it.
Given these conditons, a long term stalling of the economy, the need to relocalize the economy, the need to reduce fuel consumption and repair our ecosystems, and the total unlikelihood of finding millions or even billions of dollars of private capital to build a port, it seems to make very little sense to put the RI taxpayers on the hook to build something that will only contribute to the faster destruction of ecosystems and the continued shipping of RI manufacturing jobs overseas. If building a container port really made economic and ecological sense there would be more to this discussion than Ed Achorn beating his drum. The Providence Journal ought to really do some due diligence on this project. Get a real handle on the numbers, look at what will come through the port if it is built, understand how it will contribute to climate change, deforestation, and air pollution, garner a real understanding of how it will effect RI manufacturing and the pay scales of jobs created here servicing it versus what we lose. Then tell us who is going to pay for it. My guess is that it is a loser and that is why no one has shown up with the money and why no one has really convened a process to examine it closely.
37 6th St Providence RI 02906
Greg Gerritt is the founder of the think tank Prosperity for Rhode Island
January 27th, 2009
Richard, I read your interview with the Projo and was a bit disturbed by it. The part that bothered me was your noting that since RI has a housing shortage prices here will go back up sooner thant in the rest of the country,. That is probably true, but it is not something to celebrate.
My first concern is that , as you well know, house prices here are already too high for the community. If our concern is housing people, then we should hope prices continue to fall. What seems to be going on is that the people who run the economy and set policy assume that if house prices rise again we can get back to business as usual. Folks can go back to borrowing money, and everything will be okay. I am writing a larger piece on the housing crisis, which I will forward when I am done, but essentially relying on borrowed money to keep the economy afloat is creating both an ecological disaster and further punishing the poor.
To me the housing bubble/financial bubble came about because there are ecological limits to growth, and when Wall St ran into them, found the one thing they could artifically inflate, the housing market, as a way to continue to loot America. While it is true that house prices may go back up temporarily over the next few years, as the ecological collapse continues we are going to see the economy shrink, and house prices continue to drop. This may make it tough to build affordable houses, as the price of lumber and other materials will rise as shortages become more apparent, but it is what we shall have to do, build houses people can actually afford to live in in hard times.
Happy to talk and explain myself more fully if that would be useful. greg
January 11th, 2009
I went to the Small Business Administration’s 3rd annual Rhode Island conference. I heard nothing except the same old cut taxes refrain. Nothing on what is really going on, nothing about the ecological collapse, though there was some sentiment for national health care. I went to do just a few things. One was to do a little viral marketing about the idea of working to fairly and equitably shrinking the economy so we may continue to live on planet earth without destroying all the ecosystems. Second was to discuss the idea that you can not use the medical industrial complex as your engine of economic growth if you intend to have affordable health care for all, or even for the employed. Finally I went to do a little pre publicity for the essay I am working on that begins with the housing foreclosure crisis and expounds from there. I work on the essay every day for 30 minutes, and expect it in about a month. 1/11/09
September 28th, 2008
http://www.projo.com/news/environment/content/GREEN_JOBS_09-28-08_VMBO96I_v12.16e9d1f.html# <http://www.projo.com/news/environment/content/GREEN_JOBS_09-28-08_VMBO96I_v12.16e9d1f.html> <http://www.projo.com/news/environment/content/GREEN_JOBS_09-28-08_VMBO96I_v12.16e9d1f.html>
Wall St versus the planet
The collapse of the investment banks and the destruction of ecosystems. An intertwined tale. Greg Gerritt 9/24/08
The Collapse of the investment banks and the corporations that insured them against their own greed is a startling turn of events. The masters of the universe, the wealthiest crew on the planet, ran out of productive things to do, started creating new ways to manufacture money out of froth, whipped the froth into a frenzy, made billions, and had no idea what to do except ask for big hand outs from the government when the froth collapsed.
The answer of the bought politicians is to give buckets, no boatloads, of money to the same people who created the big mess that threatens the lives and livelihoods of people all over the world, and ask them to do it again, only this time to be a bit more careful in the name of keeping everyone employed.
People are reacting to the Bush agenda bailout in nuanced ways, mostly denouncing the specifics, which are horrible, but generally stating that a bailout of Wall St is the right approach, if only done this way or that. Critics on the left are denouncing it saying if the tax payers are buying all this stuff, they ought to get the rights associated with community ownership in saying how it will be run, and while the critics on the left are correct, if we own it, it ought to be run in ways that are open to the community’s input and benefit the community, but the analysis still lands short of what is needed to actually resolve the problem.
What most observers seem to be missing is the idea that the fundamentals of the economy have changed over the years, primarily the situation in the realms of natural resources and ecology on planet earth. The reality is that in an economy based on ever faster growth it is becoming harder and harder to make fortunes in the on the ground economy. Too many ecosystems are disappearing and collapsing, too many natural sinks are full, minerals are becoming harder and harder to recover, and ever greater quantities of almost anything are becoming very difficult to find.
We all know about peak oil, the idea that from now until forever it will be harder and harder to bring more barrels of oil out of the ground on a daily basis, and that a civilization built on cheap energy is in serious peril. No one is starting new oil companies, though there is money being invested in new drilling equipment in the ever more desperate efforts to drill ever more difficult oil fields for ever diminishing pools of oil. Have we considered the role of forests in our economy, from paper, to lumber, to furniture, to fire wood, to a place of recreation, to a source of food? That forest products still under gird civilization, that deforestation is one of the primary causes of the collapse of economies through time? Have they looked at what is going on in the forests? How they disappear before our eyes, even in a place like New England in which forests return easily and had partly done so from previous deforestation? The only cut and run forests left in the world, the forests that in the past would have provided the raw materials to fuel the economic recoveries from Wall St insanity, are the two hardest forests to work, tropical rainforests and the far north. Then consider the massive amount of ever more expensive oil it takes to exploit these forests, and the greenhouse gas emissions that come from deforestation, and consider whether any natural resources will be able to help Wall St end this latest speculative mismanagement monster.
You can not start the next Great Northern Paper, it would be a joke. Fisheries all over the planet are overfished and collapsing. In agriculture, think Monsanto and patented seeds, an attempt to make a fortune by cornering markets rather than develop global agriculture. Manipulation ballooned because all the farmland is already in production, and much of it is already severely depleted and eroded. Using genetic engineering, patented seeds and no longer allowing farmers to save their own for next year’s planting, bait and switch and watch Indian farmers commit suicide appears to be the business model these days. Then think about higher prices for food as the ethanol craze gets hotter. The airline industry is going broke, funny how that happened right about the time of peak oil. Are we actually seeing the demise /transmogrification of the automobile industry? It appears to be rapidly going bust in the US. One might say this is because there is more money to be made in the mental gymnastics economy and that corporations in other countries do not have to pay for retirees health care costs, but an idea that needs to be discussed much more is that there are physical limits that we are running up against on Earth and it will be harder and harder to make money in the production of things or in shipping them.
If those seeking great fortunes can no longer rely on actual production to make money they seem to resort to the financialization of the economy, the use of innovative trickery to manipulate investments, to funnel more resources to them and their friends. More and more money has flowed into the financial sectors of the economy, aided and abetted by politicians at every turn handing over big subsidies for local jobs in the industry. What the “smartest guys in the room“ came up with this time for their aggrandizement was vastly inflated housing prices, partly because their friends in government helped create the policy of building no housing people could actually afford. This was then followed by selling unaffordable houses to people who had few other housing options, and then turning debts by people who could not afford the payments after the interest rates jumped on their bait and switch mortgage into investments for speculators. It was based on pretending the housing boom would last forever and therefore this was a very safe way to invest money. It is the economy of turning everything into an investment because the buddies of the rich in government will always say we can not afford to let the wealthy, the powerful, the providers of campaign funds, and the investment that drives our ever MORE fail. Just the little guy is allowed to fail.
The apologists for the the failed economic model will point out Microsoft, Dell, Google as the future of the economy, but you can not eat a google or software. But how about Windmills, solar panels, and geothermal electricity as clean and essentially boundless and a place to see major investment and fortunes? Or pharmaceuticals, plastics, communications and nanotechnology?
Yes, we shall have some Green Jobs building windmills, some jobs in modern manufacturing that seeks to dematerialize manufactured products, but ultimately unless we actually stop the shenanigans and start to really try to live within our means on Earth, the collapsing ecosystems will push those seeking fortunes into ever wilder and stranger financial instruments to make more money and hold on to their power, triggering financial collapses faster and faster followed by more funny money bailouts that we pay for so they can prop up the economy of more a little longer. Are we hoping for some miracle like a second planet to exploit? Yes, we can eat the planet faster for a little longer. Buckminster Fuller thought we might figure out how to make that transition, turning into a truly sustainable economy as we drained the last of the fossil fuels. But he also knew it would take sharing and an end to war as well as the end of the fossil fuel economy, and he figured it was a close race between a thriving sustainability and the demise of modern industrial civilization. Can we make that transition if we continue to let speculators steal us blind and then get bailed out by the government on the taxpayers dime? Can the banks continue to rob the people without spending ever more money on war, both to steal resources and to prevent outbreaks of people power when people get tired of the robber barons?
Today, no one can prove that the ever more creative financialization of the economy is driven by ecosystem collapse, that the collapse is constraining investments in actually meeting the needs of the 6.7 billion of us that inhabit the planet, but the trend seems pretty obvious when you think about it, so maybe we ought to talk about this a bit more before we bail out Wall St with $700 billion that could heal ecosystems, generate clean energy, feed people, and before we feed the war machine to defend what Wall St seeks to impose on us.
There is a big hole in my argument. Currently capital flows fastest to short term investments, quick buck schemes. One can not say that one can not make a fortune in the wood cutting business, there are still people getting sweetheart deals with tin horn dictators, and war criminal presidents and making money cutting wood despite the collapse of forest and forest ecosystems around the world and the moving of their residents to shanty towns. It is likely that over the short term people will expand some resource based businesses, the planetary resource base still exists, it is still large compared to the demand, even if it is shrinking, depleting, dieing. But it is still a diminished investment possibility. Yes, one can found the next mental gymnastics giant, a google or microsoft, but for the most part fortunes are made in the financial industry, the phony manipulation of money, and the rules the politicians write are designed to help that speculation rather than rein ii in. I can not prove that the financialization is currently driven by resource depletion. I am not sure if the right things are measured to prove it, and ferreting out the human motives behind any particular investment is impossible. But we can clearly see the sinks fill up, the forest, fish, soil and oil disappear and the smaller and smaller percentage of the economy based on actual production of tangible goods. We can not yet prove the ever more highflying gymnastics of the financial sector is related to running into the limits of the earth, but it is what we see, it seems the most logical explanation for what is going on, and it gives us fair warning of what lies ahead unless we return our economy to a sound environmental footing.
September 9th, 2008
Some short essays. I am drafting material for the McKinney Green Party campaign for the presidency that I send along for editing and vetting by the campaign. These are ones I did in response to a questionnaire sent to the campaign by an Illinois farming magazine.
1. What steps could the administration take to help economically revitalize
The prosperity of rural America is primarily related to the health of the
ecosystems these communities depend upon. Communities dependent upon
logging require healthy forests to supply wood to cut. Farmers need
abundant water and healthy soils. Those who fish require clean water and
healthy fish stocks. Begin with the health of the ecosystems, the health of
the resource base. I have consistently supported healthy forests and the
preventing of over exploitation of the National Forests so that short term
profit is not given priority over long term prosperity. I have supported
legislation to keep Black Farmers and small farmers on the land and
supported organic agriculture.
Betting rural prosperity on corporations, forest and agribusiness, has been
relatively unsuccessful. The short term gains for the corporations have
turned into long term depressions in rural communities, with forest
depletion and soil erosion preceding the migrations out of the community.
Betting on the fossil fuel energy sector and mining have brought similar
boom bust cycles and struggles to our communities, and left polluted and
degraded landscapes. Leaving the oil in the soil and stopping the blowing
up of mountain tops to get coal is the proper approach.
The economy of rural places will be better only when the resource base is
healthy. The place to begin is stopping global warming and creating a
carbon fuel free future. At this point the weather and water supplies for
agriculture are severely threatened by over use and global warming. We can
not afford anything other than the near complete abandonment of fossil
fuels, and even biofuels should be limited in their use. But wind and sun
we have, and it allows the land to continue to provide other resources as
well. Not only be the place of harvest, but also be the place of
manufacture of wind mills, as shipping costs will be an ever greater factor.
The future of farming is organic, smaller scale, and much more oriented
towards building soil and providing truly healthy products . This will
employ more people per acre, revitalizing rural populations and community
centers. Better utilization of grasslands, focusing more clearly on
improving the carry capacity of the land, rather than continuing to degrade
it by overgrazing, will improve quality for consumers and the quality of
life for those raising critters.
Recent work on how abundant fish were in the past and how much food was
available in the oceans teaches us how degraded and depauperite fishing is
today. Over fishing continues down the food chain and towards ever smaller
fish, whereas if we just gave the fish a chance to rebuild their populations
for a few years the overall catch could go up in the long term, and the
ecosystems would be more productive.
The first place everyone else starts this discussion is with the internet,
how distance is much less important. Yes the internet is important,
communications with people around the world helps everyone, and the exchange
of knowledge can make a major difference in people’s lives but it will still
take healthy ecosystems as well as creative people to bring prosperity to
America’s rural communities.
2. How would you structure an energy strategy for the United States, and why is such a strategy important? Is there a role for biofuels?
The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere is 380 parts per million,
whereas 250 years ago it was approximately 280 parts per million. The
physics is pretty clear. More carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases
like methane in the atmosphere, the more heat will be trapped in the lower
atmosphere. Climate is already spinning out of control, just ask the people
who live near the Gulf of Mexico. We must dramatically change the way we
produce, distribute, and use energy.
Leave the oil in the soil and below the sea and stop blowing the tops off of
mountains for the coal. There must be a 90% reduction of fossil fuel usage
in the next few years so that we can start to bring carbon dioxide levels in
the atmosphere down below 325 parts per million.
Solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and a variety of other renewable and carbon
free fuel sources are the future. Transportation will be diminished. We
are already seeing that as millions of Americans are priced out of air
travel and commuting to jobs in cars becomes an incredible burden. We must
restructure our communities to diminish the need to travel and ship goods,
producing much more of what we need locally, while developing clean mass
transit and freight systems for what we do need to move.
Biofuels are an iffy proposition. There may be some appropriate
technologies, possibly some of the new algae based systems or the harvesting
of wild grasses, but we can not allow ourselves to get on the treadmill to
carbon neutrality that biofuels may allow us to do, as we have to burn less
fuel than the atmosphere can absorb each year so that the CO2 levels can
gradually drop, CO2 naturally slowly degrading in the atmosphere over a few
3. How do you see the importance of bilateral and multilateral trade for
U.S. producers and other sectors, and how can we achieve greater export
In congress I consistently supported trade agreements that benefited
communities, workers, people on the margins of the economy, and ecosystems.
I did not support the corporate trade deals like CAFTA, NAFTA, and the WTO
as as these deals benefit are the wealthiest sectors of the economy.
The idea of ever greater exports also needs to be reexamined. Given a
climate impaired planet with a gasoline driven export system, it is quite
possible the export sectors of the economy will undergo massive changes.
Turning into something sustainable that produces things of value that either
are used locally, or can be sent around the world electronically.
Relocalization will be much more a key to prosperity for our communities
than will exports.
4. How would your administration balance environmental and domestic
Nearly all of our domestic economic ills are visited upon us due to
mismanagement of resources and the over reliance on financial creativity to
prop it up an ever expanding economy. The ecology is the economy. Healing
ecosystems, growing forests, repairing damaged soils, cleaning rivers,
allowing fish stocks to rebuild, and completely decarbonizing our economy
and communities will lead to greater prosperity.
When actual costs are factored in, when corporations are not allowed to
transfer the costs of their misdeeds to the community (read taxpayers) a
Green economy will provide a good standard of living in healthy communities.
Continuing to allow short term wealth to dominate this practice and making
protecting the health of ecosystems and communities nearly impossible have
lead us to a time when the rich continuously ask for special treatment and
grant it to themselves, and then call it a struggle between prosperity and
and the environment. There is no separation. A healthy economy relies upon
a healthy ecosystem and the law should reflect that.
September 3rd, 2008
RIPTA is the RI Public Transit Authority which runs all the buses in the state. It just announced massive cutbacks in service.
RIPTA is between a rock and a hard place. At the time when we most need mass transit, and the public is more ready to use it than it has been since the automobile came to dominate our communities, the dependence of RIPTA upon the gasoline tax is becoming its undoing. Lets be very clear. As long as we fund mass transit with the gasoline tax we shall never be able to properly fund mass transit in the age of peak oil and global warming, and we sure as heck will never be able to fund our transition to a wind, tide, and solar electric powered transit system.
Thankfully members of our community are convening people to see if we can come up with an alternative to funding RIPTA via the gas tax, to see how we can speed up the development of a Green Economy in Rhode Island, and to see if we can imagine our cities without gasoline. If we are to return carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to those necessary to maintain a temperate climate in Rhode Island (Dr James Hansen of NASA says that is 325 parts per million as compared to today’s 380 parts per million) we must rapidly decarbonize our community. Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney sums it up pretty well when she says “Keep the oil in the soil”. Rhode Island must transform its transportation system to one that runs without oil, and is paid for without oil, and doing so will be the economic boon that those who gave us the gas tax paying for transit keep wishing they could create.
37 6th St
providence RI 02906
Greg Gerritt is actively participating in the McKinney/Clemente 08 Green Party presidential campaign
June 13th, 2008
Dear Dr Dasgupta, I am the founder of the Prosperity Project in Providence RI, so I was interested in reading your article that came to me today in the Encyclopedia of the Earth on Natural Capital and economic growth. I found it sort of troubling, as it really seems to underestimate the amount of damage humans are doing to the ecosystems, and does not really take to task the miscalculations that we see in our efforts to understand if the economy is sustainable. I do not believe that adding up the manufactured, human and natural capital to see if it is a positive number is all that useful. You note that things like deforestation, soil erosion, depletion of fish in the ocean are vastly undercounted, but you seem unwilling to give them additional weight in the calculations for determining sustainability. My guess is that nothing being done today is sustainable as long as ecosystems continue to deteriorate. What makes up for the loss of the rainforest, soil erosion, dead zones in the Oceans, global climate change? Just because more people have more education and there are more computers, we are still depleting capital and the ability of people to feed themselves in the future. We can not eat computers.
I am not an academic, I am an activist, so I guess we have to approach things a bit differently, but I do not think manufactured capital makes up for losses in natural capital, and that the only way to sustainablility is to repair and heal ecosystems. I am going to copy below the notes for a talk I gave recently at the RI Land And Waters Partnership summit. You may or may not find it interesting, but I would be interested in your thoughts about how to make sure we are not miscalculating sustainability. Greg Gerritt Providence RI
May 28th, 2008
There is an inextricable link. A society can not end poverty without healing the ecosystems (local and global) it depends upon, nor can it heal the ecosystems it depends upon without ending poverty. A general prosperity depends on both ending poverty and healing ecosystems at the same time, and requires an effort that strengthens the linkage between the two.
The basic premise is that the paradigm governing current economic development policies is the wrong paradigm for creating a true prosperity. The current paradigm is based on enriching the few and relies upon using up natural capital and calling that profit. The results are poverty, ecological disasters such as global warming and the extinction epidemic, and rampant violence. We need a new paradigm, and Rhode Island, due to its small size, is the perfect place to test these ideas.
Three weeks after Roger Williams arrived in Providence in 1636, settling right on the banks of the Moshassuck River, one of his compatriots opined that the Rhode Island economy was in trouble and the best thing to remedy the situation was to give a tax break to all men of property. Just kidding about Roger Williams and his friends, but for as long as there has been a Rhode Island there has been a lucrative industry in making suggestions to improve the economy, but mostly it has just lined the pockets of those who already have lined pockets while increasing poverty and leading to ecological decay.
The Economic Policy Council, Economic Development Council, politicians, and practitioners of the dark arts of economics have for years been saying we can fix the economy, but it still does not work. Children still go hungry, homelessness increases, there is ever greater disparity between rich and poor, and the land is less fruitful.
Given the long term failure of economic development plans, it seems useful to at least examine if the economic growth promoters are promoting the wrong thing and if a new approach might be more useful. This may be even more important today when the physical limits of the Earth are being reached and the growth mentality that developed in the age of tiny wooden boats crossing tempestuous oceans seem to have run into the end of petroleum and the age global warming.
It is time for a study on what a sustainable Rhode Island economy might look like, how it might function, and what kind of prosperity would be possible while healing the ecosystem that support us and to get that information into the hands of the public and the policy makers.
May 28th, 2008
Prosperity. The dominant paradigm of economic growth leads us to global warming, petroleum depletion, growing poverty, paved over farmland, toxic landscapes, and ever more dangerous weaponry. The paradigm of a Prosperity oriented economy leads to healthy farms, new ways of looking at energy, peace, a non toxic landscape, and the end of poverty. Can we change the discussion in RI and actually seek prosperity? What would that look like?
May 28th, 2008
Ian Donnis has accurately captured the mood, the despair most Rhode Islanders feel about the economy and the state budget in his article “Cant anybody here play this game”. He also presents us some of the history of this despair, beginning with the deindustrialization of Rhode Island, progressing to the latest studies, papers, and plans of the eminent professors, and the EDC spin doctors. Donnis also captures the general consensus that the “experts” have of high tech knowledge based economy that they want implemented in Rhode Island, but that never seems to arrive.
What Donnis leaves out of this equation, is the possibility is that all these experts are wrong about what it might take to bring a general prosperity to Rhode Island, and that their wrong headedness is the result of some very serious and fundamental misunderstandings of what is bringing economic woes to Rhode Island and what new approaches are needed to move us forward.
Everything the EDC, the professors, the economists, the bureaucrats propose for the Rhode Island economy is still based on the idea that the economy can grow forever, and that in some way we shall be able to fuel it all with cheap energy. Saying that there are limits to growth is written off as some sort of Malthusian dystopia, as in the past the corporate order has been able to kill enough people to take over their forests, minerals, and farmlands, and incorporate the rest of the newly exploited population as cheap labor, but there are no new forests to exploit, no new farmlands to bring into production, and we have reached peak oil. In other words there are fundamental changes, but the models we are saddled with are still based on the past.
We hear more and more about sustainability, about Green jobs programs, but even here, it is words without understanding the implications. People are already using resources at unsustainable rates, have run out of places to put the garbage (and I do not only mean Johnston) and global climate change threatens civilization. What is sustainable about depleting resources and polluting ourselves to death, and why would anyone think that such a program, with a high tech spin, is actually going to benefit our community? Eventually we are going to come to the realization that for people to be able to live in peace on planet earth, for Rhode Island and every other community on the planet to prosper, we are going to have to shrink the American economy, and massively redirect it towards sharing better with the rest of the world. We are going to have to quit squandering the wealth of the planet on the war machine and live with much more localized economies. James Hansen of NASA says we have about 5 years to make the transition to a carbon free economy if we want civilization to survive. Until the EDC understands that, until the legislature understands that, until the governor understands that, and all of the implications for their fantasies of growing our way out of hard times, the only people who will profit from all of the studies and pronouncements about the Rhode Island economy and what to do, are the scam artists and con men who get paid big bucks to conduct all of these useless studies and spin the publicity about them.
I challenge the Phoenix and all of the “experts” to open their eyes and their minds to the world around them and start to plan for an economy based on using less and sharing more.
Founder RI Prosperity Project
May 24th, 2008
The RI prosperity project is an effort to help RI transform its economy from one based on growth and greed to one based on ecological wisdom, justice, and non violence. An economy based on healing ecosystems and stopping global warming as well as providing for every member of our community. This is a new site, but will soon be filled with writings that relate directly to the prosperity of Rhode Islanders by people actively participating in the process of economic transformation. It is hoped your comments will enliven the debate and speed up the action.
Greg Gerritt founder RI Prosperity Project 5/24/08
Project name was changed to Prosperity For RI when the chamber of commerce decided to act like the corporate assholes they are.