On March 2, 2014, I attended the Local Environmental Action Conference which was held at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Both the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and the Toxics Action Center hosted this event. The Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN) is an organization that coordinates the work of locally organized groups across Massachusetts fighting the climate crisis. The Toxics Action Center’s mission is to “work side-by-side with communities, providing you with the skills and resources needed to prevent or clean up pollution at the local level.” This event occurs every year and this was my first year attending, but certainly not my last.
We started the day with our first keynote speaker, Teri Blanton, a fellow of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She explained the issue of mountaintop removal in Kentucky which she has been working on for over 30 years. I had never heard of mountaintop removal before this conference. To explain it in layman’s terms, it occurs when coal companies run out of coal underground and under the mountains, so they resort to utilizing the small amounts of coal in the top of the mountain. There are only thin strips of coal located in the mountain tops, but if the coal companies see coal they’ll do anything to harvest it. They clear cut all the trees and shrubs off of the mountaintop, then burn it. Using explosives to blow off the top of the mountain causes toxic particulates to end up in the air. The coal companies use harsh toxic chemicals to separate the coal from the soil. These chemicals end up in the water, making the water toxic for people in the surrounding communities to drink, bathe, cook with, etc. After listening to Teri Blanton, I learned what an atrocity the people of Kentucky and ultimately the entire country is facing. Teri Blanton is an amazing woman who has the charisma that everybody in the room could feel and it was good to know that she will continue with her amazing work to end mountaintop removal.
The first workshop that I attended was entitled “Mission Possible: Zero Waste Communities” and was presented by Brooke Nash, branch chief of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and Christin Walth, project manager for Toward Zero Waste Newburyport. Brooke Nash emphasized that if a product can’t be reused or recycled, it should have never been made in the first place. I definitely agree because it really brings up the issue of plastic bags and Styrofoam products. She went on with a very technical breakdown of waste production in Massachusetts. She talked about how effective Pay As You Throw (PAYT) trash programs are and how there is a direct correlation to an increase in recycling among towns. She went on to explain all of the benefits of the Pay As You Throw program in towns. Christin Walth spoke next and she focused on organic waste disposal. She opened a lot of our eyes by explaining how food waste accounts for 25% of the waste that we produce. Given this, she explained how our state legislation recently passed an Organic Waste Disposal Ban which will be implemented in October of 2014. This would ban businesses and institutions from throwing more than one ton of organic waste per week in the trash. It was made very clear that organics are the key to living a zero waste lifestyle. To sum up their presentation, they stated that moving towards zero waste is “an evolution, not a revolution” which was a great way to conclude.
The next workshop that I attended was entitled “Sharing Our Resources: Co-ops, Time Banks and Peer-to-Peer Renting” and was presented by Katherine Fisher, Mike Brown, and Judy Bennett. Katherine Fisher talked about her new three-person solar company that she has been working on for the past few years. She taught everybody about co-ops and explained how they work. Mike Brown is the co-founder of GearCommons, a sharing website that focuses on outdoor equipment. He explained how his business works and what led to its development. Brown also stressed and brought awareness to how important sharing is – environmentally and financially. The last speaker, Judy Bennett, talked about the work that she has been doing for Time Trade Circle. The way Time Trade Circle works is that someone does work for someone else and gets online credits. You can then spend your credits by having someone else work for you.
In the afternoon, we had our second keynote speaker, Robin Chase, the founder and CEO of Buzzcar, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, and founder of GoLoco. Robin Chase talked to us about how she has shifted her life focus to bringing awareness to climate change. She gave us a bone-chilling statistic that by the 2060s, the earth will increase in temperature by seven degrees Fahrenheit, but on land, it will increase by eleven degrees Fahrenheit. She explained how worried she is for her three children and their future. She also wanted people to remember that climate change is going to affect them, as well as their children. The three key points that she wanted everybody to leave with, and focus on, is the importance of energy, consumption, and community.
The last workshop that I attended was entitled “What we can (and must) do about our massive food waste problem” and was presented by Randi Mail and Elise Vergnano. They presented all of the different ways that organic waste can be disposed of other than in your trash. We found out that residential waste accounts for 60% of all waste and commercial waste accounts for the other 40%. They showed how municipal waste is only the tip of the iceberg since manufacturing waste is seventy times greater than municipal waste. Then we learned how awful incinerators are for our environment. They are more polluting to our environment than coal burning plants. This was surprising to me and made think that we should be shutting down all incinerating plants before coal burning plants. Idealistically, they should all be shut down immediately and replaced with alternative forms of energy. One of their shocking statistics was that 40% of food produced in the United States is wasted: from the source and all the way down to your home. Massachusetts produces one million tons of food waste annually and only 10% of that waste is diverted from landfills. Regarding the Commercial Organics Ban that is supposed to be implemented this October, they showed an ideal form of composting that is being implemented in Cambridge, MA, beginning in April of 2014. Cambridge is starting a curbside composting program where everybody receives totes that they put out every week to be collected by composting trucks.
This was my entire day at the Local Environmental Action Conference. Everybody was able to choose which workshops they went to and those were the workshops that I chose. I would highly recommend that all environmentalists and frankly, anybody that cares about our future, should attend this annual event.
This is the website for the conference: http://localenvironmentalaction.org/