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Taking Action Outside of Government

The news of Trump rolling back environmental protections is hard for me to take in, although I knew it was all coming from the moment I heard the election results. Despite my anger and grief that hits me in occasional waves, I see the current political landscape as an opportunity for people to wake up and realize that if they want something done, it will happen faster if they organize and do it themselves. It’s time to take real, concrete action outside of government.

Yesterday I found a perfect example of action outside of government being put into practice: this past weekend, 300 union plumbers installed water filters in the faucets of Flint, Michigan residents. Members of Plumbers Union International donated the supplies and organized the volunteer effort. Here is the media alert.

It would have been great for Federal, state, and local governments to use their money and power to fix the Flint lead crisis by now (it started in 2014!), but here we are. So thank you Plumbers Union International for using your skills to help others on a Saturday. I plan to follow your example of taking action outside of government as often as possible.

 

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Go Time

The Trump presidency hits me in waves. Right now I’m angry because I just found out that Trump signed a “document” clearing the way for the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline.

So reckless. So dangerous. Such a slap in the face to humanity.

I’m so angry.

So right now I’m listening to “Splinter” by Ani DiFranco on repeat. Here are the amazing lyrics:

Something about this landscape just don’t feel right
Hyper air-conditioned and lit up all night

Like we just gotta see how comfortable comfortable can get
Like we can’t even bring ourselves to sweat

Sweat in the summer, shiver in the winter
Just enough to know that we’re alive
Watch out for that TV, it’s full of splinters
And remember you can always go outside
Really, really, really far outside

And some might call it conservation
And some might call it common sense
And maybe it’s because I am Libra
But I say balance balance balance balance
I say balance balance balance balance

Who put all this stuff in my apartment?
Who put all this ice in my drink?
Who put the poison in the atmosphere?
Who put the poison in the way I think?

O women, won’t you be our windows
Women who bleed and bleed and bleed
Women who swim with the tide, women who change when the wind blows
Show us we are connected to everything
Show us we are not separate from everything

So here’s to the trials of living
Here’s to feeling our share of pain
All the way from childbirth to dying
Here’s to being connected to everything
Here’s to staying connected to everything

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Super Basic Administrative Law

I’ve spent a large chunk of my life studying and working within the environmental law realm, which is a subset of administrative law.

Have I lost you yet? I know this stuff is dense and the terminology sucks. Bear with me – I’ll make it short. Knowing the bare-bone basics of administrative law is important for understanding the U.S.

The U.S. government has three branches (Judicial, Legislative, and Executive), and the Executive Branch is more than just the President. The Executive Branch is also made up of many agencies, like the Department of Justice, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and many more.

Federal agencies further their missions by interpreting the laws that are passed by Congress (Legislative Branch) to make their own rules and regulations. This process of Executive Branch agencies interpreting the laws passed by Congress to make rules and enforce them is what administrative law is all about. It creates a ton of government policy and it all happens outside of elections and the Congressional “how a bill becomes a law” process.

For example, Congress passed the original version of the Clean Air Act in the 1960’s, and then made major changes to it in 1970, 1977, and 1990. But other than that, all of the Clean Air Act rules that power plants, car manufacturers, and other sources of air pollution must follow have been created and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, with oversight by the courts (Judicial Branch). All of Obama’s climate change policy has occurred within the administrative law process.

The last layer I will add on today: although the agency must follow the purpose of the law they are charged with interpreting, the President, as the head of the Executive Branch, appoints the heads of the agencies. Therefore, the President has significant influence on what actions the agency takes during his term.

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Planting Trees

There is so much thinking (and talking) going on in the United States right now, as action slowly emerges. It’s hard to get unstuck! Last night someone commented on one of my earlier posts on mourning trees, and it reminded me of the genuine value of planting trees to cool our warming planet.

Carl Sagan‘s last book is called Billions and Billions, and it was published in 1998 (he died in 1996). I am fascinated by works that artists (I consider scientists and environmentalists to be artists if they are doing it right) create when they know that they are going to die in the near future. Carl Sagan wrote Billions and Billions as he died of cancer, to the point where his wife had to finish it. Rachel Carson spent over half of her time writing Silent Spring when she knew she was dying of cancer.

So here is Carl Sagan’s advice on taking real action to reduce the negative effects of global warming (this advice was published in 1998!):

The only method of cooling down the greenhouse effect which seems both safe and reliable is to plant trees. Everyone can plant trees – individuals, nations, industries. But especially, industry. Applied Energy Services in Arlington, Virginia, has built a coal-fired power plant in Connecticut; it is also planting trees in Guatemala that will remove from the Earth’s atmosphere more carbon dioxide than the company’s new facility will inject into the air over its operational lifetime. Shouldn’t lumber companies plant more forests – of the fast growing, leafy variety useful for mitigating the greenhouse effect – than they cut down? What about the coal, oil, natural gas, petroleum, and automobile industries? Shouldn’t every company that puts CO2 into the atmosphere be engaged in removing it as well? Shouldn’t every citizen? What about planting trees at Christmastime? Or birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. Our ancestors came from the trees and we have a natural affinity for them. It is perfectly appropriate for us to plant more.

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Standing Rock Update

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is doing amazing work, by fighting for something (water and land), instead of against something. Although they are technically fighting against a pipeline, their overarching message is “water is life” and they are standing up to protect the natural resources that sustain our world. State and private police forces have been brutal – last weekend, they blasted protestors with water cannons while it was freezing outside.

Winter is coming . . . And as it descends on the Sacred Stone Camp, the stakes get higher. The governor of North Dakota issued an executive order requiring the protestors to leave due to harsh winter conditions, but they will not be sending law enforcement follow through with the executive order. The Army Corps of Engineers is requiring that protestors leave federal land by December 5th. A recent press release indicates that the water protectors are not going anywhere. Their grit is incredible.

Sacred Stone Camp has a great website that keeps people updated and directly asks for help (supplies and funds) from anyone who can contribute. The tricky part about this effort (and environmental work in general) is that the timeline is long, so it requires commitment for the long haul.

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Plant Love: Snake Plant

Although as I child I vowed to my mother that I would never own a single plant because I did not enjoy taking care of hers, I now have approximately 15 house plants in my one-bedroom apartment, plus a small outdoor vegetable and herb garden. My perspective on plants changed when I got my own place because I realized that not only are they beautiful, but they are functional. My aloe plant is great for my skin, my thyme plant tastes great, and all of my plants improve the indoor air quality.

Today I am going to showcase my first and in many ways favorite indoor house plant: the snake plant (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue).

Snake Plant
One of my snake plants…

Anytime someone asks me about my plants and is interested in getting one for themselves, I recommend a snake plant to start. Snake plants are great because they are easy – they don’t like a lot of water or direct sunlight. It seems like the more I neglect them, the more they thrive. The only time I had trouble with a snake plant was when I gave one too much water and the leaves got soggy and fell over. I had a snake plant in my cubicle at a former job where there was only fluorescent light and absolutely no natural light – the beast just kept growing and growing, and it still lives in that maze of cubicles with a friend today.

If you’re interested in getting a snake plant, I’ve purchased them at Home Depot, Ikea, and the indoor plant section of a local nursery.

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Reframing the News

I’ve written here before about my interest in a “low information diet,” which is a strategy to stay focused on what you actually have control over. Although this is a good idea sometimes, I now know that I took it too far. Years leading up to the 2016 election, I had no commitment to understanding the news, and instead got information from Facebook, comedy news shows, documentaries, and a few random websites that align with my interests. I believe that tuning out quality journalism was a big mistake on my part, and I’ve committed to spend some time each day paying attention to what is going on in the world around me and beyond.

Two days after the election results, I deactivated my Facebook account. I’ll be back on soon to stay digitally connected with family and friends, but I’m done using it to read articles and catch the latest news story. I’m horrified at the fake news stories that proliferated through social networks during the election cycle, and how my personal echo chamber was completely different from those who supported other candidates and see the world differently from me. This article and this article sum up my concerns nicely.

So in recognition of this error and my commitment to do better from here on out, I’ve started paying for digital access to the New York Times, the Buffalo News, and I’m about to sign up for a subscription to The Economist. No newspaper is perfect and every journalist comes with their personal biases, but I want to pay for and read journalism that has standards and seeks to uncover what is (closer to being) real.

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Onward

I will remember this week forever, because it’s the week of the U.S. 2016 election results, which blew my mind. I had a feeling that the multi-year campaign was too strange, too filled with fear, and too saturated with misinformation to result in the “status quo” (if you can call the first female president the status quo), but it was a shock nonetheless.

In the aftermath of the election results, I’ve found additional motivation to work harder, pay better attention, and take responsibility for creating the things that I want to see in the world.

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Gratitude

Yesterday I made a “plan for my weekend,” which included re-writing a legal article to post today. But I just got back from a walk with my dog, Sunny, and I realized that I’d much rather take a few paragraphs to recognize that I am so grateful for having one of the best weeks in recent memory. I was recognized for doing good work at my job, I had a number of great conversations with new and old friends, I got to see the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play backup to a Beatles cover band with my family (their rendition of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was awesome), I ate well, and I started brainstorming a new creative project with one of my favorite environmental “colleagues.” It’s kind of blowing my mind that all of these wonderful experiences happened over the course of five days.

I’m also grateful for being in the midst of my favorite season in Western New York. Last fall I was distracted with my personal life and driving pretty much everywhere, but this year I am much more present and living in an a city apartment where I walk all the time. The leaves are gorgeous!