The Bryan Family YMCA seeks support from members to implement a comprehensive environmental initiative, according to an August newsletter. The organization requests suggestions, fundraising ideas, professional advice and volunteers to green its building in downtown Greensboro on West Market Street. According to a statement by executive director Joe Hennigan:
"...We also believe our facility, with its already high profile, has the ability to be a catalyst for spurring environmentally responsible downtown development. We are convinced a public, concentrated, ongoing campaign to lesson our carbon footprint will engage our existing membership to be more involved with the YMCA and attract new, active members who are committed not only to environmental stewardship but the overarching mission of the YMCA."
I'll post more as I get more details. Know of any other organizations going green?
Various dates: Greensboro Community Television, Cable Channel 8, will air a 90 minute presentation about peak oil given in July by Peter Kauber of Guilford Solar Communities at the following times: Sunday, Aug. 17 at 6:00 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 29 at noon; and Monday, Sept. 1 at midnight.
Aug. 20: Greensboro Green Drinks (5:30-7:30 p.m. at Natty Greene's)
Sept. 20: A "Growing a Just, Green Economy" conference will take place in Durham on the campus of North Carolina Central University. Early registration fee is $20.
Keynote speakers include environmental justice activist, Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, and minister, community activist and State President of the NAACP the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. The day-long event will also feature panels and workshops covering policy, business development, job assessment, education and training, and resource security.
Sept. 25: “No Child Left Inside” talk and book signing, starting at 5 p.m. at Greensboro Montessori School, 2856 Horse Pen Creek Road. Call 668-0119 for more information.
According to the school: Author Richard Louv, whose award-winning book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder" has sparked an international movement to reunite children and nature, will bring his message to Greensboro at a public lecture and book signing at the school. The free event, which will be held (appropriately) outside, will begin with an array of family-friendly activities; Louv will speak at 7.
Louv’s visit to Greensboro will be the centerpiece of a community-wide celebration of national "Take a Child Outside Week," September 24-30 that will include everything from a night hike at the library’s Kathleen Clay Edwards Family Branch to a workshop on wilderness skills at Bur-Mil Park.
Now, local residents are working to expand sustainability efforts at the county level. The group, called Green Guilford, is working with Rob Bencini, the county's director of economic and community development. They aim to educate the public about environmental issues, support governmental purchases of environmentally-friendly products, create a neighborhood sustainability advisory board (Ahem... homeowners associations), and tap into existing soil and water conservation groups.
Now, the group must win over the public and county commissioners. I anticipate this plan could get a lot of resistance from businesses that stand to lose money if the county switches products and services. But many "green businesses" are willing and eager to take their place.
What do you think about this group?
Perhaps you read this recent story from a colleague of mine on a High Point woman facing fines from her homeowners association because of her grassless lawn:
"Similar battles have been waged on a statewide level recently, as the drought has turned attention toward the vast amounts of water sprinkled and sprayed on suburban lawns each summer.
"In its past session, the General Assembly passed a bill limiting the ability of homeowners’ associations to fine residents who don’t water their lawns during a drought."
It's only a matter of time before grassless lawns move away from the minority to the mainstream as homeowners deal not only with perpetual drought, but rising food and energy prices. Urban gardening and edible landscapes are becoming more attractive to Americans across the country, even in Greensboro, where public schools are putting their lawns to use for educational purposes.
HOAs serve their purpose, namely to protect property values and maintain joint-owned amenities, such as pools and recreation centers. In some cases, the HOAs pay to cut grass or repair exterior surfaces of the homes. But HOAs are vulnerable during recessions when cash-strapped mortgage payers stop paying their assessments on time. And HOAs have to be carefully managed; otherwise, funds get misspent, leaving homeowners in the lurch. (I've owned a home where I paid a monthly HOA and experienced a near 50 percent increase in one year.)
At any rate, will homebuyers continue to favor neighborhoods with HOAs or will the associations come to be seen as unnecessary and expensive burdens for residents to carry? Neighborhoods that gain in value may very well be those that allow their residents to install clotheslines and solar panels and grow food instead of teh water-hungry, glorified weed called grass. (More on edible landscaping here.)
I had to get away during the Fourth of July holiday. I had just completed my peak oil series for the N&R and its publication provided another opportunity for the weight of the potential crisis to set in and disrupt my peace of mind. I was also consumed at the time with some analysis paralysis about whether to move from my current apartment or not, and if so, where and when. On Thursday, July 3, my husband and I decided, in a moment of last-minute frivolity, to go to Asheville for the weekend. We did not regret it and I even picked up some ideas from the plethora of green businesses and alternative media in the city.
I didn't leave with all of my questions answered, but I did get enough breathing room to contemplate the next stages of my sustainability journey. Being in Asheville did underscore Greensboro's relative lack of eco-consciousness, but I also saw this city's strengths and weaknesses as fertile soil for change. My thoughts were confirmed this past Saturday while attending a Green Dialogue session at Elsewhere collective.
Justin Leonard, active in Greensboro's urban gardening efforts, spoke on the topic of "how to grow a community" and ended his presentation with the comment that a lot of his friends set their sights on Asheville or Seattle because of how far along they are in facilitating environmentally-friendly lifestyles. But Leonard said Greensboro is ripe for change.
"We need people who are willing to stay in a place that is not really nice and do the hard work," said Leonard, who helped create a garden at Greensboro Montessori.
Leonard is right, as frustrating as that hard work might be. I'm often tempted to just pack up and move to a place that better supports the lifestyle I want to have. (Having grown up in the military, I also get bored). Trouble is, if you can't make peace with your surroundings, you are likely to carry that dissatisfaction elsewhere. You will find something else to complain about and your self-righteousness will be unjustified. After all, many people are adopting green lifestyles as a fad, not because they understand or support the underlying tenets or worldview. Plus, Seattle is expensive.
I was talking with my father one day about the prospects of my committing to live in Greensboro and he remarked that one of city's features that makes it economically viable over the long term is the plethora of colleges and universities. Higher education establishments here should keep state and private monies flowing in, my dad said, and attract businesses because of the city's age- and skill-diverse workforce.
Of course, I regularly hear local and state leaders talk about how vital our colleges and universities are for preparing young people to "compete in a global economy." But some in the educational system worry that the glue that holds globalization together is an achilles heel for higher education: cheap oil. Like other institutions in America, the higher ed system's business plans, physical infrastructure and study areas rely largely on fossil fuels.
I touched on this concern in a peak oil project I completed for the News & Record in June. Gerald Cecil, a physics professor at UNC Chapel Hill, one of the top liberal arts universities in the state, said the school's long term success depends on how it prepares for a decline in oil supplies. He is currently working on an freshman introductory course on the subject.
His concerns are more than reasonable. Higher energy and tuition costs are already creating stress for families and the colleges themselves and driving changes in the educational system, such as an increase in online learning; the late Peter Drucker, a renown management consultant who coined the term "knowledge worker," predicted in 1997 the demise of residential colleges within 30 years (yet public universities in North Carolina, including UNCG, are in the midst of a building boom). The Chronicle of Higher Education featured an article this month encouraging colleges to prepare for peak oil.
Expensive and isolated schools may be at a disadvantage. I attended Campbell University in Buies Creek (a town that had one traffic light when I was there) and students drove 30 minutes or more to Fayetteville and Raleigh for entertainment. Will students do that at $7 a gallon gasoline? Will families spend $20,000 plus a year on tuition and fees in an era of lower job availability?
Public and technical schools such as N.C. A&T (as well as community colleges) may be at an advantage because of their low tuitions and program areas. UNCG, Elon and Guilford College have sustainability programs, but my understanding is that staff are motivated more for environmental reasons than peak oil. My question is, how long will it take before high oil prices contribute to a gradual decline in enrollments rather than an increase? Should colleges continue to rely on government and private loans to fill their seats? Time will tell.
In the meantime, alternative educational systems are trying to fill in the peak oil educational gaps: I've seen plans for bioregional colleges and "communiversities." Given all of the educational resources in Guilford County, it would make sense for leaders here to retool and adapt early rather than start from scratch when it is too late.
President Bush and many educators have worked over the past several years to close the academic achievement gap between groups of students. Should his educational legacy also include closing the nature gap as well?
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is gathering support for the No Child Left Inside Act, a federal bill that would offer states incentives to develop Environmental Literacy Plans and integrate environmental education across K-12 curricula. The No Child Left Inside Act aims to ensure that schools have the resources and training necessary to help the next generation understand and address the challenges of protecting the environment.
Connecting children with nature is a goal that is beginning to gain steam here in Greensboro. Last Saturday, about 30 people viewed a documentary at The HIVE in Glenwood about the disconnect between today's generation of children and nature and unstructured play.
Given that No Child Left Behind has been underfunded since its inception and criticized for faulty implementation, I'm not sure another federal law is the best approach toward this issue. However, a healthy dialogue about the children's lack of exposure to the outdoors is needed.
Starting this Sunday, the News & Record will feature a three-part series I worked on this year about peak oil. I'm encouraging you all to take a look because you will likely hear more about it in the news from now on.
If you want a head start, take a look at this article.
In addition, Peter Kauber of Guilford Solar Communities will do a two-hour presentation on peak oil on July 12. Details:
What: Guilford Solar July Program: "Peak Oil -- Theory
Where: Kathleen Clay Edwards Family Branch Library,
1420 Price Park Road
When: Saturday, July 12, 10 AM -- 12 Noon
Description: Transportation is the lifeline of our current global and US economies. Over 95% of our transportation is dependent upon the refined products of oil -- gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and bunker fuel. As the price of oil sets new records weekly, the question naturally arises: Why is this happening? One increasingly common explanation is that the rate of production worldwide of cheap, high-quality oil has peaked or will do so in the near future. This is the "peak oil" hypothesis. Guilford Solar's July program will explain the meaning of peak oil and will examine the evidence that supports it. The presenter is Peter Kauber, who has researched the topic over the past four years. Kauber was employed by Marathon Oil Company during the 1979-1981 "oil crisis" and thus brings a historical and industry perspective to the discussion.
Across the country, American Dreams are evaporating in so many ways and for so many reasons it is hard to keep count. I was just reading today in the New York Times about homeowners who have been foreclosed upon now finding it difficult to rent apartments (including one 43-year-old woman who is renting kitchen-less space on the third floor of someone's house). Then you've got the destroyed homes and businesses in the Midwest from the floods, mounting layoffs, and then, of course, $4 gas.
What does this mean? Rejection letters from landlords. Sleeping in cars. Staycations (not trips to Myrtle Beach and Disneyworld). Beans and rice for dinner. Unemployment checks. All with the background noise of peak oil, climate change and drought.
How's all that for a slice of humble pie? I'm certainly eating it. All those years in college racking up debt while aspiring to build a career, own several homes, take weekend retreats and summer vacations (hey, maybe even travel overseas!), and retire at 60 could have been better spent preparing to live in an "earn less, make do" world. A world where people explore the nooks and crannies of their towns and cities rather than jet-setting, where homeownership exemplifies a person's commitment to their communities rather than a path to riches. A world where I have a blue-collar back-up to my white-collar 9 to 5.
Pride (as in "We Americans deserve it!") may have gotten us far in the the 20th century, but it will do us a disservice now. Sharing, sacrifice, solidarity, cooperation and common sense, all those things we pay lip service too, will be the currency that gets us through these next years and decades. It means sharing a house, a car, a garden. Counting the full cost of things you buy from production to sale. Creating miracles for yourself and other people instead of waiting for them to drop out of the sky. Seeing God work in darkness as well as light.
Throwing hissy fits is not going to get us through this deal.