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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving Power Back to the People of Detroit
By: Anna Traub

Jackson Koeppel and the Soulardarity Project are helping Detroit gets it power back, literally by installing solar powered lamps. Highland Park is part of the Detroit metropolitan area and the city’s population had dropped by more 80 percent since the factories left the area. In 2011, around 1,000 of the city’s 1,500 streetlights were taken out by the local utility because of the $4 million municipal debt. The streets of Highland Park were left dark.

Jackson is working towards giving the power back to the people. While he and his team install the new solar run street lamps, the people now get the power back in their own hands, by owning these street lamps. Now, instead of being afraid of walking home at nights the people of HIghland Park can know their lights won’t be taken away by corporations.
Soulardarity is all about people taking control of their own well being and lives, and it is doing wonders for Detroit. Also Soulardarity is taken a sustainable approach by having solar powered lamps. They are giving hope back to the people and empowering them to change the future of Highland Park.

Koeppel and the Soulardarity Program are moving forward everyday, with new inventions to help Detroit get back on its feet, and build new beginnings. With the enormous support the have been given the community Soulardarity is making the big changes to Detroit and helping not only Detroit be in a better place but the individual families of Detroit as well.  To learn more about Koeppel and Soulardarity’s work visit:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Larry Bragman: Protecting Marin County's Watershed

On November 4, West Marin residents hit the polls and elected Larry Bragman, the Vice Mayor of Fairfax, as their representative on the Marin Municipal Water District Board. Our class was lucky enough to interview him a week previously. Bragman’s campaign platform is rooted in updating fire policy, making Marin more pesticide-free, conserving water, and preventing the construction of a huge new water pipeline across the Richmond Bridge.
One of his major goals is to create a “watershed economy here in Marin,” so that our water needs are locally sourced. This has the added benefits of being “less energy intensive,” and Bragman also claims that if we keep our water local, “We will know the quality of the water that we’re getting.”
The water pipeline project would cost about $45 million dollars to build and even more to actually pump. He believes that although the Drought Resilience and Operations Committee supports the pipeline’s construction as a last resort solution for a horrible drought, Marin County might “draw the short straw in terms of actually getting water.” Bragman says that the new pipeline would be “unreliable” because that water source is already very “oversubscribed.” Furthermore, we really don’t need an additional water source because we could all live off of the water stored in our watershed and the water we get from the Russian River for “two years without a drop of rain.” If we were to instead invest that $45 million locally, Bragman argues that we would produce more water at a lower marginal cost.
Another idea of his is to start (if necessary) pumping groundwater locally. There is a large volume of water stored underground near Bon Tempe lake that could be a potential site. Furthermore, he says that during years when we are actually dumping water from the reservoirs, we can simply pump the surplus back into the ground to restore that environment. Groundwater also eliminates waste because there is no evaporation underground like there is in reservoirs.
In addition, Marin needs to take a more radical stand on conservation. Santa Rosa, for example, has had a “cash for grass” incentive in play for years, in which the local government actually pays private customers to switch from grass lawns to artificial turf, saving 18 gallons per square foot per year of water. Bragman also suggests that we should replace all of the plumbing fixtures in the district with higher efficiency ones, and make their replacement a recommendation, if not a requirement, before a home can go on the market.
His bottom line is that we need to “get ahead of the drought” through conservation with a more urgent approach. Bragman thinks that the best way forward is to focus on the smaller things that all add up to higher efficiency. He maintains that “There is no silver bullet, but we have a suite of no-regret options that we should be pursuing here.” If we prioritize our water productivity as Bragman suggests, “We could be water-secure for the next 20-30 years.”

For more information on Bragman’s policies, visit his web site: 

Makena Schwinn, Earthscope Media Intern, 10/7/14

Green Chemistry Champion: An Interview with John Warner

I interviewed John Warner, green chemistry pioneer and recent recipient of the 2014 Perkin medal (basically the Pulitzer prize of chemistry), at the National Bioneers Conference in October. Though incredibly humble, Warner’s work speaks for itself. In the 1990s, Warner and a colleague published the definitive book on green chemistry, explaining it as a new technology that is environmentally sustainable, is economically feasible, and outperforms old technology. Recently Warner was the recipient of the Perkin Award in chemistry.
The Perkin Medal is recognized as one of the highest honors given for outstanding work in applied chemistry in the United States.  The Perkin Medal was first awarded in 1906. Since then, more than 90 such awards have been given to notable scientists.This is the very first time that the award has been given to a “green” chemist. In a field not normally associated with being eco-conscious - this is a tremendous breakthrough for chemistry and a tremendous honor for Dr. Warner.
Warner’s two main (interconnected) focuses are: green chemistry, which involves eliminating hazardous materials from chemicals in the design stage; and biomimicry, a new practice in which technology replicates processes found in nature, which are nearly always more efficient than those are manmade. As Warner stated, the two go hand in hand, but “you can still mimic nature using toxic materials.” One example of this is new adhesive technology that is based on the way geckos can climb vertically, but is still very dangerous. Warner made it clear that the two concepts don’t always go together though, saying that “You can use biomimicry to make toxic materials, on the other hand you can do green chemistry and not be biomimetic. The wonderful part is when you do both.”
            Warner also believes it is crucial for the average person to have a better understanding of chemistry because it affects virtually everything about our lives--the products we buy, the foods we eat, and the air we breathe, how we communicate--and it affects legislation. He says that there are flaws at the collegiate level of chemistry education. After being an industrial chemist for over twenty years, Warner had never been required to take courses in environmental mechanisms nor toxicology. He is convinced that the way in which chemistry is taught in high school needs to be dramatically improved because most people’s bad experience in a high school chem class scares them away from the area for the rest of their lives. He is a testament to this theory, receiving a D in high school chemistry himself. He claims, however, that “once you understand that there is a science about trying to do things in a more environmentally responsible way, it makes [chemistry] much more palatable.” It is Warner’s philosophy that young people need to get hooked on chemistry not because of the cool reactions teachers demonstrate to entice them, but by the idea that “the future is made by chemists.” He wishes that teachers would instead approach a class and say “Listen. The world has problems. If you really want to contribute to a successful future, would you think being a chemist is at the top of the list? If it’s not, who’s going make the future?”
To inspire youth to pursue green chemistry, Warner wants them to understand that “We need people who want a successful future to be part of making it, not describing it.” In order to accomplish this goal, Warner’s team created the Beyond Benign foundation, which incorporates green chemistry curriculum into K-12 education in the Boston area and connects science with health and environmentalism. So far, the foundation has reached out to thousands of students.

To learn more about Dr. John Warner and the Beyond Benign Foundation go to and

Makena Schwinn, Earthscope Media Intern, 10/22/14

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

EcoViva for Mangrove Conservation

EcoViva for Mangrove Conservation

            Today, half of the world’s mangrove forests have disappeared. Mangroves play a crucial role in the planet’s environment, but they are vanishing from Earth.
EcoViva is a non-profit organization that uses their efforts to conserve and secure the Mangrove forests of El Salvador. Unlike anywhere else, El Salvador has some of the largest Mangrove forests that are being threatened right now.
Some of the main causes for Mangrove loss are due to deforestation and intense fisherman farming using explosives. Mangroves are being damaged by explosives used by local fisherman to catch fish. Harming these tropical forests does not allow for water life to be supported. The roots of Mangroves, as well as the land surrounding them, absorb salt water that serves as nursing grounds for marine life. Ironically, local fishermen destroy their own food supply, because in the long run, fish will not be able to survive in the damaged environment.
            EcoViva supports initiatives to stop this process of hunting for fish using explosives. This organization works with local people to have regional and environmental policies. EcoViva has had great success with changing fishing practices by teaching fishermen of new and efficient ways to catch fish. They help around eighteen communities from different parts of Central America like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Panama. The group also fights to stop resorts from being built in these communities, because it will negatively affect the environment.
            Along with supporting conservation initiatives, Eco Viva also supports community level involvement and enforcement. It is crucial to them that the community they are working in gets involved with and supports their initiatives. By having local people included in their projects, they are able to maintain their important work for long periods of time. In an interview with the executive director of EcoViva, Karolo Aparicio stated that he did not just want to “plant trees,” but instead have the Mangroves cure themselves by protecting the ones that remain. It has been found that allowing the Mangroves to regenerate themselves is a much more effective and an eco-friendlier process.
            The Mangrove forests are significant to balancing the climate, because they absorb so much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which helps to deter climate change. Mangroves support life by creating a breeding ground for shrimp and other marine life, like crab, shellfish, and endangered sea turtles.
            If you would like to help EcoViva and their mission to conserve the mangroves, you can become a Mangrove Forest Guardian. These people support local communities who fight for the preservation of their local forests. For more information, go to their website at We must help organizations like these to preserve the world’s biodiversity.

A New Hope for Restoration

In the past decades, the San Francisco Bay Area has seen a steady decline in the Otter population. While the River Otters were close to extinction in the region, many did not know this due to the minimal information there is about otters. Before the existence of the River Otter Ecology Project, only two articles could be found about our local river otters. Now, thanks to the help of the River Ecology Project, we know more about otters than ever before.
The River Otter Ecology Project is a non-profit organization that aspires to discover the connection between the growing population of River Otters and our watersheds. Their goal is to bring awareness to the public in order to get more people involved in the restoration and conservation of the watershed environment. Their workers consist of only volunteers who are determined to find more about Otter ecology, habitat, and behavior in our watersheds.
It is essential to know about River Otters, because they are an important species that live in our waters and on land. Watersheds are very important, because they supply our drinking water, provide water for agricultural use and provide a habitat for many plants and animals. Unfortunately, many of these watersheds have been polluted or diminished from years of drought conditions. In spite of this, the otter population appears to be rebounding. The River Otter Ecology Project has recorded over nine hundred sightings as of July 2014. That is why seeing an Otter brings hope to our watersheds. Their comeback shows great promise for conserving the watershed, and by restoring it we help support us all.
River Otters can be seen in the San Francisco Bay Area ranging from San Jose to the Sacramento Valley. Their habitat extends from headwaters to oceans using every part of the watershed as their home. The River Otter Ecology Project has obtained lots of information about Otters that educate the public of their ecology. Their research methodology does no harm to the otters, their natural environment or daily rituals, mostly because their research consists of cameras being placed in certain areas. At first, the researchers believed the Otters would be afraid of their cameras, but as it turns out their curiosity took over and some of the otters even played with these cameras.
After a presentation from the co-founder, Megan Isadore, I was intrigued to hear about how near Otters lived near my own home. Isadore spoke about the variety of ways one can find Otters by identifying their tracks. One can find Otter signs by observing the land along creeks and rivers or anywhere that consist of small to large bodies of water. The first signs of an Otter habitat are their latrine sites. These sites are filled with a variety of Otter scat. These are located on high ground around a river of water usually on ponds, logs, or rocks on water.
Along these streams, slides can also be found. These are indicators of Otters sites. As a way of getting into the water, otters slide from land into lakes or rivers, and can be clearly identified when seen. Other indications of Otter environments are flat beds of land. Otters tend to roll around along the edges of water where they twist and turn flattening grass and dirt along with their scat. This may be odd, but it is their way of communicating to each other the type of surrounding they are in, like the food they eat or any illnesses in the environment. Anyone can find these signs along their neighborhood creeks or streams that are attached to larger bodies of water. Anyone can submit their findings to the River Otter Ecology Project website, and see their findings posted on their Otter Spotter blogs.
Every single person working for the River Otter Ecology Project is a volunteer ranging from specialist to high school interns. Their staff consists of around twenty or so members that are busy trying to find more information about River Otters. But there are those who simply spot otters and record it. This is called a citizen scientist.  A citizen scientist is someone who observes otters in their neighborhood or anywhere else near them. Anyone can become a citizen scientist and help support the River Otter Ecology Project and their cause. Taking a picture or video of an otter near you can help the ROEP accomplish their mission of discovering new information about Otters. By going onto their website, one can find quick facts about Otters as well as how to spot any near you.
The River Otter population was once close to extinction from the San Francisco Bay Area. Let us help the ROEP ( not only to conserve the health of our watersheds, but also to restore the wonderful unique species that once filled our watersheds in the Bay.