The Ecology Center brings James Hansen to Ann Arbor

James Hansen photo from The Guardian

When the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies warns that our current climate change policy isn’t protecting our planet, it’s probably a good idea to listen. In fact, it’s imperative. James Hansen is considered one of the world’s top climate scientists and has spent his lifetime not only observing, but teaching students how the Earth’s environment works at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

For these reasons and more, the Ecology Center is excited to bring James Hansen to Ann Arbor as the keynote speaker for our fundraiser this October (click here for tickets). Hansen is helping shape an intelligent response to climate change with scientific understanding. Earlier this year, he received the Ridenhour Courage Prize for his continued advocacy despite a backlash from the government and scientific communities.

At the start of his career, Hansen published research connecting human activity with changes in the climate. In 1988, he testified to Congress that these altered conditions will be dangerous for life on Earth, and did the same in 2001 as a scientist on the Bush administration’s Environmental Task Force. These early warnings have become our present problems. The Earth is experiencing greater and more frequent storms, floods, and droughts. And we’re approaching the point where our impact may be irreversible.

That’s why James Hansen has taken to the street to fight for a healthy world, especially against the threat of our continued reliance on carbon-producing energy sources. Over the last few years, he’s partnered with Bill McKibben of to pressure the government to stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies, reject the Keystone XL Pipeline, and make carbon-producing industries pay for their cost to society. Ensuring a healthy world requires public education and organization. We hope you’ll join us in learning from James Hansen’s experiences this fall.

NOTE: Limited free/discounted tickets are available. If you’re interested in volunteering for 5 hours in exchange for a ticket (4-7pm and 9-11pm — i.e., not during the dinner and speech), contact Jenn Ketz.

It might be time to re-think solar for your home.

WARM Training Center in Detroit has a program going on right now called MI Solar Works and it might just be the perfect way to get your house solar-powered.

You can learn more about the program and find info about how to apply here:

But to give you the main points, WARM will help you find out if you’re eligible for a loan — with no up-front payments! — that allows you to install either a 3kw system at $10,500 OR a 5 kw system for $15,000.

WARM’s FAQ page is incredibly helpful and it’s where I learned that most residential systems are between 2-10kw and, though it depends on a home’s energy use, an average system is about 5kw and provides 50-75% of a household’s energy. For a 5 kW system (what they typically install), the system would produce over 6,366 kwH of solar energy per year, or an average of 17.44 kwH per day.

I checked my DTE Energy bill and found my home’s average kwH per day estimate right in the middle of the front page under “Monthly Usage” — where it listed this year and last year for comparison. This will give you an idea of how much a 5kw system might lower your DTE bill. The idea behind this program is to re-direct what you pay to DTE for mostly coal-fired power to pay for a solar array. One thing to consider with these estimated figures is that the price of coal is probably going to increase over time.

Here’s some back-of-the-napkin math: The interest rates on the loans WARM would set you up with are capped at 7% so, if you were eligible, you could take out a $16,000 loan to install a 5kw system on your home and pay about $186 per month for 10 years while you save somewhere around $83 per month for a longer amount of time, specifically the life of the panels (which is about 25 years).  

This is part of a statewide initiative to make residential solar an affordable option in order to outfit 6,000 Michigan homes with solar panels. The program is funded through the Department of Energy’s “Race to the Rooftops” national challenge.

Power to the People: Petcoke Resistance in Detroit

People Against Petcoke Protest – Monday, June 24, 2013

When the news of the petroleum coke piles dumped along the Detroit River broke last month, I’m sad to say that my immediate reaction was not surprise. The petcoke piles are just another notch on the continuum of pollution and environmental injustice in Southwest Detroit.  Ever since my mom chose to move back to the city of Detroit two years ago, I’ve become used to the mysterious soot that seems to coat every outdoor surface and to the pungent smells that radiate down the block of my family’s home in Southwest Detroit.

As a brief reminder, the piles of petroleum coke (“petcoke”) have been deposited along the Detroit River, just east of the Ambassador Bridge to Canada, since the fall of 2012. Petcoke is a byproduct of burning crude tar sands, and it is estimated that every barrel of crude imported from Alberta results in an output of 60-130 pounds of petcoke. The petcoke being deposited along the Detroit River is only the beginning. The Marathon Oil Refinery in the 48217 zip code that produces this substance recently went through a $2 billion expansion in order to be able to process more of the tar sands, and thereby produce more of the petcoke.

It pains me to know that my family is suffering the side-effects of such environmental injustice while I live, work, and go to school in Ann Arbor, enjoying the privilege of clean air that is so often taken for granted.  So when I learned that the Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands (DCATS)-a division of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI CATS)– had been formed and was working on action around the petcoke piles, I was thrilled that people were taking action to combat the injustices my home community have been facing.  On Sunday, June 23, DCATS organized a march, rally, and action called “People Against Petcoke.”  At 3pm, we all met in Clark Park–a hub for community events in Southwest Detroit–where we heard several amazing speakers, from DCATS organizer Jarret Schlaff to the inspiring Charity Hicks.  From Clark Park, we marched the 1.8 miles to the site of the largest of the petcoke piles at the intersection of Rosa Parks and Jefferson Avenue.  Once there, we heard from more speakers, were fed exorbitant amounts of pie and pizza, and got direct action training, in which we practiced making consensus decisions and dealing with police, workers, and our fellow activists.  After the training, we walked down to the riverfront to join in a candlelit vigil at dusk with fellow activists across the river in Windsor, Canada.  It was windy and the candles flickered in and out, but the sense of solidarity emanated from one side of the river to the other nonetheless.

A group of people kept a presence at the site of the action overnight, and at around 8:30 the next morning (July 24), they began a blockade to stop a truck carrying petcoke into the site.  I arrived around 9:15 and linked arms with the brave people who had stood in front of the truck to stop it.  There was a large cardboard padlock tied with string across the drive into the dumping site, behind which stood several police officers and border patrol, the numbers of which increased throughout the day.  In front of the padlock stood about 25-30 activists, about 7 of whom had arms linked directly in front of the truck, and the rest of whom stood in successive rows behind those who were willing to risk arrest for the action.  We held a press conference in which we read a “People’s Eviction Notice,” which ordered Marathon, the Koch Brothers, and Matty Maroun (the property owner) to shut down the docks and the discontinue the illegal dumping of petcoke.  We had incredible press coverage, and our police liaison did a spectacular job of communicating to the police that this blockade wasn’t about just “making a point.” It was about turning the trucks around and not letting anyone dump petcoke in this space anymore.  Therefore, when the police asked us several times to pack up and go, our response was that we wouldn’t leave until the petcoke was moved.

The morning continued on, and the amount of trucks waiting to enter the facility/dumping ground increased.  Several of them turned around, but when the action came to a head, there were 5 trucks piled up waiting to get in.  One of them–the one we stood directly in front of–held petcoke.  We held signs with the Marathon logo that read “Murder” and signs that informed that Koch brothers that Detroit is NOT their dump.  Once in awhile the wind would pick up and we would all be coated in a layer of petcoke. When I returned home I discovered the cap of my water bottle was filled with the substance and the sign I was carrying had a thin layer the black, oily grime on it.  The police were incredibly cooperative, and kept underlining that they didn’t wish to make any arrests that day.  However, as the hours came and went, they began to give us warnings that if we didn’t move, they would be bringing a paddy wagon to arrest us all.

The 7 people standing directly in front of the truck were prepared to be arrested; they had come to a consensus that they were willing to do so, and we had written the phone number of the legal aid on all of their arms and were beginning to prepare for the process of getting them out of jail.  Just before the paddy wagon had appeared, however, a worker from the facility we were blockading the entrance to appeared to negotiate with us.  He explained that it was really important to get the trucks that weren’t carrying petcoke into the facility, and that if we backed up the blockade, he would make the truck carrying petcoke turn around and wouldn’t let any other petcoke trucks return for the day.  When we asked how we could trust him on this promise, he pulled out his wallet and handed it to one of the protesters.  We confirmed that his I.D. and other important information were in the wallet.  The decision was made to back up the blockade to allow the petcoke truck to turn around and let the other trucks through.  As we backed up, the police line backed up, and several people were in tears as the petcoke truck turned around.  It was truly one of the most beautiful and cooperative outcomes I’ve seen at a direct action.  DCATS–the organization responsible for coordinating the action–has vowed to continue its resistance until the petcoke piles are gone.

The illegal dumping of petcoke in the city of Detroit is just a small piece of the destruction created in every step in the process of fossil fuel production and consumption.  I stand with DCATS, MI CATS, the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, and everyone else across the country and the world standing up against the fossil fuel industry.  All power to the people!


Birds on the Brain: Tackling the question…are wind turbines avian-friendly?

Maybe some of you also envision frustrating conversations like how I do.  (And yes, they’re usually about sustainable agriculture or energy…).  Here’s how this hypothetical conversation in my head normally goes….

[Jill (me)]: Hey America!  How about more renewable electricity generation?  Also, I think we should have some good ol’ carbon policy so that renewables can compete more fairly in the energy market.

[America]: Eh… I don’t know about that.  Renewables are expensive!

[Jill]: Renewables used to be quite expensive, but these days, they can be quite competitive depending on the locale and the source!  In Michigan, the levelized cost of wind is cheaper than coal!

[America]: Ehh…. well wind turbine energy is only available sometimes.  I want electricity all the time.

[Jill]: Wind power could still be backed up by natural gas electricity generation.  Incorporation into the grid is doable.  The DOE even did a study on this.

[America]: But wind turbines kill birds!  Lots of them!  We love birds…

[Jill]: *sounds of frustration* Continue reading Birds on the Brain: Tackling the question…are wind turbines avian-friendly?

Forward on Climate Rally – Slideshow

Thanks to Jill Carlson for assembling this great slideshow!

Xplaining the Keystone XL pipeline battle

Job creator?  One stop shop to push us over the climate edge?   With all Americans in mind?  Single fossil fuel interest?

Many differing perspectives surround the Keystone XL Pipeline project, but one thing is clear: it is taking on more significance than the pipeline itself.  We are at a crossroads in our energy infrastructure and the “to build or not to build” question of Keystone is at the heart of it. Keystone is the physical and symbolic battleground for constructing our energy future.

But what exactly does this project entail?  Why does President Obama need to approve the project?  Below you will find the basics of the project, so that whether you will join, the Sierra Club, and the Hip Hop Caucus at the #ForwardOnClimate rally at DC on February 17th or are taking part in discussions at your work, home or elsewhere, you know the key points for Keystone. Continue reading Xplaining the Keystone XL pipeline battle

Cleaning Up UMich’s Endowment: Divest & Invest Campaign

Divest Music Video!

  • What: The first public informational meeting of the Divest & Invest Campaign at the University of Michigan – to divest all university money from fossil fuel stocks, funds, and direct and indirect investments.
  • Who: The Divest & Invest Campaign is a student/faculty/community coalition of: Ann Arbor 350, Students for Clean Energy, Student Sustainability Initiative & most importantly YOU
  • When: Monday, February 4th at 6:30 PM
  • Where: Room 1040 DANA Bldg, School of Natural Resources & Environment, Univ of Michigan Central Campus

Continue reading Cleaning Up UMich’s Endowment: Divest & Invest Campaign

Cost breakdown for #ForwardonClimate

Updated Friday, January 25, 2013
The biggest environmental rally EVER is happening in D.C. on President’s Day weekend. You definitely want to be there. Even though this kind of thing is physically exhausting, it’s inspiring and way-past-due. Travel and transportation are definitely big carbon guzzlers, but this is Important. So we decided to do some math to help you figure out what’s your best option for getting to the biggest, most important single event of the year. Here goes:
  • Drive yourself: About $120 in gas and 895 pounds carbon (see picture below and multiple by 2 for round trip)

    This is assuming you drive a Ford Fiesta by yourself. Cost of boredom not included!

  • NOT A FEASIBLE OPTION:  Ride with us in a 15-passenger van: $45 per person, 115 pounds carbon per person
  • Ride with us in a big old charter motorcoach: $100 per person, can’t find a calculator for such a large vehicle

What do you think? Get on the bus.

Climate MeetUp – December 2012

I thought I’d post the agenda and some discussion points from our meet-ups for people who attended to comment on and for those who didn’t to catch up. This is my first attempt to do so, so I welcome feedback (below in the comments would be great).

Date/Time: Dec 3, 5pm
Attending: Ginny, Larry, Ann, Carolyn, Mal, Ben, Rachel, Jill, Monica

Introductions: Two truths and a lie! Our intro tool. I (monica) did terrible — I accidentally did 1.25 lies, but everyone else was awesome. Some very intriguing facts came out that I want to know more about.

Hurricane Sandy: We watched a local news story about an Occupy Sandy flashmob documentary event and talked about the hurricane and relief efforts by Occupy Sandy. The 24-minute Josh Fox documentary is available here. We’d be happy to “screen” the film if folks would like to watch it together. Let us know below or email us and we’ll set something up. Continue reading Climate MeetUp – December 2012

Solution = Divest Now!

We Did the Math. Solution = Divestment

Do the Math Tour wraps up, but work is just beginning has toured around the country spreading the message about terrifying math associated with fossil fuel reserves ready and waiting to be extracted and billowed into our fragile atmosphere. Climate change has an enemy, and that enemy is the fossil fuel industry. This enemy goes by several names, including but not limited to: Exxon-Mobil, Shell, BP, Lukoil Holdings, Gazprom OAO, Chevron Corp, Peabody Coal, Severstal JSC, Anglo American PLC, BHP Billiton, Shanxi Coking Co, and Exxaro Resources.

Continue reading Solution = Divest Now!