The year 2009. The year we rode our bicycles more, planted more food in local gardens and purchased more green-friendly products. We got closer to understanding the trajectory of the climate change shit as it heads, inevitably, toward the fan.
It was the year we sat around and tried to figure out a phrase that accurately expressed the predicament we now share on a global scale. "Global warming" and "climate change" are just too cozy-sounding.
Our friend, the writer Scott Russell Sanders, likes "climate destabilization," and we agree that's better, but it's still a bit tough on the tongue.
How about climate collapse.
We can debate all day about warming trends (is it part of a "natural" cycle, etc.), but our Arctic ice further thinned and melted - WAY out of whack with anything resembling a "natural" cycle. Some scientists now believe that it will be completely melted during the summers within ten years.
Extreme and bizarre weather is everywhere, including places like Australia where they can't even remember what it was like when it used to rain.
Consequently, climate migration, from drought, flooding and pandemic has begun in earnest.
Threat level: red.
There's no disputing the growing acidity in our oceans, and where it's coming from: carbon dioxide emissions from humans burning fossil fuels. There is no disputing the growing ill-health of our air, water and soil, world wide due to pollution. There is no disputing that invasive species, such as the quagga mussels and zebra mussels and Asian carp, are human-introduced and damaging the Great Lakes. And the emerald ash borer is boring its way deep into Indiana forests. There is no disputing that world-wide, animals and plant-life and entire ecosystems are sick, with some on the edge of collapse.
So let's start with us
One of my favorite "green" moments this year was attending the talk by Bill McKibben (The End of Nature, Deep Economy) at IUPUI, as he was the featured author of their Common Theme Project this year. McKibben talked about the need to wed "local and global," and his organization 350.org is a prime example of that as 5200 local actions on Oct. 24 of this year showed loud and clear that people all over the planet don't want to burn on earth. McKibben showed a slideshow that brought tears to many an eye, as people found many ways to configure themselves into the number 350 - meaning 350 ppm (parts per million), the amount of CO2 a livable world can sustain.
Unfortunately, we are around 390 ppm and climbing, thus the compunction to want to make up terrifying phrases to galvanize the populace into action.
But what populace are we referring to?
How about we pick the United States. Let's see... Just under 5 percent of the planet's population; yet we burn 25 percent of the world's energy.
Hmmmm... maybe we should start with, ahem, us, then?
And so I return to the beginning. Us. Indianapolis. Indiana.
Eating local took Indy by storm in 2009, aided by an increasing awareness - and for golly's sake, enjoyment - that local food tastes good and supports the local economy. The Winter Farmers Market was such a success, there was no question they'd do it again this winter (indywinterfarmersmarket.org). Urban farmers dug deep as Matthew Jose and a host of smart people planted gardens all over the city. The brand new Indy Food Coop will bring this all together soon, as they are moving toward the early spring opening of their store on the east side: indyfoodcoop.org.
Eating local was the subject of a bunch of films, too, and you could count on Earth House Collective (earthhousecollective.org) to show something essential about the local food movement (The Garden, Food, Inc.), along with all sorts of other environmentally-minded documentaries (FLOW, Crude).
So we gardened and we visited farmers markets and we went to movies, and we began to be able to do all that more than ever on our bicycles. New bike lanes opened up, Indy was given a bronze medal by the League of American Bicycling for being bicycle-friendly, and we avoided a complicated confrontation between commuters using trails like the Monon and cops giving out tickets by deciding we should talk about this and figure out a solution that keeps Indy safe (more or less), while diminishing our need to drive cars to work. In November, beaucoup bike racks were installed downtown, further inspiring bicycle commute.
Indy's interest in LEED-certified (sustainable) building grew, including a retro-fit on the Gramse building (www.nuvo.net/news/article/green-goes-historic). Keep Indianapolis Beautiful completed their office in 2009, the first civic nonprofit building in the city to attain LEED-certified status. And the new headquarters for The Nature Conservancy of Indiana on Ohio Street is on track to achieve LEED certification as well.
And the duo from Green Piece Indy, Meghan McCormick and Renee Sweany, kept sending their enviro-tips to my inbox, linking me to local opportunities to be green. Join at: www.greenpieceindy.com
On a policy level, Indiana passed some of the most progressive e-cycling legislation in the country (www.nuvo.net/news/article/green-legislator-mary-ann-sullivan), and Valley Watch, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, brought a law suit that caused the EPA to propose a tough National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Sulfur Dioxide.
Meanwhile, our forests were logged, our air was fouled by pollution - most especially by coal-fired plants - and our water and soil was contaminated by pharmaceutical and pesticide and herbicide runoff, not to mention just plain shit and piss from CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) all over the state. Our environment is fouled, here in a state where most politicians are more worried about short term economics (and thus their precious, carbon-emitting careers) than long term survival and health issues of Hoosiers and beyond.
So let's break it down
How is our air?
Well over 90 percent of Indiana's electricity is produced by coal-fired plants, so you can bet we are breathing in the mercury on a daily basis. Those radicals at the American Lung Association did an exhaustive (so to speak) study in 2009 and you can see the results here: www.stateoftheair.org/2009/states/indiana. Other than ozone (thank goodness for flat Indiana after all), Indiana ranks high, in the top 20, when it comes to particulate pollution. But it's not just coal-fired plants that foul our air. CAFOs are pretty awful too (www.nuvo.net/news/article/downwind-big-dairy-farm).
We are 6th in the nation when it comes to road density (amount of road space in proportion to the total space), so it seems as if we have taken our "Crossroads of America" motto too much to heart. Progress on mass transit? Pretty bereft at this point. Perhaps we need to change our motto to "CrossRails of America" or "CrossTrails of America" and let the change begin... My colleague David Hoppe contends we need to push toward improving mass transit by focusing on buses: www.nuvo.net/opinion/article/we-can-afford-public-transit.
How is our water?
From algal blooms to pesticide run-off, Indiana is no longer a state where we can swim or fish in our waters, let alone drink the stuff. This year, we profiled a local pediatrician, Dr. Paul Wincester, who has done a study linking pesticide run-off with an uptick in miscarriages (www.nuvo.net/news/article/pesticides-and-birth-defects). Lake Michigan's perils have been noted above, but within the state, it was Environment America's study that wrapped it all up, stating that in 2007 Indiana led the nation in toxic, industrial waste poured into waterways (www.nuvo.net/news/article/waste-indiana's-waterways). An event in mid-July brought it all home to Indianapolis residents as a toxic algae bloom killed fish and ruined water-fun in Geist Reservoir, the White River and beyond (www.nuvo.net/news/article/unsafe-waters-indianapolis).
How is our flora and fauna?
The Emerald Ash Borer has bored its way from the north and is chomping away in the top third of the state. There is no stopping it. Humans are logging the forests in Indiana as well by the DNR (www.nuvo.net/news/article/back-country-areas-allow-logging). And what does the acronym DNR stand for? Department of Natural Revenue?
We suck. We could toss around the stats til the methane-belching and farting cows come home, but in 2007 Forbes ranked Indiana 49th out of 50 states. For more, see sidebar.
And lording over all of this?
On a statewide level: The Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Methinks IDEM's management style is akin to my own. Rather chill, nigh on Homer-Simpson-like. Does IDEM stand for Indiana Department of Environmental MISmanagment?
Locally, the Office of Sustainability was created in the office of mayor. A good move whose effects we hope will begin to come to fruition in 2010. See: www.indy.gov/EGOV/CITY/DPW/SUSTAININDY
Finally, I-69 is at the vortex of all this Hoosier enviro-hooey, combining environmental damage with economic myopia (www.nuvo.net/news/article/opposition-i-69-persists). The sleeping giant of common sense awakened in 2009, with various groups believing the deal is not so done after all. The Recession had something to do with that, of course.
And there was Swine Flu: Likely cooked up in a Canadian CAFO, H1N1 had Apocalypse Acolytes squirming everywhere, as it looked like the Plague we've been waiting for was finally afoot. Jury's out as the pathogen percolated just below the surface, affecting many, but in a mild form.
So, we got a little more conscious, locally, stayed freakin' stupid on a state-wide level, and with the help of 350.org, grew more awake as a planet. Can we push this in 2010? There is no choice but to do it. I'll be on my bike as much as possible, feasting on locally-grown produce and musing on just the right phrases.
SIDEBAR 1: Essential resources:
A Greener Indiana (social networking and activist site, linking all of Indiana): www.agreenerindiana.com
Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC works on legislative change in Indiana): www.hecweb.org
Citizens Action Coalition (CAC works on citizen movements toward changing ): www.citact.org
Indycog (all things bicycles in Indianapolis and beyond): Indycog.org
Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB plants trees, and many other green activities in Indy, galvanizing the volunteer efforts of tens of thousands): kibi.org
Indiana Recycling Coalition (IRC pushes recycling initiatives, state-wide): www.indianarecycling.org
Indiana CAFO Watch (all things CAFO-related): www.indianacafowatch.com
Valley Watch (southern Indiana's enviro-watchdog): valleywatch.net
Sustainable Indiana 2016 (the name says it all): www.sustainableindiana2016.org
Green Piece Indy (clever, insightful green tips, locally-oriented): www.greenpieceindy.com
Indiana Living Green (locally-based green magazine): indianalivinggreen.com
ApocaDocs (my own entertainment site for climate collapse): www.apocadocs.com
SIDEBAR 2: Environmental/Comparative Stats - 2009 (courtesy, Hoosier Environment Council)
49th out of 50 states for overall environmental ranking (Forbes, 2007)
Water Quality: Highest amount of toxic discharges to bodies of water among all states — more than 11% of the nation's total (EPA, 2007)
Water Quality: 800 waterways in Indiana are not swimmable (IDEM extrapolation from Impaired Waters List)
Water Quality: 16th highest in the U.S. for the number of people exposed to tap water with contaminants above acceptable limits, out of 42 states studied (National Tap Water Quality Database, 2005)
Air Quality: Third in the nation in toxic emissions (EPA, 2007)
Open spaces: Indiana's 4% of publicly owned land is among the lowest in the country(Indiana Policy Review Foundation, 2008).
Waste: Highest in the country in annual garbage production per capita at 2.15 tons of waste per person per year. The national average is 1.38 (Biocycle, a composting and recycling publication, 2008)
Second highest in per capita carbon emissions from transportation and residential energy use among 100 metro areas (Brookings Institution, 2009)
53rd out of 72 cities in environmental sustainability (Earth Day Network's Urban Environment Report, 2007)
5th largest amount of total fines levied nationally for violations of the federal clean water act at the Belmont Wastewater Treatment Plant (U. S. EPA, 2008)
44th out of 50 cities in reducing the impact of fossil fuel (SustainLane.com 2008)
Marion County is the 23rd highest in harmful spikes in particle pollution, a key air quality measurement, among 592 counties (Lake County rated higher) — (American Lung Association's State of the Air Report, 2008)