We set goals, and then things happen. It always seems to take longer to achieve success than we can ever imagine.
That's what struck me as I reviewed my notes from the 7th Annual Land & Water Summit held on March 27, 2010, at URI. Tom Horton, the keynote speaker, has made the Chesapeake Bay's restoration his life's work. He described how the goal date for cleaning up the Chesapeake has slipped from 2010 to 2028. Voluntary compliance doesn't work well, he noted. Legislation with teeth, plus the money and will to enforce the law, are required for success. Adequate legislation and enforcement, in turn, rest on long-term monitoring and research. So restoring a large watershed like the Chesapeake (and our Rhode Island watersheds around the Narragansett Bay) takes a lot of time, money, and willpower.
For Horton, Chesapeake Bay, like Narragansett Bay, is a magnificent ecosystem coping with pollution and the overharvesting of its fish and crustacean resources, yet still resilient despite increasing human activity in and around it. He quoted Aldo Leopold ~ that "the oldest task in human history [is] to live on a piece of land without spoiling it." He stressed that grow-or-die economic models are simply unsustainable. It's all well and good for each of us individually to reduce our carbon footprint. But if the population around the Chesapeake is growing at the rate of 2 million per decade, how can enough people offset their carbon footprints enough to offset this population growth? Think about that for a moment.
We need to convince people there are viable alternatives to the never-ending-growth model, that the options are multifaceted and not either/or ~ either overeat or starve to death. Our own Greg Gerritt, who writes extensively on this topic in Prosperity for Rhode Island, could be seen nodding his head in agreement every time Horton drove this point home.
As I continue to digest all the fascinating ideas from the Summit, I've found the link to the Chafee Memorial Lecture in Washington DC in January 2010 that Horton stressed repeatedly. This lecture, "A New American Environmentalism and the New Economy," was given by James Gustave Speth, dean emeritus, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The session was videotaped and posted on the web, so we can view it when we want. [FYI, It took a long time to download on my high-speed internet connection, and there's a bit of an introduction before he starts speaking, but hang in!] Horton urged the 325 Rhode Island conservationists present at the Summit to see environmental issues in a larger, systemic context, to ally with others working for political reform and for social justice projects,... and to CONTINUALLY QUESTION "GROW OR DIE" ASSUMPTIONS.
A quote of a quote from the Chafee lecture: "Anyone who thinks that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." ~ Kenneth Boulding
Here's a shorter interview with James Gustave Speth, The Environment and Economy in Conflict to whet your appetite for the Chafee lecture:
I began this post with a sigh, but I'll end with a story that illustrates our state's motto, Hope, which Horton describes as not being able "to see your way through the tall grass." He told of a short-legged dog that actually learned to jump up high enough to get his bearings when lost in the tall grass. Encountering Tom Horton's thought is to learn to leap up for a better view.
P.S.: In light of all this rain we've endured since the weekend, here's another idea from his talk we can implement: Let's pass impervious surface tax legislation in Rhode Island.
For other reports on the 2010 Land and Water Summit, see ecoRI and search for "Conservation Summit Focuses on Land
and Water Issues"
World Water Day was March 22, but really, every day is Water Day, isn't it?
I love it when people send links to good resources ~ there's so much out there, it's hard to follow all the websites worth watching. This week a friend sent me a link to a video on The Story of Stuff about one of my particular causes ~ decreasing demand for bottled water. The Story of Bottled Water is a well-done presentation on why bottled water is not only unnecessary for the most part, but also extremely wasteful of natural resources and our own hard-earned money.
One point in the video is that many cities are not investing in the public water supply. Fortunately for Rhode Islanders, that's not the case here in the nation's smallest state. And our drinking water is almost the best in the whole USA.
Nevertheless, there is plenty to do still, and of course for something so essential to life as water, there must be eternal vigilance...
Opportunities to care for our local water supplies abound. Most cities and towns have boards and commissions devoted to maintaining high quality water resources in Rhode Island. See What Grows On in RI for public meetings, many of which concern water. Watershed Watch could use help from 350 Rhode Islanders also:
Stimulus funds are powering the latest Providence Water Supply Board
initiative to equip its drinking water distribution system with
thousands of leak detection devices. This system, called MLOG, will
enable Providence Water to monitor the entire distribution system for
water leaks. To accomplish this, leak detection devices will ultimately
be installed in approximately 11,000 strategically-selected homes (about
15% of total customer homes throughout the entire Providence Water
distribution system). The first phase of the program will see about
8,250 devices, purchased with special incentive bonds as part of the
American Recovery Reinvestment Act, with debt service on the bonds being
paid from existing water rates...
....Starting the week of March 15, 2010, Providence Water employees will begin the project in North Providence neighborhoods requesting access to selected homes. Once North Providence installations are complete, Providence Water customers in Providence, Cranston and Johnston will be systematically contacted as the progress of the installation program continues. It is expected to take 2 years to completely install MLOG devices throughout the system...[read more]
[The photo above is of a holding pond outside the offices of the Scituate Reservoir.]
For further background, check out these stories that Peter Lord wrote in the Providence Journal:
likely for water supply bill Jun 08, 2009 - ... By Peter B. Lord Journal Environment
Writer. PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s drinking water
supplies should become more dependable over time, thanks to a ...
The Providential Gardener was delighted to see in a recent Providence Journal article, "City, 5 eateries say no to bottled water," that several Providence restaurants are serving only water from the Providence Water Supply. The water flowing from our taps is about the best in the world, and it is also so less expensive than bottled water ~ it's really a no-brainer to drink tap water. Bottled water is in most cases entirely unnecessary.
It is wonderful to see that Mayor Cicilline has made a major issue of this seemingly minor problem, which really costs us all a great deal of money, both buying water that takes a lot of petroleum to make the plastic for the bottles and then move it here from other states or from overseas (you can't dehydrate water(!), so it's heavy and expensive to move), and also burying the bottles, most of which are not recycled, in the landfill. Eliminating bottled water in Providence is one of the mayor's 8 strategic initiatives. See the mayor's press release of October 28, 2008. I'll write about these initiatives in another post soon.
Wherever you are out and about and thirsty, looking for water to drink, encourage the folks there to serve and drink tap water and discontinue bottled water. Many companies, and even our universities and colleges ~ organizations that want to be seen as green ~ are using bottled water for marketing purposes, putting their names on this unnecessary plastic waste. Speak up when you see these water bottles, and make an effort to help the ones who make decisions about such things see the disconnect between serving bottled water and being green.
The Projo article by Peter B. Lord was fairer to the bottled water industry than I'm being here, although it's true we do need to keep some bottled water around for an emergency, but I'd rather stress a link in that article for a website with a great name: www.ThinkOutsideTheBottle.org.
Minimizing bottled water became a Providential Gardener priority in the spring of 2008 during the discussions of bottle bills in the legislature (see the post, "Why, Why Why? My Pitcher Pitch and My Pitcher Pi'tures"). This won't be the last post on the subject, and I'll be publishing the names of more restaurants and businesses that cut out bottled water. HOPE the list will grow soon, and HOPE it will be a flood of names!
Why do people spend their good money buying bottled water?
It would be worth having bottled water in, say, a Katrina-type disaster when the public drinking water supplies are not safe. But today we have perfectly fine tap water in Rhode Island that costs next to nothing. With gas prices zooming up past $3.50 a gallon, why are so many folks going into Rhode Island markets and buying bottles of water that must be transported hundreds of miles from places like Maine, and even thousands of miles from places like France? When did we get brain-bottle washed into thinking that it is cooler and healthier to DRIVE to the store, LOAD up the cart with 12-packs of water, PAY hard-earned money, WHEEL them out to the car, LUG them into the house, and then THROW them into the trash?
I will remind readers again
that these bottles are seldom recycled but go as trash to the Central
Landfill in Johnston, which can be seen from hills in Providence ten
miles away, the landfill itself being a significant hill in this state
with a highest point of 812 feet. We see the bottles rolling around in the road until they are flattened by cars. The water bottles (and of course the other beverage containers ~ but I'm just on a roll about water bottles today) are in the shrubs, in the woods, in the waterways, on the beaches.
Why do so many businesses and conferences pay for the above-described lugging of water bottles? Why do our local restaurants, in this day and age of emphasizing eating local food, sell imported bottled water? Why do we order bottled water in a restaurant? How did it get to be the better option to buy bottled water? What are we thinking? My Pitcher Pitch
Bottle bills have been throttled at the State House for years, and each side argues passionately for and against refunds on returned bottles. I see the Projo has a SURVEY today on the bottle bill question and provides the text of the current bill. Whatever your view on this important question, though, Rhode Island does need to achieve much higher recycling rates on beverage containers.
There are so many pros and cons in the bottle recycling arguments, and I'm not going into all of the permutations here, but why not simply go back to drinking tap water and using pitchers and cups or glasses? Why not pitcher in?
Think about it. Why do you drink bottled water? Are bottles of water the only way to have water at a meeting? You say your business is green? But is your company buying bottled water?
Bottle bill or no bottle bill, just because they sell it, we don't have to buy it. Just say NO. Don't buy bottled water. Especially at work or when you are out and about, find some other way to supply drinking water to the troops. Be the first to bring your own water mug to the committee meeting this afternoon, and don't reach for one of those bottles somebody put in the middle of the table today.
Hold "PITCHER INs." Use pitchers and paper cups (or, gasp, glasses) ~ something recyclable, washable, or biodegradable. At least put pitchers of water out for the folks.
And back to those bottles~ it has to become "cool" to recycle water bottles. Rhode Island should be the best at recycling! Especially businesses, which to date have a TERRIBLE recycling rate. RIRRC has help for starting business recycling programs. But we'd have less to recycle is we just drank tap water and put out pitchers and cups at meetings.
Do you have some pitcher pi'tures? I was inspired this morning to get my little collection of water pitchers out and to photograph them in the early sunlight, but I'm not a pro. Let's start a collection of water pitcher pi'tures and a list of local businesses that do NOT buy bottled water, and another list of local restaurants that do NOT sell bottled water.
Please add comments, circulate, forward, and link to this post, and let's just stop buying bottled water in Rhode Island. Somehow the beverage industry will survive without us. I don't usually recommend particular courses of action (volcano mulch around trees is another thing that gets me), but not buying water in bottles just seems so obvious. Excuse my gushing!
If you follow What Grows On in Rhode Island, you know that the Audubon Society of Rhode Island holds two monthly book clubs ~ one in Smithfield, and the other in Bristol. Here is July Lewis's (ASRI Policy Assistant) report on this month's discussion:
[The November discussion] of When the Rivers Run Dry was especially interesting, as
several participants had direct experience with local water policy and supply. We
touched on the global issues and delved into local, and compared the capacity
of different parts of the world to deal with a water supply crisis. A professor
of mine told me that total water use in the U.S. had decreased, but I wasn’t
sure of the details. It turns out total water use is down somewhat from its
peak in 1980 and appears to be holding relatively steady, while per-capita use
has declined more significantly:
The Coalition for Water Security (Audubon is a member) has
been very active in promoting sound water policy in RI. Check out the website: http://www.coalitionforwatersecurity.org/
. Scroll down to “Coalition Resources” and select “May
2007—the Coalition’s Platform”. If water issues are important
to you, contact your legislators and let them know—they listen! (To look
them up, go to http://www.sec.state.ri.us/vic/
and type in your address and zip code under “view general voter
You can find articles on the environment everywhere, including in most issues of the Providence Business Journal. Recently Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office in Boston, wrote a guest column, "Honoring a legacy by protecting valuable wetlands." The legacy is Rachel Carson's ~ she would have been 100 in May ~ and the wetlands would be the "Borderlands....the largest ecologically intact forested system between Boston and Washington, D.C.," located on the Connecticut and Rhode Island border in South County.
The Borderlands project is described in a 2003 RI DEM report, "South County Greenspace Protection Strategy." It takes a while to open because it's 69 pages long. The Borderlands wetlands help ensure clean drinking water and reduce the impact of storm floods, and in particular, it protects the underlying aquifer which is an important source of drinking water.