Chasing Ice Documentary Filmmakers

Imagine yourself in conversation with someone who is important to you. But there’s a problem: your important someone doesn’t entirely agree with what you are saying.

You provide facts to appeal to their mind and emotions to appeal to their heart. You try humor. Perhaps you even use the magical art of active listening, then reframe the issue to reintroduce this important someone to why your point is well, right. You try and you try, but the resistance is still there. Nothing and no one has moved despite your words of wisdom and wit.

What do you say then? Perhaps you say one of these well-worn lines: “Ok. See for yourself.” “Seeing is believing.” “Can you see my point?” Or, our favorite, the simple plead: “Seeeee!”

Notice all statements include a variation on the word “see.” Seeing transitions you to a world where words aren’t needed to produce agreement. Seeing puts us in awe of feats of strength and wonders of the world. Seeing creates a lasting impression. Seeing a wrong makes us upset. Seeing something worth protecting makes us want to act. Seeing explains what words often fail to say.

The team documenting an Antarctic crevasse.

Seeing is the visual side of saying something. And, if you’re going to say something – whether with images or words – why not say it well? Our last post and this next one take you to places that you might not otherwise see. These interviewees wanted you to see what climate change looks like. These folks spoke volumes with the visuals they created. In doing so, they put climate change in plain view for all of us.

As we head into the long, hot days of summer, today’s post takes you to a much cooler place. A place you may never see except through the work of Jeff Orlowski. In the documentary Chasing Ice, he takes all of us to a place where glaciers live. We welcome him to the blog and thank him for sharing his thoughts about showing climate change through time-lapse images.

How did your team first come up with the idea to take time-lapse images of the glaciers? 

It was originally James’s idea, the main character of the film. Back then (in 2006-2007), no one was really talking about how glaciers were changing. It was very insightful of him to think of that. A mutual friend connected us and suggested that we meet.

The project seems like a great way to help the public visualize the impact of climate change. What do you think are the most compelling images? 

The whole objective for us was to visualize climate change. We were talking about how invisible air is causing change all the time. Because air is invisible, it’s easy to dismiss it. We wanted to root climate change in something that the brain could understand. When you have visual imagery of the change occurring, it becomes more evident what is going on. Scientists are very rational. Sometimes facts and figures do not make the heart connection and as a species we are very emotionally driven. Seeing the glaciers change, we discovered that it was a very clear way to get people to emotionally connect with the story. Our team found that many audience members felt the clips taken during the calving event were the most compelling.

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Filmmaker scaling an ice wall

What was surprising in the implementation of the project? 

In the editing of the film, we created lots of versions that didn’t work. We tested out versions of the film with friends, strangers – to all sorts of people – to get feedback on it and to see what they liked and didn’t like. We wanted to know what they didn’t understand, what didn’t make sense, and we also wanted to know what was clear. Due to showing some of these earlier versions and getting feedback, we found out what was working and we adjusted. Originally we were making a film that was more of a biography of James, his past work and approach to photography as whole. Over time, as we were screening that version, people wanted to know more about the ice and the specific project. We realized that telling the story of James was missing this bigger story, so we shifted it away from biography to the story of the Extreme Ice Survey.

Between starting up the project and releasing Chasing Ice, what were some of the major obstacles and how did you overcome those? 

For me, the biggest challenge was the editing. This was my first film that I worked on. I was learning how to tell a feature-length story. I had done short films before, but the process of a short film and a feature film are very different.

Was there any part of the project that went easier than you anticipated?

Ha, no.

What impact did you want the video to have and is it having that impact? Why do you think that is?

It’s hard to go in with a goal for impact. We had hoped that it would make a dent and influence people’s perspective on the issue. The issue of climate change is so contentious and it really shouldn’t be. The data is so clear. As a society, we are really setting ourselves up for failure by not listening to the scientists. We know that we are jeopardizing the ecosystems that keep us alive. By not listening more to the scientists, we are threatening the ecosystems that keep us alive.

James Balog capturing the erosion of glaciers

Looking back, what – if anything – would you have done differently? 

I would have raised more money earlier. I try not to look at things as mistakes or regrets; we just plowed forward with what we thought we needed to do to in order to create success. When we started making the film, its funding was mostly from friends and family. I was a first-time filmmaker. I didn’t have a big reputation or the connections that go with that. Slowly, we collected more and more people with experience and great insight. It took a lot of passion and dedication. Some of the most important people were our producers. They were some of the earliest people that saw the potential for the film. They saw there was something there and that it could be something great. They believed in the film.

How did you pick the name Chasing Ice?

That’s a funny question. There’s a debate as to who was the first to come up with the name. “Chasing” is a theme that comes up throughout the film. At some point someone put the two concepts of the film together, Chasing and Ice.

What’s James up to now?

He’s continuing to document how humans are changing the planet. Extreme Ice Survey is also currently installing and monitoring time-lapse cameras around the world.

When you show this movie to the public, what kinds of reactions do you get? What do they respond most to? What are some of the most interesting responses? 

I think everyone’s response was incredibly powerfully, especial in reaction to the time-lapses and the calving events of the glaciers. It’s a natural phenomenon that very few of us get to see. When you see it, it changes how you think about the world. Seeing is believing, but the first step is understanding. Audiences will say they were blown away by how powerful the images were. We found watching a glacier fall apart was more impactful then listening to someone tell you facts about glaciers.

Eroding glaciers in Antarctica

What do you think people would like to see more of in regard to climate change?

There is still a lot of confusion about how the planet is changing due to human action. We need to continue to collect more imagery that helps the public understand what’s happening and how to take action and find solutions.

Are there any other visual projects about climate change that you would like our readers to know about?

Readers can continue to follow the work of James Balog’s organization Earth Vision Institute as he continues to take powerful imagery of our changing planet.

Seeing Sea Level Change

If you’ve been waiting for the answer to last week’s riddle, the time has come. What is east and royal and tidal all over? The King Tides Trail, of course!

The American playwright Wilson Mizner famously said, “Art is science made clear.” There may be nothing that captures this sentiment for the science of climate change as accurately as the King Tides Trail project in Portland, Maine. Created by Jan Piribeck, an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Southern Maine, the King Tides Trail project is an interactive art piece that wraps 4 miles around the Portland peninsula and uses markers and geographic data points to show the anticipated impacts to the city from a changing climate. The project identifies areas that would be flooded by rising tides in the next 50-100 years and illustrates this hard-to-grasp concept of sea level change in a visually clear way.

Today Jan speaks to us about her work on the King Tides Trail project. For over a decade Jan has focused her work on a series of projects that fuse Art and Geographic Information Systems. Jan and her team unveiled the King Tides Trail Project on December 8, 2014. The project is meant to inspire awareness about the impacts of climate change to the Portland community as well as the rest of the world. We welcome her insights about visual communications for climate change issues.

King Tides Trail 2014 Photo Contest submission exposes regular flooding problems in Portland, Maine. Source: Aaron Godfrey Parker

King Tides Trail 2014 Photo Contest submission. Source: Aaron Godfrey Parker

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Who first came up with the idea?

The idea came from the process of observing high tides and their impact on my neighborhood in Portland, Maine. I live in part of the city that just a little over a century ago was covered by waters from the Back Cove, a mile-wide tidal basin located nearby. About five years ago I began noticing areas that flooded regularly during high, high tides. At first I thought this was rainwater, but upon further investigation found it to be brackish water that pushes its way up through storm drains. I decided to start working with students at the University of Southern Maine (USM) to observe and record these tidal inundations, which led to a study of sea level change. Living on a peninsula offered the opportunity to observe a number of sites that are vulnerable to rising tides. Many of these are located along two popular cycling/walking trails in Portland, and it made sense to mark these sites and create a pathway around the shoreline of the city for those who want to witness the impacts of the highest tides of the year, also known as King Tides.

How many people were involved?

A core group of 15 students was involved in creating a temporary installation marking the location of a 3’ sea level line and the King Tides Trail. The students also created a Google Map of the trail showing points of interest and the trail’s proximity to the 3’ sea level line.

The following students gave generously of their time, energy and talent to the development of the Portland King Tides Trail: Nicholas Barter, Nathan Broaddus, Amber Desrosiers, Marina Douglas, William Freeman, Ken Gross, Emma Hazzard, Richard Hudon, Abigail Johnson-Ruscansky, Ryan Jordan, Kristyn Peterson, Caitlin Puchalski, Samantha Quimby, Lisa Willey, Mike Witherell

Vinton Valentine, Director of the USM/GIS Lab and Marina Schauffler of the Gulf of Maine (GOM) King Tides Project provided valuable assistance throughout the project.

Click on the image to view an interactive Google map of the King Tides Trail.

Click on the image to view an interactive Google map of the King Tides Trail.

What was your role?
I was the project director; this involved organizing and presenting lectures to orient the students to data about sea level rise (SLR) and to various forms of installation art. I facilitated discussions and activities leading to the design and implementation of the King Tides Trail and was the liaison with the city of Portland and the GOM Council and King Tides Project.

The project seems like a great way to help the public visualize the impacts of rising sea levels. Please explain the method you used in this project.

We used over 2,000 red surveying whiskers pounded into the ground with 60-penny nails to delineate and make visible a portion of the 3’ SLR line. The space we marked is located in an empty urban lot slated for real estate development. We used GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping tools to project the line, and loaded this data into a hand-held GPS (Geographic Positioning System) receiver. This enabled us to walk and mark the line in physical space. We also used GIS to map locations for 28 Beacons (blue wooden stakes topped with solar lamps) along the King Tides Trail. The Beacons marked the trail and sites along the trail where tidal changes can be easily observed. Additionally, circular sidewalk graphics were created to mark locations vulnerable to flooding. Some of the sites were given names such as Knudsen Pond and Somerset Lagoon as a way to form a narrative around SLR in Portland. Hand-painted maps have been created to document the whereabouts of these locations.

King Tides Trail 2014 Photo Contest submission. Source: Abigail Krolak

King Tides Trail 2014 Photo Contest submission. Source: Abigail Krolak

Do you have other ideas for how to visualize rising sea level?

Yes. Each student came up with a proposal for an installation. We couldn’t create them all, but they were all compelling. For example, one student proposed compacting trash collected from beaches to make large sculptural cubes that could be used to construct sea walls. The absurdity of the idea is part of its strength. These sea walls wouldn’t be functional except to point out the excessive waste that is contributing to the demise of our atmosphere and in turn leading to accelerated sea level change. All of the students were inspired by Tsunami markers, which are stone slabs used to mark where Tsunami waves have occurred. The markers warn against building on these spots. Another student proposed a large-scale cast concrete sculpture inscribed with wave patterns to be installed at the portal of the King Tides Trail. There were many more ideas that deserve future consideration.

How did your team decide on this method?
We wanted to do something where the entire class could be engaged in the making, and we had several factors such as durability and visibility that factored into the decision to use the marking whiskers, stakes and sidewalk graphics. Due to the collaborative nature of the project, students wanted to pick materials that were representative of the entire group and not reflective of just one aesthetic voice. The materials chosen borrowed from the visual vocabulary of surveying tools, which went along with the idea of the students being environmental and cultural surveyors and workers. We wore hard hats with HAT (highest annual tide) at the work site.

Have any other coastal cities in the U.S. undertaken this type of art project.

Volunteers installing red whiskers along Portland high tide line during an early stage of the project. Source: University of Southern Maine.

Volunteers installing red whiskers along Portland high tide line during an early stage of the project. Source: University of Southern Maine.

There is a really interesting project called HIGHWATERLINE that does workshops and public art to mobilize communities to develop resiliency to climate change. They do work in cities throughout the country.

Did you need permission from the City of Portland for your project?

Yes!

If so, how easy/hard was it?

The city of Portland was supportive, but there were protocols that took time to work through. This involved things like dig safe permits and approvals by the Portland Public Art student art review committee. The class made a formal proposal that outlined materials, maintenance and dismantling plans and so on. Everything had to be approved before final permits were issued.

Were there any particularly challenging obstacles?

We were working under a compressed timeframe and the protocols seemed prohibitive at times, but in the end the cooperative and flexible attitudes of the city officials and persistence on our part helped assure that the project would happen.

You received funding through the Limulus Fund at the Maine Community Foundation. How did you go about pitching this idea to the foundation?

The grant was submitted through the Gulf of Maine Council on the Maine Environmental Climate Network. They did the pitch and were successful.

Source: Press Herald

Source: Press Herald

How competitive was the process?

I’m not sure, but I think the review is quite thorough. Proposals have to show merit and be viable for completion.

How has the public reacted to the project? What have been some of the most interesting responses?

There was interest on the part of the media. The project was covered well in local newspapers and was featured on Maine Public Radio. Many people reached out to tell me they enjoyed reading and hearing about the project, and those who jog along the King Tides Trail have mentioned seeing the glowing Beacons at dusk.

King Tides Trail 2014 Photo Contest submission. Source: Riley Young Morse

King Tides Trail 2014 Photo Contest submission. Source: Riley Young Morse

Do you think the project will prompt the city to take action to mitigate against the rising sea levels?

The scenario of a 3’ rise is more severe than what the city is officially planning for. The apartment complex to be developed in the empty lot where we marked the 3’ SLR line has been approved, and there are plans to elevate the surrounding roads by 2’ to accommodate rising tides. This is in accordance with current flood maps; however, the question intimated by the King Tides Trail is, will this be enough? The installation was informed by the research of Maine State Geologist Peter Slovinsky, who points out that the latest scientific predictions for SLR are 1’ by 2050, 2’-3’ but potentially more by 2100. The State of Maine has adopted 2’ as a middle-of-the-road prediction by the year 2100 for areas with regulated Coastal sand Dunes. Slovinsky suggests examining scenarios of 1’, 2’, 3.3’ and 6’ on top of the highest annual tide. These scenarios relate to the National Climate Assessment, and also correspond well with evaluating potential impacts from storm surges that may coincide with higher tides today. The aim of the King Tides Trail was to illuminate these potential impacts through artistic visualizations and processes.

The city is aware of the work we did, but there is no indication that the project resulted in specific action. Information about the trail will continue to be distributed through a website and digital database that are due for publication this week! Communication and collaboration with the city to raise awareness of SLR was one of the goals of the King Tides Trail, and headway was made in this regard.

How would downtown Portland be impacted if sea levels did, in fact, rise three feet by 2100?

There would be a dramatic impact on waterfront properties and on some locations that are currently not considered to be waterfront properties. One of these would be the parking lot in front of my condominium; I live not far from the downtown, and my parking spot would be under water given a 3’ rise.

Red whiskers placed in Portland's Bayside neighborhood identify where the tide line would be if sea level rose by three feet.Source: The Forecaster

Red whiskers placed in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood identify where the tide line would be if sea level rose by three feet. Source: The Forecaster

What are some things the city can start doing today to prepare?

About a year and a half ago the Portland Society for Architecture hosted a symposium called Waterfront Visions 2050. They brought in experts on sea level adaptation to address concerns about Commercial Street in Portland’s Old Port district. It was an incredible program that included an exhibition and public forum for sharing ideas about what to do to prepare. There are many innovative ways to address SLR. The important thing is not to ignore that it is happening and not to panic and make unwarranted choices about vacating properties.

Have you thought about doing a similar King Tides-type project in another coastal area? Or whatever other projects are you pursuing at this time?

There is great potential to expand the King Tides Trail beyond the Portland peninsula. This summer I will focus my energies on extending the project into Casco Bay. Ideally, I would like to travel to coastal communities throughout the Gulf of Maine and along the US coastline to do similar projects.

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To learn more about the King Tides Trail project, visit http://esealevelchange.org/. You can also learn more about “Envisioning Change,” an art collaboration in Casco Bay to visualize climate change impacts, of which the King Tides Trail project was a part, by visiting the University of Southern Maine Digital Humanities program at https://usm.maine.edu/usmdh.

King Tides Trail 2014 Photo Contest submission. Source: Kristyn Peterson

King Tides Trail 2014 Photo Contest submission. Source: Kristyn Peterson

Visually Communicating Our Changing Climate

This year, we’re focusing on climate change and sustainability. We’re pleased to introduce you in upcoming weeks to people who are helping us see the future using visual communications to help all of us understand what changes are happening and to come. We’ll kick off the theme with a mystery – what’s east and royal and tidal all over? Stay tuned for the next week’s answer.

earth hand

Back to the Future, Portland Style

There are times in life that in order to talk about the present or the future, you have to talk about the past. In this case, that past was 1993.

1993 was a year of contrasts. On the good side, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed a peace agreement on the White House lawn; on the bad side the first World Trade Center bombing happened. The treaty that set up the European Union took effect and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA, but Bosnia and Herzegovina broke out into war. NASA launched the space shuttle Endeavor 354 miles into the atmosphere to fix an optical flaw for the Hubble Space telescope, but here back at home the first bag-less vacuum cleaner was considered innovative. Our romantic side was captured in film with the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan love affair in Sleepless in Seattle, but their squeaky clean romance was balanced by Robert Redford and Demi Moore’s Indecent Proposal. And, if you were listening to the radio – as that is what we listened to then – music of the carefree wanna-be Caribbean reggae group UB40 mixed with the heavy-hearted, rainy day, garage band “grunge music” of Seattle’s Nirvana.

Susan Anderson. Source: The City of Portland, Oregon

Susan Anderson. Source: The City of Portland, Oregon

It’s hard to make sense of a year like that.

But that same year something was happening in Portland, Oregon that made complete sense. There, our interviewee for this issue’s blog was helping to create the Global Warming Reduction Strategy along with 11 other international cities. In doing so, they laid the groundwork for all climate action plans to come. We’re pleased to introduce you to the Director of Planning for Portland Oregon now and Energy Policy staffer back in 1993, Susan Anderson. She and a group of other leaders looked ahead of the curve to see the negative impacts increasing carbon emissions would have on our world and went into action. She hasn’t slowed down since. We welcome her insights.

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Take us back to the early 90’s. What was happening for you in Portland?

I was hired to be an energy policy person for the City of Portland’s new Energy Office. Previously, I had been an energy consultant on my own, and working on energy issues was a new arena for cities. We were seeing the impacts of an unsustainable energy policy at the national level, and thought we should do something locally. So, I worked to secure contracts and grants to grow the Energy Office because the City had very limited funds for the office itself. We began to collaborate on the issue of global warming with someone from the State Energy Office, who was on loan to us for two days a week.

We put on a major conference for our first big public event on global warming, funded by a variety of local companies and utilities. It was very much a grass roots process and couldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had political support and leadership.

How has the political will changed in Portland over the past 20 years?

Photo Credit: Evogreen Sustainable Energy Solutions

Photo Credit: Evogreen Sustainable Energy Solutions

Back in the 90’s, very few people were interested in the issue of global warming. While scientists talked about climate change as a reality, it hadn’t risen to be a key public issue. Obviously, that’s changed more recently. Political leadership has evolved a lot like public opinion has evolved.

While there were just a few people involved locally two decades ago, as public awareness of climate change grew, so did consensus on the need to act.

Fortunately, the things public officials want to work on anyway – improving affordability, reducing costs for businesses, energy independence, neighborhoods walkability and quality of life — also reduce carbon emissions. As leaders began to recognize these “co-benefits” over time, Portland was in a position to embrace its role as a leader on climate change, while saving residents and businesses money. Creating good public policy and programs that addressed climate change became the norm.

Portland was one of 12 local governments internationally to jointly develop local global warming solutions in the early 1990’s. How did this come about?

Fresh in my role at the City of Portland’s Energy Office, I believed that global warming was a reality. Soon, I connected with two city council members, who also supported action. We saw a void of leadership at the national level and not much action at the state level either. However, a few other North American and European cities were beginning a dialogue. We asked, “What if we pulled together all these cities that were thinking about this?” The EPA and City of Toronto together provided grant funding that allowed us to set up a two-year process to focus on local solutions to global warming with these cities.

In those two years, we came up with the first methodology for how to calculate carbon emissions at the local level and answer the question, “What does global warming mean for a local city government and for an entire community?”

Amazingly, the categories we came up with then are still the categories that have held true for climate action today, such as switching to renewable energy, focusing on energy efficiency, integrating transportation and land use.

How was this strategy introduced to the community?

Photo Credit: The Oregonian

Photo Credit: The Oregonian

The first thing I did was a needs assessment to identify potential partners, such as elected officials, neighborhoods, businesses, environmental advocates or social advocates.

We talked with dozens of individuals to find out what was important to them.  I probably had about 50 meetings, as well as an advisory committee of residents, businesses, utilities and other stakeholders. After we really listened, we were able to bring in a plan that addressed our desire to reduce carbon emissions, but also showed them how it helped them meet their goals. My advice is always to meet people where they’re at…

After many smaller meetings, the EPA paid for the international group to come to Portland for a five-day work session and the “international global warming conference,” which was well received and got a lot of national coverage.

For the first decade working on this, I generally would not talk much about global warming.  I talked about the things that regular people care about – air quality, improving their neighborhoods and jobs. And that’s mostly still what I talk about now.

The message is this, “You don’t have to believe in this, but here are the good results that can happen if we take action.”  That’s what people care about. It’s only been in the last five years or so where the increased sense of urgency for action on climate change has become a motivating factor for people.

What were some major milestones achieved in the two decades since Portland adopted its first Climate Action Plan?

Bike Lanes in Portland, Oregon

Bike Lanes in Portland, Oregon. Photo Credit: The Portland Mercury

With advocacy from city and many other groups, the State of Oregon adopted a renewable portfolio standard to require more electricity be generated from renewable energy.

We added hundreds of miles of bicycle lanes. Today, over 6 percent of Portlanders ride their bikes to work, compared with less than 1 percent on average in other cities.

We have focused on making our own city facilities more efficient. The city is saving more than $6 million a year due to investments in energy efficiency.

We launched Solarize Portland, a grass roots effort to help a neighborhood band together to do one large bid for solar installations so they could get a better price. That resulted in a huge shift with thousands of homes and businesses installing solar.

Fifteen years ago, we started a green building program that provided technical assistance for the community and adopted requirements for city buildings. Many cities provide some kind of incentives. The whole green building industry took off very early here, in terms of LEED Gold and Platinum. These designations in Portland are now interchangeable with the words “quality building.”

We launched Clean Energy Works, which has since spun off to be its own non-profit. Initially, this was funded by the federal government to create energy efficiency demonstration projects for single-family homes in several cities.

The program was a one-stop shop: Home owners could call a number, promptly get an audit of their home, have energy upgrade options explained to them, and be connected directly to high-quality private contractors. Homeowners could access no down payment loans that they could repay on their utility bill.  About 5000 homes have been improved, thanks to the mix of incentives, loans and individual investments.

Solarize Portland. Photo Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Solarize Portland. Photo Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

In the ‘90s and early 2000s, we had a similar effort for multi-family housing. The city Energy Office was the marketing arm for local utilities.  The result was energy efficiency improvements in more than 40,000 apartments.

Recycling is another big win. Four years ago, we changed the curbside collection system for residents. Now — recycling, yard debris and food waste are collected weekly, but garbage is picked up only every other week. Practically overnight we reduced single-family waste headed to the landfill by 37%. The total recycling rate is now 70% for all commercial and residential solid waste.

What were some of the major challenges?

A major recent challenge has been the recession. Oregon tends to stall first and recover last. But when we recover, we recover stronger.  Also, it’s hard to get upfront dollars to do this long-range work, so funding is a major challenge.

The City has limited dollars to dedicate to long-term impacts versus immediate needs — like taking care of our kids, public safety and parks – the work that all cities need to do.

Were there any unexpected progress or obstacles and how did those relate to implementing the strategy?

The every-other-week garbage pick-up felt like a big risk. But once we did it, it achieved great results fast.

There’s also been impressive leadership from local businesses. We work with 1000 businesses every year in an effort called “Sustainability at Work.” Businesses love it. Companies in Portland want to do the right thing while they make money and make their business more competitive.

Another somewhat unexpected result of our work is that since we started focusing quite early on climate change, green building, energy efficiency, etc  we had companies – designers, engineers, inventors, problem-solvers – coming up with all kinds of solutions locally. Now, those people are selling the solutions they developed here to the rest of the world. We have hundreds of companies that are providing sustainable technologies and services to everyone else. Whether it’s a green building design, or storm water management, or recycling/waste reduction solution – this sector is now one of the cornerstones in our economic development strategies.

What is it about Portland’s society or culture that enables it to be in the lead on planning issues like this?

The Willamette River. Photo Credit: Oregon Country Trails

The Willamette River. Photo Credit: Oregon Country Trails

In Portland you can look in any direction and see incredible nature. Mt Hood is in the distance. The Willamette and Columbia Rivers run through town. There’s so much green and trees and beauty everywhere. Part of the culture is that we want to protect the beauty we have around us. That ethic has been around since the 60’s and 70’s.

Also, in the 70’s there was a state-wide land use planning effort. Oregon set state-wide planning goals and every city had to meet those goals. Because of that, there’s a powerful desire to protect farm and forest land and balance the environmental and economic goals. Energy efficiency was even part of that early planning in the 70s.

Where does Portland look outside of itself for inspiration and new ideas?

For years, we’ve had an informal information exchange with cities all over the world. We look to Copenhagen, Oslo, and several cities in Germany. In the US, we look to cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, New York, Boston and Boulder. We trade ideas constantly.

We made that exchange of ideas more formal recently with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. And, we just started the Carbon Neutral Cities group which includes 17 cities internationally that have adopted goals to reduce carbon emissions by 80% or more by 2050.

What challenges do you see coming in the next 5-10 years in meeting the benchmarks set in the city’s Climate Action Plan?

Photo Credit: The Charger Bulletin

Photo Credit: The Charger Bulletin

The sense of urgency is different now. We can’t move along slowly anymore. But, the issue still has to compete against all our other every day concerns, like employment, education, decaying infrastructure, childcare, transportation needs, public safety and air/water quality.

Since we created the first plan in 1993, Portland has grown immensely as a city, yet we have managed to reduce carbon emissions by 14% citywide, and per capita, we’re down 35%.

We’ve shown that you can grow a local economy while downsizing your carbon emissions.

We’ve added thousands of jobs while reducing our carbon footprint. Now, we need to take some big leaps forward.  And that means making major shifts to renewable energy, significant improvements in new construction to net-zero energy buildings, better transit, land use planning that supports walking and biking, reducing our total amount of consumption, and reusing, recycling or composting as much of our waste as possible.

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Susan Anderson’s contributions incorporating climate change adaption strategies into other areas of planning in the past – including air quality, transportation, and land-use – has resulted in a present Portland that is more prepared to face the global climate change impacts of the future.

Doubling Down On The Future With Climate Action Plans

As scientists continue to uncover overwhelming evidence of climate change, governments around the world are grappling with how best to respond. At the local level in the United States, a growing number of cities are embracing a new model – Climate Action Plans.

While these plans differ from city to city, all share the broad goal of attempting to plan for – and mitigate against –the consequences of a changing climate. As with most public planning, the most effective Climate Action Plans make use of extensive community outreach so all stakeholders feel ownership in the process.

http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02398/drought_2398818b.jpg

Credit: The Guardian

“They’re basically roadmaps for how public and private agencies can reduce their carbon footprint,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the non-profit Climate Action Campaign and one of the people who helped draft the latest version of San Diego’s plan.

The plans typically include a host of timetables for cities to accomplish goals such as making government buildings more energy-efficient, reducing water use and increasing the use of renewable energy sources.

As Capretz noted, San Diego’s plan was drafted after dozens of meetings with homeowners, businesses, environmental advocates, government agencies and other stakeholders. An advisory committee called the Economic and Environmental Sustainability Task Force helped facilitate this outreach.

In some cases, real-world events have prompted cities to take action. In Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh cited the devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 as one of the reasons the city needed to develop a series of long-term environmental strategies. In Boston’s case, those strategies include developing plans to cope with rising sea levels.

http://www.dfwonline.org/hurricanesandy

Devastation after Hurrican Sandy – Credit: Donors Forum of Wisonsin

In the Southwest, the fear of cataclysmic water shortages has prompted a number of municipalities to set broad goals for mitigating environmental impacts. In Colorado, for instance, the city of Boulder’s Climate Action Plan calls for the city to reduce by 80 percent its level of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

San Diego’s Climate Action Plan – which hasn’t yet been approved by the City Council – is particularly aggressive, essentially mandating that the city hit certain benchmarks by 2020 and 2035, including benchmarks for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and increasing the number of people who bike to work.

Among other things, the plan would require homeowners to disclose their energy and water usage to potential buyers, according to KPBS.

These plans aren’t without controversy, of course. There are concerns about a city exposing itself to litigation if it fails to meet the goals set forth in a Climate Action Plan. There are worries about placing financial burdens on businesses and homeowners who must comply with the various new regulations.

http://www.coolcalifornia.org/article/climate-action-planning

Steps in creating a Climate Action Plan – Credit: Cool California

Still, cities such as San Diego clearly recognize the importance of creating these plans, both as a means of helping reduce a city’s carbon footprint and also as a means to prepare for rising sea levels, warmer temperatures and more extreme weather.

“It’s going to change the way the city handles land use, transportation, energy,” Capretz said. “We’re definitely breaking new ground, setting new precedent.”

As San Diego’s draft plan goes through the environmental review process, Capretz’s organization plans to conduct outreach with dozens of local town councils, business improvement districts and other community groups. (To visit the website for Capretz’s organization, the Climate Action Campaign, click here.)

Below are links to a few cities’ Climate Action Plans. Many of these links include information about how the public can provide input.

http://www.sandiego.gov/planning/genplan/cap/pdf/sd_cap_sept_2014_draft_full_093114.pdf

City of San Diego Draft Climate Action Plan – Credit: City of San Diego

San Diego

Los Angeles

New York

Boston

Salt Lake City

Albuquerque, N.M.

Aspen, Colo.

Tucson, AZ

The future may be getting hotter, but it’s still a bright one

Our blog focuses on big topics. We have never shied away from tackling big projects and issues and bringing you interviews with leading experts and influencers. Over the next year we are going to keep taking big steps towards keeping you informed about important and interesting topics. In 2015, we are dedicating the focus our blog on one of today’s hottest topics and one that affects us all – climate change. We will bring you commentaries and interviews that will inform you about this topic and prepare you to do your part, at home, at work, and throughout your daily lives.

The more informed you are about a topic, the better decisions you make. From choosing to walk or ride your bike short distances instead of driving to understanding related policies and proposed bills, the more you know the better off we’ll all be. We will explore different ways local and national governments are preparing for and working to reduce the effects of climate change. We will cover how climate change is communicated in the media, on social media and with visual communications. We’ll take you to big projects across the country and around the world that are combating the harmful effects of climate change through sustainability, conservation and renewable energy.

Credit: UC San Diego Extension

Credit: UC San Diego Extension

As a public involvement firm we are committed to keeping stakeholders informed and up to date early and often and maintaining open dialogues and transparency throughout a project, campaign or effort. This passion is what drives us to use our blog to explore meaningful topics like climate change. We encourage you to participate in this online forum, by sharing your own comments, thoughts, articles and other information. Let’s learn from each other.

Stay turned for our first post on climate change in the coming weeks.

The Collaborative Services Blog Team 

The Navy takes to the sea to combat climate change

The U.S. Naval research Lab 's Building 72. (Photo/Image provided courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory.)

The U.S. Naval research Lab ‘s Building 72.
(Photo/Image provided courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory.)

As the source for almost all things, the ocean may just be where we find solutions to climate change as well.  This past spring the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) announced that it had developed a process to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from the ocean and convert it into fuel-like molecules. This process could eventually fuel Navy jets and help provide energy independence for our military.

While this development flew mostly under the radar when announced, it opens the door for big possibilities. Turning seawater into fuel could one day help reduce our nation’s dependence on oil and our carbon footprint to steer us towards a more sustainable future. With ocean’s accounting for 96.5 percent of the 71 percent of the earth’s water this new energy option is abundant and available.

Today, we hear from Dr. Heather Willauer, a research chemist in the Materials Science and Technology Division at the NRL. Dr. Willauer explains the revolutionary process of turning seawater into fuel-like molecules, what this means for the military and our nation’s future, and how the Navy is combating climate change and researching alternative energies. We welcome her insights.

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A team of Vanguard I scientists mount the satellite in the rocket.  (Photo/Image provided courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory.)

A team of Vanguard I scientists mount the satellite in the rocket.
(Photo/Image provided courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory.)

What work happens at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory?
Founded in 1923, NRL is a campus-like complex of diverse scientific facilities headquartered in Washington, D.C. With a compliment of approximately 2,800 employees consisting of researchers, engineers, technicians and support personnel, the laboratory carries out basic and applied research on the forefront of the physical and chemical sciences, computer science, and engineering

Who works at the Naval Research Laboratory?
The internal organization is divided into five directorates; four conducting scientific research, and one designated the Naval Center for Space Technology. The varying directorates employ civilian federal workers, contractors, students from academia, and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

Who oversees the work of the Naval Research Laboratory?
Overall laboratory management is under the direction of a Navy commanding officer and civilian director of research. As a Navy Working Capital Fund, all costs, including overhead, are recovered through sponsor-funded research projects. These include the Chief of Naval Research, Naval Systems Commands and other government agencies to further include the U.S. Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Department of Energy, NASA, and other nongovernment entities.

This past spring, the Naval Research Laboratory announced it had developed a process to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from the ocean and convert it into fuel-like molecules that could eventually be used to fuel jets. Can you tell us how this process will work?
Using a novel NRL electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM) cell, up to 92 percent of both dissolved and bound carbon dioxide (in the form of carbonates and bicarbonates) can be removed from seawater. The total concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in seawater is 140 times greater than that in air. In addition to CO2, the module produces hydrogen gas (H2) at the cathode as a by-product. NRL and partners have developed a carbon capture system that demonstrates the continuous and efficient production of CO2 and H2 from seawater. Seawater processed by this technology, may be returned to the sea, since no additional chemicals or pollutants are introduced.

Credit: Deposit Photos via DailyTech

Credit: Deposit Photos via DailyTech

Two further processing steps takes these reactants and coverts them to synthetic fuel. The first is an NRL patented process that addresses the conversion of CO2 and H2 to olefins (short chain carbon molecules). The second step consists of conversion of olefins to a fuel-like fraction of C9-C16 molecules by transforming a simple carbon chain to a complex chain using zeolite catalysts. NRL currently operates a lab-scale system that is capable of producing up to 500 milliliters of liquid hydrocarbons (C9-C16) a day. Additional research and development are necessary to enhance the efficiency of chemical reactions for tailoring the mixed hydrocarbons to a fuel-like fraction. By far, the key scientific challenge that NRL continues to study at the basic science level is to accomplish greater CO2 and H2 conversion efficiencies to the hydrocarbon fuel fraction of interest. Effects of catalyst composition, size, and distribution are parts of this study. The ultimate long-term goal would be for the liquid hydrocarbon production to be specifically tailored to meet or exceed all current military fuel performance standards.

When did this research first start?
Dr. Dennis R. Hardy who is currently retired from NRL developed the concept in 2002. The program was funded by NRL’s core research funds in 2007.

Credit: U.S. Navy via Wired

Credit: U.S. Navy via Wired

What is the benefit of this development for the Navy and the other branches of the U.S. military?
The technology will ensure naval energy independence and minimize global logistics footprint by producing up to 100 percent of fuel operational needs at or near the point of use at sea or on land. This allows greater “Freedom of Action” for the warfighter while meeting Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) milestones for carbon neutrality and strategic fuel autonomy. This novel technology provides potential fuel cost stabilizing solutions for next generation Navy and U.S. Marine Corps platforms and installations.

What benefit does it have beyond the military?
It could be envisioned that one day this process would be powered by alternative renewable energy such as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), wave energy power, and off shore wind energy. The environmental benefit is a process that has a net zero carbon footprint. The other viable benefit is a way to capture, convert, and store electricity, produced by alternative energy, as a versatile, high-energy-density synthetic liquid hydrocarbon that can be used as a fuel.

Credit: inhabitat.com

Credit: inhabitat.com

What other research and development related to reducing the effects of climate change is the Naval Research Laboratory currently conducting?
NRL conducts research to help better understand changes to Earth’s climate and the impacts these changes may present to the Earth environment. These include the study of atmospheric and oceanic interfaces, geophysical and meteorological factors, upper atmosphere anomalies, and space weather. Additional satellite laboratories, the Marine Meteorology Division in Monterey, Calif., and the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, aid in this research.

In less direct terms, NRL is involved in research pertaining to alternative energies such as solar, fusion and benthic fuel cell technologies that provide renewable energy sources that can be more efficient, lower operating costs, and contribute toward a reduction in the overall carbon footprint for the Navy and Department of Defense.

Credit: PageResource.com

Credit: PageResource.com

When does the Navy anticipate that the technology it discovered to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from the ocean to create jet fuel will be ready for commercial implementation and how would this solution transition from being a military solution to a commercial solution for the airlines, corporate and personally operated aircraft?
Commercial implementation will depend on funding. Currently, it is estimated at the present low level of funding, the program will not exist in the next 5 to 10 years. Conversely, a proportionate amount of future research, if properly funded, could provide the necessary steps to scale-up this technology to a commercially viable product in the next decade.

What’s in store for the Naval Research Laboratory next year?
NRL will continue its research on improving catalyst stability that is currently funded through NRL’s core basic research program. Concurrently, NRL will actively maintain its efforts to obtain commercial and government funding to improve the energy and process efficiencies of the individual technologies and scale and integrate the technologies as “proof of concept.”

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Learn more about NRL’s innovative research and stay up to date on new their new climate change discoveries and developments here.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project: Growing fresh communities

This week as we start our series exploring projects and ideas related to sustainability, conservation and renewable energy that have big potential. Do you like to eat? Do you like fresh great tasting food and want to easily find it in your local community? Then you will have an appetite for this week’s interview.

What started as a group of strangers who came together to save local farm land, evolved into a new community of farming and local food enthusiasts. From this group, the idea for a collective local food and farming network in San Diego County began to grow, resulting in The San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project. For nearly 15 years, the project has provided a range of classes for all ages, volunteer opportunities and social events to residents across the county. With a recently renewed lease on their Tijuana River Valley Regional Park farm, the project is looking forward to the expanding their work and mission in the next year.

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

We welcome Mel Lions, Director of San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project. He shares the history of the project, its current efforts and what we can continue to look forward to from the project (in addition to tasty, fresh, locally grown food). We welcome his insights.

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How did the idea for San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project originate?
In December 2000, a local farmer called a group of his friends together to inform us that the land he’d been renting was going on the market, that a developer was interested in turning the rich farmland into a gated polo field surrounded by mansions. Instead, our friend proposed that the community buy the land to preserve it as farmland. The farmer was using about four acres out of 160, most of which was growing hay. The land had ample well water, had only ever been farmed, and enjoyed deep, rich soil. We didn’t know each other but we knew him and the delicious food he was able to grow, and decided this was a worthwhile effort.

We were enthusiastic and idealistic, but had no formal organization, no business plan, and mostly no idea that we had little chance of raising $8 million in a short amount of time. But because we were clueless, we tried. We developed a concept to take the 160 acres and install a variety of agricultural ventures — including row and field crops, dairy and eggs, grains and pasture — to unite the various operations into a cooperative venture, and use the entire operation as a place to train the next generation of farmers.

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

As we went around the community urging people to “buy the farm!” the most common response we got was, “Why? Why should I give you money from my pocket to do that?” While the local food movement was awakening in other cities around the country, we discovered that it did not exist in San Diego in the year 2001, and we ultimately failed to buy the land.

But over those two years of effort we had grown to like each other. We found we worked well together, that the cause was worthy, and decided that we were the ones to instigate the local-food movement for San Diego. We reorganized as an educational group, going all over town showing free movies about food and then leading discussions, setting up tables at local events, talking to many thousands of people about the importance of local farms to our community’s health, economy and environment. We grew our membership and expanded our outreach, and then gave ourselves a name that encapsulated our work: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project. We were now a thing.

Our theme this month is projects and ideas that may be on a smaller scale but have the potential to have a big impact. What is the big idea your project is promoting?
We want to see food growing where we live: in our yards, our places of worship, our schools, and in the fertile fields surrounding our cities. Before the onset of the globalized food system in the 1990s, for ten millennia most food was grown in or near a city or town. Food grown where we live needs far less petroleum inputs to get to market, is picked for flavor and nutrition instead of for how it holds up to transportation, is better tasting and more nutritious, and supports the local economy rather than some mega-agribusiness that doesn’t live here.

Food is one of our primary connections to the environment; how we choose to eat food has a huge effect on the soil, water and atmosphere. Industrial food production is one of the most environmentally destructive industries. So we teach people how to grow food right here — from the small, backyard scale to small-scale farming — and empower them to take back control of their food from global agribusiness, to enjoy eating the most delicious and nutritious food around, and to marvel at the wonders of soil and nature and our relationship to all that lives. This would take us back to the way we once grew food and would have a tremendous effect on the environment. And our food would taste better too!

What are some of the ways your project works to encourage the growth and consumption of regional food?
We have two primary programs: Victory Gardens San Diego, where we teach people how to grow food in their yards, schools, and community spaces; and Wild Willow Farm & Education Center where we teach small-scale farming and serve as a community hub for local foodies. At Wild Willow Farm, we offer classes for adults on the fundamentals of growing food, and workshops on many topics from beekeeping to food preservation. We offer field trips to students of all ages, where we give hands-on lessons on topics ranging from the earthworm life cycle, how to make a school garden, cooking (and eating!) demonstrations, and tie agricultural ideas into science, math, and art.

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Our website serves as a resource for people who are looking to support local food, offering lists of local farmers markets, small-farm CSAs, restaurants that feature local food, community groups with a food focus, and generally helping people who are looking to make a locally based change in their eating lifestyle.

 San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project started 14 years ago. What have been some of the biggest challenges and successes you have had to date?
Needing to raise $8 million in a couple years was a challenge, that’s for sure! But that failure only clarified the need and steeled our determination to be a force for change. Certainly gathering a group of people durable enough and determined to take this work on has been a challenge, but by keeping the purpose front and center, by being persistent and not giving up, and working hard to say “yes” as much as possible, opportunities opened up and we’ve found a solid team committed to make it work. After ten years as a volunteer group, people now have meaningful jobs with us.

Other primary hurdles have been bureaucratic: figuring out and meeting all the legal and regulatory requirements that have presented themselves. This has included forming a corporation, getting non-profit status, facing the myriad rules of small business, employment law, farming regulations, and leasing land. Dealing with these remains a full-time, non-agricultural job.

Our successes can be witnessed in the community of people who gather with us to grow food and collectively build the world we want to live in. Where there was once a handful of strangers, now there are hundreds — thousands — of people who have been affected by our message and efforts.

Credit: Roman-Photography/San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: Roman-Photography/San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

How does our community benefit when we buy and eat locally grown food?
Nature has a wondrous way of providing peak nutrition at the moment of peak flavor. Our food is more enjoyable and nutritious when we eat something picked for flavor rather than for profit. When we buy produce at a farmers market where there is no middle-man, the farmer gets a bigger piece of the pie and is more likely to spend that money back in the local economy, where it circulates (like blood!) and supports other local businesses; whereas most of the money spent at a supermarket supports an industrial food chain of which the farmer gets the littlest and last share. Plus farmers markets are vibrant community hubs where you can interact with your neighbors in unexpected ways and help bring the community alive.

Growing food in your front yard gives you instant connection to the people in your neighborhood, who will stop and engage with you, ask questions, give advice. I guarantee you can grow enough food to give away to your neighbors, strengthening your connection with those who live around you.

In the history of humanity, in every culture in the world, we’ve always celebrated our culture milestones with food. Every time we gather for any occasion, whether religious or secular, for births, rights of passage, marriage or death, there is food. Isn’t it a validation of the importance of our culture when we prepare and share the best of what we have, rather than what is the cheapest and most convenient?

San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project just signed a lease with the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation to continue to farm and teach in the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park for the next five years. This area is home to your project’s Wild Willow Farm and Education Center. Can you tell our readers more about what happens at Wild Willow Farm?
There are three cornerstones in Wild Willow Farm’s structure: Agriculture, Education and Community. Each of these interact to create a vibrant and growing network of citizens who are activated to create a more vital and connected food network for our region.

During the week at Wild Willow Farm, we have farm-school students learning basic farming skills from our talented teaching staff. Every Saturday we host farm-school classes, open volunteering, and community events. Once a month from March through October, we host a free open house/potluck, with farm and nature tours, yoga, local musicians, specialty classes, and of course food, including delicious farm-fresh pizza on sourdough crust cooked in our wood-fired oven. As the sun goes down we light a fire in our cob bonfire ring and invite everyone to pound a drum and dance, and celebrate the connections offered by our community.

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

What types of educational classes and events does your organization offer?
Most of our work centers on education and community building. Toward those ends we offer home-gardening courses through our Victory Gardens San Diego program. These are usually three weekend classes at people’s homes. It’s a hands-on approach that takes novices through every vital stage in growing food, with the homeowner getting a garden built in their yard.

At Wild Willow Farm & Education Center, we offer year-round courses in small-scale sustainable farming, teaching at levels from basic to advanced in our School for Sustainable Farming. Every Saturday we invite the public to volunteer on the farm and get hands-on experience while enjoying fresh air and good food, all while connecting with interesting and engaging people.

At the farm we offer periodic classes in subjects ranging from beekeeping to fruit-tree care, fermentation to medicinal herbs. We host social events and monthly community gatherings to celebrate and network with people who understand the importance that good food has in creating an enjoyable, delicious and meaningful life.

 How does your project engage and inform the public about its efforts? What tools and methods do you use?
Our primary outreach is via our website, social media and our periodic newsletter. Because we’ve been around for a while, we’ve got friends and partners all over San Diego, and this network offers us a broad reach into our market. Now that we’ve established our farm and gotten a new lease, we expect to do further outreach to local print and broadcast media as well.

The Farmers Market in the Little Italy Community of San Diego, CA. (Credit: georgevutetakis.com)

The Farmers Market in the Little Italy Community of San Diego, CA.
(Credit: georgevutetakis.com)

Your organization helps people find locally grown food in San Diego County. Your website provides a list of restaurants, organic markets, farmers markets, farm stands, wholesale distributors, etc. Is not being able to find locally grown food a common complaint you hear? Why do you think it difficult for people to find locally grown food?
It used to be, but not so much any more! But every day there are folks just entering the local food scene, and by listing resources we give them a hand up. Also, more restaurants are offering locally sourced ingredients and we want to encourage them by giving them free promotion for taking that leap. The more restaurants and markets that serve or sell locally grown food, the more people are exposed to the local food concept.

There are some structural issues that would make access to local food easier, such as reinstitution of a local food hub where local farmers could aggregate their products so more restaurants and markets could source locally grown produce. A couple decades ago, downtown San Diego had a number of produce wholesalers who purchased food from local farmers, but this system was abandoned and replaced by larger, Los Angeles-based food distribution centers. So now, even food that is grown in San Diego and consumed here has probably been to Los Angeles and back!

This movement is all about connections. Helping get people connected to where their food comes from remains one of our primary purposes.

What’s next for San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project? What should people look forward to on the horizon?
We intend to keep expanding our work: offering more classes, connecting to more school kids, expanding our farm, adding depth to our efforts. The difference between gardening and farming is that farming is a business, so in 2015 we’ll be offering advanced farming courses in the Business of Farming, teaching classes in production planning, regulatory and certification requirements for small farmers, employment issues, and other non-horticultural necessities of farming.

We’re working to do more outreach to local schools, helping mentor school gardens and nutrition programs, and offering after-school programs at the farm to give students a healthy, outdoor activity to meet their service-learning requirements.

Because Wild Willow Farm is in a park where we’re not allowed live, longer range we’d like to get land of our own where we can live and grow our farm school — the only one in Southern California, and one of the few in the country that offer year-round growing — and offer staff and student residency and community-building programs. This is perhaps a refined echo of our original effort that failed.

How can San Diegans get involved in the San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project? Are there other projects or networks like yours nationally that you can share with our readers in other parts of the country?
We invite everyone to come to the farm every Saturday and volunteer and get their hands dirty. We host events throughout the year, so keep checking our website or sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about what we’re doing. During the warm months (March – October), we host a free community open house/potluck where you can enjoy a unique experience and meet a lot of people involved in this movement.

While we are an entirely local organization, there are organizations and efforts springing up all over the country — too many to name — so the best bet would be to meet people at your local farmers market or search the web for sustainable food in your area. “Foodies” by nature are gregarious and interesting, and I promise that by connecting to your local food network, you will be enjoying the most fabulous and delicious food!

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We hope this interview left you hungry for more. Click here to learn more about the San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project and to find locally grown food across San Diego County.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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We move from BIG Projects to smaller ones with the potential to make a world of difference

Credit: Arabian Business Publishing Ltd.

Credit: Arabian Business Publishing Ltd.

Our BIG series on BIG projects has come to an end. We hope you enjoyed learning about some of our country’s and the world’s newly built wonders. These BIG projects are helping us to travel and revitalize communities, harness new clean energy and compete on a global scale.

We started our series looking at America’s Infrastructure Report Card produced by the American Society for Civil Engineers. The projects we featured over the past two months are definitely making the grade and helping to raise our country’s infrastructure G.P.A.

We want to say a BIG thank you to all of our interviewees from the past two months. Their work and insights on these projects is truly something to celebrate. They are:

  • Jeff Holland, Director of Communications for NRG who talked about the world’s largest solar thermal plant – the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System
  • Shellie Ginn, Transportation Administrator for the City of Tucson’s Department of Transportation who talked about the Sun Link Modern Streetcar project and how it brought a new mode of transportation to the community and is helping to revitalize Tucson’s downtown
  • Mark Camley, Executive Director of Park Operations and Venues at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the London Legacy Development Corporation who talked about what Londoners and visitors have to look forward to as the Olympic Park continues its transformation after the 2012 summer games
  • Michelle Boehm, Southern California Regional Director for the California High-Speed Rail Authority who talked about how the California High Speed Rail is putting the country’s most populous state to work and improving travel efficiency

We also looked at BIG ideas that may become the next BIG project. BIG ideas like Solar Roadways inspired our next series on sustainability, conservation and renewable energy. Next, we will feature smaller scale projects that have the potential to make a big impact. These are projects that are helping us reduce our waste and dependence on products that can harm our planet. These solutions and are helping us help our communities and ourselves to be healthier and live more sustainable lifestyles. While these projects don’t come with billion dollar price tags of the BIG projects we recently featured, they have the potential to help our country reduce its carbon footprint.

Do you know of a project or idea related to sustainability, conservation or renewable energy that is making a big difference? Share these with us. The more knowledge we have as individuals the better equipped we are to incorporate more sustainable efforts into our lives. When we all do our part we can make a world of difference.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

 

 

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One step closer to flying the friendly rails of California

Traveling across our country’s most populated state is on track to get a lot easier in the coming years. This week as we continue our series on BIG projects, we feature the much anticipated California High-Speed Rail project. One of the biggest projects in our state, the multi-billion dollar California High-Speed Rail took a big step forward this past summer when it moved from the design phase into the initial construction of the first segment of its first phase from Fresno to Madera.

Using clean renewable energy, the California High-Speed Rail will provide an alternative transportation choice that will help keep the state’s booming projected population growth moving, while preserving its natural environment and working towards its carbon emission reduction goals. Riding the California High-Speed Rail will help remove cars from the state’s already congested freeways helping to reduce emissions and the need to expand these highways and construct new airport runways and terminals to accommodate for more capacity.

An artist's conception of the California High-Speed Rail. (Credit: California High-Speed Rail)

An artist’s conception of a California High-Speed Rail car.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail)

When complete, the California High-Speed Rail will whisk passengers along the rail line between the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles Basin (and eventually from Sacramento south to San Diego) at speeds over 200 m.p.h. But travel times aren’t the only thing the project is speeding up. It is also helping to speed up the state’s economy by providing thousands of new jobs for Californians in construction, operations, maintenance and the transit oriented development businesses that will spring up near the stations along the route. It is also responsible for significant investments in improving existing rail infrastructure across the state.

As with any mega project, the California High-Speed Rail has had its fair share of critics, but it hopes to win over the opposition and follow in the foot steps of other great Californian transformative projects that were also once criticized (Golden Gate Bridge, anyone?).

This week as we continue our series on BIG projects, we invite you to come “all aboard” as we hear from Michelle Boehm, Southern California Regional Director, California High-Speed Rail Authority. Ms. Boehm talks about the project’s challenges and successes to date, what the project is doing to keep the public informed and up to date on its progress, and what future riders can look forward to. We welcome her insights.

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California Governor Jerry Brown signing  S.B. 1029 at Los Angeles' Union Station. (Credit: The California High Speed Rail Authority's  Instagram account)

California Governor Jerry Brown signing S.B. 1029 at Los Angeles Union Station.
(Credit: The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Instagram account)

When did the idea for a high-speed rail across California originate and how did the project gain momentum?
The idea for high-speed rail across California actually began back in the 1970s during Governor Jerry Brown’s first two terms as California’s Governor. As you may already know, Japan has enjoyed high-speed rail since 1964 and just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Shinkansen Bullet Train. Countries in Europe including France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia and the United Kingdom (today all connected as part of a Trans-European high speed rail network), and Asia including China, South Korea and Taiwan soon followed suit by developing their own high-speed rail systems.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) was created in 1996 and the program gained momentum in November 2008 when California voters passed Proposition 1A, the $9.95 billion bond measure to help fund high-speed rail in California. Another milestone was in 2012 when California’s Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1029. This appropriated $3.3 billion of federal grant funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and $4.7 billion of Prop 1A funds for the high-speed rail program.

In June 2014, California’s Legislature approved the 2014-2015 Budget which allocates $250 million of cap and trade proceeds and 25 percent annually of all future cap and trade proceeds for high-speed rail. These steady streams of funding have helped accelerate the program and allow the Authority to build the project concurrently in various parts of the state.

Has the project’s vision and mission changed over time?
While the method by which the high-speed rail program has been implemented has changed since the initial project description, the Authority’s vision and mission has remained consistent: to build a transformative high-speed rail program that connects California’s major population centers and economies with a fast, clean mode of transportation.

As outlined in Proposition 1A, the system will zip passengers from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Basin in under three hours, at speeds of more than 200 mph. In addition to bringing the various regions of the state together, the high-speed rail system will also help reduce California’s traffic congestion, reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and discourage urban sprawl through the development of station communities and transit orientated development. California’s population is estimated to reach 50 million by 2050, and the cost of adding to the state’s existing infrastructure by simply building more airport runways and highways is estimated to be more than twice the cost of building the high-speed rail system. Building high-speed rail isn’t a luxury, but it’s a necessity to prepare for the future.

Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority Facebook Page.

Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority Facebook Page

What public involvement methods have been the most helpful to explaining the purpose and need of the project early on?
In the last two years, the Authority has been committed to hosting public community meetings throughout the state. This allows residents that may be impacted by the program or are simply seeking an update on progress to ask questions of our engineering, environmental and other experts. Just this past August, the Authority hosted seven public scoping meetings in the Palmdale to Burbank and Burbank to Los Angeles Project Sections. The purpose was to gather official public comments about various proposed alignments and high-speed rail stations that will be considered in our environmental studies in the Southern California region moving forward.

In addition, the Authority has regional offices in Fresno, San Jose and Los Angeles and outreach teams that meet regularly with local stakeholders and the public. Authority staff members often speak at transportation, environmental and small business events and workshops throughout the state to educate the public about our program and the many job opportunities available.

In the past year, the Authority has undertaken an outreach strategy that targets Millennials and focuses on college and university outreach. Senior staff members including CEO Jeff Morales have spoken to students in fields that are related to high-speed rail implementation (engineering, planning, transportation, environmental policy, public policy). Through these talks, the Authority has encouraged Millennials to get involved, via social media, and spread the latest news and updates regarding the high-speed rail program.

Construction jobs are only one of many types of jobs the California High Speed Rail will create in the state.  (Credit: California High Speed Rail Facebook Page)

Construction jobs are only one of many types of jobs the California High-Speed Rail will create in the state.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail Facebook Page)

What do you consider the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s biggest success to date?
Putting Californians to work, especially in the Central Valley, is one of the Authority’s biggest successes to date. The Central Valley has been particularly slow to recover from the national recession, and the construction industry faces more than 30 percent unemployment. High-speed rail construction will create 20,000 construction jobs annually for the next five years. These jobs will go to the people who need them the most and provide a significant boost to California’s economy as a whole.

As of June 30, 2014, there are 156 certified small businesses and 832 full-time workers involved in the high-speed rail program. There are also 21 certified Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises working on the program right now. The Authority has an aggressive 30 percent Small Business participation goal in the program, which includes a 10 percent Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goal and a 3 percent Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise goal.

This is only the beginning. As high-speed rail continues to expand service from the Bay Area to the Los Angeles Basin, it will generate an additional estimated 67,000 jobs annually for 15 years. The jobs won’t only be in the construction industry, but high-speed rail will promote growth in several other sectors. Permanent public and private sector employees will be responsible for operating and maintaining the high-speed rail system. In addition, there will be restaurants, shops, etc. that will be built around future high-speed rail stations.

The California High-Speed Rail project finally began preliminary construction after years of planning and contention. What was the biggest challenge to moving forward and how was it overcome?
All big projects face controversy. The Golden Gate Bridge faced more than 2,000 lawsuits in its time and was termed the “upside-down rat trap that will mar the beauty of the bay.” BART was once called the “train to nowhere.” And the California State Water System and the University of California System were both passed with single-vote margins. Where would we be without these transformative projects?

Demolition of the Old Del Monte Plant in Downtown Fresno. (Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority)

Demolition of the Old Del Monte Plant in Downtown Fresno.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The Authority is beefing up our staff in the Central Valley, where construction began this summer with the demolition of buildings in Fresno. Crews continue to run tests on soil, concrete, rebar and asphalt to determine where to locate bridges, embankments and other high-speed rail structures. They’re also relocating utilities and doing abatement work which will make old abandoned buildings safe to demolish.

In light of all this activity, we are meeting and working with local communities to keep them updated on our progress. Our Central Valley office, located in Fresno, is at the center of work being done. They receive inquiries every day from the public, media, elected officials and property owners who want to be kept updated on the project or will be personally impacted. Staff in the Fresno office is committed to working with members of the public to ensure that the construction process moves forward as smoothly as possible.

The first stretch of construction will be between Fresno and Madera. What are some challenges that this area presents?
With any major infrastructure project, there will be the normal challenges associated with construction. The design-build team, Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons (TPZP), A Joint Venture, continues to move forward with completing project design, acquiring permits, relocating utilities and meeting with stakeholders to start the civil engineering work that will provide the foundation for the future high-speed rail.

The Authority has also entered into an agreement with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) to ensure that all emissions created during construction activities do not negatively impact local communities. This is being done through a series of voluntary emissions reduction agreement (VERA) that include a commitment by the Authority to recycle steel and concrete from demolitions and to use only Tier IV construction diesel vehicles while building the high-speed rail program. Tier IV diesel vehicles are the cleanest and most energy efficient construction vehicles available. The Authority is also partnering with SJVAPCD to purchase electric and efficient motors to replace existing irrigation pumps and engines, including in school buses, throughout the region.

The first segment of construction will take place between Fresno to Madera. (Credit: California High-Speed Rail)

The first segment of construction will take place between Fresno to Madera.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail)

How do you keep the public informed during construction? What communication methods and tools do you use?
The Authority is committed to keeping people informed about how the high-speed rail program will impact them. The Central Valley office, led by the Regional Director, is responsible for working with members of the public and the media to make sure that they are aware and informed. Within this office, there are engineers, right-of-way agents, planners, communications and other staff that cover a wide range of topics and are available to meet with stakeholders.

The design-build contractor (TPZP) and the Authority are partnering to keep members of the public up to date on how construction activities may impact them. This includes construction and traffic alerts that are issued when major construction is happening, community events that are held in regions that will be impacted by future construction and media events and outreach to the public.

The Authority also sends press releases and advisories to the media and to its stakeholders via email. The Authority’s website www.hsr.ca.gov contains all the latest news and updates as well as information about our ongoing construction, traffic alerts, board meetings, public meetings, etc. The public can also email us, write us a letter or give us a call at any time.

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Credit: California High-Speed Rail Facebook Page

Cost is always a sore subject with mega projects. What strategies help the most to explain or prove the future value of the infrastructure?
High-speed rail is the most cost-effective method of transportation that will not only accommodate California’s population boom, but it will help preserve farmland and the environment. Los Angeles to San Francisco is the busiest short-haul market in the country. One out of six flights heads out of Los Angeles to the Bay Area. High-speed rail fills a gap in California’s infrastructure. According to Caltrans, it would cost $158 billion to build 4,300 new highway lane miles, 115 new additional airport gates and 4 new runway terminals that are needed for California’s growing population.

High-speed rail is using clean and renewable energy to connect the state’s population centers. We’re not asking people to stop taking flights or stop driving their cars. We’re simply providing another mode of transportation that will help preserve our environment and meet California’s population growth. In many other countries like Spain and France, there’s been a big transportation shift after high-speed rail systems were built. More people are using high-speed rail than driving or flying in between major cities. This has resulted in a major reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel used to make the same trip by plane or car.

Can you estimate how many jobs will be created as part of Phase 1 of the California High-Speed Rail? What about after the entire project is complete and operating?
Once the Initial Operating Section (IOS) is completed, high-speed rail is estimated to generate 57,000 construction jobs annually for nine years. When Phase 1 of the project is completed, it’s estimated to create 67,000 construction jobs annually for 15 years. Currently, we do not have job estimates for Phase 2, but as you can imagine, that would create tens of thousands of more jobs throughout the state. As mentioned previously, high-speed rail will also be creating jobs in other sectors like operation, maintenance, commercial and retail.

Today in the Central Valley, small businesses are already working on the high-speed program and growing their companies as a result.

Kroeker, Inc. is a woman-owned certified Small Business Enterprise (SBE) based in Fresno that is contracted to do demolition work. Owner Jill Kroeker says the funds her company is earning through this contract has allowed her to grow and expand her company. Specifically, she reports that this spring, she moved her company into a larger office in Clovis and has been able to hire a project manager. She plans to hire more employees as the job progresses.

Another example is Fontana-based Martinez Steel. They are a certified Hispanic Owned Micro-Business (MB) and certified Disad­vantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) owned by husband and wife Joe and Debbie Martinez. Their company has been contracted to provide rebar for the first 29 miles of construction.  Debbie tells us her company was hit hard by the recession but this new contract has really turned things around. They’ve been able to hire 50 to 60 new workers to work on the high-speed program.

We are still years away from the completion of the California High-Speed Rail, but what are some of the benefits the public has to look forward to?
With the passage of Senate Bill 1029 in 2012 by Governor Brown and the California Legislature, the Authority has already invested in a number of connectivity projects across the state that will upgrade and improve local rail transit services. SB 1029 invests almost $2 billion of Prop 1A funds into transit, commuter and intercity rail projects across California. This funding will leverage approximately $5 billion in additional funding for these projects.

One of these projects is the Metro Connector Project in LA County, which just held its groundbreaking ceremony in Little Tokyo on Sept. 30, 2014. The 1.9-mile subway project will tie the existing Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line with tracks between 7th/Metro Center and Little Tokyo. For the first time, passengers will be able to travel from Long Beach to Azusa or from East LA to Santa Monica, without changing trains. This $1.4 billion project is set to open in 2020.

An artist conception of a California High Speed Rail station (Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority)

An artist conception of a California High-Speed Rail station
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The Authority is also investing in the Southern California Regional Interconnector Project (SCRIP) at Los Angeles Union Station. This project would create run through tracks, allowing trains to make a loop instead of having to back in and out in its current configuration. This will increase train capacity by 40 to 50 percent and reduce commuter travel times and greenhouse gas emissions. The $350 million project is expected to be completed by December 2019.

In San Diego County, the Authority is investing millions of dollars to improve grade crossings, tracks and signaling for the Trolley system. We are also investing in Positive Train Control for the North County Transit District. This is an advanced signaling system that will track the location of trains to avoid collisions.

In the Bay Area, the Authority is electrifying the Caltrain Corridor that will replace diesel trains and connect the system with high-speed rail. This will result in cleaner, faster travel.

These are just a few of the transit projects the Authority is funding and improving to make rail passenger service better and faster throughout the state.

The public will also see environmental benefits with these connectivity projects moving forward in the short term. More efficient, electric trains will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air particulates. As more people get out of their cars and into mass transit, this will result in a reduction of vehicles on the roads. Once high-speed rail is fully operational by 2030, the reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) will be like removing the capacity of one 500-mile lane of cars.

The Central Valley will also be the first region in the state where the Authority will be implementing an urban forestry program. In the next several years, the Authority will work with local stakeholders to plant 10,000 trees in the region. These trees will help offset construction emissions, provide shade and beautify the surroundings. The Authority is also committed to protecting important farmland in the region and is partnering with the California Department of Conservation to purchase property from willing sellers to protect that land permanently from future development. What that means is that for every acre that will be utilized by the high-speed rail project, one acre will be preserved forever.

Members of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation staff at a "Careers in Construction" workshop showing their support for the California High Speed Rail by participating in the #Iwillride campaign. (Credit: California High Speed Rail Facebook page)

Members of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation staff at a “Careers in Construction” workshop showing their support for the California High-Speed Rail by participating in the #Iwillride campaign.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail Facebook page)

What are some ways our readers can support more high-speed rail in the U.S.?
Readers can follow the progress of California’s high-speed rail program through our social media sites. We’re constantly updating our progress through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Instagram. We’re also using the social media sites to update Californians on jobs, regional transportation upgrades, and how cities and regions can use transit oriented development to encourage healthier and smarter planned communities.

We encourage supporters of high-speed rail to join our #Iwillride social media campaign. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and use the #Iwillride to post stories, pictures and videos about high-speed rail, riding mass transit, etc.

In addition, you can write to your local representatives and newspapers about why high-speed rail is important and needed in California. And finally, take local transit when available and encourage your family and friends to do the same. It’s tough to convince Californians to get out of their cars and use mass transit, but getting one car off the road adds up when thousands of people do it.

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Will you ride the California High-Speed Rail when it’s complete? Share your thoughts on the BIG project with us.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

 

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