Groundswell Rising!

A conversation with fractivist Renard Cohen

Renard Cohen, singer, songwriter, teacher, filmmaker, shiatsu practitioner, and fractivist

Let’s start off this interview with an answer to the burning question you are likely asking yourself: what is a fractivist?

Urban Dictionary describes a fractivist as follows:

fractivist

n. Person opposed to liberating hydrocarbons from their dark prison under the earth.

Humor aside, why not fracking? Is it activism gone awry or do we really have to take stock of what is coming and going in and out of the ground? After all, we need the energy, right? Wasn’t hydraulic fracturing sold to the American populace as a safer alternative to drilling for oil — like fossil fuel lite? Let’s drill down for a moment and consider what hydraulic fracturing is doing to the planet.

Graphic courtesy USEPA

Let’s start with an energy company drilling a hole. No big deal, right? We have tons of holes to get oil or water out of the ground, to build basements for houses, etc. But first the energy company builds a well pad sufficient to hold thousands of pounds of drilling machinery that will dig the hole. The well pad is typically placed near a stream because, if nothing else, fracking wells are thirsty business. The energy company drills down anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 feet, the approximate depth of the Marcellus Shale, then inserts a pipe, encases the pipe in concrete — but only about 50′ to 100′ down — then pumps a combination of water, sand, and chemicals, dozens of likely hazardous, often unidentifiable substances — not because the company doesn’t know what they are but because they claim confidential business information on the mixture — at high pressure into the hole which extends about one to two miles underground into the Marcellus Shale. Then the energy company sets off a charge to fracture the bedrock, releasing the natural gas stored in the earth’s nooks and crannies, and the water pressure forces it back up the pipeline where it is captured, transported, and sold. Here’s a time-lapse video from Penn State if you want to see the process for yourself.

Before fracking, energy companies needed to rely on finding the larger stores of natural gas to do their extraction, but after fracking the earth knows no bounds because below the Marcellus Shale lies the Utica Shale which is anywhere from 5,000 to 11,000 feet and that means fracking will be with us for decades to come.

Why is this an issue? Because of the chemicals used in combination with water and sand to fracture the ground and force the gas to the surface. Because of the possibility of contaminating area groundwater. Because of the well pads themselves which are eyesores and ear-sores, often built in people’s backyards with pumps that run constantly and stadium lights that stay on 24/7.

I think I’ve set the stage sufficiently for the main event, an interview with Renard Cohen.

Renard is an Emmy Award winning television producer/director, composer, musician and filmmaker who has been involved in protecting our environment for many years as a past president of the nonprofit Pocono Environmental Coalition and Wild Life Society, cofounder and past president of the nonprofit Resolution Media Fund, who’s mission is to create media, education programs, music and films that support protecting our environment and our rights. He’s produced TV for PBS, National Geographic, Food Network, Fine Living Network, IBM, Teach For America, Court TV and more. His feature length documentary, Groundswell Rising, Protecting Our Children’s Air and Water was featured in 12 Film Festivals, won a Humanitarian Award, aired worldwide on Free Speech TV, RT and can be purchased on Amazon Prime TV.

But wait, there’s more. Renard has also produced the PBS Special, The Science of Healing, and won an Emmy for the PBS series, Seasoned with Spirit, a Native Cook’s Journey.

Renard is the co-founder of artists4earth.com, an innovative website featuring an online art gallery of environmentally inspired art which can be downloaded for a donation to the Artists for Earth Project. The donations are then shared with partnering groups such as Food and Water Watch and Delaware River Keeper Network, turning art into support for the Earth. Renard, and partner Brian Van Korn wrote and recorded One Earth Song, and produced the video for the song.

And now, on to the questions:

You have a website, Artists4Earth, a community of artists who have donated their work to the cause of supporting different non-profits that work on behalf of the planet.  First of all, great idea.  Where did it come from, how’s it going, how long have you been at it, and do you feel your movement is successful? And if the answer to the last question is yes, how do you measure success?

When I directed and produced the documentary Groundswell Rising, Protecting our Children’s Air and Water, I met and filmed people who have been personally harmed by fracking and natural gas harvesting, people who have dedicated their lives to countering the abuses of the oil and gas industry, and those who would protect people from this harm. I wanted the film to give these people a greater voice than they would have talking to a group of people at a library or school. I am happy to say that we have accomplished this, and their words have been effective in warning other communities and educating legislators to take action to protect people facing the same harms.

I was hoping to find a way to help support some of the groups we worked with in making Groundswell Rising. Delaware River Keepers Network, a nonprofit that was able to keep the gas companies out of the Delaware River Basin (which supplies drinking water to millions of people) was one and Food and Water Watch another. I then learned of Green Amendments For the Generations, working to get green amendments in all the state constitutions and then the federal constitution. I wanted to find a way to help these groups who are on the front lines in the confronting the climate crisis in ways most of us are not.

For the last few years I had been providing music for an art competition involving environmentally inspired art. The Earth Speaks Art Competition features great art dedicated to heightening our awareness of the challenges we face from climate change and polluting technologies. When the art show was done, the art that was not sold would be brought back to the artist’s studios or closets and not seen again. I thought what a waste. I thought what if this art could be part of a web based art show, benefiting environmental groups.  We could then honor the art and help the environment — so artists4earth.com was born.

Did you know the artists you’ve recruited for the website before you started Artists4Earth?  It looks like sales are limited to artists who work in visual arts.  I get that because it’s something that is easily transferable, but have you thought about adding musicians, writers, filmmakers, and the like?

I had been working with a gifted artist/music producer, Brian Van Korn on a video we created for our composition and recording, One Earth Song when we began creating the initial website for Artists4earth.com. I reached out to some of the artists in our home Pocono region including Maciek Albrecht a Peabody and multi Emmy award-winning animator. Maciek was willing to allow digital copies of some of his drawings to be used for donations to download, and the funds to be given to our partnering nonprofits. With artists Maciek Albrecht, Lauri Henninger, John Yetter and Jack and Jill Swersie we had a start.

My production company Resolution Pictures, which also produced Groundswell Rising, edited the documentary, Art of the Fantastic. This film explores the fine artists who’s work brings to extraordinary life the world of science fiction, fantasy books, films, and designs for high level commercial art. When I shared the idea of artists4earth.com with Art of the Fantastic director Bill Niemeyer, he became on of our curators and invited top artists, Don Maitz, Volkan Baga and Donato Giancola to join us. Today with many accomplished artists, artists4earth.com is fulfilling its mission, turning art into support for the earth.

You made a film called Groundswell Rising that seeks to debunk many of the theories surrounding hydraulic fracturing, such as: it’s safe, easier on the planet than other forms of fossil fuel recovery, and that it’s integral to the U.S. becoming energy independent.  Tell us about the movie, how it got started, and what prompted you to take on the task of letting the world know about the environmental ills caused by fracking?

Many years ago I was the president of The Pocono Environmental Coalition and Wildlife Society. When the current president invited me to attend a teach in at our local library on something called Fracking, I was intrigued. At this small gathering I learned that there was an industrial process that was being done literally on the doorsteps of residential homes, schools, nursing homes and sensitive areas that were in no way industrial. They showed a film by Dr. Theo Colborn on the dangers to people, nature, wildlife, air and water that are inherent in this toxic gas drilling technique. I was amazed that I had never heard of this and it was going on just miles from where I lived. There were two presenters, a woman from Pro Publica and a woman from The Community Legal Defense Fund. They spoke of how communities were organizing on local levels to keep this industrial intrusion out of their towns. I was inspired and decided that their story and others giving so much needed to be heard. I was determined to make a film about their work and mission. This film became Groundswell Rising.

One of the people in the movie has a T-shirt that says “fractivist”.  Great shirt, BTW.  You should sell them on your website.  Were you an environmental activist from childhood or did it evolve over time? Was there a the precipitating factor or did you just come into this world wanting to do good for the environment?

I turned 13 in 1963 and along with the Beatles, opposition to the Vietnam War, the need to feed places like Biafra and Bangladesh, the civil rights movement, and tragic assassinations, my consciousness was raised. I began playing piano at age 4 and guitar at 13. Inspired by Dylan, Phil Ochs, and the Beatles I began writing songs at 13. My parents were founding members of one of the foremost theater groups on Long Island NY, Lantern Theater. So I began acting at around 11 years old. I was treated like an adult by the other cast members and enjoyed the collaborative effort of doing theater. My view of the world was shaped by Ipsen, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. I played Peter in The Diary of Ann Frank, and my Mother, Felice Cohen played my mother. It was a great education.

I was a freshman at Emerson College in Boston in 1969 when Kent State happened and the boycott began. I helped alert the students about the strike by making and distributing a flyer, ( I had a job at the school print shop) and organizing students to go into the offices and call all of the commuter students. I was a rebel. My activism ignited.

I have a theory, I believe the activism of the 60s was precipitated by the TV shows of the 50s. As kids we were told on the shows like Captain Kangaroo, Kukla Fran and Ollie, Mickey Mouse Club and Howdy Doody, ( I was on the Howdy Doody show in the Peanut Gallery and interviewed at 7) that the police were our friends, and America stood for truth, honesty and doing the right thing. When we saw Selma, the killing of King, the Kennedys and Malcom X, and the revelations of the Pentagon Papers, we felt betrayed and wanted to drop out and protest. A lot of us are still there.

When we began to understand that global warming was happening, with films like Inconvenient Truth and it became clear that our leaders and heads of industry were denying it, we made the decision to do what we could to tip the balance to sanity and protection for our children and grandchildren’s futures. I say we but I understand that I made these decisions for myself. I began by writing songs that spoke of the things I was concerned with and then given the opportunity, I decided to use my knowledge as a filmmaker to create Groundswell Rising (Resolution Pictures, founded by my brother Matt Cohen and myself makes shows for The Food Net, PBS, IBM, National Geographic, etc., and has won an Emmy for a 5-part PBS miniseries, Seasoned With Spirit, A Native Cooks Journey). After the film came out, I introduced it at many screenings, and opened the show by singing the theme song live. I am still up for doing this when asked. The film was on Free Speech TV, Russia Today, 12 film fests, won a Humanitarian Award and now is on Amazon Prime. It has been used to help get bans of fracking through in Florida, Maryland, New York, Scotland and other places.

photo courtesy USGS

How much research did you do before you started making Groundswell Rising?  Did you know the people you showcased in the movie — for example, Maya Van Rossum — before you started the movie or did your work in the environmental movement result in Groundswell Rising as a collaboration? BTW, Van Rossum is an adjunct professor at Temple Law, my alma mater, although we missed each other by a few years.

Before I went to a library teach-in about Fracking, I didn’t have any idea what it was. This opened my eyes and after I decided to do the film, I started going to local events to shoot and learn more. I went to an Earth Day event at Muhlenberg College and learned about rural country roads being turned into clogged industrial highways by fracking. I heard they were spreading dangerous frack water on roads as deicer, and heard a rep from a business group proclaim that fracking was our best financial opportunity. Some of this made it into the film. We then shot a program at North Hampton Community College with Dr. Tony Ingraffea, a former oil company engineer who was spreading the word on the dangers of fracking. It was there that I leaned that by the industry’s own admission 3-5% of all wells leak methane from their first days, then leak more as time goes on. And there are thousands of wells, leaking and burning methane off into the environment.

The more I learned the more determined I was that this story, which most of us were unaware of, had to get out. I then stared meeting people who were dedicating their lives to protecting us from fracking and industrial pollution, including Sandra Steingraber, a victim of industrial pollution which resulted in her contracting bladder cancer at the age of 20. Now a scientist, she was leading the charge against the effects of frackng, especially in babies and children. Sandra became an important part of Groundswell Rising and I was very glad to help get her message out to more people.

I then met some of the leading activists who were working to help communities keep fracking out of their towns. The habit of the Oil and Gas Companies was to sneak into a town before anyone knew what was happening. The individuals I met and included in the film were alerting people and organizing them to keep this away from their kids and literally, their doorsteps. I was able to show some success so the film became not only about the dangers but also about what we can do to protect ourselves. As this movement grew it became, and still is, a groundswell rising.

I listened to a Smartless podcast the other day with Admiral Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General of the U.S. and he said that if the people in power now would be around to see the effects of climate change, there would probably be more political will.  What is your view of the world and its leaders at this particular time in history and are you hopeful or do you feel we may actually be running out of road?

I think because we trusted those in power to watch out for us, we let them make decisions that did not have our best interests as their top priority. We should have not been surprised, we knew that in the Bush 2 Administration, Cheney and the Bush Family came from the oil and gas industry. We learned about the Halliburton Loophole, (Cheney’s former company) letting the oil industry be exempt from the clean air act, the clean water act, and others put in place to protect us. We learned later that Exxon had researched climate change and determined that we would be responsible for it and that it would be harmful, but then denied it in pronouncements. We also found out that the oil industry hired the same PR firm the tobacco industry used to deny a cancer and smoking connection, to convince the public that there was no climate emergency and humans had nothing to do with climate changes though their own research was to the contrary.

I am cautiously optimistic that we can pull together and mitigate our climate crisis in time to cut short the worst outcomes. There is always the possibility that new technologies and unified action can turn the tide. It does worry me to see that the reaction of many areas is to prepare for the worst outcomes like building dikes and moving to higher ground instead of working to fix the problem. I don’t know how it will turn out, but we must do what we can, for our children and grandchildren. I say this as a father of five and, as of now, a grandfather of two with a new grandchild on the way.

the artist on the water

In the constant quest that each one of us has to become the best version of ourselves, how has your history — childhood, adolescence, and adulthood  —  hampered or spurred you on to becoming the version, and what is it that brought you to the environmental movement with such gusto?

My first exposure to the problem of environmental degradation was seeing the pictures of the dark clouds of smog that hung over cities like LA and NY. It was hard to dismiss. Then I heard about acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, and the burning of the rain forests. In the case of smog, I believe that progress has been made and cities are somewhat less polluted, but until approximately 30 years ago, most of us were unaware of the real threat of the climate crisis. We saw the Native American with a tear in his eye talking about littering and garbage, but who knew that we were facing an existential threat.

There is an old Buddhist saying: when you know, you can’t not know, so the more I learned about what science was saying about our part in creating a climate calamity, the more I wanted to use whatever talents and abilities I had to help educate the public on what we can do to meet the challenge. And as I realized that most people didn’t really have a clue about what we face and our responsibility in it, it became clear that films like Groundswell Rising could expose the problems and talk about how we can at least protect our communities. 

Talk about the unregulated oil and gas industry.  How did it avoid the usual regulations?

From the time oil was discovered in Pennsylvania and became our dominant form of fuel, a decision was made about what kind of world we would have. Not everyone was consulted and as usual in our society, those who stood to make lots of money had the power to institute fossil fuel for almost all of our energy needs. Certainly the adopting of the combustion engine and powering private small individual-use cars became the key to our growth and process. To question the wisdom of this track was seen as un-American and anti progress. Moguls of the oil and gas industry had direct influence on and eventually became our government leaders. And now we know that the oil and gas companies had their own in-house studies that confirmed that we were causing real environmental harm, and they decided to squash their own findings and deny it. So we are way behind the curve in being able to respond in time and address the problems. But what can we do but try!

Groundswell Rising talks about some statistics, like the failure rate of new wells being one out of 20, or approximately 5%; how 30% of wells will leak after a decade (and we have no idea how many after a century); and how the energy companies were only required to do a 250’ setback from residential properties, resulting in people having fracking wells adjacent to their backyards, a severe detriment — like in the case of the homeowners in Dimock, PA — to the home’s sanctity and the owner’s peace of mind.  The movie also talked about the fact that the fracking companies know they are not capturing all emission even though they have represented to the homeowners that their processes are safe.  What is the fix, do you think, when the company misrepresents the health risks associated with these gas wells?

There was a time not long ago when knowledgeable people were concerned about Peak Oil. We thought oil was running out. There was a real push to start creating new sources of energy. Hydrogen-powered cars with only water as the exhaust were being researched by companies like British Petroleum. There was new interest in renewables.

Then a scientist in Pennsylvania discovered the Marcellus Shale deposits and a technique that used great amounts of fresh water, a cocktail of potentially harmful chemicals, along with earthshaking explosions to bring the shale oil and gas to the surface. That is fracking. Once the gas is at the surface, there are many problems with storage, leaking methane, transportation, water contamination, and more. Before the real environmental downside of this technology was publicly known, laws giving the industry a pass on important water, air and soil protections were instituted. Before long, with fracked gas and new oil deposits found in the US, we were awash in oil and gas. We went from being an oil importer to being an oil and gas exporter, making it even harder for us to want to move past fossil fuels, into clean renewable technologies. But if we want to or not, science tells us that we must make these changes for our children and grandchildren to survive.

Where are the adults? Where are the leaders that can give us real choices and the consequences, good and bad, of those choices? We are at a crossroads. 

I have heard many different numbers on how much more of a green house gas driver methane is. I guess it depends on what method you use to measure. But what they all say is that methane is many times worse for the environment than carbon or CO2. Fracked or “Natural” gas is methane. And it gets released into our environment by the industry in many ways, from harvest to transport to use. The truth is, we don’t need to rely on methane or any fossil fuel to power the earth. Studies show that we can power the earth with renewables. It requires the will and support of the people and the real desire to meet the challenges before it is too late (and we are getting close)

In the movie you talk about a Green Amendment which is an idea started by Maya van Rossum who has also written a book about it.  What is the Green Amendment and how did you begin working with Professor van Rossum.

The oil and gas industries had their sights set on fracking in the Delaware River Basin. This basin provides the drinking water for millions of people including New York, Delaware, Pennsylvannia, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. The responsibility to keep this water safe falls on the Delaware River Basin Commission. When it became known that the Commission we set to allow the Oil Companies to come in and Frack the Basin, Delaware River Keepers Network, lead by Maya Van Rossum, sprang into action and brought protestors, environmentalists and educators to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) meeting and demanded that no permission should be given until much more extensive research was done on the dangers instead of just relying on the assurances the industry was supplying. It worked and the Commission eventually banned fracking from the Basin. Maya and her actions with the Delaware River Keeper became an important part of Groundswell Rising. Artists4earth and its partnering organizations continues to work with Maya and her new group, Green Amendments For The Generations, working to establish Green Amendments to the constitutions of all states and the federal constitution. With these laws in place, environmental protections will be much stronger and harder to sweep aside with the Presidential Pen.

Let’s talk about renewables which the movie touts as being sufficient to power our entire country.  If this is the case, what is stopping us from not walking, but running in that direction, meaning, why aren’t we doing more and how do you suggest we start?

In 2013, Scientific American asked two scientists to do a study on the feasibility of powering the world solely with renewable energy. Using just technologies available then they determined that this could be done — without huge upheaval and disruption of life — and laid out a plan to do so. I traveled to California to interview one of the scientists, Mark Jacobson, for Groundswell Rising. In the film, Mark says, based on his research, there is no technical reason that we can’t power the world with renewables, it is just the will to do it and the social pressure needed to make these changes happen. Mark now has The Solutions Project, which is helping cities, states and countries make the transition to clean renewable energy. He is working with Mark Ruffalo (also in Groundswell Rising) and Leonardo DiCaprio on the project. 

In Catching the Sun, a documentary by filmmaker Shalini Kantayya, she has a segment on Van Jones, formerly Obama’s green jobs czar, and founder of the renewable energy training organization Green for All, an organization that trained people, generally in underserved communities, to install solar panels, giving them access to a living wage and a sense of community.  In addition, I just read an article in Brookings Institute that we don’t just need the money from Build Back Better to go green, we also need people who will be able to implement the changes which means we need more money going to states and localities for training/retraining of these new technologies.  How do we make this happen? Do we need a couple thousand Vance Jones to take up this crucial work and if so, how do we find them?

It is very gratifying to see more and more young people getting involved with responding to the climate crisis. I am heartened by the divestment movement on many college campuses, which demands that the school’s investments move away from fossil fuels and harmful practices and technologies. It was only after countries divested from South Africa that apartheid began to loose support and ended.

When I am faced with the question of whether we as a society can really change I think of how we moved past smoking. I remember when every office, bus, club, airplane, taxi, movie, train, sports arena, theater and government building was filled with smoke. When the question, “Do you mind if I smoke?” was met with a yes, you were looked at like a selfish tree-hugging lout. Finally, after years of the cigarette companies advertising, proclaiming that there was no connection between smoking and cancer, we woke up and said this needs to stop. And it did. Good for us!

The same cohesion and common sense needs to unify us now to slow down and hopefully reverse the effects our society is having on our climate, our health, our co-habitant plants and animals, and our interaction with each other. If anything I do can move us closer to healthier outcomes, I will have lived a good life. 

I have one more question: do you think music can save the world and if so, why?

Throughout my life I have dedicated what talents I have to positive change and social causes. I believe that music is a special gift and has the ability to heal and inspire. Being a conduit for that energy is very fulfilling and my desire is to help mankind evolve to more sensitivity, fairness and wisdom.

If my music can help with that, I will be grateful. 

Renard, thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about your work. It’s been terrific and enlightening. Wishing you all the best in realizing your vision for the kind of environment that supports us all. I’ll be looking out for your next project.

Interested in contacting Renard? You can find him at Artists4earth.com, a group of world class artists, including Emmy winners, Hugo Award winners, Earth Speaks winners and many other great artists from all parts of the world. Their artists submit work that will be used as thank you gifts for donations to artists4earth’s nonprofit environmental partners. Artists4earth partners include:  Food and Water Watch, Delaware River Keepers, Move Past Plastic, and Green Amendments for the Generations . The 501(c)(3) Resolution Media Fund collects and distributes the funds, turning art into support for the earth. 

Thanks for reading.

pam lazos 1.16.22

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Bye Bye 2021

I can’t say I’m sad to see you go…

eye of the tiger

So here we are at the end of another year — a good deal spent dodging the vicissitudes of life to get to this place…

peering around the corner of a new year with a great hope that the future will cut us all some slack so we can get back to being normalish.

And while I doubt we’ll ever get back to what was once normal…

we can certainly get back to what’s important…

and to all a good night

If there’s one thing that’s kept me upright all year, it’s our favorite support pets.

So cheers to them. May they, and us, be blessed with health, happiness and joy in 2022.

Cent’Anni — may you live 100 years, and may balance, joy and creativity be a central part of them all. Happy New Year!

pam lazos – 12.31.21

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The Return of the Light

Sunrise beach – Cape May, NJ

It’s always been interesting to me how the holy days in the christian calendar overlap with the pagan holidays of old. Before we had Christmas, there was the Germanic Yule — which gave us things like yuletide caroling and the yule log — and the Roman Saturnalia, a rousing ruckus of a time when laws were temporarily suspended and people exchanged gifts, got rip-roaring drunk, and ate — wait for it — fruit cake!

Moody Sunrise, Cape May, NJ

No matter what your holiday you celebrate, remember there is no wine without clean water. A little something to ponder while you drink your Christmas ale.

Misty Sunrise, Cape May, NJ

Here comes the sun!

Technically, Sunset – Cape May, NJ
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Reusable Cash

Earning Through The Second-Hand Economy: Tips On Getting Started

Photo by Pixabay

Thanks to Lisa Walker for this great article and helpful links on (up), (re), and (free)-cycling!

by Lisa Walker

Many of us would love to earn extra money but it can be difficult to figure out the best way to get started. For some, finding the time to try something new is tricky, while others strive to be careful about making sure they’re still being eco-friendly. Selling items through the second-hand economy is a great way to make extra money, and the good news is that it’s environmentally sound. Whether you want to learn how to recycle items to turn them into art or just get rid of all the things you no longer need, there are plenty of ways you can earn cash by taking advantage of items you already have.

Think about the tools you’ll need to make the process easier; there are many sites and apps that will help you sell belongings, whereas recycling bins will help you keep things sorted and neat so you can easily find what you need. If you’re thinking of having a garage sale, you’ll need to prepare well with signage, display tables, and racks for hanging clothing.

Here are a few tips from Neighborhood Sprout on how to get started in the second-hand industry.

Register Your Business

When you decide to delve into the world of the second-hand economy, you need to make sure you’re operating legally. Many states have very strict rules about what constitutes a business, so if you intend to do this on a regular basis going forward, you may need to register as an LLC, for example. There are many advantages of doing so (liability protection, for instance), and the process is fairly straightforward when you use formation services to help you through the process. 

Do Some Research on Recycling

If you’re planning a future trip to Target to upgrade your office furniture, recycling the things you no longer use is a great way to earn the extra cash you’ll need. However, it’s important to do a bit of research first. Knowing how to recycle certain items or convert those items into something new requires knowledge. For example, if you want to find a new way to use something old — such as turning colored glass bottles into a mosaic piece you can sell — you’ll want to know how to do it properly and to your advantage. Alternatively, if you just want to get rid of that glass bottle, reach out to the local recycling center to see if they accept glass, as many don’t. Others don’t offer a pickup service but will accept drop-offs if you bring items yourself. 

If you’re looking to get rid of some old things and don’t need to sell them, try sitting them out on the curb for passersby to take. Known as “freecycling,” this is a great way to declutter your home without sending more trash to a landfill — a huge contributor to climate change.

Sell on an App

There are several sites and apps that will help you sell the things you no longer want or need, so look online to find out more about your options. Some apps take a small cut of your sale but offer prepaid shipping labels to make the process easier. Check out Vinted, Poshmark, eBay, and Etsy (which only sells handmade or vintage items) and read about their policies to get an idea of how you can get started.

Hold the Perfect Garage Sale

The right garage sale can help you get rid of anything you no longer use while helping you make some cash at the same time. Do some promoting with brightly-colored posters around the neighborhood, set up displays to attract attention from the street, and be prepared to barter a bit. Most garage sale shoppers love finding a deal, so you might consider pricing your items a little higher so you’ll have room to haggle.

Start an Etsy Shop

If you have a creative streak or a great eye for vintage pieces, you can find quite a bit of success on sites like Etsy, where shoppers are looking for something unique. You can recycle items you no longer want — like turning old clothes and linens into tea towels, quilts, or dresses for little girls, for instance — and earn a nice profit by using a crafty spin. 

If you’re more into vintage fare, head to your local second-hand shop or antique store and look for pieces with promise. If you can clean them up and take a great photo or two, you’re bound to find a buyer who is willing to pay a pretty penny. In fact, if you already have high-quality photos of these items on social media, you can simply use a free tool to remove background elements that you don’t want to show in the listing.

Earning money via the second-hand economy can be both fun and rewarding, as long as you feel prepared going into it. Doing a little research will help you get a great start, and you may even make a new career for yourself while doing something you enjoy.

Lisa Walker is a proud SAHM (Stay at Home Mom). She enjoys trail hiking and beach-coming with her husband Jake when not busy with her boys and home improvement projects. She created NeighborhoodSprout.org as a passion project to share her love of homeownership with others.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

© pam lazos

As many of you know, I am crazy for clean, safe water for all and work toward that end both in my J.O.B. and in my volunteer life. So I am sharing the post I made for the Global Water Alliance today with some water facts for you to ponder as you carve your turkey and relax with family and friends today. If you are one of the people that enjoys unfettered access to clean water, say a little prayer of thanks for your luxury and another one that all people will one day share your bounty. I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving filled with family and friends, good food, a solid roof over your head, plenty of laughter, and clean water for all. pl — 11.25.21

Happy Thanksgiving! Here at GWA we have much to be thankful for, but most of all we are grateful for the gift of clean water!  GWA envisions a world where all people have access to safe drinking water and sanitation.  The UN and WHO estimate that around the world, over 785 million people don’t have access to basic water services while more than 884 million people don’t have safe drinking water. 

The good news is that since 2000, drinking water services improved from 61% to 71%, and sanitation services increased from 28% to 45%

Arsenic removal project in West Bengal, India

But there is still much work to be done.  The WHO estimates that during Covid, three out of every ten people couldn’t wash their hands in their own homes due to lack of access to clean water.

Connecting the pipes — Panyebar Water Project, Guatemala

We’re not on the straightaway yet, but we are making progress with projects like Panyebar in Guatemala and our arsenic removal work in West Bengal, India.

While most of us in developed countries have access to clean water, there is this little problem of a crumbling infrastructure that needs a great deal of attention here in the U.S., a problem that has been called “a ticking time bomb” by the former EPA Administrator, Carol Browner.  Without a much needed investment in infrastructure, parts of the U.S. could find itself looking much like a developing country when it comes to water access.  President Biden’s Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act will pump approximately 82 billion into the water sector, improving infrastructure and sustainability.  What a great way to start a massively daunting project!

This year, Global Water Alliance is expanding its reach, funding additional projects both in the U.S. and abroad, supporting students in our affiliated universities at the World Water Forum in Dakar, and committing to more education via conferences and webinars while expanding our networking capabilities to increase our reach. 

President, Christiaan Morssink and students from Temple’s EWB chapter at World Toilet Day

Become a member of Global Water Alliance today where you will collaborate with our partners in the field, such as Engineers Without Borders, in bringing the gift of clean water to a family or community, help us to educate the up-and-coming groups of students and future water leaders who will ultimately take the baton on behalf of clean, safe water, and to finally eradicate the lack of access to WASH, water, sanitation and hygiene, for all people across the globe, all of which cannot be done without a united, consolidated effort. 

Clean water is a right, not a privilege.  Let’s all exercise our rights.

I’ll leave you with this final word from from GWA President, Christiaan Morssink.

Why not join us today?

Pam Lazos is an environmental lawyer with a passion for assuring access to clean water for all, a blogger, author of the novel Oil and Water, about oil spills and green technology, and the VP for Communications at Global Water Alliance. She practices laughter daily.

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What is This Man Thinking?

Rodin’s “The Thinker”

He’s probably thinking about the lack of access to improved sanitation for about 1/3 of the planet’s inhabitants.

Today is World Toilet Day. Let’s review a few facts:

How does a species evolve? For centuries, people lived side-by-side with their waste, throwing it into the streets, into the rivers, over the back fence, out of sight, out of mind.

But that’s never been the best solution since waste by definition is full of pathogens that can seriously impact human health and with almost 8 billion of us on the planet, the waste stream is rising.

Children are an especially vulnerable population.

As are those living in rural communities where access to water is expensive and often prohibitive due to difficult terrain and distance from the wastewater treatment plant.

In developing countries, women and girls bear the extra burden of a lack of access to clean, safe water, missing school because of starting their menses, or being removed from school to walk long distances to get water for the family.

Technologies such as the compostable toilet can ease the burden of deaths related to lack of sanitation.

Today, skip the coffee and instead, make a donation in favor of WASH — water, sanitation and hygiene.  Your donation to GWA will support programs and projects dedicated to bringing water to those who need it most.  Thank you in advance for your support.

pam lazos 11.18.21

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The Crapper

World Toilet Day — November 19, 2021

by Tom McKeon

My friend and colleague, Tom McKeon has written this lovely post about a composting toilet known as “The Crapper.” If you live in a tiny house, have an RV, or just want to learn more about composting toilets, read on.

Friday, November 19th is World Toilet Day and what better way to celebrate than with a visit to The Crapper!  If you live in the Philly area, we hope to see you there. Details on the event are as follows: 

photo courtesy of Temple Tiny House

Friday, November 19th 3 to 5 p.m.
Where: Tiny House, Temple University Campus at Diamond & Carlisle Streets, Philadelphia, PA
What: The Global Water Alliance  (GWA) in partnership with Temple University’s Office of Sustainability, the Fox Entrepreneurship Academy and Engineers Without Borders plan to display a compostable toilet at Temple University’s Tiny House, Diamond and Carlisle Streets, in observation of World Toilet Day.  The U.N. estimates that 3.6 billion people don’t have access to a working toilet and proper, improved sanitation. That’s almost half the world!  To celebrate this global holiday and raise awareness by engaging the community around water access, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH, issues The Crapper will be on display.  GWA hopes the event will also serve as a networking opportunity, connecting students and the community to upcoming GWA events, conferences, and research opportunities. 

 The Compostable Toilet is designed by Toilets for People: https://www.toiletsforpeople.com/ 

Although we will display The Crapper for demonstration purposes only, it is functional. It uses urine diversion and the natural processes of decomposition and evaporation to breakdown and reduce the volume of human waste, transforming it into a soil-like compost material.

It starts with a horizontally mounted rotating drum, much like a garden composter, that sits inside a box. This proven technology has been the industry standard since the 1970s in the USA and Canada.

To use, start by filling the drum with 1 gallon of damp and loose compost material — coconut coir is popular. Then you pee and poop as you do. No need to cover it with saw dust, dry leaves, or ash afterwards, you just spin it once after every use. The urine diversion system routes the urine (which is generally sterile) either into a container for later disposal or is discharged directly into a soak pit.

There is no need to clean the drum and the bin – it is actually better if some material carries over to start the composting process with the next batch. You would clean the seat as you would a seat on a flush toilet, and the same goes for the interior interface under the seat. The exterior can also be wiped down. Any cleaning product can be used. 

The toilet only needs to be cleaned once every two months. The waste entering the toilets is over 90% water, which is evaporated and carried back to the atmosphere through the vent system. The urine diversion system carries sterile urine to storage containers to be diluted and used as fertilizer or discharged directly into the ground via a shallow soak pit.

The natural decomposition process, which is essentially the same as in your standard backyard garden composter, is enhanced in waterless composting toilets by manipulating the environment in the composting chamber.

The correct balance between oxygen, moisture, heat and organic material is needed to ensure a rich environment for the aerobic bacteria that decomposes the waste. This ensures odor-free operation and complete decomposition of waste.

Natural aerobic decomposition eliminates dangerous pathogens and foul odors. It also reduces the volume of the waste by 80% so the user only needs to empty the drum into the secondary storage container once every 2 weeks.

After you empty it into the secondary container, the composting solid waste will continue to break down underneath the drum. After emptying the drum a few times over 2 months you can take out the composting bin to bury.

To do so, you dig a hole a foot deep, put the compost in the hole, cover it with wood ash, charcoal ash or agricultural lime (this is to dry it out & raise the pH which kills the pathogens thereby disinfecting the waste) and finally cover it all over with dirt and you’re done!

The compost from the toilet is safe to be used as a fertilizer. When human waste is properly composted, levels of pathogens or viruses in the waste are dramatically reduced. The pathogens and viruses are further destroyed by desiccation (drying out).

It is recommended that the soil-like compost material coming out of a composting toilet be buried nearby with an ash/lime cover as a final disinfectant. This will raise the pH of the waste – further destroying any remaining pathogens and viruses that thrive in an acidic environment and die in a basic one. 

Under certain circumstances, it can be used as a nutrient-rich fertilizer for growing trees. However it is not recommended for surface crops since there is the possibility that some pathogens remain in the waste, which can be harmful if exposed to. As long as the compost is in the ground, then the exposure route is not present.

Tom McKeon holds a master’s in public health from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a Ph.D. student at Temple University studying geography where he uses statistics, GIS, and epidemiological concepts to analyze place-based interventions to improve community health by maintaining and improving water quality through community education, biological sampling, chemical sampling, and designing restoration proposals. 

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Melting Greenland

Glasgow, Scotland, COP26 conference: While world leaders continue their debate over who needs to take responsibility for climate change and how much it’s going to cost, the earth keeps heating up. If your plumbing breaks and you can no longer use your sink or toilet, you fix it, right? regardless of cost?– because you need it. We all need this planet. The time for action is now — before it’s too late. pl

By Ewoma E. Okah-Avae

Frozen in Time © pam lazos

As anyone reading the newspapers knows, climate change has had a devastating effect on the planet, causing rampant and incessant flooding, irrational warming trends, droughts, wildfires, and more, all corroborating the effects of the earth’s changing weather patterns and resulting in atmospheric and climatic conditions that began slowly enough over the last two centuries, but which have drastically changed altered the earth’s evolution over the last few decades. The cause is obvious:  human activity and an unquenchable thirst for energy have contributed largely to the current imbalance.

The drilling of fossils which are then refined into petroleum products such as gas, diesel and plastic; the removal of associated gas through gas flaring; burning coal for electricity and heat; all cause an increase in the release of green house gas emissions into the atmosphere. And when these gases are trapped in the atmosphere, the earth’s surface temperatures increases, leading to warmer than the normal temperatures. The more heat that accumulates, the more we are on track to alter the planet’s climate irrevocably.

Changing weather patterns are occurring across all continents, regions and countries of the world, most especially, the Arctic regions. The acceleration of glaciers melting in Antarctica and Greenland has led to massive amounts of melted glacial (cold!) water entering warmer ocean waters and resulting in slower ocean currents and rising seal levels.  Glaciers are an essential makeup of the planet’s structure because ice acts as a protective cover for the earth and oceans, keeping the earth’s secrets. When viewed from an aerial survey, these massive white sheets on the earth’s surface help to reflect back excess heat entering into the atmosphere through solar radiation.  Fun fact:  the solar energy falling on the planet in a single week is greater than the total energy produced by all the coal, gasoline and other fuels that man has ever burned, but by the time it reaches the earth’s atmosphere, much of this radiant energy is reflected back and scattered into space — partly because of these huge glaciers — while part of it passes through the atmosphere, strikes the earth’s surface and is absorbed by the oceans, seas and land.

Frozen Waterall © pam lazos

About ten percent of land on earth is covered with glacial ice. The Arctic region remains cooler then the equator because more of the heat that strikes it is reflected back while the equatorial and tropical regions absorb more of the sun’s rays. While ninety percent of glaciers can be found in Antarctica, the remaining ten percent are in the Greenland ice cap. Yet no matter where they are found, the prognosis is the same: glaciers are melting.  Scientists believe that glacier melting in the Arctic will double by the end of the 21st century, resulting in potential sea level rise of up to twenty feet, leaving cities like New York and Miami under water.  Currently, the Greenland ice sheets are disappearing four times faster than in 2003, contributing to 20% of the current sea level rise.

When sea ice forms as a result of colder temperatures, sea levels remain the same. This can be likened to a plastic bottle of water you keep in the freezer:  when you thaw it out, the water level in the bottle remains the same. But in the case of melting glaciers, large chunks of ice are breaking off and falling into the ocean where they melt, causing sea level rise.  The life-changing effects of melting glaciers on rising sea levels cannot be overemphasized:  coastal erosion; increased intensity of flooding; more frequent and severe storm surges, hurricanes and typhoons; the collapse of fisheries; the loss of habitat for the walrus, polar bear and penguin to name a few.

Melting ice also effects weather patterns. The rapid warming of the Arctic brings about a rise in air and ocean temperatures leading to more melting ice and increased sea level rise. Normal patterns of ocean circulation are disrupted by warmer air temperatures reducing the effects that always kept the polar regions cold. In addition, the combination of warming air and ocean temperatures in both the Arctic and the tropics has caused changes to the jet stream as the polar vortex is seen more frequently to appear outside of the Arctic.

While glaciers have always melted somewhat in the warmer months, since the industrial revolution, human activity has increased this trend with reports showing that our failure to significantly curtail future emissions will result in more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers melting before 2100.  Currently, 95% of the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic is already gone and scientists warn many of the Arctic regions could become completely free of ice by the middle of this century. 

Rose in Ice © pam lazos

There has been much debate about cutting our carbon emissions and transitioning to an active dependence on greener energy alternatives like solar and wind energy, but there is really nothing to argue about.  We need decisive and immediate action to stop our over dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions if we are to reverse course and save our current ecosystem.  Failure to act makes it quite possible that in the not too distant future, man himself might be and endangered species!  Let’s hope that the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland going on now achieves the hoped for results.

Ewoma is a Geographer, environmental advocate and blogger for environmental issues.  She writes a monthly newsletter and hosts a podcast titled, Your Environment Matters.  For more news about the environment, you can check out her blog: https://enviromentalline.blogspot.com.  Her podcast can be heard on Spotify, Anchor, Copy RSS, Apple, Google, Breaker, Radio Public & a host of others. https://www.anchor.fm/ewoma-okah-avaeYou can follow on Twitter: @ewomao; LinkedIn: Ewoma Okah-Avae; Pinterest: eokahavae

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We Still Alive

When we talk about WASH — water, sanitation and hygiene — it’s not just access to water that we are discussing but access to clean, safe, usable water.  The reality is that more children die each year from lack of clean water — about 85,000 under the age of 15 — than from gun violence.  The following piece was written by Michele Ganz, currently a PreMed Student at Thomas Jefferson University.  Ganz will be starting Medical School in December 2021 in Italy, his country of origin.  His post details the wonders of his experiences in Nairobi, Kenya and the beauty of people he met — many of which were affected by the scarcity of drinkable water and the diseases caused by it — and how he sees the world now as a result of that experience. pl

by Michele Ganz

It is November of the year 2019. I am a university student from Italy, studying in the USA, and now working in Kawanguware, Nairobi, Kenya, a place that I have never visited before. I have not even the most superficial knowledge of the language spoken in this area.

Kawangware is located close to Kikuyu, where I will live for the next few months until I depart to the American continent for the upcoming academic year. The decision to undergo such a trip came without deep pre-established reasoning and thought. I wanted to expand my understanding of the reality of practicing science (and medicine in this specific case), both clinical and research-based, in a developing world. In Kenya, there are mechanisms of applied science that are not merely comparable with those seen in modern societies. Even the most basic requirements for managing healthcare, such as water, are at stake for positive outcomes in this region of the world.

My trip to Kikuyu was supported by Marafiki Community International, through which I found the perfect opportunity to join an incredible group of young people and professionals who dedicated their time to the local community. The volunteer group I joined helped to provide healthcare treatments for this population, particularly for children under eight years old.

Kikuyu was not like my home. In Italy, home was a warm shower, a plate of flavorful pasta just served, and the purple foliage of the trees in front of the balcony. In Kikuyu, a tiny village located on Nairobi’s northwestern side from the Kenyan state’s city capital, the mountains’ colors and shapes get gray and neat, respectively, as soon as the sun comes out from the east. Heavy rains make the air thick, and the wind finds ways to run through the doors kept open to clear up the humidity.

In Kikuyu, it was hard to see the light outside coming into the room in the morning. The sun here rose slower, I thought, and seemed never to reach the center of the sky at midday. To my eyes, still impressed by the sandy, dry and brown streets, the buildings surrounding seemed all the same as the one I was living in, impressively square and lonely. When it rained, and it rained often, the streets were filled with water.

I learned a lot from living among the people of Kikuyu. They gave me opportunities to learn and expand my beliefs. They challenged me to sit down and understand how they could be so open to accepting this unpredictable and damaging weather. Rain destroys roads and places where people live every day in Kikuyu, and still, I am shocked and scared today rethinking of that Land so carelessly changing every day. I learned from them about the strength of character and the ability to shift to a positive mindset at any time. I learned the power of finding gratitude in times of pain and sorrow, in times where home is no longer a safe place to be, but still offers the chance to restart from something.

In addition, my experiences in Kikuyu caused me to undergo personal growth, developing my personality and career plans both as a student and a simple human being. There, I found new ways to help by learning and applying science and medicine and by sharing and reflecting on what is needed and still missing in this small region on earth. For the first time in my life, I could see science as an impactful tool of nature and nurture that could affect individuals of any age’s chances to start one’s life again. Moreover, I could see the health care system facing problems I have never seen before. I would never forget the love shared in each corner of the smallest little villages. From the little kids running to see the sunrise at six in the morning to the elderly looking over the place where they had grown up, I witnessed an ecosystem that works on its own, full of strengths but weakened by a socio-economic system of greed and personal benefits.

Today, I reason more deeply than I did before my time in Kikuyu. I wonder why some individuals should be better off by being born within one region instead of another? I wonder why there can be no equity in this distribution of goods among this place and on earth? Before landing in Nairobi, I had expectations that I could perhaps find explanations for those questions. And still, the injustice of life remains a mystery.

Back home in Italy today, with clear thoughts, I think of my experience in Kikuyu as life-changing. I learned insights about the need for medicine to provide real care that benefits individuals. I improved my critical reasoning ability to face the most unusual circumstances, from social situations to empathic critical evaluations in a system in total evolution.

Through this experience, I have grown as an educator of my mind and body. I can tell my mind sees further away in terms of opportunities given and not received, provided by nature or completely omit, just by unfairness and injustice. However, what can this reasoning tell if considered in content that may be found away from home? Perhaps if I were to be in Kawangware today, I would not use the same words to describe some content. Can it be true that a story worth telling here in Italy may obtain the same importance and respect and give out the same strength and truth even if experienced in Kawangware some time ago? Well, I believe that that it can.

I now see science as a founder and perhaps a teacher of Happiness as it creates opportunities for those who may feel they have less chance to pursue and find it on their own. In Kikuyu, I found Happiness where there could be no sign of it seen miles away even when the water pipes still kept my mouth drained for days and days out in the heavy arid ground of this Land. In the wetland that sees Kawangware as the main character of the story, I keep thinking while I walk through the trees in the mountains where I grew up, in Italy, that there are people I met there who have more Happiness than I do — without all the needs that are not, indeed, needed.

I stopped thinking that there can be right or wrong in this world; perhaps there can be a different approach. A thoughtful approach. A positive mindset. A modified mindset. A perfection through character. An intuitive perspective. An opportunity through the chance to make this Land a more suitable place to live.

Today, back home in Italy, I do not always have the chance to see the change I expect to see, both in Kawangware and Kikuyu. The health care system is still corrupted and unhealthy, and its barriers reinforce the many socio-economic disparities among the population.

And even though my time in the little corner of the world of Kikuyu, I can still see the time going by fast, and I can still see the sunset towards the hidden beautiful, nurtured reserve across the river and into the trees, my pines. 

Michele Ganz is an Undergraduate Student at Thomas Jefferson University, scheduled to matriculate in December 2021. In addition to playing soccer at the collegiate level for the Thomas Jefferson Rams, Michele did substantial work in Africa, volunteering at a local Clinic in Kawangware, Kenya, to assist patients in need. The way of life there, mainly affected by scarcity of drinkable water and the diseases caused by it, deeply resonated with Ganz who established a charity-based organization — WeStillAlive — that helps to support, via donations, the work done by the non-profit organization Marafiki Community International. He also started a blog of the same name — WeStillAlive — where he discusses the lives of the people he met throughout his journey in Kenya in response to these water issues.

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Making From the Ground Up!

Tomorrow, following GWA’s 14th Annual Conference, we will kick off the award ceremony with a showing of “From the Ground Up,” a short documentary about lack of access to clean water in Tanzania. (spoiler alert: the story has a happy ending!)

If you want to sign up for the conference, there is still time.

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