Divest Thyself

Our shirts bore the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.” We self-identified as students, economists, lawyers, teachers, millennials, health care workers, and small biz owners (me). And we rallied together before a public hearing on a bill that, if passed, would stop MD’s Montgomery County from investing in fossil fuels.

Representing Solar Mowing at a Dec 6, 2016, rally and County Council hearing on fossil fuel divestment.

Representing Solar Mowing at a Dec 6, 2016, rally and County Council hearing on fossil fuel divestment.

A local grassroots group, 350moco.org, along with three County Council members, who co-sponsored the measure worked hard to get to this point.

They weren’t the first to pursue such a goal: Georgetown University, the Guardian Media Group, the cities of Minneapolis and the District of Columbia, the World Council of Churches, and hundreds of other institutions have divested from oil, coal, and gas. (Complete list here.)

The arguments for doing so basically come down to 1) It’s a tad crazy “…to invest in companies that undermine our future” (Desmond Tutu again), and 2) Investing in fossil fuels makes about as much economical sense as investing in the animal fur industry. That’s because much of the world’s reserves of coal, oil, and gas cannot be burned if the Earth is to stay within a 2-degree C. increase, a target agreed upon by the United States and nearly every other country on Earth. Fossil fuel investments, in other words, are considered by many economists to be “stranded assets.”

But like peace, divestment begins at home. If we’re asking our local governments, schools, churches, and other institutions to divest, we best be ready to do it ourselves. Luckily, it ain’t that hard.

If you live in an area with energy choice, choose renewables. Everyone in MD, VA, and DC has energy choice, and many other states offer it, too. (Here’s a state-by-state list.) Making the switch is fast and easy; you’ll continue using the same utility wires, and you’ll continue to receive just one electric bill. There’s no penalty for switching, but you will likely pay more for clean energy than you did for dirty. (In 2012, my 100% wind power electric bill cost $120 more than non-renewable energy would’ve cost me for that year.)

For residential renewable energy options in MD, VA, or DC, check out WGL Energy or CleanChoice Energy.

Natural gas is a little trickier. Most of the gas we use for cooking and heating comes from fracking, and alternatives aren’t readily available. But in the DC metro area, Baltimore, and PA, you can purchase carbon offsets. (The cost will vary depending on your usage.) To learn more and sign up, click here. Gas suppliers in other states also offer offsets; give your provider a jingle.

Lastly, find out if your mutual funds and 401(k) invest in fossil fuel stocks. You can do that and search for fossil free funds and socially responsible funds here.

Oh! And, of course, divest yourself from gas-powered lawn care companies!

It feels good to get clean … energy. Go tell it on the non-mined mountaintop: Divest Thyself.

 

 

 

 

 

Divine Energy at Shoshoni

I spent two days last week at Shoshoni, a yoga/meditation retreat in Colorado, where life goes on at its simple best — contemplation, exercise, nourishing food — and where solar energy plays a starring role. (Pun intended :))

Much of the organic food served at Shoshoni is grown on site in hoop houses.

Much of the organic food served at Shoshoni is grown on site in hoop houses.

With 300+ days of sunshine a year in the eastern Rockies, there’s plenty of solar power to put to work. Solar panels atop cabins and the main lodge heat water for bathing; south-facing windows on many buildings allow for passive solar heating, which can be blocked on hot days by pulling down thermal shades.

Solar and geothermal energies allow year-round gardening even when winter temperatures dive below zero for weeks at a time. Outside air moves through underground pipes (where temps stay in the mid-5os) and is warmed in winter and cooled in summer before being vented inside one hoop-style greenhouse.

Shakti has helped manage the gardens and grounds at Shoshoni for 3.5 years. Behind her is a hoop house and a shed for chickens.

Shakti has helped manage the gardens and grounds at Shoshoni for more than three years.

“A second hoop house will be outfitted this winter with solar panels that will heat water, which will run through underground pipes that will, in turn, radiate heat up through the soil,” said Shakti, who has worked on the gardens and grounds at Shoshoni for more than three years.

While the beets, carrots, peppers, kale, collards, and other food crops need solar-generated heat in the winter to survive, the chickens do not. “I chose heritage breeds,” said Shakti, “that are fit for Rocky Mountain winters.”

Heritage-breed chickens live perfectly well throughout Rocky Mountain winters.

Heritage-breed chickens, acquired only for their eggs at this vegetarian retreat, thrive even in Rocky Mountain winters.

Shakti’s name means divine energy, which if you ask me, is another way of saying solar power.

NOTE: Check out the outstanding recipes in Shoshoni’s cookbook.

Social Entrepreneurship at Home & by the Book

Anna atop Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, CO.

Anna atop Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, CO.

Last May I completed my first year at CU/Boulder as an environmental studies major. During my first semester, I took a class entitled “Sustainability and Social Innovation.” The main focus of the class was social entrepreneurship, a term I was originally unfamiliar with but discovered is a complex and sometimes even controversial concept. In time, I began to think of it simply as socially beneficial (“good”) work backed with a solid business plan.

I agree with Gregory J. Dees, a teacher of Social Entrepreneurship and Nonprofit Management at Duke, who claims that “… any definition of social entrepreneurship should reflect the need for a substitute for the market discipline that works for business entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents in the social sector by:

• Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value)

• Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission,

• Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning,

• Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and,

• Exhibiting a heightened sense of accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created” (Forbes, 2012).

AnnaMowingBlog

Anna has spent much of the last six summers working for Solar Mowing.

When my mom started Solar Mowing in 2009, I had no idea that she was on her way to become a successful social entrepreneur. By giving local homeowners the option to maintain their lawns without harming the environment, she created an alternative market with a clearly defined mission.

I have worked for Solar Mowing every summer since 2009 and have been lucky enough to see, firsthand, how the company has grown and developed over these five years. We continually update our equipment so that we’re using the latest battery technology, added a second vehicle with a highly efficient solar array, increased both our staff and customer base, and expanded our services to meet our customers’ needs. One thing that hasn’t changed though, is my mom’s dedication to her community and her determination to create real and measurable change. Since Solar Moving began, more than 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide have been prevented from entering the air we breathe.

I am honored to be part of such an outstanding company. I invite you to join us (if you haven’t already) as we work to improve our lives and our world.

 

Off to a Purring Start

The 2014 growing-mowing season began this past week with temperatures that ranged from 28F to 86F. All mowers have new blades, some mowers sport new wheels, and both (blades & wheels) are turning by batteries charged by solar and wind power. “So quiet,” one new customer crooned. Here’s a look at the start of the 2014 growing-mowing season.

Dylan uses a string trimmer to neaten the border between bed and grass.

A solar-charged string trimmer is used to tidy borders between beds and grass.

We mow high (3-3.5 inches) and leave the finely chopped clippings on the grass as a fertilizer.

We mow high (3-3.5 inches) and leave the finely chopped clippings on the grass as a fertilizer.

 

We took on several mulching and reseeding jobs this spring. Here, we added a layer of compost before applying mulch to enrich the soil of this planted bed.

 

 

 

 

 

Regular mowing will weaken these common wild onion/garlic plants, which will die back in early summer. But now, you can dig 'em up, and after cleaning and chopping, throw 'em in your pasta sauce. Consider these “weeds” part of your edible landscape!

Regular mowing will weaken these common wild onion/garlic plants, which will die back in early summer. But now, you can dig ‘em up, and after cleaning and chopping, throw ‘em in your pasta sauce. Consider these “weeds” part of your edible landscape!