Archive for April 2015 | Monthly archive page

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Why Should You Care about the Social Cost of Carbon?

By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

I recently attended a briefing on the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) sponsored by the Ayres Law Group and it set my wonky heart ablaze. It featured panelists from advocacy, policy, economic, and legal backgrounds who vividly discussed the future of this calculation which is intended to bring environmental damages or externalities back into the conversation on federal enterprise regulation. While eating up the jargon and enjoying the jockeying between doctorates, I thought that it might be fun to write a blog post and make it plain since, numbers aside, it’s actively being used to help humans calculate damages to the environment over large expanses of time, when they make stuff.

05a.Industrial.PC.VA.4jun06_(167428560)The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines the SCC as the economic damages assessed per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Plainly put, it is the dollar figure attached to a specific amount of global carbon pollution. In the real world, this figure is used to develop a cost/benefit analysis that helps a project manager, developer or government define the savings realized by avoiding an action that puts carbon dioxide into the air we breathe.  Assigning costs and liabilities helps businesses make decisions about where and whether to set up shop.  The SCC is intended to make it easier to capture the full picture/bottom line on climate impacts by attaching that impact to dollars spent now and in the future. Government uses this calculation to define the present benefit of rules it makes to stem the negative effects of activity on the environment later.

President Obama has been an increasingly vocal advocate for an aggressive response to the impending reality that American style energy use has a negative global impact that contributes to climate change through increased greenhouse gas emissions.  Cap and trade was originally proposed as a means to limit these impacts by creating a controlled system (delineated by a reduced impact target) for a steadily decreasing number of permits (i.e. rights) to pollute. It failed to get through the Senate and the President responded with a series of executive actions, including mandates, regulations, measurements, and fees to allow federal agencies like the EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) to do what Congress could not, i.e. something.

The SCC monetizes the cost of doing business so that policies directed at big picture mitigation of climate change can fight static cost estimates with dynamic cost estimates. It also provides a neat and tidy-ish calculus as the reason to take or not take an action in the business world, making it a business decision regardless of whether it is a moral one.  It is a heck of a conversion that transforms trees, air, and life itself into figures, regression charts, and tables. In doing so, it engages large scale undertakings in their own language of profits and losses.

unnamedThere is some controversy about how the SCC is formulated. In fact, there are varying opinions on whether and how to fix that cost, what numbers accurately make up an appropriate period of time to measure impacts, and items such as what amount is an accurate reflection of the feasibility of an air conditioner or heat pump regulation, or whether a community building project gets beyond the environmental impact assessments required under the National Environmental Policy Act.   

Beyond fixing the issues of how much time captures the complete damage of carbon and whose dollar amount best represents that loss, SCC is important because it helps decision makers know what science to apply, how dangerous an activity will be, and what species, environments, and ecosystems will be affected by the increase in carbon represented by an activity. So why care? Because we should all know how far into the future our infrastructure decisions affect warming seas, mass migration, species extinction, and ecosystem failure. And that information isn’t just for wonks.

For more in- depth discussion of SCC Fund Models and other enviro tech details click here and here.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on social and environmental justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and Vermont Law School.  Tamara has been a DC EcoWomen Board Member on the Professional Development Team since August 2014. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads,  travel, and yoga. 

posted by | on , | Comments Off on Dining for Women and the World

By Brianna Knoppow

It’s a late Sunday afternoon when I walk into the suburban home in Takoma Park, MD. For a few hours I am venturing out of the microcosm that is D.C. and attending the monthly Dining for Women potluck. Glancing at the other attendees, I see more evidence that I’m not downtown anymore – for once I’m the youngest person at an event. But I’m not there to make new best friends. I’ve joined Dining for Women to be part of my first ‘giving circle,’ to meet like-minded individuals, and to partake in an internationally themed monthly potluck.

There are 429 chapters of Dining for Women, replete with 8,200 members.  Dining for Women focuses on supporting international efforts that specifically work to benefit females. What impresses me about the organization is that once a month each of the many chapters hosts a potluck to raise funds for that month’s chosen non-profit organization. Thus the money collected from one chapter is multiplied across the U.S.A. and the other countries where Dining for Women is located.

Rwanda_Classroom_edited In February our chapter watched a short video on Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) before contributing our individual donations. SHE is a non-profit organization with the goal of allowing Rwandan girls to be able to attend school during their menstruation time. I learned that over 20% of girls in Rwanda miss school during this ‘period.’ It’s difficult to contemplate that not every female can stroll down an aisle full of feminine hygiene products, with the most difficult decision being between Playtex and Tampax – or maybe the organic cotton product. SHE creates and distributes Go! pads, made with locally available banana fiber and employs locals in the production process. Additionally, SHE will be providing menstrual hygiene management training for 50 teachers.

Luckily, there is no minimum donation amount. With student loan debt looming in my mind, I handed over my check. It’s only $10, but that’s the beauty of giving circles – the combined donations add up together. For SHE, that’s a total of $44,947.

After watching the introductory video on SHE, our group engaged in a discussion. Many women were excited about the use of local materials. One woman suggests that a reusable DivaCup may be more sustainable.  This led to a friendly, though lively, discussion on cultural norms and practicality.

At another Dining for Women event we Skyped with a 22 year-old Syrian woman living as a refugee in Jordan. We learned that her family had acquired an apartment, albeit without water or electricity. I was horrified to hear that those with refugee status are not permitted to work in Jordan. Jordan suffers from high unemployment and fears that refugees will steal limited job opportunities. The woman we Skyped with has many siblings and one brother who dares to work illegally in order to feed the family. His penalty, if caught, is deportation.  That evening we raised funds for the Collateral Repair Project, which works with refugees from conflict zones. An important focus of the organization is to empower female leaders. Our 22 year-old friend is one of these leaders. Aside from the basic human needs of a refugee, she is hopeful that one day she will be able to return to her education and attain a degree in computer science. As she described her educational ambitions I felt myself becoming less consumed about my student loans and more grateful to have been granted such an educational opportunity.

Potluck_meal_(Indonesian_cuisine),_2015-04-12 March came along and we met to raise money for what I deem one of the most impressive organizations thus far – the Grandmother Project in Senegal. After dining on a potluck reminiscent of Senegal (though mostly vegetarian!), we watched a short introductory video and then Skyped with the founder of the Grandmother Project. We learned that in many rural areas of Senegal girls face female genital mutilation and teen pregnancy, among other issues. Atypical of many aid organizations, the Grandmother Project works to engage and empower the grandmothers – the decision makers in the village – in an effort to change collectively-maintained social norms. There were almost 20 people at this meeting and together we raised nearly $1,000 of the $44,500 contributed to the Grandmother Project.

I’m excited to have stumbled upon an organization, Dining for Women, that works to raise funds to better the lives of women throughout the world. As I take the long Metro ride home from Takoma Park, MD, I contemplate starting a local, D.C, chapter. I know my city apartment is too small for a potluck, so for now I will continue to make the trek and be grateful for the opportunity.

To learn more visit: http://diningforwomen.org/

Brianna Knoppow works in the environmental field in D.C. and enjoys biking, kayaking, and foraging for wild mushrooms. She has an M.S. in Environmental Science & Policy.

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by Eva Jannotta

If you’re thinking about starting a business, congratulations! Anyone can start a business. All you need is your idea, your goals, and a business model (and probably a website). Here are some things to consider as you plan your business:

Find your nicheNo market is too saturated for your unique self.
You need a business idea. What’s your product or service? And more importantly, what makes your business special? The answer to this last question is obvious in a way: you make your business special. Find a way to make it obvious to your customers. What about your experiences or creation makes you unique?

In other words, don’t just be an English major who edits stuff. What are you excellent at and experienced in editing: scientific writing? Technical writing about vacuums? Marketing organic cotton baby clothes? Or what do you know so much about that you can improve a piece by editing it?

Set yourself apart by finding a niche and becoming an expert (if you aren’t already). Develop expertise that your customers can trust. Do this by contributing content; write a blog, guest post on blogs about your topic, write white papers or ebooks, make videos, create Pin boards and use Instagram for visual content. Even curating your Twitter feed is a way to establish expertise. Key in to your industry – establish relationships with media outlets or journalists that cover your topic, volunteer at events in your industry. Pitch presentations at conferences.

Reading three paragraphs on finding a niche makes it sound like it can be done overnight, but I’m still finding my niche! I’m a professional organizer – will my niche by digital clutter? I’m a social media and marketing consultant – will I specialize in social media support for Gen Xers? I’m developing a financial literacy class for students and young adults. Maybe financial education will be my expertise. It’s okay if you’re not sure, or if it takes time to decide on your niche. You can start before you’re certain. Your niche will make itself known as you experiment with your options.

Starting a Business: What are your goals for your business - and your life?

Starting a Business: What are your goals for your business – and your life?

Know yourself, know your goalsThere are more reasons than “make money” to start a business.
When I started Simply Put Strategies, I had a lot of anxiety about making it “successful,” and in my mind that meant making it “pay.” My sister suggested that I change my definition of success from make money to improve peoples’ lives through organization. Not because wanting to make money is bad, but because money-making as a goal made me feel like a panicked failure instead of a powerful person who makes her clients’ lives more joyful and free.

Making money is an important goal, but know your other business goals: to create art that makes people happy or pensive? To support baby boomers as they age? To publish websites that are intuitive for new users?

There are many reasons to start a business, and they can all be goals: build expertise, practice self-management, widen your range of experiences, expand your network, have a back-up option if you leave your job, have an option if you want to work part-time to raise kids or write a book. Can you think of other great reasons to start a business?

Get a business plan modelWhere is the money coming from?
Some people insist that you need to write a business plan, and that’s up to you. But whether you write a plan or not, you DO need a business model: you need to have a plan for supporting yourself.

Few businesses make a ton of money at first. Some never make much at all. However, you need money to live. So make sure you have a business model that allows you to live while you get your business mojo flowing. This could be working full time, part-time, working virtually, contracting, living off savings, doing odd jobs off Craigslist, or dog walking. I do not recommend quitting a salaried job to start a business with no idea how you will support yourself. That is a recipe for sleepless nights and is a terrible business model! My business model is to work part time at MOM’s Organic Market while I build my client base.

Starting a business: you can work for yourself all day in a cafe!

Starting a business: you can work for yourself all day in a cafe!

Starting a business is a big step, and may sound scary. What if it fails? What if you don’t like it? Anything is possible, but what you will learn makes it a worthy investment. If you’re worried about losing money, consider this: it cost me only $300 to start my business (registering in the state of Maryland and paying for my website). You can do it!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Start a Business for the Win.

Eva Jannotta is a professional organizer, social media consultant, and the founder of Simply Put Strategies.

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Biking to Work: It’s Quite Doable

by Catherine Plume

Bicycle commuting continues to grow in the DC area and according to a US Census report, 4.5 percent of DC residents commuted to work by bike in 2013. Only Portland, Oregon “out bikes” us with 5.9 percent of their commuters using pedal power to commute. Commuter biking is fun, hip, and undoubtedly the quickest way to get around town, but it’s not without its challenges. If you’re considering joining the ranks of the DC bicycle commuter brigade, here are a couple of resources and suggestions to make your commute safer and more efficient.

The Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA) is a great resource for any DC cyclist, and their lobbying efforts and advocacy have contributed to the development of bike lanes across DC. While bike lanes undoubtedly add protection for cyclists, cycling in traffic – even in bike lanes – requires confidence and respect for other cyclists, pedestrians, and the ever present motorized vehicle. WABA offers adult education classes for city cycling, and they’ll teach you how to change a flat. They also have youth classes cycling education rides. As a WABA member, you’ll receive a 10 percent discount at many DC bike store. Support WABA – it is your DC Area cycling friend!

Cykel

If you’re in the market for a commuter bike, there are a few things to consider. Fatter tires and wheels can cope with potholes and curbs better than skinny tires, but they will slow you down. Hybrid bikes offer a great middle of the road option. Investing in flat resistant tires and/or tubes will cost you a bit more, but are well worth the investment. A bike with a chain guard will save your pants, tights, leggings and shoes from grease spinoff while a lower or no top tube will prevent (or at least minimize) your skirt or dress from blowing up as you ride. Reflectors and lights (front and back) are a must for cycling at night and a helmet is de rigueur ALWAYS. A basket, rear rack and water bottle cage are handy accessories that will make your ride more enjoyable and practical.

Capital BikeShare bikes are great for city cycling, and meet most of the criteria outlined above. Depending on where you live or work and the time of day, finding a bike or an empty docking station can be a challenge. While Capital Bikeshare kiosks provide extra time to find an open dock and a list of where bikes and docks can be found, it can be inconvenient.

Whether you’re bikesharing or riding your own bike, plot out your route before you set out. DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) provides an online bicycle map. Opt for a route that will keep you in bike lanes as much as possible. Stay alert! Do you really need those earbuds in your ears when you’re cycling? Use hand signals to indicate turning and stopping. Everyone – cyclists, pedestrians and motorists – will appreciate this! Let fellow cyclists know that you’re passing them with a friendly “on your left” as you come up behind them. While you’re at it, acknowledge other cyclists when you’re at a stoplight. Make a new friend.

Think about where you’re going to park your bike once you get to work. Does your office provide bicycle parking? Invest in good bicycle locks. Thieves LOVE cable locks as they can cut through them in a pinch. A good U-lock or the new foldable locks are expensive, but they’ll thwart the thieves!

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Looking fresh once you get to work can be a challenge, especially with DC’s hot and humid summers. See if your office has a locker room or a shower for cycling. Keep makeup, towels and work shoes at the office so you don’t have to transport them back and forth every day. Keep some grease remover, hand sanitizer, and a small first aid kit handy just in case. If you’re biking in a skirt or dress that keeps flying up, wrap a coin in the fabric at the front hem and fasten it with a rubber band. This weighted hem will fall between your legs as you cycle and minimize fly up.

Finally, be a safe and responsible cyclist. When that impromptu happy hour happens and you find yourself a bit tipsy, please don’t cycle. You can put your bike on a Metro or Circulator bus or ask your friendly bus driver to help you. (Thank him or her profusely!). Metro trains allows up to two bicycles per car during non-rush hour times. Folded bikes are allowed anytime.

Biking is a great way to get around town! Do it, and bike safely!

Catherine Plume is a long time DC bicycle commuter. She’s the blogger for the DC Recycler; www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler.