Posts Tagged ‘DC’

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Cyclist, Pedestrian Safety: D.C. Can Learn from Other Cities

By Delger Erdenesanaa, DC EcoWomen member

Once a week in April and May, rather than taking the Metro to work, I rode my bike from Takoma to Union Station. My office was promoting a “Zero-Carbon Commute Challenge,” and two women in my neighborhood showed me the route. I was grateful.

The seven-mile trek over roads with cars, unprotected bike lanes, sidewalks and one short segment of bike trail was a lot for me. Hence, only once a week.

But distance wasn’t the real issue. The problem was safety.

Shortly into this routine, during a single weekend, cars hit and killed two people in D.C. Dave Salovesh was hit while riding his bike on Florida Avenue NE. Abdul Seck was hit while walking on the sidewalk on 16th Street SE. And a couple of weeks later, another pedestrian, Josh Williams, was killed on Southern Avenue SE.

Like many others, I wondered what it would take to change. The D.C. government has a road safety strategy. So do other cities, many of them part of the international “Vision Zero” movement, started in Sweden in 1995. I wondered if these cities were tackling the same problems, and if D.C. could learn from its peers.

Is It Possible to Reach Zero Road Deaths?

Mayor Bowser has committed to reaching zero road fatalities by 2024. Her Vision Zero is broad, calling for measures like:

  • A comprehensive “complete streets” law, which led to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act of 2016
  • Starting this year, banning right turns on red lights at 100 priority intersections
  • Doubling the city’s mileage of protected bike lanes from 10 to 20
  • Filling gaps between sidewalks (the city filled more than 100 blocks of missing sidewalk since 2015)

D.C. is making progress, but it still has a way to go. In 2018, drivers killed 14 pedestrians, three cyclists and one person on an electric scooter. Advocates are pushing for urgent action.

Road Safety Lessons from Around the World

To find out more about other cities’ efforts, I reached out to my colleague Anna Bray Sharpin at World Resources Institute, which has a research program on urban mobility.

Sharpin mentioned that Auckland, New Zealand faced similar challenges to D.C. In Auckland, a city of 1.66 million with a fairly robust collection of local bike paths, getting from one path to another was tricky. That’s why, four years ago, the city began a massive effort to connect residential areas to downtown Auckland—all with “cycleways” that are protected from cars by physical barriers.

The recent Bicycle Architecture Biennale highlighted one section of the cycleway. Auckland converted a highway ramp into an eye-popping pink bike trail, which allows cyclists and pedestrians to cross busy roads safely. Sign me up for a brightly colored bicycle skyway across North Capitol Street!

While Auckland isn’t officially part of the Vision Zero network, New Zealand as a country is set to adopt a Vision Zero strategy in 2020.

Anna also pointed to London. In ten years, London reduced traffic deaths by 45 percent. How? Stricter speed limits played a huge role. Research shows that every 1 percent reduction in road speed reduces fatal crashes by 4 percent.

London is also one of a few cities that charge drivers to enter the city center. Taking cars off the streets might be the most effective strategy of all. In the first year of congestion charging, 30 percent fewer private cars entered the affected zone. At the same time, the city ran more public buses, and invested in bicycle infrastructure. This integrated approach has increased bicycle trips in London 135 percent since 2000.

What about the U.S.? Cambridge, MA recently passed a law to install bike lanes—protected ones at that—much more systematically. Cambridge already had a Bicycle Plan proposing a 20-mile network of protected bike lanes. The new law requires any reconstruction on roads identified in this plan to include installing those bike lanes, permanently.

A Path Forward for D.C.

Residents criticize the D.C. government for studying changes to dangerous roads for years without acting. Councilmember Mary Cheh’s recently introduced bike lane bill, mirroring the one in Cambridge, could help.

Charles Allen introduced a comprehensive bill that would give our Vision Zero more legal teeth, and make safer designs the default. For example, developers would face stricter requirements for crosswalks, bike lanes and stopping areas for rideshares and deliveries. Four-way stops would be the starting point for intersections of two-way streets in residential neighborhoods.

The Council is reviewing both bills. As members deliberate, they should look to cities like London and Auckland for the benefits of an inclusive transportation policy.

Delger Erdenesanaa is a DC EcoWomen member and communications specialist at World Resources Institute. She studied earth & ocean science in school, and can now be found thinking about how the global issues she works on 9-5 also impact DC and her personal life 24/7! 

Photo Credits: Geoff Alexander CC BY 2.0, Daniel Lobo CC BY 2.0, Schwede66 CC BY-SA 4.0, La Citta Vita CC BY-SA 2.0, Ted Eytan CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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By Reshmi Mehta, Revel In It founder

We all know that the fashion industry is pretty harmful to a lot of people and the planet. Yet somehow, there are little to no readily available avenues to enable us to change our buying and producing behaviors. So, here’s my starter guide to mindfully interact with clothing in Washington, D.C.

Clothes you have

Learning to love what you have is step #1. We all have our own way of getting better at this step. If you have thoughts to share, write them in the comments! Learning to care for what you love is a way to level up.

Caring for your clothes means doing what you can to prolong the life of your clothes. Like washing them only when you absolutely need to, and learning the way they should be cleaned. Understand what those symbols on the care labels of your clothes actually mean here! There’s actually a lot on the internet about keeping your beloved items wearable. Check out some useful articles here, here here, here and here.

But, this list is about accessible resources to us in D.C. So, when you run into tears in your clothing, or find yourself in need of a hem, mending is the way to go! There are some fun and quick ways to mend your clothes in our city. FabLab is a D.C. public library initiative that hosts free mending and sewing 101 workshops in libraries around D.C. Soon it will have a permanent physical space with instructors and sewing machines and more! This will be free and accessible to anyone with a library account. The space is set to open later this year.

Fellow community members take action by hosting their own mending workshops around D.C., like the folks who teach classes through their Sew Queer series. Their workshops are sometimes free and sometimes cost $. Do you know of any other free or low cost mending workshops in D.C.? Share your knowledge in the comments.

Then, there are more in-depth workshops for those who want to invest in yourself a bit more and build-up your skills in mending and sewing from scratch. The Stitch Sew Shop in Alexandria is a beautiful space that holds sewing patterns to purchase, and has an impressive array of classes and workshops, but be ready to spend some $$. Another pricey-but-worth-the-skills workshop is the occasional embroidery and sewing 101 workshops hosted by The Lemon Collective up in Petworth. I bet there are more workshops like these in D.C., and the broader DMV, so feel free to leave information on those in the comments too.

Clothes you don’t want anymore

Knowing that you don’t like a piece of clothing is great! Learning to responsibly get rid of those items is the hard part. One way you can get rid of them, and find something new to you, is to swap! I host seasonal clothing swaps through my community organization called Revel In It. I look for different venues around the city to host in, and I make them free and open to all, like really free – no money or clothing are required to participate. The next one will be at the West End Library on Saturday March 23rd, from 1-4 pm.

Other swaps have been known to take place at Potter’s House and different venues around D.C., as well as through the organization Swap DC. Their swaps require a low up-front cost to participate.

You can also donate your unwanted clothes to organizations that are serving our community. Great examples include Martha’s Table, Dress for Success and Casa Ruby. Each organization has its own needs in terms of types of clothes, so check-out their sites for more information.

Finding new clothes

The best way to shop ethically and sustainably is to thrift. D.C. has some great options, like the Mt. Pleasant boutique Rosalia’s, which has a decent selection, specifically for work wear, winter coats and menswear. Bonus: there is a fabulous seamstress in house! I also swear by Second Story Boutique on Georgia Avenue, which is actually a consignment shop as well, and holds a constant rotation of eclectic feminine wear. Tell me your go to thrift shops in the comments.

As for buying brand new in D.C., the options are slim. There’s some homegrown brands like Mimi Miller that design and produce their garments in the District, as well as some other brands that are showcased at the Steadfast Supply shop. The great thing about locally made items is that you can find the makers’ information and ask more questions about their production processes. Another exciting local venture is Lady Farmer, a brand run by a mother daughter duo who are experimenting with a farm-to-closet business with their farm just outside D.C.

But let’s be real, a lot of us shop online from businesses that are not local, and definitely not ethical in their practices. To help sift through all the noise, I created a Facebook group for my D.C. community, and beyond, to share our ethical and sustainable finds and to learn to mindfully interact with our clothes together. Come join the discussion!

Some more information on what “ethical” and “sustainable” clothing is, resources to help you when buying online, and more, are below.

Resources

Reshmi Mehta is an international development and social impact professional currently in DC and leads the community organization, Revel in It, a slow fashion enabler. You can find her at coffee shops around the city, searching the web for more opportunities to advocate for slow fashion and a decent espresso.

Photo Credits: fashionrevolution.org & Reshmi Mehta

posted by | on , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on DC’s Ambitious New Renewable Energy Law: 7 Things You Need to Know

By Lauren Meling, digital strategist and DC EcoWomen member

A lot of frightening environmental news have made headlines lately. But, just before the end of 2018, there was a big positive story that made headlines around the country and happened here in our area. As a DC EcoWoman or supporter, you may have heard that DC’s going to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2032. There’s actually a lot more to this story than just the applaudable headline. Here are seven of the most interesting takeaways.

  1.  It’s the most ambitious clean energy transition in the country

The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 mandates DC energy providers to source 100 percent renewable energy by 2032, and replaces a previous target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2032. And before you ask — nuclear energy is not considered a renewable energy in this rule.

Unlike some other cities, DC is legally required to meet the mandate. It is not a voluntary ambition. The law will require its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to be 100 percent renewable by 2032. It means DC will be one of the first large cities to join the 100 percent renewable club, which already includes several smaller cities and towns, and will beat larger areas like California or Hawaii by several years.

DC is able to meet this accelerated timeline because it does not produce much energy within its borders. It relies on electricity generated elsewhere and transmitted in the PJM electrical grid.

  1. Utilities were on board

In a statement, Pepco Holdings called it “an important step toward advancing the cause of clean energy for the benefit of every ward in the District of Columbia.”

Surprised? I wouldn’t blame you. But what’s unique about this law is that utilities will be financially penalized for missing incremental renewable energy targets — fines which will go toward supporting renewable energy development. As GGW puts it:

The burden falls on utility companies to meet benchmarks for renewable electricity—or pay a price. Every year, the city sets renewable energy standards for companies to hit that increase incrementally until they reach 100 percent in 2032. What happens if companies don’t meet those standards? The city requires electricity suppliers to make compliance payments into D.C.’s Renewable Energy Development Fund (REDF).

An important note: If you don’t want to wait until 2032, or if you live outside the District, you can purchase clean energy credits through a provider like Arcadia, Clean Choice, or others. Learn more (PDF)

  1. Solar production will rise to 10 percent by 2045

As of 2015, solar energy only produced about 1 percent of DC’s electricity. That’s not surprising considering the urbanized environment only encompasses 68 square miles. While there’s little potential for large-scale solar farms, there’s still enormous possibility for rooftop solar on buildings, large and small, across the District.

DC already provides subsidized rooftop solar through its Solar for All program. The new law will provide energy bill assistance to support low- and moderate-income residents. Thirty percent of the additional revenue collected will be put aside for programs like weatherization and bill assistance for low-income households, as well as job training in energy efficiency fields. At least $3 million annually will also be allocated toward energy efficiency upgrades in affordable housing buildings. Win-win-win!

  1. Transportation is going renewable, too

Transportation is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in DC (22 percent). Other cities/areas have passed similar laws but gave themselves longer timelines, and/or did not include transportation. What’s particularly exciting about DC’s new law is that by 2045, all public transportation and privately-owned vehicle fleets in DC will not produce GHG emissions. “Privately-owned fleet vehicles” means that if you’re transporting over 50 passengers, it’s got to be zero-emissions.

While ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber are not included, they are required to create a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan. Private vehicles, meanwhile, are not covered.

  1. Even existing buildings are included

DC already ranks first for leadership in energy and environmental design… or rather, it would, if it were a state. Buildings, however, are still the largest single source of GHG emissions in the city (74 percent). Major cities have made headlines after encouraging new buildings to include green roofs or rooftop solar. What’s different about DC’s law is that it includes provisions for existing buildings to increase their energy efficiency, rather than placing the impetus on new construction.

In fact, there’s a fantastic resource called Benchmark DC, which displays the energy and water usage and ‘grade’ of major buildings in the District.

  1. It funds DC’s green bank

The new law also helps fund DC’s green financing bank, an important, if not headline-grabbing, way to support renewable energy and other sustainable initiatives. An additional assessment on dirty energy sources like natural gas will fund the green bank with $15 million per year in 2020 and 2021, and $10 million per year for the next 4 years. These funds will go towards financing programs for energy efficiency or renewable energy projects to lower energy costs. This includes anything from roof repairs, insulation, installing new windows, to solar panels for homes.

  1. It’s all part of a bigger picture to address climate change in our backyard

The vision of Sustainable DC 2.0 is to make DC the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States in just 20 years. The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 is just one part of the overall Sustainable DC 2.0 vision, which also has plans of action for nature, transportation, food waste, climate resilience, energy, water, and more, including the recent ban on plastic straws and foam takeout containers.

Some questions still remain

While everything listed above is a positive development, several questions still remain. What exactly will Lyft and Uber do to reduce GHG emissions, and how will they be held accountable? Where does WMATA fit into this — will the Metro also need to be powered by renewables, as it encompasses operations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia and is governed by the WMATA board and not the city council? What will become of the Capitol Power Plant? For some great insight, check out Greater Greater Washington’s recap.

To end on a positive note, an analysis based on a previous version of the bill estimated it would result in a 50 percent reduction of GHGs. A new analysis has not yet been released, but if it’s anywhere close to that, we are on track to meet the recommended reduction in GHGs that climate scientists have recently called for by 2030. To take a closer look at the plan, visit Clean Energy DC’s interactive microsite.

Are you excited about this development, or do you have concerns? Comment below to discuss this topic.

Lauren Meling has dedicated her career to finding what exactly it takes to make people take action online to serve a cause. She uses her digital strategy experience and skillset combining email marketing, social media, search engine marketing, website optimization, and content creation to engage online communities in meaningful action to confront some of the most challenging crises humanity faces today. She may not be a superhero, but she plays one on the internet.

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Environmentally Conscious Dating for Washingtonian Women

By Brenna Rivett, Dating in the District blog author

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to talk about dating. I thought I’d share tips for environmentally conscious dating in Washington, D.C. from someone who loves Dating in the District.

While many of us incorporate environmentally friendly practices into our daily routines – think recycling, using reusable shopping bags, and turning the water off while we brush our teeth, I’ve decided to take it a step further. When thinking about how I could reduce my carbon footprint in my social life, I realized that I spent a big part of it online dating! So, here are some suggestions – all tried by yours truly – for fun, environmentally conscious dates.

Skip the Lyft ride and take public transportation to the date. While it’s tempting to take those extra 15 minutes to get ready and call a Lyft, I’ve found that taking public transportation to my dates is a lot easier (and cheaper!) than taking a Lyft. In cases where I take the bus and arrive early, I’ve taken the opportunity to walk around the neighborhood a bit and check out the side streets. Last fall, while walking around Shaw before my date, I stumbled upon a stationary store that took my colored pen obsession to a whole new level. Totally worth giving up those extra 10 minutes of prep time to catch the 92!

Pick a location that actively promotes or supports environmental work or research.  True environmental science nerd that I am, I love wandering through the Natural History museum and I’ve found it’s a good date spot! If the conversation doesn’t flow naturally, there are plenty of conversation starters throughout the exhibits. Some of my other favorite locations are the National Arboretum, Teddy Roosevelt Island, the Botanical Gardens, and Up Top Acres.

Choose a local distillery or brewery. Did you know that 25 percent of a food’s carbon footprint comes from transporting it to its final destination? By choosing a brewery or distillery in D.C., you’re eliminating that part of the drink’s carbon, and supporting local businesses in the process! Some of my favorite spots with a good, casual vibe for a date include Right Proper Brewpub, Cotton and Reed rum distillery, and Atlas Brew Works.

Take advantage of D.C.’s farmer’s markets and stay in and cook. Whether you love to cook and want to master Julia Child’s Coq au Vin or just want to dabble and stick with pasta and homemade sauce, you can shop local, save money, and reduce your carbon footprint.

This shift to environmentally conscious dating may also bring some great conversations. I’ve found that by actively thinking about reducing my carbon footprint before my dates, I’m more likely to bring it up with my dates. It turns out that this is a great way to see if my date shares my environmental passion, or at least see if they are interested in learning more about why I care so much. Of course, this may lead to your date “mansplaining” climate change, like what happened to me, but hey, you can’t win them all!

Have fun on your next environmentally conscious date!

Brenna Rivett is the author of the blog Dating in the District: One Girl’s Search for Love, Rooftop Bars, and the Perfect Saison. Brenna enjoys finding the humor in these sometimes painfully awkward online dating situations and writing about them, in the hope that other people connect with and enjoy them too.

Photos by Brenna Rivett

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Focus on Food Waste this Holiday Season

By Lesly Baesens

With the holiday season upon us, food is at forefront of people’s minds. However, these joyous occasions also present an opportunity to consider what frequently becomes of our leftovers – food waste. U.S. households are responsible for wasting a staggering 238 pounds of food per person each year. Each scoop of mashed potatoes that ends up in the trash, carries with it the resources used to produce, transport, and process that food. This waste of resources is an economic, social, and environmental harm. For example, food rotting in landfills emits methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 more heat trapping potential than carbon dioxide.

Households are not the only source of wasted food. Food waste is a systemic problem that inhabits all parts of the food production process–from farmers unable to sell produce that fall short of supermarkets’ rigorous aesthetic standards, to restaurants serving portions too big for consumers to finish. As a result, approximately 40 percent of food produced each year in the U.S. is wasted. Despite the pervasiveness of the issue, there are no federal laws, incentives, or enforceable requirements to reduce food waste. Instead, some U.S. cities and states have committed to reduce food waste.

In the first iteration of its Sustainable DC plan, the nation’s capital committed to reducing food waste through establishing curbside organic waste pick-up for composting. Though composting is preferable to sending food waste to methane-producing landfills, it should be a second-to-last resort as the resources necessary to produce the food have already been expended. In my paper, Leading by Example: 20 Ways the Nation’s Capital Can Reduce Food Waste, I closely examined the issue of food waste in the District and provided the city government with recommendations on how to tackle food waste more efficiently and holistically.

The paper’s recommendations range from simple ones, such as establishing a food waste reduction target in the Sustainable DC Plan, to more politically challenging ones, including requiring grocers to measure and publicly disclose wasted food amounts. By establishing a food waste target, the city would be encouraged to move beyond composting to addressing food waste more comprehensively. By requiring grocers to disclose food waste amounts, the city would bring transparency to the amount of food discarded in this sector, which in turn would incentivize retailers to waste less.

Since sharing my paper with the Office of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city agencies, I was pleased to find that the city’s latest draft plan, Sustainable DC 2.0, includes several of my suggested measures. For instance, it steps-up the city’s food waste reduction efforts by committing to a target – reduce DC’s food waste by 60 percent by 2032. In order to develop recommendations on reducing food waste, the city will conduct an assessment of food waste in household and businesses – another one of my proposals. Sustainable DC 2.0 also proposes to educate residents and businesses on food “buying, storage, and disposal […] to minimize waste.” As discussed in my paper, consumer education campaigns can help households become drivers of reducing food waste.

These improved commitments are a major step forward for the District in its efforts to tackle food waste. However, I challenge D.C. to consider adopting bolder, more hard-hitting recommendations. We’ll need them if we want to become a model of food waste reduction in the U.S. and internationally, especially if we want to achieve the city’s goal of becoming “the most sustainable city in the nation.” In the meantime, I challenge you to educate yourself about the city’s efforts by reading Sustainable DC 2.0. Also, think twice before tossing those holiday leftovers. Find ways to reuse them and help our city become a leader in food waste reduction.

Lesly earned her Master’s degree in Global Environmental Policy from American University focusing on sustainable agriculture. A professional with more than 10 years of experience in project management, policy, and research, she is a die-hard food waste reduction advocate and is always looking for opportunities to advance the cause. Lesly volunteers with the DC Food Recovery Working Group, a group focused on food waste reduction and recovery efforts in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Photo Credits: petrr CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Sustainable DC

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By Tamara Toles-O’laughlin

There is no neat and tidy way to sum up my feelings about current events. Highs and lows abound for all of us who earnestly want to solve big problems or at least mitigate catastrophe, in the natural and built environment. As government regimes shift along party lines there is room enough for everyone to complain. As feminists, we are again bound to search our practice for true inclusion of marginalized peoples in the intersection of women and the environment. And we must look more deeply at our roles within those margins. As citizens, we will need to reengage our sectors, disciplines, and constituencies for answers and alignment. As EcoWomen, we must collectively move beyond the specter of a receding status quo and grope our dashed or diminished hopes for productive actions that will buck trends to ensure that the legacy of our generation is one of stewardship and justice. Viewed together, our work assails the banality of injustice through an unrelenting demand for increased access, inclusion, equity, and for plain old understanding, and that won’t stop now.

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Connection begets Community

EcoWomen is a community of diverse thinkers, strategists, planners, anglers, wonks, workers, and women.  Together we search for and find renewed purpose to meet challenges as they arise. Take a good hard look at us. We work for sustainable cities; promote agency for under-resourced peoples; plant gardens for food and righteousness; act as a safeguard for key species; write policy that influences behavior to combat climate change causes and effects; and bolster conservation in every environ. For those of us who desire an expansive form of social justice, circumstances require us to continue to push for the collective good, for the greatest number. We will fare better if we do it in community.

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Engage Beyond the Echo Chamber

This is a time for strength. We have strength in numbers. In support of our mission, it is in our interest to continue to make room for divergent thought, support innovation in every direction and apply pressure to transform power structures so that they reach the greatest number. We won’t succeed in an echo chamber of agreement but by opening the ways and means by which we reach consensus.

Increasingly, environment and conservation actions explicitly bleed into issues of parity, representation, resource, burden, and benefit distribution. To make it meaningful, we will need to recommit as members of community to deeper engagement on the issues of our time, and in so doing leverage the power of the many to move the state for positive impact.

These are not the salad days. We are women at the intersection of climate, politic, and modernity. We are faced with compound challenges to our species’ survival. In this moment, I am hopeful that we have a chance to make gains out of conflict IF we can face the acrimony of behavior change, IF we deny the illusion of stand-alone issues AND connect the dots as EcoWomen with the efforts of other communities we are a part of.

As we close out the year, let’s turn our good intentions into action.  I challenge you (now) to change your relationship to what troubles you, and to get nearer to every challenge. And I ask you to set your intention to develop solutions with those formerly deemed “other” as partners rather than allies. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with alliance, except that it can normalize the perceptible space between what threatens each of us with what threatens all of us.

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Strength as a Practice

As we brace for new norms we would do well to recall that as EcoWomen, we are in this, whatever it is, together.

So, let’s pledge to start the new year as we would see it end, with justice at the fore of our approach to environment, and to see it through to the defense of our everyday liberty. If you plant trees, plant more trees. If you work on storm water reduction, then mitigate away. Advocate, agitate, intervene, and include all voices at the point of decision making, for yourself and for your community. We will need you now more than ever.

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Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on civil society and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, traveling, and yoga.

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on That’s a Wrap! A Film Review from the D.C. Environmental Film Festival

By Alix Kashdan

Of Ants and MenOne day after work, I entered the Portrait Gallery in Chinatown, headed downstairs to the museum’s theater space, and settled in to watch a film: “E.O. Wilson – Of Ants and Men.” Beautiful shots of the Alabama wilderness floated across the screen, while the biologist Edward Osborne Wilson described his career in biology, his passion for the natural world, and the early experiences that influenced his life and career.

This was one of dozens of screenings, receptions, and events that are part of the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital (also known as the D.C. Environmental Film Festival, or DCEFF).

The festival began in 1993 and is the nation’s largest environmental film festival, showing more than 100 films at locations across the city over the course of a week and a half each March. DCEFF includes a ton of events including screenings, premiers, local documentaries and international films, shorts and feature-length movies, and discussions with filmmakers, to name a few.

“E.O. Wilson – Of Ants and Men” is one of many films that were screened at this year’s DCEFF. It tells the story of biologist and Harvard professor Edward Osborne Wilson.

The film touches on many themes, including Wilson’s adolescence in Alabama, moving beyond his study of ants to sociobiology and the negative response from many in the scientific community, and finishes with a look at his work with conservation efforts in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

Both the film’s story and style are captivating. The entire movie has a sense of lightness and calm while simultaneously delving deeply into complex ideas.

The cinematography is breathtaking, with lingering close-ups and wide-pan shots of forests, tree branches, marshes, and ferns. Even the close-up photography of ants is mesmerizing – even for someone who wouldn’t normally enjoy pictures of insects on a large screen.

Photo from the screening, depicting an abandoned ant colony filled with cement and then excavated.

Photo from the screening, depicting an abandoned ant colony filled with cement and then excavated.

The story and its themes are just as compelling as the film’s look and feel. One fascinating idea the film explores is the rise of sociobiology. It describes how Wilson has studied the cooperation, altruism, and complex social behavior exhibited by ants.

The film goes on to review the limited number of species that exhibit this type of behavior, called eusocial species, and reviews how Wilson expanded on this idea through writing about sociobiology in the 1970s. While today the evolution of social behavior is an accepted idea, at the time it caused a lot of controversy. The film depicts the backlash Wilson faced from scientists who disliked the idea of applying sociobiology to humans and our evolution.

The film “E.O. Wilson – Of Ants and Men” explores the intersection of biology, environmentalism, anthropology, psychology, and conservation science in an interesting and effective way. I highly recommend this movie, which can be watched online from PBS here: www.pbs.org/program/eo-wilson. I would also recommend checking out dceff.org, which includes an archive of festival films from the past few years, plus more information about this year’s festival.

Alix Kashdan works in digital media and communications at a non-profit. She’s passionate about climate policy, international relations, and digital media, including blogging, photography, and mapping. She grew up in the D.C. area and currently lives on Capitol Hill.

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sustainable Cities are Paving the Way at COP21

By Lindsay Parker

This week, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 has begun. This conference is a very. big. deal. If successful, it could be a decisive moment in the fight against climate change.

Leaders from 150 countries along with 40,000 delegates from 195 countries are meeting to reach an agreement on how to address our biggest environmental challenge. Without international action, our climate is on track to warm up to 5C (9F) above pre-industrial levels, causing weather extremes and devastating our natural resources. The results of these negotiations are critical.

Leading up to the conference, political leaders and activists have responded to the call to address climate change. Countries across the world are setting sustainability goals, federally and locally. In particular, cities are enacting policies that reduce emissions and support mitigation and adaptation to global warming.

Source: Ben Johnson

Source: Ben Johnson

Today, half of humanity – 3.5 billion people – lives in cities , and roughly 5.2 billion people are projected to live in urban communities by 2050.

Cities are hubs for economic and social advancement, commerce, and culture; however, they are also the source of many energy-intensive processes and emissions: building energy consumption, vehicles and transportation, solid waste water treatment, industry, and more.

To ensure a slowdown of global warming, urban areas face a challenge: remaining hubs for jobs  and prosperity, while limiting environmental impacts.


Fun facts about cities:


While cities face a sustainability challenge, they have an opportunity to enact influential climate policy much quicker than federal governments. In the U.S., Congressional inaction towards cohesive climate policy has pushed local leaders to take matters into their own hands. Currently, cities around the world are working to cut emissions, support public transportation, and increase efficiency. They are proving that they can fight climate change while growing economically.

The move toward sustainable and efficient infrastructure will not be cheap. Luckily, cities can benefit from international funding, particularly those in developing countries.  Mexico City, for example, has pledged to commit 10% of the city’s budget to resilience goals. UNFCCC financing mechanisms, such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), provide grants up to $10 million for urban transport projects and low-emission urban systems to all non-Annex I members of the UN. Likewise, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), also instituted by the COP, finances low emission cities using $10 billion from country pledges.

Today, during a special Summit at the COP21, over 1,000 mayors will join President Obama and Secretary Kerry for the Climate Summit for Local LeadersThe event is co-hosted by Mike Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. The event will bring a collection of local actors together to urge action and build upon the efforts of the Compact of Mayors.

The Compact of Mayors is a global coalition of city officials who pledge to create ambitious climate action plans, increase resilience to global warming, reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions, and publicly track progress toward each goal. Currently, 382 cities, representing 345,853,881 people worldwide and 4.7% of the total global population have committed to the Compact of Mayors. Major cities involved include:

Cities are leading as an example for national governments that is it possible to set and achieve more ambitious goals for emissions reductions. These officials will present their ambitious climate action plans at the COP21.

President Obama addresses attendees at COP21 in Paris Source: : https://blogs.state.gov/stories/2015/11/30/follow-along-global-agreement-act-climate

President Obama addresses attendees at COP21 in Paris
Source: US State Department

Earlier this year, President Obama announced his goal for 100 US cities join the Compact by the start of COP21. That goal has been met and exceeded. Across the country and the world, cities are taking action by retrofitting buildings, upgrading transportation, and building efficient infrastructure.

In the U.S., cities are already making great headway:

Internationally, megacities in the C40 network are leading the way with low carbon goals and sustainable urban growth. This group represents half a billion people and 25% of global GDP, and they have promised to shift towards sustainable policies. Below are actions taken by leading cities:

  • London plans to install 6,000 charging points and 3,000 battery-powered cars by 2018
  • Gothenburg and Johannesburg have issued $489 million worth of green bonds
  • Shanghai will invest $16.3 billion over the next 3 years on 220 anti-pollution projects

In sum, the COP21 is on track to have some significant outcomes. If you live in a city, you’re likely to see evidence of these first hand. You can contribute to reducing global warming by taking public transportation, turning off lights, and supporting your local sustainability leader.

Lindsay Parker is a Texas native with a Masters of Public Policy focused on energy and climate policy from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany. She is currently working at the U.S. Department of Energy on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. When she’s not hiking, she enjoys choir, running, swing dancing, and yoga.

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By Meg Hathaway

Hello Ladies!  Everyone knows that the best way to keep cool in the summer is to head for the water.  This year I decided to up my game and become a certified SCUBA diver.  It’s a lot of fun, and I hope to see some of you soon under the sea!

First of all, no, you won’t have to go diving in the Potomac.  It would be dangerous with all the boat traffic, and there’s too much sediment to see clearly down there anyway.  Dive shops in the DC area have arrangements with hotel, university, or rec center pools where you will do your initial training.  For your final certification dives, you can use a local quarry (that’s what I did), or get referral paperwork and fly to the exotic SCUBA destination of your choice.

There are three basic steps to becoming certified as an open water diver, or entry-level SCUBA diver.  In addition to completing four “confined water” (i.e., pool) dives and four open water dives, you’ll also need to do some reading and pass a written exam.  Most people do the pool work over one weekend, and the open water dives over a separate weekend or on an upcoming vacation.  Your dive shop will walk you through the process.  How do you choose a dive shop?  Google it, and trust me on this, pay close attention to the Yelp reviews.  I won’t name names, but there is one local dive shop in DC that has a reputation for pushing beginners to buy way more gear than they need.  I went to a meet-and-greet at that place and promptly made plans to do my training elsewhere.

That said, there’s no getting around the reality that you’ll need some start-up cash to get into diving.  You’ll be expected to buy your own “personal gear” prior to taking an intro to SCUBA class, which includes your mask, snorkel, fins, and special booties designed to be worn with the fins (like socks).  I wear glasses, so I paid extra to get a SCUBA mask with prescription lenses.  It is awesome!  Contacts also work with SCUBA masks, but be forewarned that a required emergency skill in SCUBA class is how to remove and replace your mask underwater.  This is a prime opportunity for your contacts to wash away, which stinks because you need to see clearly in order to read your gauges.  Bring extra contacts if you decide to go that route.  One final note on gear – the SCUBA community is very good about accommodating people with different needs.  Divers with limited or no leg mobility, for instance, can propel themselves with special underwater scooters or webbed gloves instead of fins.

If you aren’t sure SCUBA is for you, I highly recommend signing up for a Discover SCUBA session before you commit to a full introductory class.  In Discover SCUBA, you pay around $80 to spend a few hours in a pool learning the very basics of SCUBA, all gear included.  Some dive shops will credit the price of the Discover SCUBA session towards an intro class if you decide to continue.  This is the route I went.  For me it worked perfectly because I was able to spend my Discover SCUBA time getting over the initial weirdness of breathing under water, then pay closer attention later on during my Introduction to SCUBA sessions.

What will you do in an introductory SCUBA class?  You’ll familiarize yourself with how to set-up and break down your gear; stuff yourself awkwardly into a wetsuit; jump in; work on the proper techniques for diving, swimming, and ascending; and then run through how to handle various emergency situations.  A few key points will be drilled into your head.  There’s the cardinal rule of “just keep breathing!” which seems incredibly obvious until you get distracted fiddling with all your gear underwater.  There’s also the importance of safety and the buddy system.  The person next to you in the water is your auxiliary air supply if anything goes wrong, so it’s in both your interests to be respectful and stay close.  Your buddy is also there to help you plan a dive that you both agree will be interesting yet safe, double-check that your equipment is rigged properly before entering the water, and of course, be there back above water to verify your wild tales about all the cool things you saw.

For me, SCUBA diving so far has been a great experience because it pushed me out of my comfort zone, taught me new skills, and opened up new possibilities for places I can see around the world.  I’m just starting out with diving, but ultimately I’d love to go on a conservation mission-based SCUBA dive trip.  There are programs out there where you can help scientists photograph and track marine life, capture invasive lionfish, or rebuild coral reefs by hand.  How amazing is that?

Meg Hathaway is a Chemical Review Manager for the Office of Pesticide Programs in the US Environmental Protection Agency. She enjoys contra and swing dancing, studying international environmental policy, flipping merchandise online, and telling herself she practices guitar every day. She’s also on the DC EcoWomen executive board. 

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By Robin Garcia

DC EcoWomen’s president, Christina Sorrento, is leaving the executive board after nearly a decade of service to the organization and to women in the DC environmental field. A land use attorney in Maryland, Christina has been an integral part of DC EcoWomen’s growth, helping mold it into the wonderful and strong organization that it is today. I met with Christina recently to discuss what her involvement has meant to her.

5278910729_31a74e3ff2_oWhy did you first become involved with DC EcoWomen?

At the time, I wasn’t working in the environmental field, and I wanted to maintain a connection to the community. I went to an EcoHour event in 2006 and left feeling so inspired. I asked the board if they needed help and was immediately brought on board!

What positions have you held on the board?

First, I was the Speaker Coordinator. I then became Vice President of the EcoHour Committee, Vice President of the Events Committee (which has now separated into the Professional Development and Program Committees), Vice President of Professional Development, and finally President.

How did DC EcoWomen help with your professional and personal development?

It definitely helped me professionally. While I am an attorney, I used to get very nervous about speaking publically. All of the public speaking that I had to do with the various positions that I have held helped me overcome that fear. I also had the chance to be involved in ways that are not quite as tangible but still important.

8760784245_7e5c4e13cf_oWhat events are you most proud of?

The day-long conference in 2013. We pulled it off in a couple of months, and everyone seemed to love it! The 10 year gala was also a wonderful accomplishment.

Why would you recommend DC EcoWomen to others?

First of all, for the professional development. That was why I first became involved, but the women I met has kept me involved for all of this time. Women I have met through DC EcoWomen have become close friends; I have even been to the weddings of women I met through the organization.

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I can personally attest that in the past year Christina has always made me feel welcomed and involved. We have been so lucky to have her for as long as we have, and I hope that she will stay involved with the environmental community in DC for years to come.

Thank you Christina for all that you have done!

Robin is a Communication Specialist at NOAA and a DC EcoWomen board member. A DC native, she enjoys exploring her hometown, developing her yoga skills, and getting out on the water as much as possible. She would also like the world to know that Bill Nye the Science Guy is now available on Netflix.