Showing posts from July, 2017

Use of force by the police

For police, the use of force is one of the hardest things to get right. As the International Association of Chiefs of Police stresses , policies must “ensure that any use of force is carefully applied and objectively reasonable considering the situation confronted by the officers.” Politicians don’t help when they make blanket statements about getting tough on crime. Indeed, they make matters more difficult by undercutting trust with the community. That’s why it was important that the Boston Police Department made a statement on Saturday: “The Boston Police Department’s priority has been and continues to be building relationships and trust with the community we serve. As a police department, we are committed to helping people, not harming them.” Today, I contacted the Somerville Police Department and asked them to follow suit with a similar statement.


Today, I made a donation to a GoFundMe campaign for dysautonomia. The daughter of a high school classmate was diagnosed with the disease recently, and is currently at the Mayo Clinic undergoing more tests. There are expenses for the trip from Florida to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and she will likely need a service dog. What’s dysautonomia ? It’s an autonomic nervous system condition that can have many causes. Indeed, a number of diseases can feature dysautonomia which is why she’s undergoing testing at Mayo. Good luck Shayna. I hope you get some answers and find a positive prognosis.

Somerville zoning overhaul

Cities use their zoning code to control the physical development of land and the kinds of uses to which each property may be put. It’s a means for the government to enact and enforce land-use planning. Zoning ordinances can also get out of whack. As Vox pointed out , only 22 residential buildings in Somerville are considered “conforming..” This, in a city of 80,000 people. I ran afoul of the zoning myself. A few years ago, I wanted to replace two windows in the back of my house with a sliding door. Because my property is non-conforming, and the windows were too close to the property line, I had to jump through extra hurdles and present to the Zoning Board of Appeals. I had to draft architectural drawings, notify abutters and present at the board’s monthly public hearing. Mind you, everyone involved was apologetic but they still made me go through the steps. The good news is that the city is well aware of the zoning morass. Somerville has been trying to revamp its zoning for several yea

Kiva loan - Cameroon farmer

Today, I made a Kiva loan to a farmer in Cameroon. Thomas needs a loan to buy fertilizer, seeds and insecticide for his corn, potatoes and peanuts. I'm happy to help him out. The loan is also a short-term loan, which is good for me to get a better sense of how Kiva works.

Nstar and the Clean Power Plan

The federal government’s Clean Power Plan – which would require power providers to shift their electricity sources toward renewable energy – is under threat . But that doesn’t mean power providers can’t be convinced to act. Indeed, 10 companies, which together control about 10% of the nation’s total, filed a brief in support the Clean Power Plan. My power provider, Nstar Electric was not among them. Today, I sent a letter to Nstar urging the company to support the Clean Power Plan. This was through this simple campaign , organized by the Climate Reality Project and EDF. I concluded: I urge NSTAR Electric Company to seize this moment and invest in programs that offer us, your customers, cleaner, more efficient energy choices. I also encourage you to oppose and speak out against any rollback of the Clean Power Plan, and to commit publicly to meeting and going beyond the Clean Power Plan pollution targets. This is a time for bold leadership, and I hope you will take steps to empower your

Indivisible Somerville environment meeting

Today, I went to the weekly meeting of Indivisible Somerville's energy and environment lab. Good organizing meeting with action items to follow up on, regarding three bills in the state legislature and how to push them forward. We also discussed getting Somerville businesses into 100% renewable energy, which I'm going to push forward on.

Protecting marine sanctuaries

The Department of Commerce is currently reviewing the designations and expansions of 11 national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments. Rolling back protections for these areas would open protected areas of the ocean to oil and gas drilling, commercial fishing, deep seabed mining and other commercial exploitation. Tomorrow is the deadline to offer input to the Commerce Department. Today, I sent a letter to Commerce through this  EarthJustice campaign .  

From the Ashes screening

Coal is arguably the biggest bogeyman in the fight against climate change. Coal has higher levels of carbon than other fossil fuels, relative to the energy it produces, so it’s responsible for about 25% of US emissions. Globally, it’s responsible for about 44% of emissions. Coal consumption, as we all know, is in decline in the US, driven mostly by the fracking revolution unlocking domestic supplies of natural gas to be used for electricity production. It’s on the decline elsewhere as well. For example, India recently canceled plans to build nearly 14 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations. China cancelled 103 coal projects just a few months earlier. But let’s not forget that the move away from coal creates winners and losers. Today, I went to a screening of From the Ashes , hosted by the Environmental Defense Fund. It’s a moving film because it tells the stories of people, not statistical “jobs.” As the New York Times put it in a review , “‘From the Ashes’ doesn’t need much commenta

UN Declaration of Human Rights block print

Today, I hung above my desk a framed block print edition of Article 29 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Pretty cool, isn’t it? Article 29 states: “(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. “(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. “(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.” The emphasis is mine, because that clause underpins what One Civic Act is all about: everyone has duties to the community. For what it’s worth, the artist also chose to illustrate Article 29 with a statement about the death penalty. To be clear, Article 29 makes no s

Shuckfest 4 for the Mass Oyster Project

Did you know that oysters have the potential to both dramatically filter waterways and counteract ocean acidification? Here’s what the Mass Oyster Project says:  Each oyster can filter 40 gallons of water per day. An oyster reef can shelter up to 100 other species so they dramatically add to biodiversity. Oysters also sequester nitrogen in wastewater and each person creates 12 pounds per year. Oyster shells contain calcium carbonate a known buffer that can help offset ocean acidification.  Today, I went to a fundraiser for the Mass Oyster Project , a fantastic organization that is trying to seed new oyster beds and recycle oyster shells as new reefs in Massachusetts estuaries. 

An Inconvenient Sequel

Last night, I took a group to see a sneak peek of An Inconvenient Sequel , thanks to the Independent Film Festival of Boston . Festival Director Brian Tamm gave a great introduction, highlighting the importance of the arts in illuminating the great challenges and social issues of our time. And the film-makers were present, with a Q&A afterward. I had a group of about 10 people with me, including a few fellow Climate Reality Leaders , including one who trained at the original Climate Reality training in Al Gore’s barn in, I think, 2006! Another trained last year in Houston, while she was a high school junior. The group piqued the interest of a few other friends who might be interested in attending the training. Today, I followed by thanking the group that attended and continuing some conversations, particularly with a couple of Climate Reality Leaders in Metrowest. And I began to plot a few next steps for own climate leadership. Oh, and the movie. There’s scene in the movie that ove

Mass Cultural Council budget - again

Yes, I’ve written about this year’s budget for the Mass Cultural Council before. See here and here , for example. Support for the Council’s critical work in supporting the state’s creative economy seems to be swinging back and forth, from a proposed cut to $10 million by the House Ways and Means Committee to an increase to $16.5 million in the Senate budget to level funding at $14 million ultimately approved by the legislature. But the saga’s not over. Governor Baker just vetoed the legislature’s FY2018 budget for the Mass Cultural Council and cut funding back to $12.1 million. Today, I wrote letters to my state representatives to override the Governor’s arts veto. I continue to assert that Massachusetts’ creative economy is critical to its national and global profile as an innovation leader.

Stop exporting prison labor

In one of the more unexpected turns of events in this all-politics-is-local world, Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson offered to send inmates to the southern United States to help build the border wall proposed by the administration. Yes, that means forced prison labor. As I learned earlier this year from a discussion with Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, there may actually be defensible reasons to send inmates across state borders for labor assignments. Disaster recovery in neighboring New England states came to mind. But building a wall along the Rio Grande? That’s hard to countenance. Today, I wrote a letter to the heads of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security in support of Senate bill, S1279 , an Act Protecting Inmate Safety and the Expenditure of State Funds. With certain exceptions, the bill would restrict sheriffs’ ability to transport inmates outside Massachusetts for work assignments. This was part of a campaign organized by Indivisible Somerv

Travel offsets for Spring and Summer 2017

Different variations of the data depicted here have been making the rounds in the past week. Basically, it shows different ways our personal choices impact our carbon footprint. I’m doing okay on high-impact choices. The biggest choice you can make by far is to have a one fewer child. I have none. I don’t live completely car free, but I’m mostly car free, putting about 2,000 miles per year on my 14 year-old Toyota Corolla. I take public transportation as much as I can, even when I’m traveling in new cities. I’ve moved my power (though not my heat and cooking) to renewable energy and I’ve eliminated beef from my diet (though not all meats). On the other hand, I fly often enough and far enough to be making an impact on emissions. Since the last time I bought air travel offsets, I’ve made round-trip flights to London twice, Los Angeles via San Jose, Seattle and Reykjavik. That’s 3.47 metric tons of CO2 equivalents, according to this calculator . Today, I bought 3.47 metric tons – 7,650 p

Somerville Climate Coalition

Today, I went to a second monthly meeting of the Somerville Climate Coalition. What a smart group of climate activists. Reps from Somerville Climate Action, Fossil Free Somerville, Mothers Out Front and Our Revolution were there. I was representing Indivisible Sometville, despite how new I am, but I had some backup. Even in a blue city in a blue state, there’s so much to do…

Indivisible Somerville orientation

Today, I continued my exploration and engagement with Indivisible Somerville. I attended a new member orientation, which drew an impressive 20-25 people on a beautiful summer day. That speaks to the pent-up energy that been awoken, particularly among progressives. On the other hand, there were two members present who attended because the Indivisible Boston chapter is on hiatus. That’s sad to hear, but Indivisible Somerville continues to gain momentum so it should be able to pick up some of the slack.

Net neutrality day of action

Last Wednesday was a net neutrality day of action. The FCC is  accepting public comment about its decision to allow internet service providers to give priority access to some internet traffic over others. This is, of course, a worrisome direction. While prioritizing, say, streaming video packets over reddit comments might seem innocuous, it in effect grants ISPs the ability to make their own decisions over what content gets prioritized. And those decisions can be colored by politics and money. Net neutrality is a means to maintain equal access. Okay, I missed out on the actual day , due to travel. Today, I submitted my comments to the FCC in defense of net neutrality, through this ACLU site . It’s exactly the kind of message that ISPs might some day try to put on an internet slow lane.

My solar perks signup

Some of my readers…okay, maybe just one of them…has followed along on my quest to switch to 100% renewable energy. While I signed on to Somerville’s Community Choice Aggregation program to get 100% renewable energy starting July 1, but an even better way would be sign up for community solar . (I have too much tree cover for my own solar panels.) Today, I filled out my application to be put on a list for Clean Energy Collective ‘s community solar program. Truth be bold, I tried to sign up a month ago, but their website wasn’t working. I had been in touch with them as they tried to fix it and they finally let me know that’s working. Hopefully, I’ll find out soon whether I can buy energy from my very own 21 solar panels in a solar farm nearby. I’ll keep you posted.

More planning for An Unconvenient Sequel

I started planning a viewing party for An Inconvenient Sequel a few days ago, for opening night on August 3. But a better offer just came in. Today, I shifted my plans for a viewing party to a sneak peek on July 20, one week ahead of the limited national opening. Best of all, the sneak peek is free. I’m hoping to get 10 people or so together. 

Somerville Climate Forward working group

Back on July 4 , I put my name forward to join a working group for the City of Somerville’s Somerville Climate Forward planning process. It’s an opportunity to get involved in how the city’s long-term plan of carbon neutrality can be put into action. Today, I received word that I’ve been accepted and appointed to the Community & Economic Development working group. That sounds like a big agenda to me; we’ll see what the scope turns out to be. We’re in the process of scheduling our first meeting now, some time later this summer.

Rally for Francisco Rodriguez

Francisco Rodriguez runs a carpet-cleaning business during the day before heading to his night shift at MIT, as a janitor. He and his wife are raising two daughters in Chelsea. He is deeply involved in their school, his church, and his union. That makes him a pillar of our community in my eyes, and a role model for the American Dream.  Except that he’s not American; he’s a refugee from El Salvador who plays by the rules. He has no criminal record at all. He’s applied for asylum through proper channels, been denied, appealed, and been denied. Yet, every year, the government has also recognized his plight and granted him a stay of removal. Until this year. And now Francisco faces deportation. It’s a horrible story of the terrible turn in our immigration policy, even when the laws themselves haven’t changed. Today, I went to a rally for Francisco, at MIT’s campus. His checkin with ICE is scheduled for Thursday and the grassroots effort to keep him here – to keep him home – is growing in

Planning for An Inconvenient Sequel

In less than four weeks, the sequel to Al Gore’s  An Inconvenient Truth comes out. It opens in Boston a week later than the limited theatrical release on July 28, but it should open pretty widely. Today, I began to organize a viewing party for An Inconvenient Sequel . I’m trying to get it organized for opening weekend, because a strong opening might help convince theaters to extend the theatrical run, allowing more people to see it over time. As a newly minted Climate Reality Leader , how can I not do this, right? But I’m genuinely interested because  An Inconvenient Truth was actually a good piece of filmmaking. Here’s one sequel I’m really looking forward to.

Kiva loan to a smallholder farmer

Kiva has facilitated lending of $1 billion dollars to borrowers around the world, to help them start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or otherwise realize their potential. “For some, it’s a matter of survival, for others it’s the fuel for a life-long ambition,” the website reads. Today, I opened a kiva account and made my first loan. I don’t earn interest on the loan, and there’s of course some repayment risk. But I’m happy to put the capital to work – in this case by a smallholder coffee farmer in Honduras who is hoping to buy fertilizer for his crops. Repayment is due in 14 months. I expect to have a more fully invested portfolio of small kiva loans by then.

Buy Nothing admin meeting

I’m thankful to be co-admin of the  Buy Nothing Somerville group  – emphasis on “co-” because there’s a bit of work to it, particularly getting up to speed. We’ve approved over 40 members in the past week or so — and we still have 40+ pending memberships and it takes a fair amount of attention to keep monitoring them. Today, I met my co-admin over coffee to talk about process for both member approvals and for monitoring posts. We’re both new to this, so there’ll be some trial and error, but I think we’ve worked out a process going forward that will catch us up within a week or so.

Protecting national monuments

The Department of the Interior, following up on an executive order, is reviewing national monument designations and expansions made under the Antiquities Act of 1906. What does that mean? The federally protected status of 27 of America’s national monuments, spanning over more than 11 million acres of land and about 760 million acres of ocean, is threatened. More on that here . Today, I wrote to the Department of the Interior through its comments page on . I urged Interior to protect the Antiquities Act, specifically referencing Mount Katahdin and the Katahdin Woods & Waters parkland in Maine. It’s truly a gem, though, it pales in comparison to many of the 27 sites under review. The deadline for comments in July 10, in case you’re wondering.

Powder House Park

Today, I continued my visits to old Somerville sites, taking a docent-led tour of Powder House Park. This is more impressive visually than the Milk Row Cemetery I visited last week – at least from the outside. We got to enter the Powder House itself, which is normally locked. But it’s essentially an empty three-story stone cylinder of a building. It warrants its own page on Atlas Obscura . The Powder House is pretty historic, however. It was an old windmill sold to the Province of Massachusetts in 1747 and from then on used as a powder house. What made it famous was an incident on September 1, 1774. General Gage marched his troops to the Powder House and emptied its store of powder kegs, bringing them back to Castle Island. Technically, it was the King’s powder, but it led to protests by more than 2,000 residents. Eventually the Lieutenant Governor resigned because of it. Some call it a pivotal moment in cementing the revolutionary minds, leading eventually to the American Revolution.

IS Energy and Environment Lab

After connecting with Indivisible Somerville online several months ago, I finally made it to an in-person meeting. Although I haven’t done an orientation yet, today I attended the weekly meeting of the energy and environment “lab.”  It was helpful to get a rundown of their priorities right now, which include pushing three particular bills in Massachusetts and getting more people in Somerville to opt into 100% renewable energy in the city’s community choice aggregation program. I added a few ideas about Somerville zoning and Somerville Climate Forward. 

Somerville Climate Forward working groups

The City of Somerville has completed a Greenhouse Gas Inventory, a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and a Carbon Neutrality Pathways Assessment. That’s impressive, if you ask me. They’ve essentially taken stock of the city’s carbon footprint, modeled the impact of climate change on the city and assessed how the long-term plan of carbon neutrality can be achieved. All of that is available on the city’s Sustainaville website . That leaves the hard part, which is actually starting the change process. To that end, the city is organizing its Somerville Climate Forward action plan around eight working groups. Today, I submitted my name to participate in either the Energy, Utilities & Infrastructure or Community & Economic Development working groups. I think they’ll dole out assignments based on how much interest they get. We should get our assignments next week.

Ramping up with Buy Nothing Somerville

In late May, I volunteered to co-moderate the Buy Nothing Somerville group. Well, it took about a month to get the administrative work done to make the handover official. After all, it’s an all-volunteer organization. Luckily, members in the group seem to be really well aligned and pretty much follow the rules. So there haven’t been any posts that have required moderation. However, in that month, quite a backlog of new member requests have come in. Today, I spent some time reaching out to them directly to make sure they qualify. Many of them haven’t gotten back to me yet, so this could take a little while. But it’s worth it, for a vibrant Buy Nothing community.

Milk Row Cemetery

Hidden in plain sight, right next to a Market Basket, is Somerville’s oldest cemetary, the Milk Row Cemetary. It was originally a private cemetery, built in 1804 when Samuel Tufts sold farmland to Timothy Tufts, Nathaniel Hawkins, and a few others for use as a burying place. It was annexed by the city late in 1892; it’s a tiny lot that somehow manages to hold 1,800 bodies. Today, I took a docent led tour of the cemetery, to learn more of my city’s history. The centerpiece is a Civil War soldiers monument, erected in 1863 to honor the city’s cotizens who fought in the war. The names of 68 soldiers who lost their lives are inscribed on it. Historic Somerville runs tours about twice a month during the summer. At other times, the cemetery is behind locked gates.

Upcoming Somerville events

Today, I began to schedule a closer engagement with the City of Somerville by mapping out a number of events over the course of the summer. There are several tours of historic sites that I’m going to take, to get to know my city better. There are open houses for a long-awaited, and of course controversial, zoning revamp that I’m going to make sure to attend. There’s also the Somerville’s Residential Energy Assistance Resource Fair in late July. And, importantly, there is the City’s Commission on Energy and Climate Change . The citizen commission itself is full, but it’s a vital resource that I need to be involved with. The problem is with scheduling, and true to form, I’ll be out of town for the July meeting. But I’m making a point to add the July meeting, and those other points of engagement, to my calendar so I can schedule other things around them instead of vice versa.