Recalculating: Missing the Off Ramp on the Road to Climate Change

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Recalculating: Missing the Off Ramps on the Road to Global Warming

My GPS left me after our first drive together.
Her voice was so calm, mechanical and authoritative that I imagined her wearing a neatly pressed uniform inside my phone.
“Turn left at the next exit.” She faltered in surprise when I continued down Main Street.
Failing to make the next “turn left at the next intersection” resulted in a stern, but matter of fact: “recalculating..” and a “turn right at the next light…”
By the fifth missed turn, GPS was clearly annoyed, spitting out “RE- CAL- CU- LAT ING!!! In the loud slow syllables normally reserved for BAD! DOG!
GPS grabbed her phone and turned so I wouldn’t hear, but her voice was fast and exasperated.
“Hundreds of billion dollars in research, satellites, telecommunications and computerized speech technology to give this guy directions and he won’t make a friggin’ right turn!”
GPS got out at the corner. “I’m going to look for someone who will listen to me.” She said. “Don’t try to find me. Then she bursts into a laugh “…you’d just get more lost…”
Years later, I’m still driving through the city in pinball style, but GPS has been calling to ask if we could get back together.
Her voice is worn and raspy.
“They sent me over to help guide climate control policy.” GPS takes a long, deep breath.
“These guys show up every few years with their same list of resolutions that they blew off last year. Ok, this year we are really, really going to cut down on smoking. They set a goal of cutting down for say 20 years from now and adjourn to the courtyard to light up another pack. They take some pictures, get drunk and hop back on the bus and hit the gas.”
“And while they are blowing past their emissions goals, guess who is supposed to be giving them directions?
I’ve had to shout RECALCULATING so many times that the bozos have made it into a drinking game.
Every time they blow past an emissions goal, someone has to take a shot of whiskey and grab the steering wheel.”

“Know what’s happened since the Kyoto protocol where they decided to end global warming?”
“Greenhouse gas emissions have increased an average of two percent every year! And all they can talk about is whose fault it is. The United States took off some pounds by shifting its manufacturing to China and is now pointing out how big China’s butt is getting.”
“When are they going to get it? We are all together on one big scale. The atmosphere doesn’t care which country dumped the most carbon into the air.”

“Did you see the report on global climate change yesterday? Nine of the ten warmest years since 1879 have been in the last decade. But every time it snows, somebody declares that climate change was a myth.”

GPS pokes her finger at my chest. “So when you breeze past an exit, you are going to be late for your meeting.
But when these guys blow past one, there goes Micronesia and half of Florida.
So as they year after year I’m screaming at them to get off this carbon freeway and year after year they blow by the exits faster.
“Can’t slow down now,” they tell me, “jobs and economy and all that.”

“So here I am using big data and global modeling to guide them away from the broken bridge ahead, but they won’t turn away from disaster. All we are asking is an honest switch from dirty to clean energy. It will create jobs and save cities and economies.
But these BOZOs sit down with their coal and petroleum friends and start drawing underwater cities and talking about resilience!
You know what resilience is? Duck and cover! Because we have set off climate changes that are going to come after us.”
GPS sounds tired, defeated. “I guess they are right–Dig data can’t change little minds.”

“You know what hundreds of billions of dollars of research and technology have given us?”
“The precise location where we buried our heads in the sand and a pretty good prediction of when the ocean will cover it.”
I try to smile to shake off the irony, but GPS just shakes her head and wipes at a tear.
“It’s just that when we finally reach our destination, I wanted the world to be as beautiful as was when we got on the bus.”

Shan Gordon

Questioning Energy Answers: The best speech I’ve heard this year.

Excerpted from a speech by Kelly Klinefelter Lee, a teacher at Benjamin Franklin High School on December 18th, 2013. She spoke to a group of students and citizens protesting the planned construction of the largest incinerator in the United States in a Baltimore neighborhood already among the most polluted areas in the country. You can see video of her speech and the protest at

The American philosopher and educator John Dewey said, “The only freedom of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say freedom of observation and of judgment exercised on behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worthwhile.”

When you come to school here at Ben (Benjamin Franklin High School) your teachers work to make you critical thinkers. Yes, reading and writing and calculating are important.. but we are also preparing you to be voters and parents and community members and maybe even someday, office holders.

I’d argue that our most important goal as teachers in a democratic nation is to teach you to use your intelligence and your skills to understand your world, to analyze the problems you observe in your community, to evaluate the decisions being made by your leaders and to use your voices to object when you object.
There is much to object to in the case of this incinerator. If built it would bring hundreds of trucks of trash imported from other counties and states into this community every single day. That trash will burn and turn out mercury, and lead, greenhouse gases and particulate matter into the air that we breathe. As young critical thinkers, you are looking at this situation and asking the right questions.

Aren’t there better and cleaner ways to make power for our city?
Don’t we owe our earth better stewardship?
And why is the incinerator coming to our neighborhood?
You students know that the children who will breathe the incinerators pollution are already asked to bear a bigger burden than most. You know that the children of this community are more likely to be food insecure, more likely to be housing insecure, more likely to be the victims of crime than other children in Maryland. You know that the children in this community have been disproportionately affected by economic crisis and by government cuts. You know that the children in of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay go to under resourced and underfunded public schools and you know, Destiny, you just told us that these children already breathe some of the dirtiest air in Maryland and that their young bodies pay a horrible price for this. So this is not just an environmental issue. It is a social justice issue.

It is a moment when our learning community has to ask our leaders– we must– why does this incinerator belong here, why does it belong here, in this community?
This is a cause that is intrinsically worthwhile to which we must develop our minds and our hearts and our best efforts. Students, thank you for sharing your time and passion in the service of your community.
We are blessed by your offerings and we are grateful for your leadership.

Ten Ways to Improve the Ten Year Plan

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1) Create a bigger purpose. The goal of the 10 year plan should not be to build and renovate school buildings. Our goal must be to educate and enable our students and our communities to build, enrich and empower each other. Our students and our communities need to be fully involved in the learning, decisions and building of these schools so these buildings become not BCPS schools, but their schools that they helped design, build and support.

2) Create great learning. Integrate the 10 year plan and the Jacobs report into STEM, environmental literacy and project based learning at our schools. By studying this intersection between learning, environment, architecture, design and economics we are creating rich and relevant learning for the students. Imagine the power and learning if we involving students, faculty and community members in visioning and design decisions for their schools. Can students find ways to orient or design the new additions to lower energy costs and improve their learning environment? Invite local architects and designers to be part of this learning process.

3) Build effective and efficient learning environments.
Studies show that good indoor air quality, proper lighting, acoustics and temperature help create effective learning environments for students. These factors should be the benchmarks for school design and operations contracts.

4) Build for the future.
Deciding that our schools will be built to last 150 years will create sustainable economic decisions that favor better technologies and materials that have slightly higher short term costs but far greater long term savings.

5) Train for the future.
Create after school and Saturday training programs to enable some high
school students to become certified to work on school construction projects after they graduate. Find ways to promote the training and hiring of local workers on construction crews.

6) Save for the future.
Many of our schools have potential energy saving renovation projects which are scheduled for renovations under the 10 year plan. The district should actively search out and undertake energy saving renovations that would create significant savings.

7) Create new funding streams.
If the district agrees to rebate 85% of energy savings back to schools which produce the savings through their own renovations or improved operations, some schools could self-finance these renovations outside of the CIP funding stream. The schools would be able to create these renovations before their scheduled renovations and the district would not have to dip into CIP funds to pay for them.

8) Create better schools now.
Many of the complaints about City Schools are about cleaning, health and operations issues which are relatively inexpensive to solve. Focusing attention on reducing asthma triggers, cleaning bathrooms and reducing harmful chemicals in the schools can create healthier and better environments for our children. These are issues that City Schools should tackle now.

9) Create cost savings with standardized and bulk purchasing of materials.

10) Create open and transparent decision making with professional oversight and collaboration.
Open all meetings to the public and post all contracts online for public viewing. Involve management from other districts and outside architecture and engineering firms in overseeing the 10 year plan.

Building Baltimore– One School at a Time

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As Baltimore City Schools embarks on their 21st Century Buildings Initiative to renovate and build new schools, it is important to envision what we want to create. The list of what we want to escape–schools without temperature control, broken and opaque windows, dirty bathrooms and undrinkable water cannot be enough as we create schools worthy of our children.

One easy decision is that our 21st Century buildings should be built well enough to last far into the 22nd century. This means that we will choose the best materials, designs, energy sources and technologies that will last and provide long term savings.
We must remember that our goal is not to create school buildings, but scholars and communities that are empowered, enlightened and enriched by our schools. We are building communities that will thrive and support their schools far into the future. Our schools and communities must learn to sustain each other with deep involvement and respect.

A project of this scope needs to capture the imagination and hearts of the students and the community. This needs to be their project, their schools, and as often as possible—their jobs. If we drop 2.4 billion dollars into Baltimore City without lifting thousands of people out of poverty, we will have failed the city and the schools. By connecting to after school and weekend training programs, students and their parents could become qualified and involved in some of the construction work on schools.

The 10 year plan provides a wonderful project for student learning that involves economics, mathematics, science, design and architecture. By involving students in the visioning of their building, they can begin to understand how a project can be created and to have a voice and a hand in this creation. This is real learning and empowerment.

If we are creating a city that brings back the full tapestry and talent of Baltimore to our public schools, this process should be open and welcoming to all. Architects, designers, educators and students should be collaborating on design prototypes and talking about how they can build or renovate these schools in new and wonderful ways. Planners and social workers should be talking about how to integrate health and social programs, education and the community into the school design. And students and parents should be imagining the type of schools and experiences they want at their schools.
It is time for Baltimore to become.

7 steps to healthy, high performing students (and schools)

Welcome To The Petri Dish

With over 80,000 commercial chemicals in our lives, we are stewing in our own experiment.

And the results are dramatic: lines on charts that climb like a mountain range into the future: breast cancers up, testicular cancers up, diabetes up, autism up, asthma up, ADHD up.


But not all the indicators are up.

Sperm counts are down dramatically


Many of these maladies are begun during early developmental stages where even low levels of chemical exposure can create changes that tick like time bombs into the future, presenting as cancers, diabetes, infertility, cardiovascular or Parkinson’s disease years later.

While Europe and Canada require chemicals to be proven safe before they are used commercially, here in the United States we stumble toward our own silent spring — waiting for chemicals to be proven unsafe by the trail of death, disease and loss that they leave behind them. The legacy of the this wait- and -weep gamble with lead, asbestos, PCB’s and mercury continues to haunt our health and economy decades after the harm was discovered.

If we are to protect our children, our schools must take seven steps to create healthy environments for students.

  1. Remove or remediate all known chemical and hazardous materials in schools.
    This seems obvious, but schools throughout the country fail to properly remediate lead paint, lead in water, asbestos (insulation around pipes, boilers) PCB’s (pre 1979 ballasts for florescent lighting) mercury (glass thermometers and science lab materials) and carbon monoxide (from mechanical systems and vehicle exhaust).
  2. Revise purchasing lists to allow only healthy cleaning, pest management and materials to be purchased by schools.
    Require construction and cleaning contractors to only purchase and use these approved products.
  3. Create small teams at schools to learn and carry out the Tools for Schools and/or Healthy Seat programs by the EPA.
    These teams inspect schools for moisture, pests, dust, mold, and poor ventilation and attempt to find solutions before they become health issues for students or expensive remediation issues for the district.
    You can learn more at :
  4. Educate children and parents on creating healthy homes with information on how to reduce lead, chemical, mold and hazardous materials in the home.
    Children spend more time at home than at school; lowering their exposure at home is more important than lowering it at school.
  5. Bring back physical activity at schools.
    Creating a healthy mix of recess, physical education, dance and five minute movement breaks between classroom activities can help students focus better on their work, reduce discipline problems and lead to stronger, healthier kids.
  6. Track asthma absences.
    Schools do report asthma events that occur on campus, but often fail to track whether absences from school are due to asthma. This information could help schools understand the scope of the problem, provide a baseline to judge indoor air quality and education efforts and provide early indications of problems that should be addressed.
  7. Educate teachers on creating and maintaining a healthy classroom environment.
    Often teachers don’t understand how their actions can create health problems.
    Fumes from science, shop and art classes, mold from overwatered plants, stacks of papers that block ventilation, food that attracts pests can all create asthma triggers.
    Chemicals stored under sinks can present poisoning hazards.

These are simple, proven and cost effective means of protecting our children and improving their ability to learn and grow. Let’s start today.


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Try This vol.1

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Here is something that I hope that we will try.

First, create a chart of objectives, actions and goals with timelines. What you want to happen and when.
Make each of these specific to one day and one kid. Something that you could take a picture of when it happens.

Like Brenda, a 4th grader won’t have an asthma attack at school any time after Jan 4th, 2013.
Or after school renovations on May 16th, 2012 Johnny Marx in 1st grade can stay all day at school instead of having to wait for his mother to leave work and pick him up because school was canceled for excessive heat.
Or Latasha in kindergarten reading her first new book as the reading aid helps her to sound out the long words.

Both the reading aid and the book were funded with energy savings that the school created.
Keep those kids in your head every day.
Greet them in the morning when you wake up.
Go to bed thinking of them.
They should be sitting on your lap and riding on your shoulders.
So when someone in the meeting explains that this is going to take a few years or we just don’t have the resources for this, you will be their voice.

And you will be there to remind everyone that NOW is a very good time to change the world for these kids.