By Joanna D. Underwood, Chair

Last week’s milestone marches in Washington DC, New York and in cities across the country and world expressed the anxieties of millions about what the Trump Administration might do. Will it quash environmental regulation? Support unconstrained oil and gas drilling?  Withdraw from global climate change initiatives?

Already the climate change page has been removed from the White House website, EPA grant and contract funds have been frozen, agency personnel are forbidden to use social media, and executive orders were signed to expedite approval of two controversial oil pipelines – Keystone XL and Dakota Access.

But as EV President Matt Tomich wrote recently in GreenBiz, it’s unlikely the Trump administration will derail rapid growth of renewables, which is driven more now by market forces than by government fiat. “Progress on renewables is picking up speed and the market momentum behind them is strong,” Matt argues. “They still need policy incentives and all the impetus clean energy advocates can give them. But they will continue to make progress — and money — regardless of who makes or executes energy policy in Washington.”

At this point, a vital question is not just what the Trump administration is going to do about climate change, but what we’re going to do.  

Our earth’s climate is warming rapidly. 2016 was the hottest year since scientists began record keeping in the 1880s. At this point, a vital question is not just what the Trump administration is going to do about climate change, but what we’re going to do.  Opportunities abound for us to make a difference on many local fronts.

Right now you can take effective action in your community to help combat one of the major sources of greenhouse gases: decomposing food and other organic wastes. Organic wastes spew an astonishing 11.5 million tons of methane (a greenhouse gas 25-36 times more potent than CO2) into the air every year. That’s 25 times more methane than is generated by all fossil natural gas facilities. Here are five steps you can take now:

  1. Organic waste reduction begins at home. You can cut yours significantly with simple, easy-to-adopt practices, such as buying just the food you need, eating leftovers or turning them into soup.
  2. Does your town, city or state have food redistribution programs? They should. 40% of food produced in the US today is thrown away. Redistribution ensures that usable food goes to those who need it instead of rotting in a landfill and causing climate impacts. Educate your elected officials about food banks and programs for food distribution. See The USDA’s Food Waste Recovery page. To find your closest site, visit: feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank.
  1. Is food waste in your community or city going to landfills? Inedible food and other organics are valuable energy resources, and you can help harness them. You can let your local leaders know that dozens of towns and cities in the US are collecting food waste (and organics from local factories or farms) separately, putting them in tanks called “anaerobic digesters” and making two valuable products. One is biogas – a clean, renewable, carbon-free energy or fuel source that can displace fossil fuels. The other is “digestate” – the nutrient rich liquids and solids that remain after biogas is extracted, which can be used as soil amendments or fertilizer. Refined biogas fuel is so clean that vehicles powered by it will meet the ambitious global climate goals (cutting greenhouse gases 80% by 2050) today. For an easy-to-read manual on how communities can explore their local waste potential and for case studies of those who are tapping their waste streams now to produce fuel, see EV’s website: (http://energy-vision.org/resources/project-profiles/ and http://energy-vision.org/ev-publications/EV-RNG-Community-Guide.pdf).
  1. Are the organics generated by schools or colleges near you just thrown away? You can change that. Students, faculty, staff and administrators can study the organic wastes on their campuses, develop strategies for collecting them, and then explore the best beneficial uses: an on-campus compost project, diversion to a “micro-digester” or contributing them to a larger municipal organics collection program. Energy Vision is guiding such an initiative at Hunter College in New York City. The student-led “Food Waste Erased” campaign has already found that a quarter of a ton of food waste is generated on campus each week!
  1. Does your town, city or state have policies promoting food redistribution directly, or organics recycling in general? Both deserve to be promoted. Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin and New York, and states including Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and California have already implemented overall organics recycling requirements. More are contemplating making the move. Your city or state can too.

You can make a difference on all these fronts and many others. In fact, the only way propositions like the ones above will advance and scale up is if people like you move them forward. It has always been true that decentralized movements – not governments or treaty regimes – are the main leaders of real social and environmental change. Now is the time for you to lead.

But don’t do it alone. Find partners. The organizations working on these issues need you now more than ever, and America needs them. Whatever the new administration does or doesn’t do, our environmental and climate future is in our own hands, as it always was. As Paul Hawken said in Blessed Unrest:The ‘Help Wanted’ signs are everywhere. All people and institutions including commerce, governments, schools, churches and cities, need to learn from life and reimagine the world from the bottom up, based on the first principles of justice and ecology.”

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