Aug 29: Stop Fracking Near Schools march and rally

Children should be safe in their schools.  Join with other concerned individuals willing to stand up to protect school children from the hazards of nearby gas drilling and related activity.  Come and be among “the adults in the room” to protest the placement of this toxic and potentially dangerous industrial activity near our schools.  

Where: March begins at Butler Jr. High (former Middle School), 225 East North St., Butler, PA 16001 and will end with rally at 1:00 PM in Diamond Park, 277-317 S Main St., Butler, PA 16001 (here's a map).

Aug 26: Solarize Squirrel Hill Kickoff Workshop

Join Solarize Allegheny, SmartPower, the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, solar installers, and local solar homeowners to learn about how and why to go solar!

5:30-7:30 in the Community Room of the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library.

“We don’t get enough sun in Western PA for solar power.”   That is something we’ve heard over and over, but it’s just not true.  There are over 200 solar homeowners in Allegheny County who are happy to be generating all or part of their electrical needs right now.  In fact, Allegheny County gets more sunlight than Germany, the nation with the most solar generating capacity. 

The earth receives thousands of times the energy from the sun than all the energy used by humans.  There’s a cartoon that shows a couple of people looking down a hole in the earth under a very bright sun saying, “There must be energy down there somewhere!”  When will we realize that the sun is our most abundant power source?  Solar panels are quiet, reliable, proven technology. 

Imagine generating your own electricity right on your roof, or in your yard!  No charge from the electric company, no distribution losses, no pollution. Unfortunately Pittsburgh is right downwind from many power plants on the Ohio River in West Virginia and Ohio.  Heard the talk about the harmful effects of air pollution?  A lot of that impact comes from those power plants.  This is another reason that our region is a great fit for solar.  Even though we might not have as much sunshine as Arizona, the electricity generation around here is mostly from coal, and the population density is much higher.   So a great many health problems can be avoided by going solar in our region -- and you’ll be lessening your carbon footprint, to boot.

Another comment we hear often is that solar panels are too expensive.  However, the price has come down tremendously in recent years – now they can be installed on your home for less than $4.00 a watt.   That can make the payback period for a typical homeowner about 8 to 11 years.   If the initial cost, let’s say around $20,000, is too daunting then think about financing.  It’s possible that the monthly payment will be less than your old electric bill.

One of the least expensive ways to go is to remain “grid-tied.”  That eliminates the need for costly batteries because you can use power from the grid as needed.  But when the sun is up, you get to use your own power first -- and if there is any excess then you send it out on the grid for others to use.  Duquesne Light reads your meter each month just like before, but if there is any excess generation they send you a check once a year for the “net” surplus. 

While we’re thinking about money, did you know there is a 30% federal tax credit for any system installed?  That credit is set to expire at the end of 2016, but for now you can deduct 30% of the cost of a system from your federal taxes you owe when you file.   That makes a $20,000 system cost you only $14,000. 

So what does one need to have for successful solar installation?  A roof or yard with good sun exposure (ideally facing generally south), with little shading from trees or surrounding buildings.   A good roof is also important;  the panels have a life of 25 or more years so you don’t want to put them on a roof that will need to be replaced soon.

The other thing you need is a good installer and that’s where Solarize Allegheny/Solarize Squirrel Hill makes it simple for you.  Solarize Allegheny is a campaign funded by The Heinz Endowments and managed by a non-profit organization called SmartPower.   Solarize Allegheny has been used successfully by Point Breeze homeowners and other neighborhoods in the County.    By going to you can get free quotes from at least two local, pre-screened and qualified installers.  They can tell you if your home is a good candidate for solar panels, provide options and prices, and if you choose to proceed, they do all the work from obtaining permits to doing the installation and arranging for inspections.  It’s simple and affordable.

The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition is leading the effort to solarize Squirrel Hill right now.  We will be holding workshops, solar tours, and other functions to help you out.  Go to  for a schedule of events and more information.

                        This article written by your SHUC Solarize committee

Aug 22: Sustainability Salon on Air Quality and the Autism Connection

The 43rd Putting Down Roots Sustainability Salon & Sing will take place on Saturday, August 22nd.  We'll learn about the Mom's Clean Air Force from local leader Aviva Diamond, and the new group Allegheny County Clean Air Now from co-founder Thaddeus Popovich.  We'll hear from GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini on what the Group Against Smog & Pollution has been up to, as ever working hard to help clear the air in Pittsburgh and across the region.  And we'll continue GASP's series Making The Connection, with University of Pittsburgh epidemiologist Evelyn Talbott -- who has demonstrated an association between children's exposure to fine particulate pollution and their risk of autism spectrum disorders.

The 44th Sustainability Salon on September 26th will relate to the upcoming COP21 climate summit in Paris and will feature Pittsburgh emissary Mark Dixon and other local climate leaders;  check back on MarensList for updates.  Please always RSVP if you might come to any of our events...  and read on for important information:  

Salons run 3-10 p.m. at Maren's house in Squirrel Hill.  Please don't arrive before 3 p.m.  We usually aim to start the program sometime around 4, after folks have had a chance to meet, mingle, and tour around an interesting and productive urban permaculture site.   Please email me (at maren dot cooke at gmail dot com) with salon in the Subject line to RSVP (yes or maybe), or click on the link in your EventBrite invitation (if you're not already on my list, please email me to be added!).  Please RSVP each time -- it helps greatly in several ways.  Among other things, attendance varies widely, and these events have been so successful that we need to begin limiting attendance.  So RSVP early if you can, to ensure your participation!  The free virtual "tickets" on Eventbrite may run out (you don't need to print any tickets, by the way, just be on the list).  Also, weather and such can be unpredictable and it's good to know who to contact if there's a change -- and I'll send directions and/or a trail map if you need 'em on Friday or Saturday.  Be sure to include salon in the Subject line, as I receive a ridiculous amount of email every day.  And if you're new, please let me know how you heard about the Salons!
Bring food and/or drink to share if you can, along with musical instruments if you play.  Check back on MarensList (where you can find information on all sorts of environmental and social justice events) for updates.  And if you aren't yet on my list, if you're interested in Sustainability Salons (and our occasional house concert, simply contact me and I'll put you on my email list.  

As always, I'll be sending out directions and such, and any late-breaking info, to all the RSVP'd folks by the morning of the salon if not before.  So if you don't have it yet, please be patient!  One of these days I'll streamline this process a bit, but for now it takes a while to to dot all my i's and cross all my t's.  (All the extraneous requests for the address don't help;  I have lots of other stuff I send out with it, but don't like to let them go unanswered so it adds hours to my prep time.  If you RSVP properly (see above), you should get the info by the morning of the salon!)
For the uninitiated, a Sustainability Salon is an educational forum;  a venue for discussion and debate about important environmental issues;  a house party with an environmental theme.  We usually have featured speakers on various aspects of a topic, interspersed with stimulating conversation, lively debate, delectable potluck food and drink, and music-making through the evening.

Past topics have included reuse (of things and substances), neighborhood-scale food systems, other forms of green community revitalizationsolar powerclimate changeenvironmental art, environmental education (Part I & Part II), community mapping projectsenvironmental journalismgrassroots actioncommunity solar powerMarcellus shale development and community rightsgreen buildingair qualityhealth care, more solar powertrees and park stewardshipalternative energy and climate policy, regional watershed issues, fantastic film screenings and discussions (led by filmmakers) over the winter with Rachel Carson and the Power Of One VoiceSustainability Pioneersfilms on consumptionLiving DownstreamBidder 70YERTGas Rush Stories, and foodfoodfoodfoodfoodfood, and more food (a recurrent theme;  with California running out of water, we'd better gear up to produce a lot more of our own!).

Quite a few people have asked me what sorts of food to bring -- and my answer, as always, is whatever inspires you;  I believe in the "luck" part of potlucks.  Tasty noshings for the afternoon, hearty main dishes or scrumptious salads and sides for dinner, baked goods from biscuits and breads to brownies or baklava -- and/or beverages of any kind:  wine, beer, hard or sweet cider (the latter we can mull if you like), juice, tea, whatever (I've got the kombucha covered, though it's always fun to compare).  The more the merrier!  Local fare is always particularly welcome, whether homegrown or boughten.  Dishes containing meat or dairy are fine, though if it isn't really obvious please make a note of it.  

If you haven't been here before, you may enjoy checking out our roof garden and solar installation (and now apiary!) as well as the many other interesting things around our place.  

And if you like to make music or listen to homemade music, don't forget the evening sing -- we typically run the gamut from Irish fiddle tunes to protest songs to the Beatles, and a fun time is had by all.  Bring instruments if you play, and/or pick up one of ours.  Conversations will continue through the evening, as well. 

Aug 22: Pittsburgh VegFest

All of the city's best veg food, vendors, art, crafts, live music and non-profit animal groups will be on hand.

11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Allegheny Commons East  (255 E Ohio St, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15212).  
Free and open to the public;  you can RSVP via Facebook.

Aug 21-30: BikeFest

Join Bike Pittsburgh for the eleventh annual BikeFest, a community celebration of all-things-bicycling in Pittsburgh.  Too many rides and other events to list here, starting with the kickoff dance party held at Spirit Lodge in Lawrenceville and culminating with PedalPGH -- check out the BikeFest web page for an event listing and more info!

Aug 8: Bike Around the Bomb

BIKE AROUND THE BOMB:  A bike ride to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons.  This 20km bike ride traces the thermal blast radius of a small nuclear weapon.  On the 70th anniversary of  the bombing of Nagasaki, this ride will encompass the University of Pittsburgh, South Side, Downtown, Lawrenceville, & the North Side.  This area represents a zone of devastation, overwhelming any possible humanitarian relief.  We ride in solidarity with others around the world to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons.

Bring a bike!  Bring a friend!

9:30am at Schenley Plaza.   Please register at  All ages & abilities welcome!   Co-sponsored by Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace, and Global Zero.


Aug 1: Fundraiser for future Senator Joe Sestak

Thanks to Fred Kraybill for this one.
This spring, I had the pleasure of joining Admiral Joe Sestak for a couple of miles of his epic walk across Pennsylvania.  Our conversations on the road and elsewhere, and seeing him speak and take questions from fellow Pittsburghers, have left me with an impression of commitment, passion, ethics, statesmanship, and progressive values.
In 2010 I made phone calls, and canvassed for Joe on doorsteps in parts of Pittsburgh I didn't know existed.  In the end, he narrowly lost to Republican Pat Toomey, and we've all seen where that has led us (see below for informative links).  This time, we're upping our game:  in order to give more local folks a chance to meet and talk with Joe, and to help line his coffers for the long road still ahead, Neil and I are hosting a fundraiser!

Please join us to meet and support Joe Sestak in his campaign to be the next U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.  A former Navy Admiral and U.S. Congressman, Joe kicked off his Senate campaign by walking 422 miles across the Commonwealth, from Philadelphia to the Ohio border.  At each stop, he spoke at length with local residents about issues affecting Pennsylvanians, and heard their concerns.  Come and sit with us to hear what Joe has learned, not just from the walk, but also from his vast experience as he lays out what he will stand for in the U.S. Senate so that we may hold him accountable -- as put forward in his book, Walking in Your Shoes to Restore the American Dream.

4:30 at Neil & Maren's house in Frick Park.  All the details and online RSVP are on the official invitation.  Minimum donation is $100;  attendees can either contribute online or bring a check to the event.  After you RSVP, you'll receive an email with directions and other information.  

If you need any further convincing about Joe's merits, here are a bio, a comparison of Sestak's and Toomey's careers,  a quick comparison of their records on a few key issues, and more detailed contrast sheets on a whole host of topics.
Host Committee

Maren Cooke & Neil Donahue, PhDs
Hazel & Joseph Alan Cope
  Zelda Curtiss, Esq.  
  Patricia DeMarco, PhD
  David Eibling, MD
  Dorcas Evans-Miller
  Ron Gaydos & Eva Hui
  Walter Goldburg, PhD
  Barb & Dave Grover
  Joe & Wanda Guthrie
Jonathan Harris
  Chris Horwitz & Pamela Murray 
  Fred Kraybill
 Marc & Christine Mondor, AIAs
  Ken Regal & Judith Ruszkowski
    Abby Resnick, MA & Roger Day, ScD
    Briget Shields
    Sam Taylor, PhD & Michael Douglas Henderson
    Tom & Judy Thompson

  Bruce Wilder, MD