May 25-28 Heartwood Forest Council in SWPA

The 28th Annual Heartwood Forest Council: "Edge Effects" will come to southwestern Pennsylvania! This year activists from across the Heartwood Region will gather at Camp Crestfield, just outside the town of Slippery Rock, PA in Butler County.  In addition to this being where the Coalfields meet Gasland, this is the site of the Glacial Moraine in PA. 

This region is on the edge of a new industrial revolution, with the threat of a massive buildout of the petrochemical industry looming like a storm, as the industries responsible for polluting the Gulf of Mexico seek to relocate in the headwaters of the Ohio and Allegheny River valleys, the heart of the new Gas Expansion empire.  

The program this year will focus on the issues surrounding the Shell ethane-cracker plant in Beaver, PA and the associated pipeline buildout that is currently in the permitting phases.  From the JKLM frackwater treatment plant in Coudersport, PA, 50 miles upriver from the Seneca lands just across the NY state line, to the Appalachian Gathering Station on the Ohio River in southern West Virginia, this tri-state region is on the edge of a major transformation.  The wave of fracking wells and injection wells is but a precursor to a full-scale relocation of these massive petrochemical facilites, from the Gulf Coast to the upper Ohio River valley.  Creatures on the edge of extinction, people on the edge of society, continue to be pushed over the edge by this relentless corporate expansion driven by fossil fuels and plastic waste.

This year, Heartwood is planning our 28th annual Forest Council to provide a forum for a Grassroots Tri-State Summit, an opportunity to organize on a multistate level to face this new threat to our forests and communities.  This industrial onslaught may be unprecedented in scale, but the Heartwood model of real-time, on the ground (and in the forest!) person-to-person network building and grassroots organizing remains our strongest and most versatile tool in our activist tool box. See our website for a full schedule of workshops and speakers. You can come for just one day, or the whole weekend, we even have a "dinner and a show" package for just our Saturday evening Keynote speaker, Karen Coulter from the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project (Oregon!), followed by Pittsburgh-based musical talent from Social Justice Disco featuring Phat Man Dee and Liz Berlin, followed by Chai Baba! 

Friday at 3 p.m. to Monday at 1:30 at Crestfield Camp & Conference Center (195 Taggart Road, Slippery Rock, PA 16057).  For more information and online registration, go to   Heartwood takes every measure to make this event affordable to even the most dedicated lowbagger activist.  Average registration costs about $125, depending on what sleeping arrangements you choose.  Most folks camp in tents, but there are cabin-bunks available too. 

Questions? contact Matt or Tabitha at

May 24: Climate Mitigation & Adaptation class

Prepared Pittsburgh: Climate Change, Climate Solutions PGH

This is the first Prepared Pittsburgh: Climate Change, Climate Solutions class by the City of Pittsburgh. The class will empower people with the knowledge to take meaningful climate action so that we can mitigate the worst local impacts of the climate change: more hot days, asthma and allergies, ticks, torrential rains, flooding, landslides, increasing food prices. Participants will learn how they can help the City of Pittsburgh reach its 2030 goals.

Representatives from different climate solution organizations are invited to present their “climate action tools” to the residents. 

If you are interested in bringing this class -or other Prepared Pittsburgh classes- to your neighborhood, please fill out the Prep PGH Class Request Form here:

6-7:30 p.m. at the Environmental Charter School in Regent Square (829 Milton St., 15218).  Free, but registration is required.  
 Agenda, links, and and online registration can be found on the Facebook event page.

May 22, 23: Where Plastic Ends Up

Where Plastic Ends Up -- An International Perspective on Plastics

Southwestern Pennsylvania is quickly becoming a petrochemical hub, where fracked gas will provide raw material for plastics.  Americans use plastic in everything from medical supplies to car parts to grocery bags.  And when we throw it away, it ends up somewhere -- as we saw at the 60th Sustainability Salon (Jan 2017), and here in the National Geographic series Planet or Plastics.
Our international visitors have traveled from the Philippines and India to share their story.  Myrna Dominguez is a strong voice for the fisherfolk community in the Philippines on plastic pollution impacts.  She is with the national fisherfolk organization PANGISDA.  Lakshmi Narayanan is the co-founder of an Indian waste pickers’ union and cooperative (Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), who has dedicated her professional life to improving working conditions for low-caste women.  Jed Aledago is the social media director for the Break Free From Plastic movement.  He lives and works in Manilla, Philippines.

Come hear them this week -- there will be two different events, in Sewickley and the Hill District -- details below.  Parking available, and refreshments will be served.  Free and open to the public, but please register by calling 412-261-4284 or clicking on one of the links below. 

Sponsored by The League of Women Voters, the Breathe Project, Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community, Center for Coalfield Justice, Earthworks and #breakfreefromplastic

Tuesday, May 22nd                                                           Wednesday May 23rd
    Sewickley Public Library                                  Energy Innovation Center
    7:00pm-8:45pm                                                  5:30pm-8:30pm
    500 Thorn Street Sewickley, PA 15143              143 Bedford Ave, PGH 15219 
RSVP here For May 22                                                    RSVP here for May 23

May 22: Urban Agriculture talk in Monroeville

Urban Agriculture -- how, and why

Please join planetary scientist, studio artist and science/environmental educator Maren Cooke for a presentation about urban agriculture and the role it can play as we work to build a sustainable future for our planet. Maren operates an urban microfarm, supplying organic produce to a restaurant and garden plants to the surrounding community, and has been rebuilding her family’s home as a demonstration for green building and green living. She also serves on the board of the Group Against Smog & Pollution (GASP), maintains an online listing of environmental and social justice events and resources called MarensList, and organizes and hosts Sustainability Salons, a monthly environmental education forum and community gathering. Maren has helped create science curricula and train teachers, and has taught physics, astronomy, planetary science, environmental science, environmental sociology, grassroots organizing, financial literacy, green building, organic gardening, permaculture and beekeeping to people of all ages, from all walks of life and in several different countries.

By special request, Maren will include a bit on last year's solar eclipse.  

May 22: Maren on urban ag

May 22 & 23: Where Plastic Ends Up

Where Plastic Ends Up - An International Perspective On Plastics  
Join the League of Women Voters for two unique opportunities to hear about what happens to the plastics we make and throw away from an international delegation. 

International Plastics Delegation Tour featuring:
Jed Alegado - Break Free from Plastic, Manilla
Lakshmi Narayan - Waste Pickers Union, India
Myrna Dominguez - PANGISDA (Fishing organization), Philippines

Registration in advance preferred.  Free and open to the public, but walk-ins also welcome.

Tuesday May 22, 7-8:45 p.m. at the Sewickley Public Library (500 Thorn St. Sewickley, 15143)
 (register here)
Wednesday May 23, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Energy Innovation Center (1435 Bedford Avenue, 15219).
(register here)

Event Co-sponsors:
Allegheny County Clean Air Now (ACCAN)
Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community (BCMAC)
The BREATHE Project
Center for Coalfield Justice
Communities First Sewickley
League of Women Voters of PA

The International Plastics Delegation Tour has been organized by Earthworks.

May 18: Just Eat It screening

We all love food. As a society, we devour countless cooking shows, culinary magazines and foodie blogs. So how could we possibly be throwing nearly 50% of it in the trash?

Filmmakers and food lovers Jen and Grant dive into the issue of waste — from farm, through retail, and all the way to the back of their own fridge.  After catching a glimpse of the billions of dollars of good food that is tossed each year in North America, they pledge to quit grocery shopping cold turkey and survive only on foods that would otherwise be thrown away.   In a nation where one in 10 people is food insecure, the images they capture of squandered groceries are both shocking and strangely compelling.  But as Grant's addictive personality turns full tilt towards food rescue, the 'thrill of the find' has unexpected consequences.

Featuring interviews with TED lecturer, author and activist Tristram Stuart and acclaimed author Jonathan Bloom, Just Eat It! looks at our systematic obsession with expiration dates, perfect produce and portion sizes, and reveals the core of this seemingly insignificant issue that is having devastating consequences around the globe.  Just Eat It! brings farmers, retailers, inspiring organizations and consumers to the table in a cinematic story that is equal parts education and delicious entertainment.

Post-film discussion will be led by Hana Uman, senior program manager at 412 Food Rescue.  Hana leads 412 Food Rescue's special projects, including Hidden Harvest, Ugly CSA and Food Education. Hana received her M.A. in food studies from Chatham University, concentrating in food politics, and was the recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Environmental Fellowship and the Falk Summer Sustainability Fellowship.  She has a strong passion for food and environmental justice and her work has reflected this passion through organizations including the Chatham Univeristy Office of Sustainability, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh and the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry.  Hana received her B.A. in media arts and design from James Madison University and enjoys spending her time adventuring in the outdoors, gardening, vegetarian cooking, biking and dancing.

7-9 p.m. in Botany Hall (the small grand building around to the left of the main Conservatory as viewed from the road.  Tickets are required to attend the screening and are free with regular admission to Phipps.  Pick up your free tickets in Phipps' Welcome Center at 5:30 p.m. or later on Fri., May 18. Phipps is open until 10 p.m. every Friday.  Learn more about the Phipps environmental film series and other programs here

May 12: Sustainability Salon on the Petrochemical Buildout

What's going on down the Ohio (often upwind from Pittsburgh), and how will it affect our region?  Many Pittsburghers (far from all) have heard about the "cracker plant" being built in Beaver County -- it's no biscuit factory, but rather a huge petrochemical facility that will take ethane separated out from the "wet gas" of the Marcellus and "crack" the molecules into ethylene -- the output will be vast quantities of polyethylene pellets for the plastics industry (about which we talked in detail at the 60th salon last year).  This plant would set Pittsburgh's progress in air quality back decades (plus VOCs!), negate the carbon-reduction goals of the city, and require an additional thousand fracked gas wells as well as a hazardous pipeline to bring the ethane to the plant -- and is just the first of several such facilities planned for our region.  The area where this industry is active in Louisiana is called Cancer Alley...  we can't let that happen again!  At the 76th Sustainability Salon, we'll learn more about the petrochemical buildout and what can still be done about it.   (photo:  Secl/Wikicommons)

Matt Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project and a central figure in the fight to rein in this mad rush to turn shale gas into money for corporations and pollution for people, will bring us up to date on the situation with the cracker plant, the regulatory framework, and the fossil incursions closer and closer to the city, and will highlight ways that you can get involved.  Terrie Baumgardner, Beaver County rep for the Clean Air Council and a member of the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community (BC-MAC), is on the front lines near the Potter Township construction site and will talk about the risks of the proposed Falcon pipeline, including its passage through the water supply for 30,000 people, and a different vision for Beaver County.  Because of the petrochemical buildout, the annual Heartwood gathering will take place near Pittsburgh, and Matt Peters -- Heartwood co-founder and local forest activist, will fill us in on the upcoming Heartwood Forest Council -- see if you can make it for some multi-region strategizing!  Local activist, educator, and filmmaker Mark Dixon has been helping to unite the movement using social media, with the NoPetroPA blog and Facebook groups NoPetroPA and Submission Mission -- relaying ongoing developments,  live streaming talks and hearings, encouraging others to speak out, and coordinating a crowdfunded citizen science air monitoring project.  Mark will talk about all these efforts, loop new folks in, and share some videos of inspiring citizen testimony at recent hearings.  We'll also discuss the ongoing formation of study groups about air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania (under the auspices of the Clean Air Council) known as Groups of Ten.

For a vivid look at the human health impact of large polluting facilities, consider attending the ACCAN community meeting this Thursday -- researchers will share their findings about health outcomes before and after the Shenango Coke Works shut down.  Also, at the March salon we watched a great film on food waste after supper -- in case you missed it, another local screening is coming up.  And looking ahead into June, another consequence of Pittsburgh's air quality issues even before adding a cracker plant or three, GASP and a trio of researchers will be Making the Connection between air pollution and allergy symptoms.  More events can be found on MarensList, as always.  

Salons run 3-10 p.m. at Maren's house in Squirrel Hill.  Please don't arrive before 3 p.m.  We will start the program right around 4pm, 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 with salon in the subject line 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 a trail map 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 (see below), 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, it's a mini-conference, it's a venue for discussion and debate about important environmental issues, it's a house party with an environmental theme.  We usually have featured speakers on various aspects of a particular topic, interspersed with stimulating conversation, lively debate, delectable potluck food and drink, and music-making through the evening.
Past topics have included climate/nature/peoplefracking, health, & actionglobalizationecological ethicscommunity inclusionair quality monitoringinformal gatherings that turn out to have lots of speakersgetting STEM into Congresskeeping Pittsburgh's water publicShell's planned petrochemical plantvisualizing air quality, the City of Pittsburgh's sustainability initiativesfossil energy infrastructure, getting money out of politicscommunity solar power and the Solarize Allegheny program, the Paris climate negotiations (beforeduring, and after), air quality (again, with news on the autism connection), 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 actionMarcellus shale development and community rightsgreen buildingair qualityhealth care, more solar powertrees and park stewardshipalternative energy and climate policyregional watershed issues, fantastic film screenings and discussions (often led by filmmakers) over the winter with films on Food SystemsClimate Adaptation and MitigationPlastic Paradise, Rachel Carson and the Power Of One VoiceTriple Divide on fracking, You've Been Trumped and A Dangerous GameA Fierce Green FireSustainability Pioneersfilms on consumptionLiving DownstreamBidder 70YERTGas Rush Stories, and foodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodand 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:  wine, hard or sweet cider (the latter we can mull if you like), juice, tea, whatever.  The more the merrier!  Local fare is always particularly welcome, whether homemade or boughten.  Dishes containing meat or dairy are fine, though if it isn't really obvious please make a note of it.  We refill a bunch of growlers at East End and provide a big batch of mostly-homegrown pesto (cheesy and vegan), and other things as needed.  More details will come after you RSVP (hint, hint!). 

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 green and 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. 

May 10: Get the Lead Out

Join Women for a Healthy Environment and the Highmark Foundation for a  one-day conference focused on the single issue of lead.  Lead is a neurotoxin and it has been determined by science that no amount of lead exposure should be considered safe. The healthy communities conference will seek to identify ways that communities can work together to address the hazard of lead in homes, schools and early learning centers.  The day-long event will feature national experts on the issue and interactive working groups will be solutions oriented.  The conference will be an opportunity to listen, learn and make your voice heard.  

Speakers include

Bruce Lanphear, MD, MPH Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Frasier University
Dr. Pamela Pugh, DrPH, Chief Public Health Advisor, Flint, Michigan 
Carolyn Cass, PA Department of Health
Jennifer ChavezStaff Attorney, EarthJustice
Karen Hacker, MD, MPH, DirectorAllegheny County Health Department
Scott Hamelink, Lansing Board of Water and Light, Lansing, MI
Jeffrey Howard, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University
David Jacobs, PhD, CIH, National Center for Healthy Housing
Elizabeth McDade, Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisioning, Rochester, NY
Janet Phoenix, MD, MPH, George Washington University
Michael SchockEPA Office of Research and Development Scientist
Eric Zgodzinski, MPH, Toledo Lucas County Health Department
Dan B. FrankelPA House of Representatives
An Lewis, Executive Director, Steel Rivers Council of Governments, Pittsburgh, PA

8:30-4 at the Westin Convention Center (1000 Penn Ave, 15222).  Admission $15-250.  For more information and to register, please go here

May 10: Shenango health impacts

ACCAN Community Meeting – Air Quality Now and Then

The closing of the Shenango Coke Works provides valuable information about the health impact of this sort of facility.  

Join ACCAN and the Breathe Project to hear the results of the retrospective studies completed by the Allegheny County Health Dept. (ACHD) by Dr. Deborah Gentile and county epidemiologist LuAnn Brink.  The studies conducted by ACHD looked at pollution levels and health outcomes before and after the closing of the Shenango Coke Works plant.  Dr. Gentile will also discuss the prevalence of asthma among Northgate’s elementary school students before and after the plant’s closure.  There will be an opportunity for discussion and questions.

6-8 p.m. at the Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon (7501 Church Avenue, 15202).


May 10: Songs of Protest and the Working Class

The Battle of Homestead Foundation presents a free concert of protest songs at the Pump House.  Mike Stout, Jason Kendall, and Tom Breiding will make the rafters echo!

7 p.m. at the historic Pump House (800 Waterfront Drive, 15130).