Jan 27: Civic Engagement and Democracy workshop

Young Voices for the Planet is a series of short films about activist kids, making a difference in their communities and in the world.  Topics range from solar panels to sea level rise, plastic straws to planting trees, oil spills to environmental racism.  YVFP welcomes educators of all backgrounds to learn how to empower the next generation of environmental stewards. Using these amazing films and the Civic Engagement and Democracy curriculum as resources, this inspiring workshop addresses climate change education through real-life youth success stories tackling local Pittsburgh environmental issues. We will show you how to bring our A.C.T.I.O.N Plan to life in your own classroom and community!
9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at LaRoche College (9000 Babcock Blvd, 15237). Registration $15; please register online here.  For any questions, please contact Kathryn Silvis at LaRoche (412) 536-1297 or Kimberly Gutzler at YVPF (202)476-9141.   Facilitation, credits, and refreshments provided by Allegheny Land Trust.

Teaching Kids to Protect Their Future & Save the Planet!

Young people are concerned about many issues and want to make a difference. Teachers are asking what they can do to help empower students.  

When young people DO speak out, their voices have power!  At the COP24 climate talks, the voice most covered by the media was that of Swedish 15-year-old Greta Thunberg addressing the UN“Our political leaders have failed us… We are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue on this road of madness.” 

In the next 6 months, Pittsburgh area institutions, partnering with Young Voices for the Planet and NY Times best-selling children’s book author and fillmmaker Lynne Cherry, will be hosting a series of workshops to help teachers help students to be heard.  The workshops provide ACT 48 CREDITS while teaching educators how to:
  1. help students overcome doom and gloom and be energized by hope 
  2. help students create an ACTION PLAN to address local Pittsburgh issues.

The workshops center around the true stories in the Young Voices for the Planet short documentaries featuring youth taking the lead, creating solutions, changing laws, changing minds and changing society.  These stories reach hearts and inspire action.

Featured speakers:  Lynne Cherry;  Heather Harr, League of Women’s Voters;  Jessica Kester, Allegheny Land Trust;  and local youth speaking out for their environment. 

Pittsburgh is the ideal place to launch this Civic Engagement and Democracy pilot workshop because the city’s sustainability goals serve as a guiding light for the rest of the country.

The workshops are sponsored by The Heinz Endowments and the Garden Club of Allegheny County.

To learn more about workshops and registration, please click here. 


Jan 26: Racial Justice Summit

The 21st Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit (formerly the Summit Against Racism), a multi-cultural initiative of the Black & White Reunion, will once again be hosted by the Metro-Urban Institute at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Panels and workshops 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Theological seminary (616 North Highland Ave., 15206).  The Opening Ceremony (Friday at 6:30) and Organizing Dance Party (Saturday at 7:30) will take place at the Union Project (801 North Negley Ave., 15206).  Lots more information and sliding-scale registration on the Eventbrite event page.

Update:  the Summit is at capacity.

Jan 24th: Railroad project briefing

Dirty, dangerous, and in your backyard
Norfolk Southern Railroad is accelerating plans to raise bridges in our communities in order to run longer double-stacked trains along a 20-mile route through 24 communities.
This is projected to increase pollution in these communities by the equivalent of 6,800 buses per day. Norfolk Southern has tried to push this through without any hearing from the community.
Come to this educational meeting with Matt Mehalik of the Breathe Project to learn more about what residents of the east end of Pittsburgh can do to fight to protect their health and their communities.
The climate connection:  Double-stacked trains free up other rail capacity to ship fossil fuels from the Marcellus shale.
6:30-8 p.m. at the Christian Church of Wilkinsburg, 785 Wallace Ave.

Jan 22: Co-opoly!

A fun evening at East End Brewery, connecting with your neighbors through collaborative play!
7-9 p.m.  at the East End Brewery (147 Julius St., 15206).  Sponsored by the Pittsburgh Chamber of Cooperatives.

Jan 21: UNITE Kickoff

Join Representative Summer Lee for the launch of a new political organization in Allegheny County!

We live in a time of endless possibilities! More and more working people from all walks of life are turning their hopes, anger, and vision into action. Together, we have won real victories in Allegheny County. We have come together - across race, across rivers - to fight for a better world. On January 21st, we take our next step forward.

UNITE is a new political action committee dedicated to building power in Allegheny County. Power for all workers; for people of color; for poor people; for parents and students; for women; for LGBTQ+ people; for people with disabilities. We must build a movement that welcomes everyone and excludes no one, a movement built by people organizing to cast off oppression, one victory at a time. We must ensure that candidates for local office who share our vision have an army behind them!

On January 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the work of building UNITE begins! If you believe that every person should have meaningful work, adequate income, world-class schools and healthcare, clean air and water, and safe and affordable neighborhoods - we hope you will build with us.

6-8 p.m. at Center of Life (161 Hazelwood Ave, 15207).  Food and Drink provided; ADA accessible; children and families welcome. Email unite.allegheny@gmail.com with requests for accommodation or interpretation.

Hosted by:
Representative Summer Lee, Ashley Comans, Brandi Fisher, Lisa Frank, Lauren Lynch Novakovic, Jonathan Mayo, Terri Minor Spencer, and Monica Ruiz.

Jan 20: What'sSUP Challenge kickoff

For 2019, we will attempt to slay the dragon of single-use plastic (SUP) ... in our own homes, where we shop, where we dine, and where we work.

We kick things off on Sunday, January 20 with an extravaganza (!) of facts, eco-products, action groups, and the documentary "Bag It!" We’ll work through February – with a Valentine’s Day tribute to our love for mother Earth –  through Lent and the Spring Equinox, right up to Earth Day in April. Our goal is to make this fun as well as effective. So bring your best ideas and get ready to roll up your sleeves.

Please join us for the kick-off of the What'sSUP Challenge on January 20:
(Pittsburgh Friends Meeting House in Oakland, 1:30 - 5:30)
  • Review what we know about just how unhealthy plastic is for our bodies, our oceans, and our climate.
  • Hear from Dianne Peterson about replacing disposable products with more sustainable choices. Shop from her selection of eco-products.
  • Form Action Teams of people pursuing similar goals. For example:
    • Quantify it! What's the SUP footprint of my home, my workplace, my church? How fast can it be reduced?
    • Challenge local grocery stores and restaurants to reduce their SUP
    • Coordinate a visit to a recycling plant and learn the limitations of recycling
    • Research on demand: A "Plastic Facts" team
  • Snacks
  • Starting around 4:00, watch the documentary "Bag It!"
Here's what you can do next.

The January 20 kick-off:

Jan 19: Sustainability Salon on Trains

Due to weather, we made some portions available via livestream.  
Also, here are additional documents on the hazards of extreme freight rail 

The video we opened with is here (kind of Who Killed the Electric Car, but for trains)

Aah, railroads!  An efficient means of transport, to be sure.  I still miss the great travel experiences while we were on sabbatical in Europe;  sadly American passenger rail is a poor shadow of that level of service (and out here in western Pennsylvania it's particularly inadequate.  But as with so many aspects of modern life, trains have been taken to extremes.  For the 84th Sustainability Salon (7 years!!!), we'll continue our annual Wintertime Film Series with a focus on trains traveling through Pittsburgh -- where they go, how many, how often, what's on them, what hazards they present, and changes being proposed by rail companies and by citizens.  
We're used to seeing coal cars passing through Pittsburgh, supplying power plants and coke ovens with piles of Appalachian carbon.  But these days, you're as likely to see black tanker cars filled with explosive fluids like Bakken crude oil -- dubbed "bomb trains" by those recalling disasters across North America, most famously a derailment in Lac-M├ęgantic, Quebec which cost 47 lives.  

Another relatively modern innovation is stacking shipping containers on top of each other for rail transport -- it caught on slowly, due to limited clearance under bridges and such, but is becoming more and more common.  Double-stacked trains require more clearance, and to my eye they look a bit like Dominoes traveling along on their edges.  One such train derailed in Pittsburgh's South Side just a few months ago -- luckily it was carrying mundane products, and residents and commuters (and other cargo shippers) were only inconvenienced.  Now Norfolk Southern has proposed raising 14 bridges (and adjacent streets) to allow for double-stacks to travel through much more densely-populated areas of Pittsburgh, including more sharp curves and a much higher proportion of low-income households.  Damage to underground infrastructure, ruined parkland, unusable driveways, and property takings by eminent domain are among the problems associated with the construction itself, and once trains start to roll -- up to four times as many as before, each twice as long, and often twice as tall -- the impact on local air quality and the potential for serious accidents are alarming, and residents are raising concerns.

Air quality issues, congestion, infrastructure challenges, and risk of accident also accompany the new CSX Intermodal Rail Terminal in McKees Rocks, where cranes transfer containers between trucks, trains, and barges -- sometimes pouring materials like fracking sand into hopper cars so that fine dust becomes airborne, resulting in health hazards for nearby communities.

These projects are all intended to service society's ever-growing appetite for energy and consumer products -- which we considered at last month's salon -- as well as the looming petrochemical buildout in our region.  Speakers will include Matthew Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project, on the air quality side of all of these issues;  North Side residents Barbara Telerico and Glenn Olcerst, who are raising awareness of Norfolk Southern's plans and hazardous cargoes in the city;  David Tessitorformer chair of the  SW PA Regional Planning Commission's Citizen Advisory Panel, on the prospects for and potential implications of extending light rail out to the airport;  and Michael Alexander, board member of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail -- which works to expand and improve rail service for our region.  And we'll share a couple of related short films, since it's wintertime!

Following the talks and discussion, and returning to our recurrent theme of plastics -- a major health and environmental issue as the petrochemical hub invades our region -- we’re initiating a monthly dinner-table conversation for those interested in how to avoid pervasive single-use plastics, and how advocacy may be able to limit regional impacts.  To explore this topic in much greater depth, consider attending the kick-off for the What's SUP challenge on Sunday afternoon!  

In February and March (the 23rds) we'll be talking about two different "nuclear surprises." Surprising, because many environmentalists would not have considered ever supporting nuclear, but might just do so after our discussions!  First, we'll look at advanced small-scale nuclear technologies that address most of the concerns about conventional nuclear:  they're incapable of melting down, and instead of burning fuel that has to be mined, transported, and refined, they burn existing nuclear waste.  And in the here and now, many nuclear power plants are failing to compete in the era of cheap gas, but if they're shut down then more gas plants will be built (which will be in operation for many decades, compounding climate damage).  Some states are considering keeping them online for a while while we transition to renewables -- another kind of "bridge fuel".  

WEATHER UPDATE:  As of Saturday afternoon, it's close to 40 degrees F and slated to hold fairly steady through the evening, so the precipitation during Salon hours will be all rain -- and the ground is warm(ish) so it shouldn't freeze to the roads here.  (I'm now convinced that NWS may be a bit slow on the uptake these days because of the government shutdown).  I think many people have been alarmed by the foot or more of snow slated to fall through much of the Northeast, and even in other parts of SW PA;  I've never seen anything like that for this location on any of the online forecasts.  The urban heat island may be a factor;  the northern and western suburbs might have more snow and less rain.  With that fact in mind, and with the help of Mark Dixon, we will be doing a video livestream (probably Facebook Live) -- check here for the link as 4pm approaches (or just check out #NoPetroPA on Facebook, which is generally a good thing to do anyway).  Because of the current milder forecast, I am discontinuing my previous recommendation not to drive down without 4WD.  I think it'll stay warm through the evening, and precip will remain in the form of rain here.  As always, please consider walking down anyway, as there are people with mobility issues who need to park close by.  Thank you!  

Salons run 3-10 p.m. at Maren's house in Squirrel Hill.  Please don't arrive before 3 p.m.  We generally start the program not long after 4pm, after folks have had a chance to meet, mingle, and tour around an interesting and productive urban permaculture site.  After the talks and discussion (hopefully by around 7:30), we break for a potluck supper.  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 consumption, plastics, and pollutionair qualitysolar poweryouth activismgreening businessgreenwashing, the petrochemical buildout in our region, 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. 

Jan 15: Petrochemical Invasion

The Petrochemical Invasion of Western PA:  Its Environmental Consequences and What Can Be Done About It
A panel discussion about the consequences of the petrochemical build-out in Western PA and some of the alternatives. 
7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills (Sunnyhill): 1240 Washington Rd. Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228.

Matt Mehalik, Executive Director of the Breathe Collaborative and its communications platform, the Breathe Project. The Breathe Collaborative is a coalition of local residents, environmental advocates, public health professionals and academics with a common commitment to advocate for the air the Pittsburgh region needs in order to be a healthy, prosperous place.
Patricia DeMarco, IWL Member, Author: "Pathways to Our Sustainable Future – Global Perspective from Pittsburgh", Forest Hills Borough Council, 2016-2020
Robert Schmetzer, Chairman of the Beaver County Marcellus Community / BCMAC . and Citizens to protect the Ambridge Reservoir. CPAR. 
Terrie Baumgardner – Beaver County activist, Field Organizer for Clean Air Council, volunteer with Beaver Marcellus Community and Citizens to Protect the Ambridge Reservoir.
Thaddeus Popovich - Co-founder Allegheny County Clean Air Now, Protect Franklin Park, Climate Reality Project
A major part of this event will be a discussion between audience activists, and the presenters. Please join us for this excellent educational event.
Sponsored by: The Izaak Walton League of America, Allegheny County Chapter, Harry Enstrom (Green County) Chapter

Jan 9: Water Warriors film screening

Join Pittsburgh United for a film screening, panel discussion, and dinner. The film Water Warriors tells the story of a community’s successful fight to protect their water from the oil and natural gas industry. Donations collected at the door at a pay-what-you-can basis. 

6:30-8:30 at the Glitter Box Theater (460 Melwood Ave, 15213).
Film Description: When an energy company begins searching for natural gas in New Brunswick, Canada, indigenous and allied families unite to drive out the company in a campaign to protect their water and way of life.

Texas-based SWN Resources arrived in New Brunswick, Canada to explore for natural gas. The region is known for its forestry, farming and fishing industries, which are both commercial and small-scale subsistence operations that rural communities depend on. In response, a multicultural group of unlikely warriors–including members of the Mi’kmaq Elsipogtog First Nation, French-speaking Acadians and white, English-speaking families–set up a series of road blockades, preventing exploration. After months of resistance, their efforts not only halted drilling; they elected a new government and won an indefinite moratorium on fracking in the province.

The Our Water Campaign has been fighting for safe, affordable, and publicly accountable water in Pittsburgh for 2 years. In 2017, we kicked off our campaign where Nayyirah Shariff, Director of Flint Rising spoke at our "Not Another Flint Townhall," where she stood in solidarity with Pittsburgh residents impacted by lead. Nayyirah spoke about her experience organizing Flint residents during the water crisis, and met with our campaign to help us plan our campaign for safe, democratically controlled water. 

Now after two years, the Our Water Campaign is proud to have been invited by Nigeria's Environmental Rights Action to the National Water Summit on the Human Right to Water in Nigeria to speak about our campaign to stop PWSA from being privatized. 

All funds go towards sending 4 Pittsburgh representatives to Nigeria. 

Link to donation page: gofundme.com/PghtoNigeria
Link to documentary trailer: youtube.com/watch?v=H7geZzFvU44