As smoke cleared from the deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line, horrified runners were comforted by acts of kindness carried out by city residents offering aid.
Gestures as small as offering a drink of orange juice and use of a home bathroom were recounted on Twitter in an ongoing online recollection of the fellowship that emerged in the wake of Monday's devastation.
"People are good. We met a woman who let us come into her home and is giving us drinks," tweeted Ali Hatfield, a Kansas City, Mo., runner who was in town for the race.
As the city reeled from the tragedy that killed at least three and wounded at least 100, Bostonions seemed to steady themselves by reaching out to embrace those hurting even more.
"Two Lutheran pastors walking Commonwealth, Bibles in hand. For those who need comfort, they said," tweeted Chelsea Conaboy, a Boston Globe blogger.
"Anyone wanting to get out of the Back Bay [neighborhood] come, over plenty of tables and calm here and don't worry you don't have to buy a thing," tweeted a local restaurant called El Pelon Taqueria. "open wifi, place to charge cell, or just don't want to be alone, food and drinks, – pay only if you can #bostonhelp."
Pictures of heroism and humanity flooded Twitter, from police officers carrying injured young children to the residents who left their warm homes to greet runners stranded by the emergency and offer them comfort.
"Local Boston resident giving @AliHatfield and us orange juice and offering a bathroom to use," tweeted Ramsey Mohsen, a Kansas City, Mo., web strategist.
In a tweet hours later, Mohsen revealed how shaken he was by the blast, "Only now has it hit me. Holding back tears best I can."
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Eric Walsh)
Charles Cotton never gave much thought to the fact that he owns a piece of Jackson Energy Cooperative, the utility that delivers power to his home in Berea, Ky. His grandparents used to go every year to the co-op’s annual meeting and cook-out, where member-owners elect representatives and vote on cooperative business, but Cotton himself has never gone. He uses Jackson Energy simply because it’s the only utility serving his region.
But last November, Cotton’s membership paid off in a way he hadn’t expected: The cooperative gave him an energy upgrade, installing a plastic moisture barrier underneath his house and replacing his old furnace with an efficient heat pump. Cotton’s home now feels warmer and his electric bills have dropped significantly, but he never paid a dime up front.
Jackson Energy’s status as a cooperative led directly to Cotton’s retrofit. It is one of four rural electric cooperatives participating in a pilot program called How$martKY, run by the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED). The program will let Cotton slowly pay back the cost of the retrofit: His bill is smaller than before, but he’s actually paying a bit more than the cost of the electricity he uses. The extra charge is how he repays the cost of the retrofit.
It’s a scheme called on-bill financing—a way for people of all financial backgrounds to reap the benefits of energy efficiency without a big up-front cost.
Since on-bill programs like How$martKY are still experimental, MACED made a point of kicking off its pilot program by working with cooperatives. Investor-owned utilities are legally required to prioritize shareholder profits, and often can’t take on risky or unproven ventures. But electric cooperatives are required to maximize value for their members. That makes a cooperative potentially more willing to try out a program with an as-yet-unproven effect on the utility’s bottom line, but with the immediate potential to help member-owners and wean the region off fossil fuels.
“Because they’re customer-owned, because they’re intent on customer satisfaction, it made sense to start with them,” says Justin Maxson, president of MACED.
The program is a small step forward in a region of the country underserved by renewables, but one with the potential to grow.
“What we love is that it has a shot to make energy efficiency much more scalable,” says Maxson. “That’s especially important in Appalachia, where we’re so over-dependent on coal as our primary source of energy.”
Most of the nation’s electric cooperatives were founded on the idea that small steps can beget big change. Many such cooperatives date back to the 1930s (Jackson Energy started in 1938), when the electricity divide in the United States was stark: Approximately 90 percent of urban homes had power, and 90 percent of rural homes did not. For-profit utilities had little interest in building transmission lines in sparsely populated areas, so the federal government offered loans and encouraged farmers and ranchers to set up their own electric cooperatives. By the mid- ’40s, some 50 percent of rural Americans had electricity; by the mid-’50s, the vast majority did.
Now cooperatives form the largest electric utility network in the nation, serve some 42 million people in 47 states, generate $45 billion in annual revenue, and employ nearly 130,000 people. Approximately 78 percent of U.S. counties are served by electric cooperatives. Clean-energy advocates hope that network can be harnessed to bring big changes once again to America’s energy landscape.
Co-op electricity, like that of the nation as a whole, comes from a mix of sources that varies by region—and because of cooperatives’ strong presence in coal-producing regions, their reliance on coal-fired power is higher than the national average. Still, 90 percent of electric cooperatives have at least some renewable power in their portfolios, and 96 percent offer some sort of energy efficiency program. As of 2007, co-ops got 3 percent more of their energy from renewable sources than did the nation’s utility sector as a whole.
Cooperatives around the country are pushing to do better. In 2008, a number of them banded together to form the National Renewables Cooperative Organization, an umbrella group that supports local co-ops in making the switch to renewable energy. The organization found that renewables make sense for cooperatives for more than environmental reasons. Diverse power sources can insulate members from volatile prices, and renewable energy projects can create jobs in the communities where members live.
In Tennessee, a cooperative is offering members direct stakes in a new solar farm. A Montana cooperative helped a city in its coverage area rebuild a failing hydroelectric plant. In Minnesota, an electric co-op is researching ways to combine hydro and wind power to achieve a more stable power supply. An Indiana co-op is operating 14 landfill gas-to-energy plants. A cooperative in Hawai‘i, which was set up 11 years ago when the petroleum-powered, for-profit utility went up for sale, is planning to provide 50 percent of its power from renewable sources within the next 10 years.
Co-ops find many reasons to pursue energy efficiency—as in South Carolina, where the energy demands of a quickly growing population threatened to overload the grid. Reluctant to take on the cost of building new nuclear or natural gas plants, a group of cooperatives created an on-bill financing pilot program similar to How$martKY. Since South Carolina has the nation’s highest percentage of manufactured homes (which, on average, use far more energy per square foot than traditional homes), efficiency is an easy target. Eventually, the co-ops hope to retrofit more than 200,000 homes, saving customers $280 million a year.
Electric co-ops are also pushing forward with “smart grid” upgrades—advanced technologies that increase efficiency, reliability, and the integration of new power sources. A consortium of cooperatives won a $68 million stimulus grant to test how in-home displays of energy consumption change consumer behavior and improve efficiency. Other co-ops have pursued similar projects on their own.
In 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that cooperatives lead the industry when it comes to the adoption of advanced metering systems. These let customers know how much energy they’re using, so they can scale back, and how strained the grid is, so they can save money by waiting until off-peak hours to use energy-intensive appliances.
Innovations adopted by cooperatives can quickly ripple out into the broader industry. Unlike for-profit utilities, which tend to be proprietary with their information, cooperatives make a point of collaborating.
“While the co-ops are very much independent of each other in terms of the ultimate decision that gets made in the boardroom, there’s a lot of collaborative work that goes on,” says Martin Lowery, a vice president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which provides support services to about 1,000 electric cooperatives across the nation.
It’s a potentially powerful mix of local accountability and national connectivity. For example, Alaska’s Kotzebue Electric Association, located north of the Arctic Circle, is developing both wind and solar thermal generation projects in an effort to move away from expensive diesel fuel. As a result, cooperatives around the nation can learn from Kotzebue’s findings on battery storage in extreme conditions.
Some cooperatives have green energy written into their missions. Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, for example, describes itself as “committed to reinventing how Kaua‘i is powered.” But many other co-ops would not go so far. Their goal is to provide reliable, low-cost energy to their members—whatever the source.
Just like their investor-owned counterparts, many electric cooperatives have opposed environmental regulations, including the EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants. The choices of electric co-ops depend on their members: Renewables and energy efficiency are only a priority if members want them.
Still, the fact that so much of the nation runs on electricity that’s cooperatively managed represents a significant opportunity—particularly since many rural areas have lagged behind in efficiency and renewable power. Cooperatives have “a diverse infrastructure that’s hard to paint with one brush,” says Maxson. “But [they have] the potential to be a powerful point of leverage in supporting energy efficiency and economic opportunity in rural communities.”
Lowery also believes cooperatives can spur deeper conversations among members about their values and their communities. That, after all, is the real difference between cooperative utilities and those owned by stockholders. Value to stockholders is narrowly defined: It means “profit.” But the members of electric cooperatives have the possibility of defining value in their own terms.
As members learn to recognize and utilize that power, Lowery envisions a much stronger push toward more sustainable energy. But he doesn’t stop there. His long-term goal is for members to use their cooperatives to solve problems that go beyond energy.
“It’s about being a facilitator, a catalyst for a dialogue about what’s going to be needed for a healthy and sustainable community in the future. That could mean responding to the needs of aging populations in rural America, the need for health care and broadband services, water quality and availability, educational opportunities for kids,” said Lowery.
“Electricity is a means to an end. We’re not utilities. We never were utilities. We’re there to meet the needs of communities and thereby improve their quality of life.”
• Brooke Jarvis wrote this article for How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy, the Spring 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Brooke is a contributing editor of YES! and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, Aeon, among others. She lives on Puget Sound.
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Fiji is leading the world in money-management education, by exposing almost 200,000 students to savings and budgeting skills starting next month.
The Pacific islands are one of the least-banked areas of the world. That's why, at the 2009 Pacific Islands Forum, education and economic ministers set a goal to provide financial education for all school children by 2020.
One major tool in reaching this goal was the implementation of the Fiji Financial Education Curriculum Development (FinED Fiji) Project, which seeks to build money management education into primary and secondary school core curriculum by the 2013 school year. This financial education will reach 910 schools, 40 percent of whose students are female.
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The FinED Fiji Project evolved from ministers' acknowledgment of the importance of teaching basic personal money-handling skills at a young age.
“The well-being of rural households can be quantifiably improved if one person in that household attends financial-literacy training and has a savings account," says a study conducted by the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program (PFIP) in 2009. The FinED Fiji project is funded by the Australian Aid Bilateral Program in Fiji and is overseen by both the Ministry of Education and PFIP.
Parents still play a role in financial education for their children, said Abigail Chang, a PFIP coordinator for the project. But they can’t always keep up with new technology.
“Personal money management also needs to keep up with the changing times. And we also realize that our children are now in a world where they’re dealing with mobile money, they’re dealing with ATM and Eftpos cards, which may not have been around at the time of their parents.”
The FinED Fiji Project will create financially competent youths by embedding money-management education into school subjects that are already a part of the core curriculum, such as math, English, and social studies. Since its takeoff in January 2011, FinED Fiji has been working on the development of innovative learning and teaching materials that will educate students through lessons and games that are engaging as well as informative.
Throughout their schooling, children will progressively learn to:
- save, budget, and spend sensibly
- be comfortable with key financial terms and concepts
- choose and apply financial tools to create and manage income and wealth
- plan for the future and recognize financial consequences and risks
- become empowered to make informed financial judgments and decisions
- set appropriate personal financial goals
- understand the importance of time and commitment for achieving financial goals
One Fijian school, the Nadi Airport School, is leading the pack. It brought a financial education curriculum into its classrooms in May 2011.
Last week, the United Nations Development Programme deputy director for Asia Pacific, Nicholas Rosellini, visited the Nadi Airport School and had a chance to see the school’s commitment to teaching financial competency first hand. Rosellini sat in with a class of first graders (Class 1) for a lesson on "Saving, Spending Wisely, and Sharing," as well as a lesson for 13- to 14-year-olds (Class 8).
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“I was impressed to see five-to-six year old students in Class 1 learn how to recognize money," Rosselini said, according to a PFIP news release. "In Class 8, I noted with interest how the students interacted to information on savings and investments as well as budgeting. I thought the group work to prepare and present a financial newspaper was an interesting way to integrate financial information which enthused the students.”
Fiji is at the forefront of financial education for youths. If it succeeds, it will encourage other countries to follow suit. Abigail Chang says that as far as they know no other country in the world has so comprehensively introduced money management into the school curriculum.
"Financial education is not the sole responsibility of the family or community," said Fiji's minister for education, Filipe Bole, according to a slideshow about FinED. "Perhaps in an ideal world that would be sufficient. The reality is that there are many families and communities who struggle financially and who don’t have the knowledge to make good choices and therefore can’t teach their children to make wise ones either. The management of money is an important life skill and where better to teach this than in a dynamic learning environment—the classroom."
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The stereotype “computer geek” carries with it the usual accoutrements: glasses, game consoles, and lots of alone time. Even as technology has become ubiquitous through social networks and smartphones, one part of that image has remained constant – the geeks are typically guys.
The economic landscape supports this representation. According to a report issued by the US Department of Commerce in 2011, women made up approximately half of the US workforce, but held less than 25 percent of the jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math.
This is troubling in an age when technical innovation is crucial to almost all sectors of the economy. While computing professions are growing at almost twice the rate of the average for all occupations, the National Center for Women & Information Technology estimates that by 2018, the industry will only be able to fill half of its open jobs.
Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code (GWC) hoping to recruit women to fill some of these vacancies. On the campaign trail for a congressional seat in 2010, she observed the power of technology in communities of all socioeconomic levels. Despite the growing number of opportunities in tech-related fields, girls didn’t seem to be interested.
“I realized that we needed to do something about it, and we needed to start young, focusing on teenage girls, before they’ve figured out what they want to do with their lives,” she said.
“When girls think about computer science, they think about a guy in front of a computer typing,” Ms. Saujani said. The program aimed to supplant this by focusing on what technology roles could produce in girls’ own lives.
The first GWC program launched in the summer of 2012 with 22 girls in New York City. Courses covered not only coding but pitching and presentation skills. At the outset, only one participant was considering a major in computer science; by the end, the entire class planned to major or minor in the subject.
Saujani hopes this will support the girls in their future entrepreneurial ventures, as websites and mobile apps have become near requirements for new businesses.
“Research shows that girls pick areas of study that enable them to change the world. We’re showing them how to build things that help them achieve that.”
Paula Ellis, former vice president of the foundation, began her career as a journalist when there were few women in the news industry. She believes that introducing girls to female mentors is an important step to breaking gender barriers. “Mentoring is a really strong way to support a girl’s interest or a woman’s career. It’s the fact that you can see that you can do this. [GWC’s] model is pretty simple – it’s exposure to what’s possible.”
Female role models help break down the idea that males are inherently more skilled at math and science, a belief that deters women from classes and careers in these fields. Even Saujani, whose parents were both engineers, says she was afraid of math and science, convinced that she wasn’t good at them.
But Carolyn Chandler, former adjunct professor for DePaul’s Human-Computer Interaction program and co-author of a book on UX design, argues that technology represents much more than cold numbers. She credits her background in anthropology with influencing her work in creating user-friendly online experiences. “Women tend to be very socially aware and designing requires that as a skill, to be interested in gaining the empathy of the folks you’re designing for and trying to solve problems with that human element.”
She points to research linking collective intelligence with the number of females in a group. The study found that women’s social sensitivity positively affected group cooperation, improving overall performance.
In contrast to the image of a lone programmer, Chandler champions teamwork, encouraging women to share their ideas and attend meetups outside of work. For her, the field opened up when she stopped feeling intimidated by the male-dominated industry.
“I started to feel not like a woman among men, but a designer among designers, a developer among developers,” she said.
Gender or otherwise, Ellis agrees that technology will benefit from teams of diverse individuals. “Everybody has something unique to add. When we all see something from a different perspective, and we share that perspective, something creative and new happens. We better represent the world.”
It was the last place Lois Prater's children expected her to go – overseas to become a missionary.
At age 80, Ms. Prater, who had been a stay-at-home housewife all her married life, sold her Seattle-area home, her car, and other belongings to build an orphanage in the Philippines. She became the unlikely helping hand for hundreds of orphaned children over the years, many of whom were abused or abandoned.
“She sold everything,” says Bonnie Swinney, one of Prater's three daughters. “The only things she kept were the things she could use in the orphanage.”
In 1991, Prater, with her own money, bought 12 acres of land covered with mango and coconut trees near Orion, a small town in the Philippines. Three years later, the doors would open to King's Garden Children's Home, a 2,000-square-foot, white stucco building, giving orphaned children from infants to teens new hope.
“I can't imagine at my age going over there now,” says Ms. Swinney, who is 73. “What she did was amazing.”
For 13 years, Prater lived in the Philippines, enduring both physical and financial hardships. She had to overcome a number of challenging physical ailments along the way. And there was the difficult task of living in a foreign country, far from her family. Yet she refused to come home.
Finally, with a new manager in place, Prater retired and returned home to live with her daughter near Seattle just before her 90th birthday. She died in January at age 100.
“I didn't know anything about business, about building an orphanage,” Prater said several years ago when talking about her decision to open King's Garden. “All along, I've just trusted in God, and He's answered my prayers. I did what I could do, and God did the rest.”
Just a few years after King's Garden Children's Home opened, Prater invested in expansion. King's Garden tripled in size and started a school. Over the years, an average of about 60 children at a time have lived at the orphanage.
Prater's unlikely journey began six months after her husband, Galon Prater, died in 1988. While Lois Prater was watching a Christian TV program, Lora Lam, a missionary on the program, asked for people to join her on a three-week outreach trip to China. Prater, who had attended Bible school as a teenager and had earned her ministerial license, felt her childhood desire to become a missionary rising again.
“I said, 'Lord, I'm too old to go now,' ” Prater said.
But she went, making three trips, one to China and two to the Philippines, taking part in open-tent meetings. Inspired by her trip with Ms. Lam to China, Prater returned for a second trip several weeks later with 11 other women for a month-long stay in the Philippines. She later made a third visit to the Philippines alone and was speaking at a church when a poorly dressed man came up to her after the service and offered to sell his baby to her for 1,000 pesos, or about $40 at that time.
“That impacted my soul so deeply I knew I had to do something,” Prater said.
So, in 1990 she returned to the United States and sold her home for $65,000. She sold everything she had, determined to build an orphanage.
“It was a strange feeling to see her selling everything: her couches, her chairs, her China hutch, her washer and dryer, everything,” says Swinney, who made several visits to her mom's orphanage over the years. “But I had heard her stories about her wanting to build an orphanage all my life. This is something she had always wanted to do.”
Prater admitted selling her home wasn't easy.
"I struggled, but I knew that what I was trying to do was something much more important than hanging onto my faded couch," Prater said.
At 89, Prater had a physical setback and was forced to step down as the orphanage's director. She returned home, this time for good. But she made several short visits to her orphanage over the next few years.
The orphanage and school continues to do well today. Monica Jarvis assumed directorship of King's Garden Children's Home in 2005 and remains in that position with the support of the Assemblies of God World Missions.
“To think that my mom opened the orphanage at 80 and worked there until she was 89 absolutely blows me away,” says Swinney, who has adopted several children from King's Garden Children's Home. “My mom has the biggest heart.”
Each of the children brought to King's Garden Children's Home has a heartbreaking story. One of the first children, who had no name, was brought to Prater when he was just nine days old. Prater named him Albert. His alcoholic father was in jail and his mother moved into the jail with him because she had no other place to stay.
One-by-one, Prater took in each of that mother's four children, keeping them out of jail.
Another child, who Prater named Tommy, was brought to King's Garden Children's Home by the police when he was just one year old. Tommy's ear had been cut off by his father. Heidi, another child brought to Prater by the police, came to King's Garden with stomach worms and head lice. Many of the children who come to King's Garden are in need of medical treatment.
The mother and father of a girl named Jennifer died, and she moved into King's Garden when she was 10. Her step brother brought her to the orphanage because she had no other place to live.
“I feel I'm not talented enough to do any of this,” Prater said while she was still overseeing King's Garden. “But God enables me. My responsibility is to do what I can. He does the rest. My only regret is I didn't start when I was younger.”
Prater's story has been an inspiration to others, including her daughter, showing how it's never too late to live a life of serving others.
“My mom was such an amazing person,” Swinney says. “She had tremendous faith in God.”
It takes him a good 20 seconds to get his bearings, but, sitting up in his bed, Matti Tourrani smiles and says hello, muffled by a drowsy cough. His right leg is swollen – so much that it is now twice as thick as his left. "It's not so painful; I'm more concerned about my knee,” says the elderly man.
Mr. Tourrani has traveled with his wife, Maysoun, from their small village near Mosul in northern Iraq for knee-replacement surgery, a procedure that would cost more than $23,000 and for which the family mortgaged their house.
Their part of Iraq is still violent: Last week a bomb killed two people just a mile from their home. “We're used to it by now,” Maysoun says.
But the family is concerned that they might have traveled in vain. Before any knee surgery, the leg must heal more, says Irad Beldjebel, a doctor who works helping Beirut's unknown thousands of refugees.
The Algerian-born Beldjebel spends his days not only treating refugees, but serves as an all-round counselor – a trusty shoulder to lean on for people who are often traumatized by the past, worried about the future, and unsure about the present. People such as the Tourranis, who are staying in a compound with other Iraqis, themselves long-time refugees in Lebanon.
Dr. Beldjebel is not only treating Tourrani, he is helping the family work through a deadline and a dilemma: whether or not to go ahead with the knee operation.
“Our visas will be out of date in 10 days,” Maysoun says. “Someone said we will have to pay $2,000 each to extend our stay,” she adds with a sigh.
Beldjebel tells her that the figure is suspiciously high. He suspects that the official in question is trying to extort vulnerable Iraqis – people who are in a bind and unaware of the Lebanese law.“We will check out the process fully for the visa issue,” says Beldjebel, trying to reassure the elderly couple.
It is all part of a typical day for the doctor, who has been in Lebanon for four years and now is the sole representative here of the St. Elizabeth College of Public Health and Social Work, based in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Lebanon currently hosts between 400,000 and 1 million Syrians, who have fled the brutal war there. Lebanon's own 1975-1990 war was prompted partly by an influx of Palestinian refugees, around 400,000 of whom still stay in sometimes-violent camps around Lebanon.
Beldjebel has been “a tremendous help to those people he assists,” says Michel Kasdano, a retired Lebanese Army general who has worked with the Chaldean Catholic Church in Lebanon to provide assistance to Iraqi refugees.
There are around 8,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon – mostly Christians who fled after the 2003 US invasion and subsequent ethnic and sectarian blood-letting across the country.
Beldjebel's history makes him perhaps uniquely attuned to assisting Christians in this region: He is a convert to Catholicism from Islam and as a consequence has not been able to travel home to Algeria to see his parents since 2009.
Sitting in a small, austere apartment above the Mar Elias church in East Beirut, near where the doctor often does his rounds, Nohoud Najib, an Iraqi Chaldean Catholic, is hoping to be resettled to a Western country. She's in her second stint as a refugee, having fled to Lebanon in 2012.
Prior to Damascus, they fled their home in Baghdad, Iraq, after threats of being kidnapped.“Our neighbor said our son's name was on a list at a mosque nearby, and that it was no longer safe for us,” Ms. Najib says.
That was in 2007. She and her family spent the next two years in Dora, which was a mostly Christian area of Baghdad but has since seen many of the non-Muslim residents leave.
Now the worry is that Syria's war could spread to Lebanon. Last week, Syria carried out airstrikes in northern Lebanon, saying that Sunni Muslim rebels were being sheltered there. The Syrian government is backed by Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shia militia that is a powerful player in Lebanon's complex sectarian politics.
“Fighting seems to follow us around,” Najib jokes. “We just want to go somewhere safe, and where my children can resume their education. We feel like we have been in limbo for years.”
Dr. Beldjebel has been a friend to the family since they arrived in Beirut, with handshakes and banter testifying to the warm relationship.
That type of relationship is one Beldjebel tries to cultivate with all the refugees he treats. His job is not just about diagnosing and prescribing, he says."We are also here to listen to them. It's a big part of our time," he says. "They need to voice out their sufferings and the violence that they have been going through.”
One gardener’s weed is another’s essential ingredient.
Karen Monger, a community blogger in Norwich, Conn., wants to change the way New Englanders consider invasive species, whether it's garlic mustard or autumn olives. There’s a more sustainable alternative to culling, pulling, or poisoning them, she says.
“Eating the invaders is a favorite theme for me and my family,” says Ms. Monger, who lives in Norwich, Conn.
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That’s right – Monger wants people to eat the weeds. But, and she can’t stress this enough, she wants people to understand that foraging for edible invasives is not a lark. And so she has launched the blog the3foragers.blogspot.com.
“There is a truly responsible way to do it,” Monger says.
That means, don’t plant invasive species. Don’t sell them; in fact, Connecticut state law prohibits the sale of invasive species. Above all, Monger says, people need to learn how to identify plants. That’s the first, and perhaps most important, rule of foraging, she says.
Her blog chronicles her and her family’s search for wild edible plants across the region. Photographs help readers recognize the plants. She also shares recipes that use native and invasive weeds.
A recent post featured wild autumn olive berries. Monger, a former pastry chef, suggests using the bright red, somewhat sour berry in oatmeal or to make jam and fruit leather.
It also makes a wonderful jelly, she says. “They are freakishly healthy for you, but they are really bad for the environment. They alter the soil competition, so I hope people don't plant them on purpose.”
The plant was introduced as an ornamental in the mid-1830s from China, Korea, and Japan, according to Monger’s blog. The wild autumn olive,
which has silvery leaves, reproduces easily and survives well in poor soil, which Connecticut has in abundance.
The Connecticut Audubon Society estimates the state spends more than $500 million a year, between private and public monies, to eradicate invasive species.
Monger connects with other foragers, including employees in the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Connecticut Department of Transportation; master gardeners; and land conservation managers. She also recently started volunteering with the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG).
Although the CIPWG hasn’t specifically addressed the topic of foraging for edible invasives, people occasionally discuss it informally at meetings, says Donna Ellis, co-chair of the CIPWG at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.
Monger develops each of her recipes. Whether its sumac tea or grilled garlic mustard, Monger says she wants people to learn how they can take these resources and make something that tastes good.
“People are more likely to try it if it’s not scary looking,” she says.
Monger and her husband started foraging for wild edibles about eight years ago, just after their daughter was born. They had started spending more time outdoors, walking through the woods. Now and again, he’d make an offhand comment about how certain plants resembled those from his native Hungary.
“My husband has a slightly more respectful take on foraging. He has a history of doing it as a child,” she says. She herself comes from the rural town of Colchester, Conn., and remembers picking and eating wild berries.
Monger and her husband decided practical experience would be the best way to learn. The found about Wildman Steve Brill, who leads people on hikes and teaches them which weeds to eat and which to leave alone. They also have hiked with Russ Cohen of Massachusetts, who also leads people on foraging hikes.
Monger stresses that people should never eat anything from the wild without consulting an expert. People can find experts through their local Native Plant Society. In Connecticut, they can consult the Invasive Plants Council.
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Another rule of foraging in the wild is to take small bites. Even when someone knows they have the right, nonpoisonous, wild plant just a small taste is recommended.
“I don’t mind sharing the information,” she says. “I feel the need to really focus on invasives because they’re bad. People want this information badly.”
Tackling the world’s most vexing social problems is a challenge for even the biggest foundations but much more daunting for small ones. Nonetheless, it is possible for small foundations to bring about large-scale change.
At the Tow Foundation, created by my parents, we learned this when we decided to take on one such problem—our state’s failing juvenile-justice system.
The United States leads the world in incarcerating young people. Every year, juvenile courts handle an estimated 1.7 million cases in which a youth is charged with a delinquency offense. That’s about 4,600 delinquency cases a day. Over 70,000 juvenile offenders are not living in their homes on a typical day but are held in group homes, shelters, and other juvenile-detention facilities. An estimated 250,000 youths are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year across the country. Most of the young people prosecuted in adult court are charged with nonviolent offenses.
These statistics are shameful and not in sync with the mission of our foundation: that all people should have the opportunity to enjoy a high quality of life and have a voice in their community, even those who have gotten in trouble with the law.
Before we got started working on this issue 15 years ago, no other foundation in our home state of Connecticut was focused on it. We could not stand by and say this problem was too big for us to tackle. So we set out to figure out how we could make a difference.
With just two staff members, we decided to focus our grants on local organizations that were working to change how the courts treated young people. It was a decision based on our board’s desire, in fact our sense of obligation, to accomplish the most we could with our assets (both human and financial) for the people who needed us the most.
Some 300 grants and $12 million later, we can confidently say we have gotten an excellent return on our investment. Two influential reports released in recent weeks have called Connecticut a national leader in reducing the number of young people who are placed in detention facilities and prisons.
A third report details over a decade of transformation and tells how Connecticut has also channeled much of its resources into programs that work with troubled youths and their families, using treatment services that have proven effective not just to help children stay out of trouble but also to keep the public safer.
This was not always the case.
When the Tow Foundation first started examining the situation, Connecticut’s system was one of the worst in the country, with deplorable conditions of confinement. It was one of only three states that prosecuted and punished all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.
The approaches we took can be useful for other foundations taking on all kinds of tough social challenges. Among them:
Scan the landscape and build relationships. Our board hosted a series of roundtable discussions to which we invited groups from the state government, the court system, service providers, advocates, and youths and families affected by the system to speak to us, share their insights, and suggest ways a foundation could make a difference.
This was an important first step both in building our knowledge of the problem and in developing relationships with people who shaped the debate and who cared most about changing the system. It allowed us to be seen not as outsiders who were coming in to fix how state agencies and courts operate but as partners willing to take risks and roll up our sleeves alongside them to do the work.
Support advocacy. Like many other foundations, we had spent most of our grant money financing direct services to individuals. We measured our success based on the number of people who had been helped by the services we paid for.
But we quickly found that helping small groups of individuals was not enough to satisfy our desire to change how the juvenile-justice system worked.
To do that, we realized we needed to support the advocates who were willing and able to lobby, write new legislation, and organize for change.
In 2001 our foundation became the first grant maker to support the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, a coalition of advocates, public defenders, service providers, and parent-led groups that has fought for change and achieved numerous legislative victories that now ensure young people are treated in a more fair and equitable manner.
Our foundation now supports many advocacy networks and coalitions at both the state and national levels, with the hope of amplifying effective change on an even larger scale.
Work collaboratively. We knew we would fail if we treated our mission as a solitary pursuit. We shared our successes and challenges with our colleagues at national foundations and encouraged them to invest in Connecticut. We vetted potential grant recipients and served as the eyes and ears for foundations outside our region.
We also reached out to leaders of state agencies, asking for their commitment to expand programs if we proved they worked. The state is now paying for several that we tested. We also financed research, including studies that found many kids were put in detention for minor offenses or had never committed any crime at all. Those studies have led to significant changes in policies and practices.
Think beyond the grants. The foundation’s board has encouraged staff members to work actively on juvenile-justice issues and not just monitor grants. We have committed countless hours of staff time to bringing groups together to strategize and find common ground, to lead conversations about new and innovative programs and policy, and to offer our grantees training in effective storytelling and leadership development.
We had a lot of work to do, requiring us to commit to a multifaceted, multiyear strategy that is uncommon among our peers.
This approach has required persistence, flexibility, openness to the fact that we might not have all the answers, and willingness to stick with the issue—and our grantees—for the long haul.
We could not adhere to the common practice of limiting an organization to three years of grant support or set hard-and-fast rules about what we do and don’t support.
We needed to acknowledge that the world does not always move in accordance with our grant cycle. So we were nimble and responsive when our colleagues could not be.
What’s more, we understood that no one entity can create large-scale social change alone. It requires a collaborative effort in which government and nonprofits work together toward a common vision for change.
These and other strategies worked for the Tow Foundation. We took on the problem of our state’s failing juvenile-justice system and catalyzed substantial change in how our systems work. We are now expanding on that success by applying what we learned to guide a similar effort in the State of New York. And we hope to help other states and jurisdictions advance changes in juvenile-justice systems across the nation.
Now, I’m not writing this to be self-congratulatory. The credit for the transformative change in Connecticut’s juvenile-justice system goes to our partners in the state legislature, judicial branch, state agencies, youth charities, and advocates. And, of course, to the kids and families who inspired us all.
My hope is that our experience will encourage other foundations, no matter the size, to believe that they, too, can have a big impact on a social issue that may appear too daunting to tackle. The opportunity awaits for us all to be bold and use our unique role as philanthropists to spark, and even drive, large-scale social change.
• Emily Tow Jackson is executive director of the Tow Foundation.
For the smallholder farmers in arid Esigodini, Zimbabwe, the heavy downpours that have hit the area in recent months have been a godsend.
"We have not seen this much rain in years," says farmer Brenda Zulu.
The rains first came in January, destroying homes and claiming lives as people were caught unawares. But farmers struggling to grow crops and raise livestock in the traditionally low-rainfall area surrounding Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Bulawayo, realized that if they could find a way to harness the deluge, they could use it to help their thirsty farms.
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So the villagers grouped together and started digging.
"It was a community suggestion that we dig the earth to trap the water," says Zulu as she scooped water from an artificial pond her community created. The size of a small tennis court, the pond now serves as a reservoir for scores of farms in the area.
She uses the water to water her kitchen garden and fill a trough for her small herd of livestock. "It seems to be helping a lot," she says.
Nobody knows exactly how much water the makeshift ponds hold, but Zulu says her community believes it should have enough to sustain their small farms for the next few months.
With no access to groundwater, and no sign of help from the local authorities to deal with worsening shortages, Zulu and her fellow villagers feel that making their own ponds could be the only answer.
"It was already a depressed gulley, and we extended it as no one seems to offer solutions for our water problems," she says. "We did this ourselves."
For the farmers in Esigodini, who have experienced successive years of drought, building a lake was an act of desperation, driven by the fear of not knowing when, or how much, rain will next fall.
But experts say Zimbabweans can learn to adapt to changing and increasingly severe weather patterns.
Sobona Mtisi, a climate change researcher with the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based research group, says rainfall in Zimbabwe does appear to follow a pattern.
By understanding that pattern, people should be able to prepare for the droughts and floods that have been afflicting the country, Mtisi says.
"Most villagers in the flood-prone areas are aware of the fact that in the past few decades the frequency and intensity of floods has been increasing," Mtisi says. "Similarly, policymakers are aware of the increased frequency of droughts and floods in Zimbabwe."
From 2000 to 2010, Zimbabwe had four floods, the researcher says.
"This means that we have a flood [on average] every 2.5 years," he says. "The evidence that should form the basis for communities and policymakers to understand the shifts in climate is there and irrefutable."
But until someone figures out how to use that evidence to help Zimbabwe's smallholder farmers deal with the cycle of drought and flood, they will look for ways to help themselves — such as digging ponds and lakes.
"We have to find ways to trap the water, not just with our small buckets," says Sithabile Fuzwayo, another Esigodini smallholder. "Water is a serious problem and as long no one comes along to help, we will seek our own solutions."
Rainwater harvesting is nothing new among many communities in Zimbabwe, but it is usually done using small containers that are inadequate to meet longer-term needs of farmers.
The act of investing labor into digging the ground to trap the coming rain is an innovative step — one that more farmers might decide they have to take.
Despite the heavy downpours this season in normally low-rainfall areas around Bulawayo, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) says not enough of the water has made it into supply dams, due to blockages in drainage systems.
For farmers like Zulu, Fuzwayo, and others, efforts to trap the water themselves seem the only viable solution.
Some environmentalists, however, warn that hand-dug rainwater harvesting ponds could potentially create long-term risks.
"It shows just how poorly the rain problem has been dealt with at local levels, in ways that could in fact bring catastrophic results," warned Gilmore Sithole, an environmentalist and agricultural extension officer with the country’s agriculture ministry. "We just cannot have people digging up the ground without proper monitoring. We have to imagine what kind of gaping holes will be left in the countryside when the dry season sets in."
But like other farmers, Zulu isn't thinking about the long-term risks of her pond. Her main concern is having enough water to keep her garden and livestock alive.
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According to the Zimbabwe Meteorological Services Department, the wet spell in the traditionally dry parts of the country's south is expected to continue into March.
This is the time when farmers should be preparing to harvest, and the continuing rainfall could damage crops. But that is a risk the farmers are willing to take if it means the chance to trap more water — and feel a little less helpless in the face of Zimbabwe's unpredictable weather.
"We no longer have any knowledge of the rain cycle," Zulu says. "But we welcome all the rain we can get."
• Madalitso Mwando is a journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
By most measures of environmental policy and progress, Ontario, Canada, ranks well. Over the last half-century, Canada’s most populous province required cities and industries to treat every gallon of wastewater, dramatically reduced the level of sulfur and other pollutants that caused acid rain, and convinced the big and politically powerful pulp and paper industry to install state-of-the-art emissions control equipment.
Next year, though, Ontario is scheduled to complete a 21st century environmental cleanup project that distinguishes it among North American jurisdictions. After a decade of work by the Liberal Party government, Ontario at the end of this year is scheduled to close the last of its big coal-fired generators, and leave a single small coal-fired unit available during periods of peak electrical demand until it closes next year. In shutting down the province’s 19 boilers fueled by coal, Ontario will become the first industrial region on the continent to eliminate coal-fired generation.
The decade-long process to replace a quarter of the province’s electrical generating capacity with new plants fueled by natural gas and renewable energy sources represents one of the most ambitious low-carbon generating strategies in the world. And achieving the coal-less electricity sector has yielded lessons about the constraints of government policy and public acceptance in an industrial democracy seeking to make such a momentous transition.
“What Ontario has done is impressive,” said Tim Weis, the director of renewable energy policy at the Pembina Institute, one of Canada’s most respected environmental research organizations. “But it’s also caused a lot of resistance... The government overcame the struggles to some extent. It does illustrate what is possible, and what to anticipate in terms of getting off of coal.”
Weaning economies off of coal, as Ontario learned, is no small feat. In 2003, Ontario generated 7,500 megawatts of coal-fired electricity, a quarter of its power supply. Ontario’s coal consumption peaked that year at 18.6 million metric tons. Coal-fired power plants were Ontario’s largest source of toxic chemical, heavy metal, sulfur, and nitrogen air pollution. Carbon emissions from coal-fired generation had risen to more than 41 million metric tons annually.
The program to end coal began that same year with an exceptional debate about energy that helped decide the election for provincial premier. Liberal candidate Dalton McGuinty and Conservative incumbent Premier Ernie Eves challenged each other on how quickly to shut coal-fired plants.
Smog, dust, and mercury emissions worried Eves, who said he could do it by 2015. McGuinty shot back that he could push Ontario out of the coal-generated electricity business by 2007, a message of energy conservation and efficiency that helped propel him to victory. McGuinty served for more than nine years as Ontario’s premier before stepping down in February.
Soon after McGuinty’s election in 2003, the provincial government began the process of closing coal plants.
In 2005, the 1,130-megawatt Lakeview coal-fired plant in Toronto, one of the province’s oldest, was shut down. In 2009, four generating units at a plant in Nanticoke and two units at another plant in Lambton were shut. A year later, two more units at Nanticoke were closed. Last year a small plant in Atikokan closed.
This year the last generating units in Nanticoke and Lambton close, and the Atikokan station is being converted to burn wood pellets. Coal consumption, coal-fired generating capacity, and emissions of mercury, other toxic compounds, and carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants will fall to near zero, according to the Ontario Environment Ministry.
“The 2007 deadline was ambitious,” said Garry McKeever, director of energy supply in the Ontario Ministry of Energy. “When the new government got into office it ran up against the mechanics of how to get this done. Communities worried about job losses. Industries worried about having enough power. It takes time to build replacement generation.”
According to the Ministry of the Environment, from 2000 to 2010, air quality improved province-wide in Ontario, and the phasing out of coal plants was a key reason. Ontario also implemented programs to reduce emissions from smelting plants and reduce particulates and toxic air contaminants from the transport sector. Overall, mean particulate concentrations in the province’s air fell from 8.1 micrograms per cubic meter in 2003 to 4.8 micrograms per cubic meter in 2010, a 40 percent decline.
The economic effects of the coal plant closures varied from town to town. For instance a coal-fired plant in Sarnia, an industrial city in southern Ontario along the border with Michigan, was to be replaced by a new natural-gas-fired plant now under construction. And Ontario Power Generation responded to its own staff resistance by promising severance payments, or jobs in the utility’s 65 hydro and three big nuclear plants for workers willing to transfer.
The transition away from coal also was helped by political and economic circumstances. Unlike the US, where miners, producers, truckers, railroads, and utilities form strong regional coal alliances, coal-fired power in Ontario had no other influential political constituencies.
Most of the coal-fired generators were also closed as the US economic meltdown engulfed Ontario’s auto manufacturing sector, North America’s largest producer of vehicles and parts, and one of Ontario’s biggest power consumers. The demand for electricity fell in Ontario, a market that was producing over 35,000 megawatts of generating capacity. Ontario’s three big nuclear plants alone produce almost 13,000 megawatts of generating capacity and 56 percent of the province’s electrical power. Hydropower generates almost 8,000 megawatts of capacity and 22 percent of the electricity.
The province’s ample electricity supply, and the closing of coal-fired generators, carved political space for Premier McGuinty and his staff to propose generating new jobs in energy innovation and manufacturing with homegrown renewable technology. In 2009, the province enacted the Green Energy Act to promote renewable sources. It included feed-in tariff provisions, modeled after similar programs in Denmark and Germany, which offered 20-year contracts to purchase wind, solar, biomass, and biogas-fueled electricity from producers at generous prices.
The new statute and its revenue provisions spurred a rush of big wind farms. Hundreds of windmills, for instance, were built on farmland along the highway corridor from Windsor to Toronto. Wind generating capacity now measures 2,000 megawatts. That will double in the next 18 months, according to the Energy Ministry, which would mean wind would produce more than 10 percent of the total generating capacity of 36,000 megawatts. The provincial government estimates that 30,000 jobs are connected to the Ontario Green Energy Act and the manufacturing and installation of wind parks.
“It’s a good story to tell, and a lot of people haven’t heard it,” said Paul Gipe, an energy industry analyst from California who worked with Ontario citizen groups to replace coal with renewable energy. “I’ve encouraged Americans to look across the border and learn something.”
Ontario’s transition to cleaner energy sources, particularly in the electrical sector, reflects a trend unfolding with gathering momentum in many industrialized nations.
Electricity generated from renewable energy sources contributed almost one fifth — 19.9 percent — of the European Union’s electricity in 2010, according to commission statistics. From 2000 to 2010, the number of gigawatts of electricity generated from biomass in EU nations more than tripled. During the same decade, the number of gigs generated by wind turbines increased almost seven-fold. A gigawatt is 1 billion watts.
The US also appears to be steadily moving away from coal and toward cleaner fuels.
As recently as 2007, the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a research unit of the US Department of Energy, projected that the fuel mix for producing electricity in the US would persist largely unchanged through 2035. According to that estimate, a little more than half of the country’s electricity would come from coal, about 20 percent from nuclear plants, and a little less than 20 percent from natural gas; the balance, roughly 12 percent, would be generated from wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower.
A lot changed over the last five years. In 2012, according to the EIA, US utilities burned 815 million tons of coal for electricity, down from over 1 billion tons in 2005, and the lowest utility coal consumption since 1990. Less than 38 percent of the country’s electricity last year came from coal. As recently as 2009 it was 53 percent. In its most recent assessment, the EIA projects that 49,000 megawatts of coal-fired power — equal to 50 big plants, and 15 percent of existing coal-fired capacity in 2012 – will be retired over the next seven years.
Replacing coal is a surge of plants fueled by natural gas and wind. Last year, gas supplied 29.9 percent of US electricity, up from 23 percent in 2009. And in 2012, with 13.2 megawatts installed nationally (equivalent to 13 big coal-fired plants), wind energy accounted for 42 percent of the nation’s new electrical generating capacity, more than coal and natural gas combined. Texas, of all places, generates 20 percent of its electricity with 12,200 megawatts of installed wind capacity.
In Ontario, 17 new natural gas-fired generating stations have been built and, with 10,000 megawatts of capacity, have replaced the generating capacity that came from coal. Both gas and wind, though, have prompted civic dissent. Citizen opposition forced the cancellation of gas-fired plants in Oakville and Mississauga, two suburbs of Toronto. And wind farms have attracted opposition in rural areas.
The discord over wind, said Tom Adams, an energy consultant in Toronto and author of Tomadamsenergy.com, a blog, is driven in part by a provision in the 2009 Green Energy Act that removed the authority of local governments to review and approve land use permits for wind projects. “People began to feel like their rights were taken away,” said Adams.
Opposition groups formed to stop projects. Ontario issued a formal moratorium for offshore wind development in Lake Ontario. Citizen groups filed lawsuits to halt projects, many of them motivated by fears that projects would reduce property values.
Wind energy development is also being blamed for rising electricity prices in Ontario. But Gipe, the industry analyst, responds that wind development — which accounted for less than 4 percent of all electricity generated last year — isn’t big enough to dramatically affect power prices.
Other factors also are in play, said McKeever of the Energy Ministry, including the cost of expanding and modernizing the province’s transmission grid and refurbishing the province’s big nuclear generating sector.
“The current Liberal government has heard the opposition,” said McKeever, “and is working to address the concerns of municipalities, and restoring some of those authorities. It’s been a learning process for this government.”
• Keith Schneider is senior editor of Circle of Blue. He is a former national correspondent and regular contributor to the New York Times. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, he has written about an increase in the development of unconventional sources of oil across the western US and Canada and about how a fossil fuel boom could slow the development of clean energy.