Bay jurisdictions’ no-action climate policy puts restoration in peril

This op-ed was originally printed by the Bay Journal on December 14, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

By: Rena Steinzor and David Flores

Despite research demonstrating that climate change is adding millions of pounds of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his Bay states colleagues appear to be taking a page from the Trump playbook: Ignore this inconvenient truth.

Doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans and threatens the planet are rapidly going the way of urban legend. Just ask any resident of Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast or California how life was during the three consecutive hurricanes or the wildfires that have plagued them this summer and fall. Reliable scientific research shows climate change is also compounding pollution in the Chesapeake. Rainfall exacerbated by these dire developments could mean millions of additional pounds of nitrogen and significantly more phosphorus reaching the Bay every year that will put restoration out of reach by 2025.

2018 marks the crucial midpoint assessment that should ensure restoration remains on track, saving the Bay from dead zones and protecting 18 million watershed residents from increased flooding and toxic algae blooms. Yet regional regulators and political leaders recently decided to let themselves ignore climate-induced pollution during this crucial reassessment, kicking this heavy can down the road until 2025 or later.

On Dec. 5, a Bay Program goal team charged with evaluating and recommending policies to restore water quality met to finalize proposals for what states must include in final restoration plans that will guide their actions through 2025. Over the last year, the team had developed a proposal to adopt a “comprehensive, straight-forward approach” to pollution attributable to climate change that “demonstrates [the] Partnership’s commitment to [the] Chesapeake Bay Agreement Climate Resiliency Goal.” For most of the year, Maryland had championed climate action as the policy, and models were developed by this and other Bay Program groups. But, ignoring this promise, Chesapeake jurisdictions instead advanced a totally new proposal that would defer action to eliminate the pollution until after the 2025 deadline.

To make things worse, the proposal would at best only require action to eliminate the pollution levels attributable to 2025 conditions. We know from the Bay partnership’s own research that the impact of climate change on the Chesapeake will worsen substantially from 2025 to 2050 and beyond.

Ironically, computer modeling suggests the harmful pollution resulting from climate change may be significantly greater than Hogan’s favorite whipping boy for this problem — pollution from the Conowingo Dam. The dam is no longer able to trap pollution coming down the Susquehanna River and has resulted in the need to reduce additional nitrogen and phosphorus flowing to the Bay.

Hogan and his environmental secretary, Benjamin Grumbles, talk a good game on climate change, advertising Maryland as a state taking progressive steps to fight the problem. That makes it all the more discouraging that the state’s representatives ultimately went along with the proposal to postpone a reckoning with climate change when it was approved.

Hogan and Grumbles have a chance to make it right and live up to their words by showing leadership when Bay states meet next week to finalize this and other policies. Maryland’s position should carry extra weight because the governor chairs the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. Maryland has more beautiful beaches, wetlands and fisheries than most other Bay states, and its political leaders must remain tireless advocates for a better and faster cleanup.

On Dec. 19, Secretary Grumbles will chair a meeting with his counterparts from other Bay states and federal agencies to make final decisions on how to address the remaining pollution reductions necessary to restore the Chesapeake, giving him and Hogan just a little more time to shift gears and again support action grounded in science and good policy. At the meeting, they should Bay states to commit to eliminating the additional nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and addressing all of the adverse impacts that result from changing climate.

Failing to meaningfully address climate change in the Bay cleanup not only abrogates the states’ commitment in the Bay Agreement but also undermines the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s commitment under the Bay pollution diet, or Total Maximum Daily Load — in writing, at least — to incorporate climate change into the midpoint assessment.

Maryland should be persuading Pennsylvania and other states to step up — on climate change and the Conowingo Dam. By signaling the lack of will and intent to address these pollution loads as soon as possible, Bay jurisdictions are ignoring what the experts know it will take to clean up the Bay. They are repudiating rigorous, peer-reviewed science and promoting a lighter — but no less significant — form of climate denialism, despite their approval of modeling that demonstrates the climate-related pollution rates; nor have they voiced any objections to its rigor.

Hogan and Grumbles can still do something to ensure the jurisdictions don’t effectively kill the Bay cleanup, but they need to act with haste, before it’s too late.

The views expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.  Click here to read the op-ed on the Bay Journal’s website.


Healthy farms – and the climate – need healthy soils

This post originally appeared on the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition’s Blog on June 2, 2017:

Healthy farms – and the climate – need healthy soils (6/2/17)

For those who don’t spend a lot of time on farms, it’s easy to think of soil as simply dirt. But it’s much more than that. Fertile, healthy soil is made up of nutrients, micro-organisms, minerals and other organic material – all of which are vital to grow the food we all need. Healthy soils also naturally sequester carbon, preventing it from seeping into the air and contributing to the greenhouse effect that is causing climate change.

Unfortunately, currently there is not enough healthy soil to go around. In an agricultural landscape dominated by large-scale, industrialized farms, conventional factory farming practices, including tillage and pesticide use, erode soils, kill micro-organisms and emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases. These practices are not only harmful to the climate, but they hurt farmers too. Decreased yields mean less income for farmers and, in turn, less food for the rest of us.

To combat this, a new movement is emerging to restore the healthy soils we need to feed a growing population, support farmers and fight climate change. In the 2017 Maryland General Assembly legislative session, lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation to promote healthy soils and incentivize farming practices that contribute to healthy soils and sequester carbon. The legislation defined “healthy soils” as the continuing capacity of soil to:

  • function as a biological system;
  • increase soil organic matter;
  • improve soil structure and water and nutrient holding capacity; and
  • sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a big opportunity for both farmers and environmentalists to come together to find solutions to this problem. If farmers adopt healthy soil practices on a broad scale, such as no-till harvesting, planting cover crops and reducing or eliminating their use of pesticides, we will be able to better secure our food supply, improve yields and profits for farms, improve air and water quality and combat climate change. Research also shows that reaching the goals of the Paris climate agreement (regardless of the U.S.’s official position on the accord) will be impossible without finding solutions in the agriculture sector.

This law is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to achieve these goals. A Healthy Soils Consortium managed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture has begun working on this issue, but the state still needs to find a funding stream to provide the incentives for farmers to change their practices. Once the program is fully off the ground, however, Maryland has an opportunity to become a real leader in promoting agricultural practices that benefit the planet as well as farmers and encourage other states and companies to do the same.

So, the next time you think about soil, don’t dismiss it as simply dirt. Instead, remember that an incredible solution to the effects of climate change lies just beneath our feet.

–Kerry Darragh, Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition

What’s going on with transparency?

This post originally appeared on the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition’s Blog on June 30, 2017:

What’s going on with transparency? (6/30/17)

Transparency and accountability have been priorities of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition since its inception. As government, industry and communities work together to reduce pollution, we must be able to see what is working – and what isn’t. Data and information is key to that effort.

In 2014, MCAC helped launch Marylanders for Open Government (MDOG), a network of diverse organizations connected by an interest in fair and open access to government-funded data and information. Member groups include Common Cause, ACLU, League of Women Voters and Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

MDOG was a leading driver of the ambitious, bipartisan 2015 update to Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA), which passed the General Assembly unanimously and was signed by Governor Hogan. That legislation created a PIA ombudsman position in the Maryland Attorney General’s office, established a PIA Compliance Board, clarified exemptions and improved required response times and protocols. The Attorney General’s office has a summary of the legislation here.

The bill also directed the Office of the Attorney General to report to the Governor and General Assembly on a number of issues relating to the implementation of the PIA, with an interim report due at the end of 2016 and a final report due at the end of 2017. Several issues related to agricultural transparency were highlighted in the interim report, released last December.

The report investigated state law exemptions outside the current PIA and specifically highlighted § 8-801.1 of the Agriculture Article, which governs the public availability of nutrient management plans. Nutrient management plans are essentially pollution control plans that identify the appropriate levels of manure and other nutrients—typically nitrogen and phosphorous— that maximize crop yields while minimizing the potential for runoff that can pollute local waterways.

These plans could be useful to determine how much nitrogen and phosphorus are being applied to the land and how that affects the local water quality. But, the plans are largely off limits.

Maryland code provides that the plans should be kept for three years “in a matter that protects the identity of the individual for whom the nutrient management plan was prepared.” Md. Code Ann., Agric. § 8-801.1(b)(2). Unfortunately, this provision has been the subject of seven years of litigation. The environmental community generally seeks a narrow interpretation where the name, address, and unique identification numbers are redacted. The Farm Bureau and other agriculture interests have argued for a broad interpretation where any information that could be used to identify a farm or farmer, such as the size of the farm or the types of crop it grows, should be redacted.

Should these plans be more accessible? A 2015 statewide poll showed that more than three-quarters of respondents supported eliminating the exemption that makes agriculture pollution control plans secret. Seventy-seven percent would support legislation to make agricultural pollution control plans available to the public, including 71 percent of respondents in rural counties.  Marylanders believe this information is important and should be made available to the public.

The interim report identifies the lack of clarity in the current code and suggests a solution is needed: “…we preliminarily find that § 8-801.1 of the Agriculture Article should be amended to specify what identifying information should be withheld when nutrient management plans are provided in response to a PIA request.”

MCAC will be submitting comments on the report recommending actions to address this “loophole” in the PIA. We encourage other organizations who are concerned with transparency and accountability in Maryland’s pollution control efforts to so the same. The Attorney General has a website dedicated to PIA reform, which you can find here. The site includes a link to the interim report and instructions on how to submit comments.

Maryland’s agriculture industry is afforded a level of secrecy that no other industry in our state enjoys, despite being heavily subsidized. Closing this loophole is critical to advancing transparency in the state, as well as to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. We’ll continue to watchdog and be a voice for expanding accountability in order to protect our waterways.

-Chris Trumbauer, Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition

Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People

On June 27, 2017 I traveled to Kutztown, Pennsylvania for a tour of the Rodale Institute. The visit, organized by the Alice Ferguson Foundation, was an opportunity to experience first hand how the power of sustainable agriculture can simultaneously improve our environment and build community wealth.

I’m still a novice when it comes to healthy soils, but the opportunities seem limitless.  Not only does implementing healthy soil practices do the obvious – build healthy soil – but it results in land that sequesters carbon, has higher production yields, and better withstands extreme weather.  Healthy soil builds healthier environments.  If that is not enough? It is bringing together diverse stakeholders; ones that have not traditionally worked together or found each other working on the same team.

I am looking forward to continue learning and seeing where the momentum around healthy soils takes the work in Maryland and beyond.




The Key To Conservation Is Not What You Think

This post originally appeared on the National Wildlife Federation’s Blog on July 26, 2016:


By: Chante Coleman

The conservation field is chock-full of significant challenges like cleaning up polluted waterways and curtailing air pollution. In the case of the NWF-hosted Choose Clean Water Coalition, for which I serve as Deputy Director, we work to reduce polluted runoff and minimize the impacts of natural gas fracking in the fight to meet the pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay. With all of these complicated problems, I never anticipated that the most significant and troubling issue is not an environmental issue at all, but a societal one: the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the Chesapeake Bay environmental community. This issue is critical because our success in returning clean water to the region relies on our ability to understand and effectively work with those from different backgrounds.

There are countless reasons why we must move toward a more diverse community: diversity makes us smarter; it allows us to be open to things that set us apart; and it can help reduce discrimination. Diversity is not only critical to our success as a community, but it is critical to making significant environmental progress.


First, the conservation community speaks on behalf of the public interest, promoting the “public good,” not private interests. When we do not reflect the communities we serve, we can’t legitimately speak on their behalf. People may question “how can an environmental nonprofit know what is best for me when they do not look like me or share my values and culture?”

Second, this is a numbers game. As the number of diverse individuals increases in the United States, our movement will continue to miss out on a growing segment of the population to engage and activate around our issues. Our field relies on numbers; more people are needed to combat the extraordinary amount of corporate dollars that promote private interests over the public good.

Third, it is our responsibility to ensure the people working in our field are accepted regardless of background and culture. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace will help us attract diverse individuals. It’s always fun to feel unique and special, but it gets tiring being the only person of color at every meeting and event. I want to see other people like me and I want to be a part of a movement that is not exclusive.

With that said, our end goal is two-fold: (1) the racial make-up of our organizations must reflect that of the communities we serve, and (2) we must engage more diverse communities in a meaningful and impactful way. To accomplish this, our coalition is advocating for a watershed-wide cultural shift in the way we think about institutional racism, unconscious bias, and outright discrimination. We are not going to authentically address our lack of diversity and inclusivity without breaking down these deep-seated, systemic barriers, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of how they impact the space we all live and work in.

The Choose Clean Water Coalition has consulted with experts to learn what we can to address these issues and has made strides toward beginning this shift. We created a tool-kit to help organizations craft governance documents, adjust hiring practices, and shape communications to attract more diversity. The Coalition committed to increasing diversity in our 2016-2017 strategic plan.

We also decided that improving the diversity of our annual conference is a priority. At last year’s conference, we collected our diversity demographics for the first time, and let me tell you, it was not pretty.

At this year’s conference, we made a conscious effort to incorporate diversity into every aspect. We included an environmental justice track, which featured all diverse speakers, and facilitated cultural competence training to help participants build awareness of how cultural differences impact people in an organization.

From last year to this year, we attracted significantly more people of color to our conference. Why? Because we acted intentionally. If we can intentionally improve diversity at our conference, can’t we do this in our larger environmental community? The Coalition has finally experienced some quantitative success in the quest for diversity. We believe this success can be scaled up to a watershed-wide level.

To accomplish this, the Choose Clean Water Coalition, in collaboration with the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network, intends to create a DEI plan for our community. This is a heavy lift, so we released an RFP to find an expert to help build our capacity to address DEI and write our plan. This expert will help us build the capacity of watershed organizations to establish mutual relationships with diverse communities and develop productive cross-sector networks to benefit diverse communities.

It is vital that our community reach a shared vision on DEI with the goal of using these principles in our work. We want to lead the way; and we hope you will follow.

Check out these resources to build your awareness and understanding of equity and the environment:

Equity in Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Regime

This post originally appeared on Sierra Club’s Blog, Compass: Pointing the way to a clean energy future, on May 11, 2016:

Equity in Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Regime

By Stuart Clarke

iStock_000017682962XLarge (1)

In just over a year Maryland has achieved a number of impressive milestones in its efforts to address the causes and consequences of climate change. Last Spring the General Assembly codified the Climate Change Commission as a permanent stakeholder body charged with advising the Governor and the legislature on climate and clean energy policy and programs. Then in July, the state’s Public Service Commission decided to extend and expand Maryland’s energy efficiency resource standards, which had been set to expire. Come November the Climate Change Commission released its first annual report, calling for an extension and expansion of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction mandate (from 25 percent by the year 2020 to 40 percent by the year 2030) and for a prioritization of equity considerations in our clean energy transition. Then, in the just-ended 2016 General Assembly session, the legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a bill that turned that 40 percent by 2030 recommendation into law. The session also saw passage of a bill to expand the state’s renewable energy mandate from 20 percent by 2022 to 25 percent by 2020.

We are of the view that, taken together, these developments represent the inauguration of a new phase of Maryland’s leadership on climate and clean energy. This new phase – what we might call Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Regime 2.0 (GGRR 2.0) – is characterized by several important commitments.

With the signature of Governor Hogan and the support of a number of Republicans in both chambers, the passage of the 40 percent by 2030 mandate represents a bipartisan commitment to extend and expand Maryland’s climate change leadership. The legislative record includes a finding by the Maryland Department of the Environment that achieving the 2009 mandate of a 25 percent reduction by 2020 will result in significant net economic benefits to the state. Accordingly, the passage of the new mandate also represents a commitment to the proposition that de-carbonization is a path to future prosperity rather than a threat to future prosperity.

The establishment of a permanent Climate Change Commission represents a commitment to the proposition that climate change leadership in Maryland should be transparent and accountable, and the Climate Commission’s 2015 report represents a commitment to the proposition that a decarbonized prosperity needs to be resilient, and needs to be equitable.

In identifying these commitments as key features of GGRR 2.0, we do not want to suggest that we are overconfident about how fully they will be respected and realized. We are not. Our proposition is that the manner in which our recent progress has occurred – including the language with which it has been framed – creates principles, criteria, aspirations and expectations to which the state can, and should, be held accountable.

These markers of climate and clean energy progress are not, of course, the set of developments that most forcefully marked Maryland’s last year. The year that moved us forward on climate and clean energy action also brought us – in the form of the police custody death of Freddy Gray and the unrest that followed – a sobering reminder of the kinds of progress that our progressive state has yet to achieve. Celebration of our climate and clean energy advances is tempered by the recognition that, absent attention and intention, ‘progress’ will often reproduce and reinforce structures and systems of inequity and injustice. Clean energy advocates ought not permit ourselves to look away from that reality. Instead, we should confront it for what it is, an opportunity to embrace and enact a broader transformative vision, one that seeks not simply create a clean energy future, but one that is fairer and more democratic as well.

In this context we are especially enthusiastic about the GGRR 2.0 commitment to equity. This commitment is made explicit in the Climate Commission’s 2015 report, which calls for Maryland’s 2030 planning to include consideration of the degree to which climate action strategies, policies and programs produce economic benefits that are equitably distributed across Maryland’s population; effectively address the economic dislocations that they may cause; and reduce energy burdens and improve resilience in vulnerable communities.

Until fairly recently Maryland interactions between climate action, energy policy, and equity considerations and constituencies have, as often as not, been tactical, incremental, and discontinuous. Equity advocates have been appropriately focused on the delivery of energy services to low income households and communities, often in the form of bill payment assistance, and energy efficiency upgrades. These advocates have also, on occasion, raised reasonable concerns about the economic impact that clean energy investments will have in increasing electricity rates for low and moderate income households. On the other side, when not ignoring equity considerations, clean energy advocates have too often sought to use them merely for tactical leverage, to gain the support of Baltimore or Prince Georges County legislators.

Our hope is that the GGRR 2.0 commitment to equity can help promote a weaving together of equity and clean energy challenges and constituencies into a new movement focused on making Maryland’s energy system cleaner, fairer, and more democratic. This movement would be built on the growing recognition that strategies to promote clean energy progress can also address and mitigate social and economic inequity if two simple principles are adhered to: we must insure equitable access to the benefits generated by clean energy strategies, policies, and programs; and we must identify and address how the costs of those strategies, policies, and programs can disproportionately burden the poor and the vulnerable.

Equity and clean energy advocates have already been forging mutually convenient alliances to highlight the community health burdens associated with the embrace of lower carbon content ‘bridge’ fuels and technologies like fracked natural gas and waste-to-energy incineration. We are pleased to begin to see these alliances ramifying, as advocates begin to find common cause in strategies and policies that drive us towards an equitably prosperous clean energy future. These include policies to insure that low income households and communities of color are able to access the economic and health benefits associated with living in more energy efficient dwellings powered by renewable energy; the job creation benefits associated with increased investment in renewable energy generation; and the security and stability benefits associated with increased energy resilience from expanded micro grids and distributed generation.

We are especially pleased that a piece of Town Creek-funded work may help to facilitate and inform these new relationships and ambitions in Maryland. “Planning for Climate and Energy Equity in Maryland” is a comprehensive review of the environmental justice and energy equity challenges and opportunities embedded in the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan. This report – commissioned by the Maryland Environmental Health Network and conducted by Skeo Solutions Consulting – provides a precise review of the justice and equity aspects of Maryland’s existing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, while also emphasizing the need for the plan’s programmatic interventions to take place in the context of inclusive and adaptive planning for equitable outcomes. Since policies and programs that are neutral on their face can have inequitable impacts when implemented across our state’s particular geography of vulnerability, the report also emphasizes the importance of developing and implementing tools, techniques and practices that will allow for the precise locating of equity challenges and opportunities.

To be sure, Baltimore and Maryland are no different than other cities and states in preserving and extending legacies of inequity and injustice. We are simply in a moment when it is especially difficult to pretend otherwise. Since it would be unwise to expect that this moment will last, we ought to strive to use it wisely and productively. Fortunately, opportunities to reduce carbon pollution while also redressing energy and environmental inequities abound.

As the state’s representatives on the RGGI Board consider if and how to continue and expand RGGI’s progress in reducing regional greenhouse gas emissions, we hope that they will embrace the opportunity to include the views and perspectives of the low income constituents that directly benefit from the auction revenues generated by the carbon cap.

As the Public Service Commission explores how our electric grid can be made more resilient and more supportive of clean energy, we hope that they will embrace the opportunity to consider – along with the state’s low income and vulnerable constituents – how it can be made fairer as well.

As the Maryland Climate Change Commission develops its 2016 Annual report, we hope that it will embrace the opportunity to make good on its 2015 commitment to emphasize equity considerations, and generate robust recommendations for how Maryland can better track and plan for the distribution of the benefits and burdens of climate policy and planning.

The Challenge Of Unpaid Internships

The lack of diversity in the mainstream environmental community is apparent in almost every organization, meeting, and conference. And while the community discusses the approaches to better address diversity, equity, and inclusion (e.g. evaluating an organization’s make up and external outreach programs) there is one aspect that has never come up once in a DEI conversation that I have been a part of – unpaid internships.

I get it, it’s challenging, the nonprofit community operates on shoestring budgets to pay its own staff, let alone pay for interns. I was a product of unpaid internships and was grateful for those opportunities, but I also recognize that those who can take advantage of unpaid internships are those who are economically stable enough to do so. How many incredibly talented people is our community missing out on because of this issue of access?

Green 2.0 highlighted the diversity challenges in the environmental community. Not only do we need to be intentional about organizational make up and how we conduct hiring searches, but we need to be thinking about the barriers we are putting in place that becomes exclusionary to the next generation.

I obviously cannot speak for every organization and their strategies behind offering internships, but I believe they are an opportunity – a missed one for internships that are unpaid – to ready the next generation with the experience they need to hold their own in the job market.

So on this Earth Day, I appeal to my friends and colleagues – take your organizational reflection one step further and think about how you may be creating barriers for our next generation of environmentalists.


One Lion ≠ Systemic Change

Jane Goodall released a statement on the death of Cecil the Lion.

“I was shocked and outraged to hear the story of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s much loved lion. Not only is it incomprehensible to me that anyone would want to kill an endangered animal (fewer than 20,000 wild lions in Africa today) but to lure Cecil from the safety of a national park and then to shoot him with a crossbow. I have no words to express my repugnance. He was not even killed outright, but suffered for hours before finally being shot with a bullet. And his magnificent head severed from his wounded body. And this behaviour is described as a “sport”. Only one good thing comes out of this – thousands of people have read the story and have also been shocked. Their eyes opened to the dark side of human nature. Surely they will now be more prepared to fight for the protection of wild animals and the wild places where they live. Therein lies the hope.”

For me, I have very little hope that this will result in anything more than what was happening before Cecil’s death. The amount of outrage and level of coverage is similar to that of any controversial and polarizing issue.

  • For a few days we have overnight activists who share their opinions, whether they are informed or not.
  • Then you have news coverage that usually only focuses on the specific incident and ignores the greater systemic issue it resulted from.
  • You might have organizations trying to leverage the amount of attention, but for the most part it goes un-utilized with no opportunities for engagement clearly presented.
  • And then 2-3 days later, we shift our attention back to the critically important on fleek eyebrows, selfies, and viral videos that populate our newsfeeds.

I think if there is any good that comes from the level of attention Cecil’s death has received, it will come from its ability to further cement the determination of the animal activists who do as they preach and see this incident as part of a larger systemic issue.

I do not see Cecil’s death resulting in systemic change and cultural shifts because the framing of the story already tells me that it will not. The world is upset over the death of one lion. That is not to say I do not care.  Trust when I say my ferocious little grumpy cat and I are upset. The problem is that Cecil’s death goes far beyond the death of one lion. It is about the deep complexity of corrupt government systems, impoverished countries, and the significant motivating forces that drive the market for trophy hunting. Most of the articles do not address this.  I can bet that most of the people upset, are upset from a place of anthropomorphism and not from a deep understanding of, or care for, the systemic issues that got us to this point.

This trend happens more then it should. For a few days, otherwise apathetic and passive individuals, share their opinions, hit a few “likes”, feel good about themselves, and move on. Some of these individuals would never move into meaningful action, but others might have had organizations leveraged the attention in an effective way that provided opportunities for deeper engagement.

We cannot place the responsibility of protecting our planet on the backs of a select few. Organizations need to effectively leverage the attention an issue is getting and individuals need to step up and practice what they preach.  We are not industry and we will never have money on our side.  What we do have is people and money cannot speak louder than a group of strong, informed and united individuals, demanding systemic change.


Transaction to Transformation

This post originally appeared on the Association for Baltimore Area Grantmaker’s Blog, Adventures in Philanthropy, on June 19, 2015:

Transaction to Transformation

By Stuart Clarke, ABAG Board Member and Executive Director, Town Creek Foundation

I was recently invited to speak at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers about the work we are doing at the Town Creek Foundation and how it illustrates one of the goals’ of the Association’s newly presented strategic plan.

ABAG’s mission is to maximize the impact of philanthropic giving on community life through a growing network of diverse, informed and effective philanthropists. As an ABAG Board Member, I was happy to speak about the foundation and about the strategic plan that I helped develop, which acknowledges the long standing roles of our Association as a convener and leader for collective and transformative action and how we will seek to elevate that role, maximizing our unique ability to convene a broad range of stakeholders, to be a voice, to lead public discourse and to influence governance and policy affecting the issues and communities we serve.

The new plan highlights four main goals, and I helped illustrate Goal #1:

“The Association will lead, with and for its members, efforts to influence critical issues and improve community conditions.” I discussed transaction to transformation and how the Town Creek Foundation thinks about our work and our collaboration with other members to encourage more systemic change.

Here are my remarks:

“It’s fun to be up here talking to you this morning, at least partly because – for at least two reasons – it’s sort of an odd place for me to be. First, Town Creek is a thirty-four year old environmental advocacy funder that, until pretty recently, has had a pretty low profile in Baltimore. Our more significant distinguishing characteristic, however, is that we are sun-setting. We are in the middle of the fourth year of a ten-year spend down. We plan to make our last grants, throw a big party, and bounce the caterer’s check at the end of 2021.

I’m here to tell you that self-imposed mortality can have an urgently clarifying influence on institutional thinking. Our decision to sunset was made in 2011, after a period of significant environmental progress in Maryland on issues of primary concern to us. This was a period that culminated in the establishment of relatively ambitious goals, strategies and plans to reduce the state’s contributions to Bay pollution and global warming.

Rather than basking in that glow, however, our decision to sunset prompted us to confront three questions about our work and our partnerships:

  • Is the scale and pace of change that we were seeing sufficient in view of the political, economic, and ecological headwinds that appear to be on the way?
  • Are the strategies that are producing incremental pollution reductions also building sufficient political power to sustain and accelerate those reduction sunder change political and economic circumstances?
  • Can we sustainably address Maryland’s major pollution challenges by reforming the practices that generate that pollution but leaving unchanged the purpose, logic, and structural relationships of the systems in which those practices are embedded?

It probably won’t surprise you that we emerged from this confrontation convinced that the answers to these questions are probably no. That we probably haven’t done enough of the right things to earn the self-satisfied retirement we’d been planning.

So we jumped into our last decade intent on encouraging our partners to augment their transactional strategies focused on incremental change with transformational strategies focused on systemic change.

  • We think we know what that means, but we know that we don’t know precisely how it works. We do think that five things are probably critical. The first three have to do with our grantmaking:
  • We think we need to invest in vision – in work that produces narratives of fundamentally different futures for the state and the region;
  • We think we need to invest in leadership – especially leadership with an appetite for boldness; and
  • We think we need to invest in examples, in pilot projects – real live pieces of the future that we need to build.

The last two things are about where we invest our time and our commitment, rather than where we invest our funds.

We need to be present with folks that are struggling with our toughest problems – not just environmental problems, but the full panoply of social and economic problems that we need to overcome. And, we need to engage that struggle in the state’s center of gravity, here, in Baltimore, where the challenges and the opportunities present themselves in the rawest and ripest forms.

So that’s why we are showing up at ABAG, and that’s why I am standing up for this strategic plan.”

A Challenge From A Pragmatic Environmentalist

As someone who works in the environmental field, I should enjoy Earth Day. Instead I actually find myself hating it more each year. For me, Earth Day has turned into an annual day of inauthentic concern and celebration for the planet.

The environmental community advocates 365 days of the year, with 364 of those days usually involving some sort of opposition and challenge. Earth Day is the one-day about us; where the media and the attention are focused on the planet. We do not have to “fight” per usual because for a mere 24-hours everyone seems to be a born-again environmentalist. We are given 24-hours where the opposition does not have an equal footing and environmental organizations and advocates let it be used for “happy” pictures and simple celebratory sentiments about the planet.

Maybe I would not be as frustrated with Earth Day if organizations used tactics to move the Earth Day “slacktivists” into more active advocacy roles. Instead, organizations and advocates allow for the annual day of born-again environmentalism to go untapped.

It is not enough to pick up a piece of trash or post a Happy Earth Day status.

Here is a reality check:

  • Municipal waste only accounts for 3% of total waste production in the United States.
  • Taking shorter showers will not stop the planet from running out of water. It will not fix drought stricken regions. Over 90% of water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The other 10% is split between municipalities and individuals.
  • If every person in the United States did everything Al Gore suggested in “An Inconvenient Truth,” U.S. carbon emissions would only fall by about 22%.

A picture of “happy trees” in honor of Earth Day will not make a difference.

In case there was any doubt, a “Happy Earth Day” post will not:

  • Secure the termination of the proposed Energy Answers incinerator in Curtis Bay. The hard, on-the-ground work, of United Workers and Free Your Voice did that.
  • Stand with concerned citizens in opposition to proposed mega-CAFOs, on Maryland’s lower eastern shore, threatening the public health of surrounding communities. Assateague Coastal Trust, Food and Water Watch, and the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project are doing that.
  • Improve the air quality of overburdened communities. Your zip code should not dictate your life expectancy. This is a reality that is very much within the confines of the state of Maryland. The Maryland Environmental Health Network is fighting for that.
  • Work long hours from January-April defending the right to a clean and healthy environment during Maryland’s Legislative Session. The countless advocates and constituents do that year after year.

Personal change is not enough. It is not a powerful political act.  Personal change does not equal social change.  

To the 24-hour born-again environmentalists: If you mean what you said or posted today, connect with your local environmental organization and get involved. The environmental community is fighting too many serious issues for you to hide behind a computer.

To the environmental advocates: Work to engage “slacktivists” in more active advocacy roles and utilize this day, and any where we are given more attention and leverage than the opposition, to its absolute fullest.









“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

…but that means actually caring for the environment all 365 days of the year.