Viable Solutions

The case for infrastructure, beyond shovel-ready

On Labor Day, President Obama announced a new plan to spend $50 billion on infrastructure, in hopes of giving a boost to the sluggish economy. The public response was tepid. Given the deteriorating state of our infrastructure, the lack of investment in its maintenance, and imagination for its renewal, no wonder Americans lack the confidence and willingness to spend more.

Elmer Ave Before and After

But the spending doesn't have to follow the same old model. There's a new kind of infrastructure now being deployed across America and around the world. 21st century infrastructure not only boosts, but actually rebuilds the economy on a long-term sustainable footing. It protects from climate change, conserves dwindling energy, water and other natural resources, eases mobility of people and goods, improves public health, and – importantly - creates ongoing jobs.

To catch a raindrop...or a billion

This summer saw the debut of an impressive new Los Angeles-based magazine, Slake, and its publication ofa spectacular story by Judith Lewis Mernit about Elmer Avenue in Sun Valley - L.A.’s newest green street that harvests rainwater - as well as the issues surrounding local water: To Catch a Raindrop.

Congratulations to Judith and her friends at Slake for this excellent primer on water policy in Los Angeles in the 21st century. I celebrate its depth of analysis, and the fullness of the portrait it paints of the vast effort required to make Elmer Avenue happen.

The story focuses mostly on former L.A. Department of Water and Power project engineer Mark Hanna. It also shines light on the many who contributed their energy, talent and passion to Elmer Avenue's success. It paints a detailed picture, both of the technical side, and the human side, making it clear that it’s a huge team and community effort involving many players.

California's real Home Tree

Majestic old coast live oak treeTrees are beautiful, but they are not just objects of beauty. Their majesty runs deep, particularly with the old trees, a majesty both mystical and practical.

Great old trees came to mind when I met James Cameron, the director of Avatar, on Earth Day. I presented him with a Coast Live Oak seedling, aka quercus agrifolia, in thanks for his work in raising global environmental concern, and for making a tree the star of the largest box office movie in history.

Cameron hasn't stopped with making the film. His Home Tree Initiative aims to plant one million trees around the world. TreePeople has been selected as one of the Initiative's seventeen global partners, by the Earth Day Network.

Poland's viable solution to environmental overwhelm - beer and ginger

This has not been an easy summer for the planet. The world looks a little wounded to me, and a lot of people I talk to are feeling it. We've had the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico on our minds, the worst marine spill in the history of the industry, and now the worst heat wave in a thousand years in Russia, not to mention flooding in Asia. (All of these climate events were predicted in the last global climate report, the Associated Press points out.) 

How do we deal with bad news in our lives? It’s a big question. Earlier this summer Ira Flatow, of NPR’s Science Friday, interviewed an expert on “compassion fatigue,” Charles Figley of Tulane University. He pointed out that for people who care, burn-out is almost inevitable in troubled times:

By the way, if you don’t have any compassion, you’re not going to get compassion fatigue. So, you know, welcome to the human race.

Figley added that everybody needs to recharge their batteries sometimes, to turn off the news, to breathe, to take pleasure in their lives.

One little thing that gives me great pleasure in life is ginger.

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