news round up (2020 kick-off)

Happy Belated New Years!

2020… I remember back in the ’00’s when I heard “we are going to [do this thing] by 2020” and thinking it was so futuristic and far off. What’s the urgency anyway?

Well… here we are! I guess this is a just a reminder that today was at one time someone’s distant future. And we are living with the consequences of the many decisions that echo down through the generations.

It’s hard, but I try to remember this when I hear about “by the end of the 20th century.” I’ll be gone, but by then my children (Lord willing) will be old folks, and presumably still in need of the basics we all crave: food, water, shelter, a safe society, warm & compassion & human belonging. What we do now really does open up or foreclose the opportunities for them.

Ok, that got deep! If you are bundled up inside today, here are a few headlines that I’ve been reading the last several weeks. They are in no particular order, so feel free to scan headlines to find what interested you. Enjoy:

Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health (Yale 360) A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.

A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.

Eliminating food deserts won’t help poorer Americans eat healthier (The Conversation) In the U.S., rich people tend to eat a lot healthier than poor people. Because poor diets cause obesity, Type II diabetes and other diseases, this nutritional inequality contributes to unequal health outcomes. The richest Americans can expect to live 10-15 years longer than the poorest. Many think that a key cause of nutritional inequality is food deserts – or neighborhoods without supermarkets, mostly in low-income areas. The narrative is that folks who live in food deserts are forced to shop at local convenience stores, where it’s hard to find healthy groceries. If we could just get a supermarket to open in those neighborhoods, the thinking goes, then people would be able to eat healthy. The data tell a strikingly different story…

And related…

Why community-owned grocery stores like co-ops are the best recipe for revitalizing food deserts (The Conversation)

Mowing urban lawns less intensely increases biodiversity, saves money and reduces pests (Phys.org)

Vatican calls Greta Thunberg ‘great witness’ of Church’s environmental teaching (Crux)

Research: Coyotes don’t reduce deer populations (Journal of Wildlife Management)

Bob Murray paid for science denial instead of his coal workers’ wages as company went bankrupt (Electrek)

Pinebrook, UT Net-Zero Electric Home including one electric vehicle (with two years of data)

New Indiana fish species discovered (well, in 2006, but this was a fun note from I-DNR on Facebook)

Tainted Dreams: Chernobyl survivor, organic farmer faces new contamination problem in Indiana (Indiana Environmental Reporter)

The coal industry is dying. Indiana should let go. (IndyStar) Indiana is about to lose a substantial chunk of its coal mining jobs in one fell swoop — a reminder that, despite the political forces propping it up, the coal industry is much less important to the state’s economy than you might think.

IPL to retire 2 coal-fired units in southern Indiana (WishTV)

NIPSCO fined $1 million for discriminating against 1,500-plus female, black job candidates, court records show (NWI Times)

Scientists have gotten predictions of global warming right since the 1970s (Vox) The first systematic review finds that climate models have been remarkably accurate.

Chicago among cities requiring spaces for apartment, condo dwellers to charge electric vehicles (GreenCarReports)

BloombergNEF: Average Battery Prices Fell To $156 Per kWh In 2019 (InsideEVs) According to BloombergNEF (BNEF) research, this year the average EV battery pack prices decreased to around $156/kWh, which is some 87% less than it was in 2010 (over $1,100/kWh).

The New Climate Math (Yale e360, by Bill McKibben) The Numbers Keep Getting More Frightening: Scientists keep raising ever-louder alarms about the urgency of tackling climate change, but the world’s governments aren’t listening. Yet the latest numbers don’t lie: Nations now plan to keep producing more coal, oil, and gas than the planet can endure.

Controversial Pesticides Are Suspected Of Starving Fish (NPR) There’s new evidence that a widely used family of pesticides called neonicotinoids, already controversial because they can be harmful to pollinators, could be risky for insects and fish that live in water, too.

Trump Pledged to Help Small Farms. Aid Is Going to Big Ones (Bloomberg) Half of the Trump administration’s latest trade-war bailout for farmers went to just a 10th of recipients in the program, according to an analysis of payments by an environmental organization. The study asserted that payouts have been skewed toward larger operations and wealthier producers.

This Solar Energy Company Fired Its Construction Crew After They Unionized (Vice News) Inspired by AOC’s Green New Deal, workers at Bright Power voted to form the first union at a solar power company in New York. On Monday, the company fired them.

What happens when the humble circuit breaker becomes a computer (Vox) The electricity system is evolving from analog to digital — and that’s great news for transitioning off of fossil fuels.

Update Given on Progress of the Yellow River, Kankakee River Basin Development Commission (WKVI)

the power of mission

I suppose it’s finally time I write about Tesla.

This fall we had all the 1st graders and Kindergarteners in Marshall County visit the campus as a part of Indiana Promise. I ran one of the education stations and focused on teaching them the basic idea of running our cars on sunlight. I had a mini solar panel and our Honda Clarity, a plug-in hybrid electric car.

I was quite surprised when on two occasions I had 5- and 6-year olds mention Tesla vehicles.

WHAT?! How does a Silicon Valley car company with $0 advertising budget have brand name recognition in the mouths of a 5 year olds from Marshall County, where only a dozen EVs can be found, let alone a Tesla?!!

Another strange story…

Why was Elon Musk, CEO of said company which was valued at billions of dollars, hanging out at one of their showrooms on New Year’s Eve, helping to deliver cars to customers desperate to meet a midnight tax deadline? Surely there were plenty of invites to fancy parties with other VIPs. Yes, even the CEO’s mother was there (which only reinforces the idea that deep down, everything we are striving for is really about gaining our parents’ approval!).

And one more…

Also at that showroom on New Year’s Eve day were volunteers from the local Tesla owners club. They were conducting orientations for new car purchasers. For free. On behalf of a for-profit multinational car company. On their day off.

Can you picture people on New Years Eve day crawling out from under their warm blanket and heading to their local Ford dealership to volunteer delivering cars to customer? No, you cannot picture it, because that would never happen.

Something about this entity is different, and it’s working.

Tesla remains 5+ years ahead of any other manufacturer in terms of EV technology and experience, taking over half of the U.S. EV sales (EV’s are about 1 in every 45 new car sales). They make 3 of the top 4 selling fully electric cars, and the quickest selling – the Model 3 sedan – outsells the nearest competing model (the Chevy Bolt) nearly 9-to-1. The cars’ software is updated over WiFi, constantly adding new features and abilities in the garage while the owners sleep. They’ve built an extensive charging network across several continents, extending even up into the Arctic Circle.

It has brand recognition with 5 year olds in Marshall County, gets its cars featured for free in trending hip hop videos, and has even police chiefs in small town Indiana buying the cars for their low operating cost and silent operation, and 8 exterior cameras that monitor the exterior of the car 24/7.

As a caveat, let me say no, of course no institution is perfect, nor any CEO.

But what is different about this institution? How can a start-up company come out of nowhere and change the game on legacy manufacturers with billions in capital that still haven’t been able to come close?

I think a lot has to do with it’s mission. It’s only 11 words long:

The founders laid out a “secret” master plan and published it on their website in 2006. They released “Master Plan, Part Deux” in 2016.

The logistics of what they have done have surely been painfully complicated. But simplicity was had in their master plan & the mission. In return, they’ve almost single-handedly helped disrupt one of the most polluting industries on the planet.

Whether a multinational corporation, a mom-and-pop pharmacy, a church, or an unincorporated enthusiasts club, it’s hard to discount the central importance of a simple & compelling mission.


PFAS: the “forever chemical” found in the bloodstream of 99% of Americans

I get e-mail updates whenever Steve Glass posts on his blog. Through participation in the Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration, I’ve come to trust Steve’s leadership, wisdom, and discernment, to say nothing of his commitment to the stewardship of our common ecological home.

I was troubled to read his recent post, “Across the Nation, PFAS Are In America’s Drinking Water Supplies.” It is worth your time to read and summarizes the issue.

I had heard of PFAS because some of my in-laws live near a notorious PFAS source, a tannery near Grand Rapids, MI. I had no idea, however, how widespread these chemical were, or that they are essentially unregulated by the EPA.

From Steve, I learned that PFAS chemicals are commonly used in fire-fighting foam. I started adding foam to the water tank during our prescribed fires. Anyone who has tried to extinguish fire with water-only will soon see the night-and-day difference. This is especially true for mobile prescribed fire rigs, that can’t afford to use the massive volume that big truck tankers use to fight structure fire.

I went to check the label on my foam to see if it had PFAS. After learning how nasty PFAS has the potential to be, we would have no choice but to stop using it and find a way to dispose of it properly. As inconvenient as it would be, to continue to use it would be a violation of The Earth Charter, which states, “Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach” (Principle II.6).

The manufacturer quickly responded to my inquiry and provided a data sheet with environmental information. It says that “Solberg Fire-Brake Class A foam concentrate does not contain any PFAS ingredients commonly found in Class B foam concentrates.”

So, that’s the good news.

The skeptic in me, however, considers human nature & the structure of incentives in statements like these. Therefore, I’m wary to take institutions and corporations at their word, especially if it would be inconvenient or expensive to admit the truth, and if the downside to this risk is significant ecological damage.

Why go to that trouble? As I was reminded by a friend, “the Earth deserves our diligence.”

As a rule, I prefer 3rd part verification for corporations, institutions, and the like. As they say, “In God we trust, all others bring data.” I’m going to bring this to the attention of several of my colleagues… if there are lingering concerns, we may need to seek out a 3rd party laboratory test to confirm this assertion.

In my research I also learned that fire-safety experts and fire-fighters’ unions are calling on governments for a PFAS ban in foams, for worker and ecological safety. Also, this scary headline from The Intercept: “The U.S. Military is spending millions to replace toxic firefighting foam with toxic firefighting foam” (I haven’t read this one yet).

Steve later followed up his first post with an update, linking to a study that found PFAS in 99% of America’s bloodstreams. He posted again more recently, noting that PFAS was also found in rainwater samples.

Steve notes some hopeful actions by the Madison, WI fire department, ceasing their use of PFAS-containing foam. “After all as one Madison fire fighter said, they live here too and drink the water and breath the same air as the rest of us.

Nationally, however, there is not yet cause for optimism.

Researchers at Northeastern University have been aggregating this PFAS news and connecting the dots. Through their work, I found the following:

*The Trump administration recently attempted to suppress a major environmental health study that showed exposure limits for PFAS should be 7 to 10 times lower than current EPA safety standards

*President Trump has also threatened to veto first ever congressional action on ‘forever chemicals’

In regards to ecological health & protection, the Federal situation is pretty dire at the moment (from PFAS to climate science to natural areas management).

One could hope that some action could be taken at local and state levels. Michigan is apparently stepping up. One could also bring these concerns to their local fire department, where fire-fighters and water-drinkers of all ages are likely at risk.

UPDATE: A reader informed me that Dr. Graham Peaslee at Notre Dame is conducting research on the presence of PFAS. See more here.

baby it’s warm outside

Talking about the weather… it never gets old. I like to joke with folks how I am constantly surprised by people who are constantly surprised about fluctuations in temperature and precipitation. I mean… weather happens, and it has always happened, so when you ask me, “Can you believe this weather?” you’d better expect dead-panned “yes”.

Ok, ok… I know that weather is just small talk, and it . But that’s what you get for asking a scientist! 🙂

Dec. 26th… Can you believe it??? Because I can.

We spent most of Christmas day in the backyard. Barefoot. Playing soccer. Finding woollybears. Watching the bees (the ones that randomly moved in at our house). Soaking up some UV rays. No kidding!

there’s treasure everywhere
They were… not happy. It was warm enough to fly around, but I doubt there were many flowers open.

As for what changing temperatures mean for Indiana, I’ll defer to the scientists at Purdue. They have released several sections of their Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment. Go have a look!

I thought you might enjoy this neat map by climate scientist Brian Brettschnider (@Climatologist49). It shows northern Indiana as having approximately even odds of having a “white Christmas” on any given year.

The day after Christmas, I was at work and took advantage of the weather. I was out by the solar panels prepping the ground for a winter-seeding of pollinator-friendly native plants (more on that in a later post).

While I was out at the solar arrays, I saw two foxes that many folks have seen scampering boldly around the grounds during the day. One is an adult and I believe the second one, which doesn’t have a full orange coat, is a juvenile. It was 9 am and the sun was just breaking above the tree tops, very beautiful. (Just hoping I can catch it sometime when I have my nice camera and not just my cell phone).

In addition to pollinator habit, the native vegetation and the cover provided by the panels themselves should also provide areas for other creatures to use: birds, mammals, herptiles (reptiles & amphibians) invertebrates, etc. I like seeing small microhabitat differences across the site: variations in shade & sun, wet & dry. It’s a great spot for a fox to hunt for mice.

One concern I had as a project manager was weather wildlife would impact the arrays (e.g. chewing on the wires). I was pleasantly shocked at how neat and clean Green Alternative’s installation was. There are few exposed wires, and underground wires are limited to the main runs to the buildings. Like any piece of infrastructure, we’ll have to keep tabs on things, but I anticipate few issues.

Something burrowing underground. Fortunately, there is almost nothing underground for this animal to run into.

Snow or no, rain or sunshine, I wish you all a Merry Christmas season and a prosperous 2020.

I pray that we will have the imagination of Mary, who was attentive to the small things, and who foresaw the lowly lifted up, the hungry fed, and the rich sent away empty.

In a world with a lot of anger, rage, and fighting, I’m pondering the words of Buckminster Fuller:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

the value of our solar arrays just went up

We like photovoltaic solar energy technology for a lot of reasons. It allows us to run everything from computers, heart monitors, heat pumps, and vehicles on sunshine. It’s modular and not very scale-dependent, so we can design arrays to match the size of our needs and add on as budget allows. It helps us get connected to the annual abundance of our earth and solar system, instead of lazily living off of millions years of compressed sunshine (fossil fuels) while passing the degradation off to the poor or our grand kids.

Prepping the ground for a pollinator friendly seed mix. Nov 2019.

From the financial-resilience side, solar also helps us control our operational costs. When you write the check for a well-designed system, installed by a crew you know is going to be around for on-going support, you are locking in your energy costs.

We made a big investment in solar this year. To our knowledge, it’s the largest solar array at an Indiana institute of higher ed (at least until 2020). When we ran the numbers, we tried to make conservative assumptions about electric rates and energy production, not wanting to set unrealistic expectations. That is, we would love to be pleasantly surprised by any unexpected upside!

We have no battery storage with our arrays, so all the electricity produced has to be instantly transferred somewhere. If there is more energy than the building is using at the moment, it goes backwards through the meter and to the next available load down the power line. Our utility, NIPSCO, measures this energy and gives us a 1:1 financial credit for this excess, an arrangement called net metering.

So if we are paying, say, $0.12 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for energy consumed from the grid at night, then the value of our excess solar energy being pushed back to the grid at noon is also worth $0.12.

Which brings me to recent news. State regulators recently approved a rate increase for NIPSCO customers. In Indiana, these state-regulated utilities are businesses that are granted a captive market (monopoly). These utilities make rate increase petitions on a periodic basis, which usually prompts push back by consumer advocates like Citizens Action Coalition and environmental advocates like the Sierra Club.

Since the cost of each kWh has gone up, so too has the value of every avoided kWh through efficiency or through solar energy production… which means that our solar panels will be more financially valuable when 2020 rolls around and rates increase.

Now, I don’t want to give in to schadenfreude for all those without solar, but it is nice to see that an asset we invested in continues to pay us back.

Lastly, a bit of news and a note on the Lindenwood solar array.

Indianapolis Power & Light (another regulated utility/business) is going to be closing two coal plants… good news! One will go dark in 2021, another in 2023. They intend to keep two more plants running for decades… but I highly suspect that economics alone will compel them to shutter the other plants before the end of their service life. Good news for all creatures who drink water and breathe air.

Lindenwood Retreat and Conference Center received 41 kW of solar this year. We had some hardware issues that delayed it’s commissioning, but our vendor worked tirelessly with the manufacture to get it running.

We have a public-facing web site that shows the solar energy production in real time. Please give it a look! Unfortunately we are now entering the “solar doldrums” season of short and cloudy days, but it has already saved more than 1 ton of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of planting 54 trees.

UPDATE: We have a page live for our Moontree solar array (2018) as well.

news round up (late fall edition)

PFAS Chemicals in Bloodstream of 99% of All Americans (Steve Glass blog) PFAS are used in many consumer products, included carpets, couches, and food packaging; this, in addition to their use in foam firefighting retardant… In an earlier report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) PFAS compounds may be in the drinking water of up to 110 million Americans.

Brazilian Amazon Burns at an Accelerating Rate (Steve Glass blog, including his personal observations on a birding trip)

City Releases Climate Action Plan (City of South Bend) The Mayor Pete Buttigieg administration has released Carbon Neutral 2050, a climate action plan for the City of South Bend. The Carbon Neutral 2050 Plan sets ambitious community-wide goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, first targeting a 26% reduction by 2025, to demonstrate South Bend’s willingness to honor the U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement. The implementation of these goals aims to culminate in South Bend becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Galvanized by disaster: Mayor of Goshen, Indiana, sets town on sustainable path after devastating floods (Indiana Environmental Reporter)

Wild bee community change over a 26‐year chronosequence of restored tallgrass prairie (research article)… this is good news. From the abstract: Bee abundance and raw richness increased with restoration age from the low level of the pre‐restoration (agricultural) sites to the target level of the remnant prairie within the first 2–3 years after restoration, and these high levels were maintained throughout the entire restoration chronosequence. Bee community composition of the youngest restored sites differed from that of prairie remnants, but 5–7 years post‐restoration the community composition of restored prairie converged with that of remnants.

Report: Closing Coal Plants Would Save Indiana Customers Money, Reduce Pollution (WFYI)… The faster Indiana can transition from coal to renewable energy sources, the better for Indiana customers. That’s the takeaway from a new report prepared for the 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force charged with creating a statewide energy plan. 

Oklahoma approves largest single-day commutation in U.S. history: In a flurry of signatures Friday afternoon, Oklahoma moved one step closer to shucking its distinction as the state with the highest incarceration rate in the United States. On Monday afternoon, 527 people serving low-level drug and nonviolent offenses will go free in what Oklahoma lawmakers are calling the largest single-day commutation in both state and U.S. history. (MSN)

Yellowstone Bison Engineer an Endless Spring to Suit Their Grazing Needs (Smithsonian Mag) The cycle of grazing and fertilizing prolongs spring-like vegetation in grasslands and makes green-up more intense in following years

Indiana NAACP Environmental Climate Justice: Calling for Equitable Clean Energy -Indiana State Conference of the NAACP (Facebook video)

The Forest Service Is About to Set a Giant Forest Fire—On Purpose (The Atlantic)

A thread on “greenwashing,” how corporations attempt to put an eco-friendly veneer on unsustainable business practices (Twitter)


Diversifying Crops Is Good For The Planet. But Can It Be Good For Farmers’ Wallets? (NPR)

who’s afraid of failure?

I know it’s risky to drop the F-bomb on a workplace blog post, but it’s time to confront something we don’t talk about enough.

Failure, with a capital F.

[cricket chirp]

At the 2019 Stewardship Network Conference at Michigan State University, we heard a presentation from Allison Catalano, a Ph.D student at the Imperial College of London. Her bio states that she is “researching how conservation professionals learn from failure. In particular, I am interested in the dynamics of confronting and managing failure from the perspective of individuals, teams, and organizations. I study how cognitive biases and past experiences affect an individual’s ability to discuss failure. I also research how psychological safety and other team learning behaviors influence group response to failure.”

She gave examples from the aerospace, where the harsh mistress of gravity ensures that the consequences of failure are often fatal. Here, the inability to openly discuss failure is not just poor practice, it could mean that someone has to make a phone call to a family explaining why mom wasn’t coming home that night. As a consequence, this industry has a much more developed system of openly discussing failure & learning from it.

The consequences in other fields are perhaps less abrupt, but no less catastrophic.

My field of ecological restoration is still in its infancy in many ways. Never before have humans so thoroughly & systematically disrupted nutrient flows, hydrology, soils, and habitat during industrialization. We then decided that we wanted to piece things together, and we do it mostly with Europeans trained in the university-industrial model without the consult of people who were indigenous to these ecological communities. The goal is to restore the thousands of unbelievably complex, dynamic relationships in a context that is continuing to undergo change.

This is an extremely tall order, and we should not expect the task to be easy. It is a context ripe for many theories and techniques to fail. And the consequences are severe. I’d like to avoid dramatics, especially in assessing the importance of my discipline, but in reality we are talking about nothing less than the health & continuance of the biosphere on this pale blue dot we call Earth.

So many of these crisis in relation to biodiversity are deaths by a thousand cuts: habitat loss, poaching, climate change, and pesticide use. All while field science departments continue their decline throughout academia.

Pondering the consequences of failure inside the Wawona Tree of Yosemite. This Sequoia was tunneled through in 1881 to attract tourists. The bulk of the tree fell in 1969 and the base remains. It was over 2,100 years old.

It’s costly to admit failure. Embarrassing. At businesses, non-profits, churches, and relationships, we prefer to put our best foot forward. Only our closest friends get the unfiltered truth. 

But why should we expect everything, even most things, to succeed? It’s certainly not nature’s way, which is constantly experimenting & running trials to see which combination is best-fit for each context. Fear of failure prevents the opportunity for growth and evolution.

But let’s think through the consequences of indulging in this protective instinct. In the business world, we need to know if a product or service is truly needing the needs of our customers. We need to know early in the design process before lots of resources have been deployed.

In most Christian denominations in the U.S., weekly attendance has been in decline for quite some time. These challenges can be a moment of introspection for communities to question their role in the broader society, their ability to sustain a building or a large staff, etc. Inability to openly admit that changes have happened only delay the day of reckoning and narrow the options available. So many of my friends and family have been faced with this.

Professionally, if we think every project & initiative we do is God’s Greatest Unblemished Gift to the world, we fail to improve & hone our craft, or even to see where our behavior is detrimental to our co-workers or institution.

This blog is already getting lengthy, so let me begin to wrap up by repeating a great maxim that I heard recently. It comes in some variations, and deserves a whole post on it’s own: Fail fast, fail often, fail early, and fail cheaply.

One of my favorite examples of embracing failure is this SpaceX video. SpaceX makes rockets and is trying to start a human colony on Mars. It requires, well… actual rocket science, so one would expect a lot of mistakes. They livestream all of their rocket launches, so if something fails, the whole world sees it in real-time.

With the carnival-like music, this compilation of rocket failures looks like an attack video made by a competitor, not a professionally compiled series of videos by their own communications department!

And yet, what has been the the result of all these failures? SpaceX has revolutionized the space industry and captivated the imagination of millions from the broader public (like myself, if you couldn’t tell). My daughters and I try to watch all the rocket launches online now.

Here is another video, this time of a boat (“Ms. Tree”) catching the nose cone/fairing of a rocket that fell from space:

If that wasn’t enough, they used a massive 3-piece rocket (the Falcon Heavy) to launch a sports car into orbit around the sun on its test flight. They then simultaneously landed two of the pieces upright at Cape Canaveral on live television. The 3rd piece attempted to land on an autonomous drone ship in the ocean (named Of Course I Still Love You). It failed, missing the ship and exploding on impact with the ocean surface.

Volkswagen is pretty well known for their massive moral failure to protect human health by lying about their vehicles’ emissions. It was one of the largest corporate failures in human history, and they were (rightly) fined billions of dollars, now being used to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles. 

Since then, they have become perhaps the leading legacy car company in regards to aggressively pivoting towards electric vehicles. This includes the recent European launch of the ID 3, a vehicle that is expected to sell in significant volumes. Say what you will about the relative “sincerity” of a global corporation making this pivot, but nevertheless, they are doing it.

This advertisement encompasses the entire story in a very poignant way:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMbPINvLp-I

Perhaps they went so low, so publicly that they had no other choice, but such an embrace of their failure is now setting the stage for the next step in their evolution.

The irony is amusing… long-term success depends on embracing failure, while penalizing failure ultimately undermines long-term viability.

In keeping with this spirit, stay tuned to hear of some of my less-than-successful projects (see, I just can’t bring myself to use the F-word!).

“Solid Waste Board of Directors Approve Solar Project”

We are very excited to see yet another solar array going up in Marshall County! Cheers to Marianne & the Recycle Depot staff.

WTCA reporting:

During Monday’s Board of Directors meeting, Executive Director Marianne Peters presented members with three bids to put solar arrays on the property and use the electricity generated to operate the Recycle Depot and the main office building...

Peters said, “With the amount of money we have sitting in our rainy day fund I’ve been looking for a project that would use some of those funds to the benefit of Marshall County residents and reduce our costs.”  She went on to say, “We have the land, we have the available funds, it will reduce our utility costs tremendously and serve as an educational tool for people in the county who want to go solar and it’s part of our mission.”

After reviewing the bids submitted the board of director unanimously voted to go with Wellspring Solar at a cost of $51,068.19.  Peters will need to submit an additional appropriation from their Rainy Day Fund to the County Council for approval.  She is hopeful that the project could be completed before the end of the year. (full story here)

Faith in Indiana (Marshall County) Accountability Session with Plymouth Mayoral Candidates

Sunday evening I attended an accountability session at St. Michael’s school, organized by a local chapter of Faith in Indiana. Faith in Indiana is a statewide faith-based organization that works with clergy and leaders from various faith traditions to address and resolve social justice issues facing rural, urban, and suburban communities; it is a catalyst for marginalized people and people of faith to act collectively for racial and economic justice.

I normally focus here on the various ecological concerns of our world, but of course there are many interconnected & multifaceted societal issues we are facing (which is kind of the point of integral ecology). I’ve taken interest in a few of these other issues as a member of our Justice Seekers group & as a citizen raising my family here.

At the session, heard testimony from local families, teachers, non-profit leaders, business people, and the school superintendent around two main issues: the need to address the opioid crisis with treatment, not jails; and exploring a City ID program for city residents who are unable to access State ID’s.

The quotes here I have excerpted from the Pilot News coverage of the evening (look there for complete coverage of the evening).



Both candidates were asked the same question, ‘Will you work with us in developing a strategy which includes prevention, treatment over incarceration, and finding alternative treatments to opioid addiction?’

Mr. Walker responded, “Absolutely. Yes. 100% percent… When we look at our county jail, we know that it is overcrowded. There is an issue with that because we cannot keep cramming people into a jail over low level drug and alcohol offenses. We need to do more to prevent those and to educate them… I believe that treatment and recovery are more effective than incarceration…”

Mr. Senter responded: “Absolutely… I would be more than happy to talk about prevention and treatment. As we know, the Marshall County Commissioners right now are talking about adding on to our jail. We do not need that. We really have to come up with a different plan.”

Mayor Senter responds.

Both candidates were also asked, “Will you meet with us within 30 days of the election to work on these issues?” to which they both agreed.

The conversation then moved to the emerging need for a Plymouth City ID. There are many reasons for a municipality to initiate such a program, such as obtaining medications at a pharmacy, visiting your children at the public school, and identifying oneself when talking with the police.

Among the speakers was Sam Centellas, Executive Director of La Casa de Amistad, which administers City ID programs for South Bend and Goshen. He expressed his willingness to administer the program were it approved for the city.

Both candidates were asked the same question, ‘Will you support us to develop a city ID for the residents of Plymouth, Indiana?’

Mr. Walker responded, “Yes, absolutely…as I’ve been campaigning and meeting with people and families, Hispanic and Latinx families… this is the number one that continues to come to the forefront of the conversation… So yes, that will be one of my top priorities if I am elected mayor.”

Mr. Senter responded: “Absolutely… yes, my administration… we looked maybe a year and a half ago here at St. [Thomas] Episcopal, we had a meeting about that then… That is one of the subjects that came up that night. Yes, I would absolutely put a committee together.”

Both candidates were also asked, “Will you convene a meeting of yourself, the Plymouth School Superintendent, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce, the Chief of Police, and our leaaders within 30 days of taking office in order to work on a solution which is helpful to our families and to the Plymouth community?”

Mr. Walker responded, “Yes, absolutely.”

Mr. Senter responded: “Yes, I would.”

Local leaders from Faith in Indiana alongside candidates Mayor Mark Senter and Mr. Josh Walker.

Election day is Nov. 5th. The 30 day deadline is Thursday, Dec. 5th.