Your Community Spirit 2010 December 10

Our holiday song is The Christians and the Pagans by Dar Williams. News includes climate talks in Cancun; EPA names the nation’s top smart-growth cities; FoodTubes proposes pneumatic tube distribution of food; salad bars may soon be sweeping schools across the nation. Happenings include Czech Dream at Big Muddy IMC; Learning to Can at Rice and Spice; Vigil for Peace; Mister Mischief’s Comedy Spectacular at Big Muddy IMC; Show and Tell at Transpoetic Playground.


The Climate Post: Some progress in Cancun climate talks, but mostly a morass of competing interests

Monday, negotiators at the Cancun climate summit got down to brass tacks, settling into “vast, sunless meeting rooms, intent on restoring the credibility of a process aimed at slowing global warming.”

There were the usual moments of comic relief, including the removal of professional climate skeptic Christopher Monckton from a corporate lunch, and two apparent early victories in negotiations between the U.S. and China.

China appears ready to accede to U.S. demands that it should allow verification of its emissions, and China made a pledge the U.S. is in no position to make: that its carbon emissions targets will be binding as a U.N. convention.

This pledge, also made last year at Copenhagen, would see China reduce the “carbon intensity” of its economy — that is, the amount of carbon it emits per unit of GDP — by 40 to 45 percent of 2005 levels by 2020.

Some called China’s pledge a “game changer” for a country aiming for “redemption” at Cancun, but U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern said the pledge was nothing more than “business as usual.” Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin confirmed Stern’s analysis, denying the country had softened its stance on its own emissions.

Japan says no to Kyoto Protocol: Last week, Japan shook up the conference by announcing its opposition to the extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the targets of which would have represented a 29 percent cut in emissions versus the levels expected for 2010, for signatory countries. The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind the surprise announcement — Japan is no longer willing to lower its own emissions, to the detriment of its economy, while the U.S. and China sit idly by.

Meanwhile, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa opened the meeting by pushing the U.S. to pledge deeper emissions cuts than its Copenhagen pledge of 17 percent by 2020 based on 2005 levels, which represents “a zero reduction from 1990, the baseline for Kyoto, according to India Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.”

The good news about Cancun: While no one expected the U.S. to make deeper cuts at Cancun in light of the domestic appetite for climate legislation, as the talks approached their Friday close, negotiators made progress in a handful of areas, including deforestation, which currently accounts for roughly 15 percent of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

Other areas in which negotiators made headway included a compromise text released by India proposing a system for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions cuts and a European Union pledge toward a global fund to finance adaptation and mitigation efforts in the developing world.

… And the persistent disconnect between negotiations and scientific reality: Taking the temperature of the negotiations as a whole, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed out the obvious: When compared to the demands for emissions reductions, made apparent by the science of climate change, progress at the conference has been insufficient and “business as usual cannot be tolerated, for it would condemn millions — no, billions — billions of children, women, and men around the world to shrinking horizons, and smaller futures.”

Two former U.S. State Department officials reiterated the oft-heard claim a global climate pact is unrealistic and should be abandoned.

Is the U.S. going to pay for the damage it did to the climate?: Farrukh Iqbal Khan, chair of the Adaptation Fund, tells Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones that as more and more countries face devastating impacts worsened by climate change, as Pakistan did with its recent floods, they are increasingly finding themselves helpless to do anything about it.

Four Republican senators don’t want the U.S. to direct money to the U.N. climate adaptation fund, even as companies including Starbucks and Nike argued the U.S. should take the lead in doing just that.

Emissions regulations to go before the U.S. Supreme Court: An earlier lower court ruling allowing states to sue emitters of greenhouse gas emissions for creating a “public nuisance” set up an important test of whether or not the courts can be used to penalize those who contribute to climate change. It’s therefore notable the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of that ruling by four power plant companies.

In Congress, is “clean” energy the new “renewable”?: United States Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said at a nuclear energy summit Tuesday the Obama administration might be amenable to including nuclear power in future energy legislation, expanding, in an apparent attempt at bipartisanship, the concept of domestic and climate-friendly energy sources beyond renewables.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Sustainable IQ
EPA names the nation’s top smart-growth cities

, urban design, urban planning, US EPA

New York Times SquareNew York City won recognition for creating a public oasis in the middle of busy Times Square.Photo: La Citta Vita

Mirror, mirror on the wall, which are smartest communities of them all?

When it comes to intelligent growth, the United States Environmental Protection Agency says the smartest cities are New York, Baltimore, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco. The EPA also commended 20 towns in rural Maine.

Those communities have received the EPA’s Smart Growth Awards for innovation in everything from creating small public spaces in densely packed urban cores to investing in compact communities and preserving forests and farmland.

The Big Apple took honors for overall excellence. “New York City has achieved a relatively small carbon footprint, given its size, through its commitment to creating compact and walkable neighborhoods,” the EPA said.

The agency gave New York kudos for promoting bicycling — an activity not for the faint of heart in that city — by building dedicated bike lanes. The city has also carved out public spaces in urban jungles like Times Square, where pedestrians can take a breather at tables and chairs set out on an island of calm between sidewalk and street. (I came across one of these mini-parks on a recent trip to New York, where I found New Yorkers sipping coffee or texting at their leisure as the tourist throngs swarmed around them.)

Portland, known for environmentally sensitive urban planning, won EPA recognition for its “Making the Greatest Place” growth plan, which seeks to accommodate the 600,000 people projected to be living in the greater urban area by 2030.

“This blueprint acknowledges population growth as inevitable while simultaneously expressing the region’s intent to incorporate growth within existing urban areas as much as possible and expand the urban growth boundary only when necessary,” the EPA said. “It calls for maintaining connections with nature, preserving existing neighborhoods, strengthening employment and industrial areas, and concentrating growth in designated centers.”

In Maine, 20 towns linked by the Route 1 highway — a commercial and tourist byway — collaborated in an effort to preserve the region’s rural character.

The EPA praised San Francisco for transforming a seedy alleyway in a somewhat derelict part of the South of Market area into vibrant public space lined with restaurants, shops, and a farmers market.

“Since its completion in 2008, Mint Plaza has become a model of adaptive public space design and a successful example of converting an automobile-focused and previously unsafe alleyway into pedestrian-only civic space,” according to the EPA. (I can attest to that.)

Finally, Baltimore won the EPA award for a green building design that rehabilitated an historic building into a mixed-use residential and commercial space that revitalized the surrounding neighborhood.

The new pneumatics
FoodTubes wants to take food distribution back to the future

Jetsons kitchenNetmix: Will we ever get to the dinners-on-demand future of The Jetsons?

Sometimes the internet’s twin obsessions of cutting-edge technological innovation and science fiction offer us interesting and useful hints of the future. And sometimes … they don’t. Case in point, the FoodTubes project. The brainchild of “a consortium of academics, project planners, and engineers,” FoodTubes wants to move our fossil-fuel based transport system underground and, well, into tubes. Here’s a YouTube slideshow of the project. Writes tech blog ArsTechnica:

Imagine a 1,500 kilometer underground FoodTubes ring circling the UK. The packet-switched-style network would connect all major food producers and retailers via 3,000 kilos of smart grid controlled air pressure pipe. The FoodTubes capsules, spaced one meter apart, will race about in gangs of 300 or so at 100kph. As many as 900,000 will be in circulation at any given moment, either zipping around beneath London and Liverpool or being loaded and unloaded at freight dockets.

Look, I love futuristic scenarios too, but I think the chances of this coming to pass are about as great as the chances that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will spontaneously decide to eliminate commodity subsides and spend the savings on organic agriculture.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a fan! — but pneumatic tubes had their heyday back in the early 20th century. Remember New York City’s fantastic and amazing pneumatic tube postal system that operated from 1897-1953?:

Put into operation in New York in 1897 by the American Pneumatic Service Company, the 27-mile system connected 22 post offices in Manhattan, and the General Post office in Brooklyn. The pipes were between 4 to 12 feet underground, and in some places the tubes ran along the subway tunnels of the 4, 5, and 6 lines. At the height of its operation it carried some 95,000 letters a day, or one-third of all the mail being routed throughout New York City.

So, on the one hand, networks of pneumatic tubes running willy-nilly beneath modern cities — been there, done that. And yet, to reform both food distribution and transportation, I think we need more innovation, hard work and, yes, even sacrifice — and a lot less Jules Verne. But perhaps when oil is at $300 a barrel and food is zipping around in tubes underneath London, I will be revealed to be the Luddite skeptic that I surely am.

Tom is a writer and a media & technology consultant who thinks that wrecking the planet is a bad idea. He twitters and blogs here and at Beyond Green about food policy, alternative energy, climate science and politics as well as the multiple and various effects of living on a warming planet.

Getting fresh in schools
USDA removes major barrier to Michelle Obama’s salad-bar initiative

Salad barSalad bar in use in a Boulder public school, where Ann Cooper has led a massive lunch overhaul.

First Lady Michelle Obama announced last week that a new public-private partnership, Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, would make it possible for as many as 6,000 salad bars to be installed in U.S. school cafeterias at an estimated cost of $15 million. Contrary to what hundreds of irate commenters directed to Grist from a link by the Drudge Report feared, the salad bars will not be mandatory lunchtime eating for the nation’s youngsters, not taxpayer-funded. If parents like Sarah Palin want their kids to eat cookies for lunch, no one is going to stop them.

Of bigger concern has been the USDA’s mixed messages about whether self-serve salad bars would be permitted in elementary schools. Backers of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools project said local health inspectors already were citing an Oct. 8 memo from the USDA’s Child Nutrition Division as a reason for declaring self-serve salad bars a potential food safety hazard and not allowing small children around them.

The memo, signed by Cindy Long, director of the Child Nutrition Division, and circulated nationwide, described only two options for salad bars in elementary schools: salads must be pre-assembled and pre-wrapped, or they must be served by an adult working behind a barrier separating children from the food.

But after I questioned her on these points, Jean Daniel, spokesperson for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) division (which governs the National School Lunch Program), said there was a third option not listed in the memo: Elementary-school children could serve themselves salad, as long as the salad bar was designed specifically for small children with a plastic barrier (aka “sneeze guard”) positioned at an appropriate height.

The FNS later issued a written statement, saying:

USDA does not prohibit self-service salad bars, and they may be used in elementary schools. USDA encourages the use of fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals. Self-service salad bars are one approach that can be successfully included in the meal service when monitored closely to ensure safety. [Emphasis mine.]

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at how the salad bars might work.

Raising the bars’ cash

The alliance of produce industry, school food professionals, health advocacy groups, and government agencies has come together under the First Lady’s Let’s Move banner to fund the effort through a combination of corporate and private donations, including creating a website where schools can direct donors from their own communities to make contributions as large or as small as the like to the individual school.

Ann Cooper and kids“Renegade Lunch Lady” Ann Cooper with some salad-bar custoers in Boulder.Photo: Courtesy of Ann Cooper“It’s still a work in progress,” said Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for Boulder, Colo., schools and one of the group’s organizing partners. Cooper was recently involved in a similar campaign in which Whole Foods raised $1.4 million in donations from its customers in order to donate salad bars to schools, and her Food, Family, Farming Foundation, based in Boulder, will be in charge of managing the application process for the Let’s Move campaign.

The project is scheduled to begin accepting applications from individual schools on Jan. 1, 2011. “We’re expecting thousands and thousands of applications,” said Cooper, who estimated there are at least 80,000 schools in the U.S. without salad bars.

Cooper sees “micro-philanthropy” aided by social networking tools on the internet as the cutting edge for funding food improvements in local school districts.

The salad bars in question, made of polyvinyl and chilled with ice packs, cost $2,500 each. “If a school found 500 people to each donate $5, they could have a salad bar,” Cooper said. Any school that participates in the National School Lunch Program is eligible to apply. They must show that the local schools superintendent, the school principal, and the food services director are committed to using a salad bar on a daily basis. Preference will be given to schools with large numbers of low-income students, and those that have achieved at least the bronze level in the HealthierUS Schools Challenge.

Schools will have help raising the necessary dough — and some more than others. “The coalition is absolutely raising money to donate salad bars, and we fully expect to raise a significant amount of funds,” said Cooper. “We assume that all schools will have some amount of money donated directly from the coalition, and some schools will have their salad bars fully funded.”

While the White House was directly involved in organizing the alliance, it is not involved in daily operations, although Michelle Obama is expected to play a major role in promoting the campaign and encouraging schools to apply, Cooper said.

Getting Fresh

Another principal partner in the Let’s Move alliance is United Fresh, a produce industry trade group, that began its own salad bar campaign two years ago backing legislation sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) that called on the USDA to increase fruits and vegetables in school meals. Farr represents the produce-growing powerhouse Salinas Valley.

Ray Gilmer, spokesman for United Fresh, said the legislation “never got much traction,” but generated some buzz around salad bars. A year ago, United Fresh began soliciting donations from its corporate members to purchase salad bars and place them in schools. “A lot of companies want to place them in the communities where they operate, a sort of ‘good neighbor’ thing,” Gilmer said.

Gilmer said the United Fresh campaign was low-key, conducted mostly by word of mouth and the internet. To date they’ve given away 60 salad bars and plan to donate an undetermined amount of cash to the Let’s Move campaign. “We’re going to New Orleans for a convention, and we’ve already placed 10 salad bars in schools there,” Gilmer noted.

A third partner in the White House effort is the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, comprising the USDA, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and such disparate groups as the American Cancer Society and the California Department of Public Health.

The CDC has emerged as a leader of the group, taking up fruits and vegetables as a key ingredient to preventing diet-related diseases such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

The salad bar effort still faces some obstacles. Some schools don’t want salad bars. Montgomery County, just outside the nation’s capitol, does not permit salad bars for food-safety reasons. Philadelphia schools similarly do not offer salad bars, but serve salad in the regular food line instead.

“Self-serve brings a number of management issues that we’d have to look at,” said Philadelphia schools spokesman Fernando Gallard. “Basically, you’d have a salad bar in an open area where people are going to walk around it. That’s something we still have to consider — the sanitation issues.”

Cooper has complained about USDA regulations that require students who use the salad bar to pass a cashier, or point-of-sale station, where a trained cafeteria worker would inspect the student’s tray and confirm that the student had taken the required items in the correct portion sizes in order for the school to qualify for reimbursement. Such rules create logjams in the cafeteria, Cooper said.

Here in the District of Columbia, many food-service areas are not designed to accommodate a salad bar. Installing one would require rethinking how students pass through the meal line and where the cashier is situated.

Kate Adamick, a school food consultant and fervent salad bar advocate, said those obstacles can be overcome without too much difficulty. “I don’t think there’s any other way to serve produce in school,” she said. Most cafeteria vegetables are cooked to death, or come out of a can, and kids either refuse them in the service line or throw them in the trash. Adamick believes children eat more vegetables when they’re allowed to serve themselves from an array of fresh choices.

“When kids get to make their own decisions, they’re much more likely to try things,” she said.

A reporter for the Washington Post in a previous life, I now tend my “urban farm” about a mile from the White House in the District of Columbia and teach kids something I call “food appreciation.” I believe in self-reliance, growing food close to home and political freedom for the residents of the District of Columbia. I am currently working to introduce local produce into the D.C. school system. I write a daily food blog called The Slow Cook.


Today is the 344th day of the year. There are 21 days left in the year.

Fri, 10th Dec:
Human Rights Day
National Salesperson’s Day
Nobel Peace Prize Day
UN Human Rights Day
Birthday – Emily Dickinson (poet)
Birthday – Thomas Gallaudet (educator)
Admission Day (Mississippi)
Constitution Day (Thailand)

Sat, 11th Dec:
International Shareware Day
National Day of the Horse
UN International Mountain Day
Anniversary – UNICEF
Admission Day (Indiana)
National Day (Burkina Faso)

Sun, 12th Dec:
Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Poinsettia Day
Birthday – Frank Sinatra (singer, actor)
Constitution Day (Russia)
Guadalupe Day (Mexico)
Neutrality Day (Turkmenistan)

Mon, 13th Dec:
Republic Day (Malta)
Santa Lucia Day (Sweden)

Tue, 14th Dec:
Halcyon Day (12/14-28)
Birthday – Nostradamus
Admission Day (Alabama)

Wed, 15th Dec:
Ashura: Tenth Day (Islamic – begins at sundown)
Bill of Rights Day
Cat Herders Day
Navidades (Puerto Rico)

Thu, 16th Dec:
Asarah B’Tevet (Jewish – begins at sundown)
Ashura: Tenth Day (Islamic)
Barbie and Barney Backlash Day
Birthday – Ludwig Von Beethoven (composer)
Anniversary – Boston Tea Party
Las Posadas (Mexico 12/16-24)
Independence Day (Bahrain)
Independence Day (Kazakhstan)
Reconciliation Day (South Africa)
Victory Day (Bangladesh)


“Czech Dream” Film and Discussion
Sunday at 6 pm at Big Muddy IMC
214 N. Washington in Carbondale

The Czech Dream is now just like the American Dream, a dream of 2 chickens in every pot and a superstore in every suburb glutted with discounted goods. Shopping is the the new religion in the New World Order. The commodity fetish is hilariously critiqued in this excellent documentary by two young Czech film students who make up a new box store named “Czech Dream.” With the help of a public relations firm, they create a massive ad campaign to lure the public in. When the crowd arrives for the grand opening, they discover something is not right with the new store. Produced by Morten Spurlock of Supersize Me and 30 Days.

Rice and Spice International Slow Food Dinner
Friday at 6 pm at Gaia House Interfaith Center
913 S. Illinois in Carbondale

This week we are learning to can with Courtney, sponsored by Attitude Designs. Have you always wanted to learn how to can? Now is your chance to learn! Soup, bread and dessert will be made and served while we can. Bring apples, tomatoes and take home containers.

Just what is Slow Food? You know what Fast Food is, right? Well at a Slow Food dinner, people meet and cook together, taking their time to enjoy the company and savor the meal. Our own series brings culture and cuisine from all over the world to our own table, and we’d love to see you there too.

Saturday @ Noon @ Town Square Pavilion

Mr. Mischief’s Comedy Spectacular! A Benefit for the Big Muddy IMC

Saturday, December 11 · 8:00pm
Big Muddy IMC
214 N. Washington in Carbondale

Mr. Mischief cordially invites you to an evening of hilarity, jocularity, and ribaldry – all in the name of supporting local arts venues!

$5 suggested donation gets you access to the finely honed comedic talents of:

-Heather Hull
-David Sharp
-Mike Garvin
-Lindsay Greer
-Nico Wood
-Kyle Scanlon
-Megan Sampson
-Kevin Hill
-Garrett Callender
-Anna Wilcoxen

Bring your bodies, bring your keen eye for talent, and bring your love for independent, community based art and the places that allow that to happen, and we’ll bring you some funny – or die (onstage) trying!

Monday at 9 pm at Global Gourmet
102 East Jackson St. in Carbondale

This week’s theme is “show and tell,” everybody’s favorite grade school activity. We encourage poets to bring an object to share, write a piece about that object, or simply display the object for others to enjoy. As always, all spoken word artists are welcome to the mic.

Your Community Spirit

If you have news, happenings, complaints, money, or kudos you want to send our way, contact us:

Jetsons kitchenNetmix: Will we ever get to the dinners-on-demand future of The Jetsons?


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