Getting off a diet of tar sand with Toni Brink

Toni Brink (pictured at right) was a dietician for over three decades. Today, she sees the U.S. fossil fuel diet as not only unhealthy, but destructive. She doesn’t just hope that President Obama helps us get a better diet, she is doing something about it.

This week Brink, a 66-year-old mother of five and grandmother of ten will join the No Tar Sands (their Twitter feed) protests in front of the White House in Washington, DC.

Over the last week and a half, hundreds of people have joined noted environmental author and activist Bill McKibben (see 350.org). climate scientist James Hansen, and writer Naomi Klein to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed pipeline would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico across vulnerable habitats in the Midwest. A broad coalition of Midwest residents, farmers, conservationists, and scientists worry about the pipelines’ and tar sands’ long-term effects.

“If that oil is taken out it’s a dirty process,” says Brink referring to the tar sands extraction process. Matt Price of the Environmental Defense Fund says that the Florida-sized affected region of Alberta where the tar sands lie is effectively destroyed. And the waste ponds left from the process can be seen from space.

Proponents say that Canada’s proximity to the United States can help us use energy that comes from friendlier sources with less travel. However, the process from beginning to end is itself very fuel-intensive, yielding little energy compared to the energy return from the sands themselves. Daily, tar sands production generates the amount of greenhouse gases of approximately 1.3 million cars. Those effects combine with the tar sands refinement and its eventual use as fuel to create one of the most greenhouse gas intensive fuels on Earth.

Brink says. “The use of that oil will raise the temperature of the Earth more. It’s already evident that we have extreme weather. It could play into making the Earth uninhabitable to humans or at least unfriendly,” she says. Climate and atmospheric scientists have predicted that storm, flood, drought, and heat wave intensity as human fossil fuel use generates more greenhouse gases.

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change reports that hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean have become both more frequent and more intense in recent years consistent with predictions by scientific bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. High temperature records have also been more frequent and heat waves longer and more intense.

Noted climate scientist James Hansen has said similar things. Writing on Huffington Post, he says,
Easily available reserves of conventional oil and gas are enough to take atmospheric CO2 well above 400 ppm, which is unsafe for life on earth. However, if emissions from coal are phased out over the next few decades and if unconventional fossil fuels including tar sands are left in the ground, it is conceivable to stabilize earth's climate.

Phasing out emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over. There is no practical way to capture the CO2 emitted while burning oil, which is used principally in vehicles.
It’s not just climate or extraction. “The pipeline will go over the Oglala aquifer in the Midwest. And they say the pipeline won’t leak but there’s no guarantee,” says Brink. Indeed, the pipeline would transect farmland and interrupt wildlife corridors. However, the risk of spill is predicted to be very low by the State Department. Russ Girling, the President of company proposing the pipeline has said, "[T]he Keystone XL pipeline will have no significant impact on the environment.” But Midwest residents are not convinced.

And what about our energy infrastructure? Brink worries that increasing U.S. reliance on tar sands and the Keystone XL will harm us in other ways. “I’m afraid it will divert from renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal and also from energy conservation.” Currently, the United States gets only a tiny portion of its energy from renewables. But if Richard Alley is correct in his program, Earth: The Operator’s Manual, things could be different with the major proportion of our energy coming from renewables if society and economy could be rearranged.

Tomorrow she is going to risk arrest at the White House. “I think it’s really important. Future of life on our planet depends on it.” Like many who have engaged in non-violent civil disobedience before her, she believes that this is the right thing to do. It shows that a large number of people think that this issue needs to be visible.
The protestors, she said, “speak out by putting their bodies on the line.”

What does this all come down to? “We could do so much better,” said Brink. So she is going to put her own body on the line.


If you care to follow up, Tar Sands Action asks that you call or write President Obama or send a letter to the editor of your local paper to speak against the Keystone XL pipeline. Brink agrees.


Is any message what it's FRACKED up to be?

Responsible Drilling Alliance recently got this billboard up in Williamsport, Pennsylvnia (picture courtesy of Citizen Sane). In the world of messaging, competing marketing and advertising, it can be hard to break through the noise.

Compare that image to the Range Resources billboards out there or their website, MyRangeResources.com.

People on all sides of this issue are being bombarded by messages and images but it seems that few stick. Let's face it, most of us come into this issue with some pretty powerful preconceived notions about water quality and job creation, taxes and outdoor recreation, or air quality and property rights. And they're in tension with one another a lot of the time. So how do you get people to look at something differently?

What messages do you want to see or think we need to see?


Ban? Moratorium? Acceleration? Just get informed and get involved.

How is your community handling natural gas development? What would you like to do about it?

It seems that the conversation in the halls of government in Pennsylvania has been controlled by gas industries and those who profit from natural gas development. Where has the community voice been in the scale and pace of this "boom"?

Whether you want a ban, a moratorium, more drilling, or aren't sure what ought to be done, it might be a good idea to get involved and deliberate with your fellow citizens. Events like this one in Williamsport might be your ticket to understanding the current conditions and acting responsibly in your community and with other communities.

This is a democracy right? Then be a citizen and get involved.

An Environmental Bill of Rights for State College, PA

On Tuesday August 30th at 11 am, Braden Crooks of Groundswell will be talking to press at Schlow Memorial Library about the Environmental Bill of Rights appearing on the popular ballot in State College, PA this November 8th.
Yesterday, he wrote the following to supporters:
If passed, a Community Environmental Bill of Rights and Natural Gas Drilling Ban will mark a dramatic turning point in the operations, governance, scope and sovereignty of the Borough of State College. By recognizing the environment as something other than just property, Environmental Rights alter the legal perception of our environment in a way that has remained unchanged in the history of Western Civilization, until now. Local Rights, like the right to Local Self-Government, alter the role of a local government in America from a tertiary role behind the state, to a Primary Democratic Institution, capable of empowering its citizens to make decisions about what can and cannot happen within the boundaries of their community. Finally, we will ban the commercial extraction of Natural Gas within the borough; a preemptive and proactive measure, designed to ensure urban drilling cannot occur in the Utica Shale under State College and meant as a powerful demonstration of the kind of decisions our community is now capable of making.
If you'd like to learn more, you can visit Groundswell's Facebook page here. Better yet, listen to our show on Friday September 9th when we will be talking to Braden Crooks for the whole show and a segment with Iris Marie Bloom from Protecting Our Waters on activism across the state on natural gas development.

What do you think of environmental rights? What are your responsibilities?


What do you want from us this fall?

Starting again in two Fridays, September 9th, Sustainability Now Radio will be bring you an exciting fall series. There's an Environmental Bill of Rights coming up for popular vote in State College, Pennsylvania, new directions for positive action with Peak Moment TV, green education in Pennsylvania, urban planning that's better for people and the planet, and more.

You have any ideas?

Energy? Food? Climate? You name it and we can try to make it happen. If you have any ideas or would like to appear on our show leave a comment below or send us an email with all of the skinny at:


Drop us a line and we'll do our best.


"Green" kitchen remodeling

How do you go about remodeling a kitchen in a more sustainable way? Centre region Dylan Wadlington, owner of Wadlington Remodeling, was recently featured on Home and Garden TV with a piece explaining just that. Watch it here.

What tips do you have on home remodeling to make it more sustainable?

Peak Oil Blues and Panglossian Disorder

On our show we've introduced you to the Transition Towns movement - a global positive community-level response to climate change and peak oil. Peak Moment TV deals peak oil, climate change, and institutional, community, and personal responses every week. We'll likely be talking to them on the air later this semester.

To whet your appetite, watch this episode. Janaia Donaldson interviews psychologist Kathy McMahon who wondered if she was "a whacko" when she had such a strong flight reaction to learning about peak oil. But she's also found other reactions, a Panglossian Disorder where people believe that some techno-magic fix will save existing civilization as it is. She thinks that people can find real comfort and real action and real meaning in moving toward locally resilient communities. You can learn more about her work at Peak Oil Blues.

What about you? What are you doing?


Andean fracking? No thank you.

New York Times contributor Stanley Fish is one of America's best known and engaging public academic intellectuals. In yesterday's Times he tackled natural gas development and fracking as seen by residents of Andes, New York (link here). It is both sobering and hopeful.

Fish writes,

Then came the evening’s centerpiece, three-minute prepared statements delivered by townspeople who had signed up in advance. It is often said that the opponents of fracking are mostly second-home-owners and weekenders who selfishly prefer their enjoyment of a bucolic landscape to the needs of the long-termers who came before them. But the speakers who stood up to have their say represented every sector of the population — farmers, small-business owners, real estate agents, six-generation natives, newcomers, artists, musicians.

As different as they were, the message was the same and it was eloquently proclaimed: “What we have here is unique and beautiful.” “We have to take action to keep the town we love.” “We must take our destiny into our own hands.” “Andes could become the model for the country.” One of the speakers was a local and a folksinger. She made up a song on the spot and taught it to everyone. The refrain was “If we work together / Then we can make it better.”

It is striking to read this as a Pennsylvanian where natural gas development has barely been checked by citizens at all and coddled by the legislature, two governors, and what some have called a gutless regulatory bureaucracy and enforcement branch. I don't doubt that people in Andes, New York have seen what's happening in Pennsylvania and reached Fish's conclusion.

There was agreement that regulation wasn’t the answer, first because no regulation could prevent the disasters that come along inevitably with a project this large, and second because the state couldn’t be counted on either to pass or enforce regulations: “I can’t trust an industry that has got itself exempted from the air and clean water act.” The position that emerged at the end of the evening was simple and unequivocal: “You can’t regulate them but you can ban them if you are sophisticated enough legally and if you remain strong and stay the course.” Every statement was greeted with loud applause. One speaker called for a straw poll. “Anyone in favor of fracking?” Not a hand was raised.

“Inspiring” is not a word I usually use, but this evening was inspiring. The devotion to community, the civic-mindedness, the sheer intelligence displayed by everyone who spoke was a more powerful argument for coming to Andes than the beauties and attractions listed by the Post. But the argument will come to nothing, and everything the Post celebrates will be no more, if the rural birthright of Andes is sold for a mess of fracking.

Will Pennsylvanians be so inspired? Will we turn this tide?


Corporate censorship

According to a newletter sent out to environmental groups today this billboard was taken down. It was paid for by the Sautner family of Dimock, Pennsylvania who have had their water contaminated by gas drilling operations, a contention fully supported by a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection investigation. You can watch some coverage before it was torn down here at News Channel 34 or read more about the clash over the billboard at The Citizen's Voice.


Queen of the Sun

Bees matter. A lot. Find out how and why this week by going to see the film Queen of the Sun at the State Theatre in State College. It is a film about the history of beekeeping, the way that bees have been used in industrial agriculture, and the crisis of Colony Collapse Disorder - a pandemic threatening to extinguish honey bees worldwide - and what we can do to harmonize how we do things.

The last showings are tonight, August 1st, at 4 pm and 7 pm.