On Sunday, January 19th from 2:00 – 3:30 we have our launch of the first SRV Film Series showing at UU. We will be showing “Educating Women and Girls” a TED talk by Katharine Wilkenson, powerful and moving short talk Katharine gave on the impact of educating women and girls on the battle against global warming. That will be followed by another short film by David Katz on “The surprising solution to ocean plastics and how we can address poverty at the same time”. We’ll also have a time after the films for people to share their feeling and thoughts plus look at how we might get involved in the solutions.
Chung Sun-hee finely crushes eggshells, dries and saves her coffee grounds, and separates large vegetable offcuts into smaller pieces. Later, the 55-year-old professional translator will bury them in her backyard, in rotating plots of earth that are given ample time to compost before being replenished. She will plant tomatoes, basil and corn in the resulting soil.
She has a raft of little tricks to make it all work: In the summer, for example, her husband dices up the rinds of every watermelon he eats in order to make the composting process faster. “When we lived in an apartment, I would throw away all my food waste into the shared collection containers,” Chung said. “But now, I compost almost all of it.”
Chung is one of a growing number of city dwellers who are getting into urban farming, not just to grow their own vegetables, but also as an exercise in waste reduction. “Reducing food waste and the urban farming movement are very closely linked,” said Chung, who completed a government-sponsored course five years ago.
Her new habits reflect a larger change underway in South Korea’s densely populated capital, where grassroots movements and government campaigns have dramatically transformed how people dispose of their leftover food.
Once a city where unsightly and foul-smelling landfills loomed over entire neighborhoods, Seoul now operates one of the most rigorous food waste recycling programs in the world. The results have been impressive.
The South Korean government banned sending food to landfills in 2005 and, in 2013, also prohibited the dumping of garbage juice (leftover water squeezed from food waste) into the sea. Today, a staggering 95 percent of food waste is recycled â€• a remarkable leap from less than 2 percent in 1995. Seoul has managed to cut the amount of food waste produced by 400 metric tons per day.
Walk along any residential street in Seoul and you’ll see why. On Chung’s street, residents emerge at dusk to deposit small yellow bags into designated waste collection buckets.
Since 2013, South Koreans have been required by law to discard food waste in these biodegradable bags, priced according to volume and costing the average four-person family about $6 a month. By purchasing them from the local convenience store or supermarket, residents are effectively paying a tax on their food waste upfront. In Seoul, this tax pays for roughly 60 percent of the cost of collecting and processing the city’s food waste, according to government data.
MAX S. KIM
Seoul residents put their waste into yellow recycling bags, which they buy from supermarkets and local stores.
It’s simple but brilliant: Not only does it offer incentives for you to reduce waste, it makes you confront it. “It made me cut down on the food I threw away a lot,” Chung said. “Not only for economic reasons, but visually it makes you aware of how much waste you’re producing.”
This pay-as-you-waste scheme was born out of necessity. “Unlike countries where meals are one-plate dishes, South Korean food culture is centered around banchan [a variety of side dishes that accompany meals], which creates a lot of leftover food,” said Kim Mi-hwa, chair of the Korea Zero Waste Movement Network. In the late 1990s, increased standards of living, a growing appetite for dining out and the rise of one-person households fueled a steady increase in food waste. In major urban areas like Seoul, landfills had already reached a tipping point.
“The waste just wasn’t decreasing, so we campaigned the government by telling them that we’d need a radical solution,” said Kim, one of the earliest advocates of the pay-as-you-waste scheme. “Not only does South Korea have small land mass, but growing public awareness about the environment made it impossible to just add more landfills or processing plants.”
South Korean food is centered around side dishes called banchan, which rarely all get eaten.
Some districts in Seoul use a more high-tech variant for apartment complexes, which has seen even better results. In large metal waste receptacles outfitted with measuring scales and a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip reader, residents can deposit their waste directly, bag-free. The machine calculates the fee by weighing the amount, and residents pay by swiping a card in front of the scanner.
“Over the last six years, we reduced a total of about 47,000 tons of food waste [with the RFID machines],” said Lee Kang-soo, head of the local government-run food recycling program in Seoul’s Songpa District. “We assume it’s because people want to pay less money, since the cost increases with the weight.”
The chief benefit of the RFID machine is that it encourages residents to remove any moisture â€• which accounts for about 80 percent of food waste â€• before tossing it in the machine, saving on collection costs. In Songpa District alone, according to Lee, the machines have saved 9.6 billion won (about $8.4 million) in logistical expenses.
Seoul is in the process of making sure all food waste eventually becomes a resource, such as fertilizer for growing food. The city handles about 60 percent of the food waste, while private contractors pick up the rest. Once collected, the waste is shipped off to processing plants, where the yellow bags are stripped off and the food slurry is squeezed to remove any liquids. A giant churn picks out any hard foreign objects, such as errant utensils, before the sludge is heat-treated and pulverized.
The resulting powder is converted into either animal feed or fertilizer. Meanwhile, the liquid squeezed from the waste is fermented into biogas or bio-oil, which can be used as fuel for boilers and other industrial appliances.
MAX S. KIM
These card-operated machines charge people by weight for their food waste.
Tapping into an urban farming boom, the city has recently announced plans to furnish a number of apartment complexes with large-scale food waste processors to create fertilizer for their gardens.
“I think there needs to be a perception that discarded food isn’t ‘garbage,’ but simply food that we couldn’t finish,” Lee said. “Only with this attitude can these ‘resource-ification’ policies work.”
Despite the program’s success, the need to continue reducing food waste remains stark. Seoul’s food waste processing centers have recently reported large amounts of dry fertilizer stacking up unused â€• an indication that there is still too much waste being created.
While the government has announced legislation to qualify food waste fertilizer as organic in order to expand its uses, experts, government officials and activists alike stress the need for more fundamental measures that reduce food waste at the source.
“There’s a limit to how much food waste fertilizer can actually be used,” Kim said. “This means there has to be a change in our dining habits, such as shifting to a one-plate culinary culture like other countries, or at least reducing the amount of banchan that we lay out.”
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Today, the second day of the 2019 Bioneers Conference, was dually concentrated on climate solutions and justifiable climate despair (among many, many other ideas discussed throughout the day). Bioneers reminded us that we live in a moment of great unknowing as we face a climate future that’s unlike anything humanity has previously faced. But now is the time to harness our bravery, as Valarie Kaur observed by poignantly comparing the future we face to giving birth:
“What if the darkness in our world right now is not the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country still waiting to be born? What if all of our ancestors who pushed through the fire before us, who survived genocide and colonization and slavery and assault, are standing behind us now whispering in our ears ‘You are brave’? What if this is our time of great transition?”
Following are some of the ideas and takeaways Bioneers introduced today:
ACTION ITEMS — Turn Inspiration Into Real Change
Lessons and Takeaways:
- Women and mothers – step up to lead: Moms Clean Air Force‘s Heather McTeer Toney reminded us, “Mothers are realizing that our voices are required at this moment. It’s not an option, it’s a requirement. We belong in these rooms. Anyone who has an interest in seeing the welfare of our children through the impact of climate change belongs in these places.”
- Empower young people and get them outside: Many speakers today mentioned a perceived hopelessness among young people in the face of existential crises. Proposed solutions included fostering closer relationships with the Earth and inviting them into the fold as we work toward climate solutions. We’re going to need everybody in this effort, said Brett KenCairn.
- Get your money out of investments that fund pollution and destruction (divest): “Shell announced this past year that divestment had become a material risk to its business,” said author and 350.org Co-Founder Bill McKibben. Examine your investments and urge institutions to do the same. (And cut up your Chase Bank credit card.)
- Love with these three practices: From Valarie Kaur, we must “see no stranger, tend the wound, and breathe & push.”
- Learn about climate solutions, then share them in ways that resonate with real people: The Project Drawdown website has published its list of solutions. Heather McTeer Toney and Paul Hawken reminded us to speak in a language that your audience will absorb. “Mitigation?” Hawken said in reference to how the media covers the climate change. “Who wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘I can’t wait to go mitigate today’?” (Read an excerpt from Drawdown here.)
- In conversations about climate resiliency, don’t just invite Indigenous People to the table: Put them at the head of the table. Panelists in this afternoon’s “Building Resilience in a Climate-Changed World” noted that Indigenous leaders have inherited ancestral knowledge that makes them especially valuable in these conversations. Listen up.
- Tell us your stories: Are there stories Bioneers should be telling? Do you have feedback for us? Reach out! Email email@example.com or call 877.BIONEER.
Campaigns to Follow and Support:
- Moms Clean Air Force (introduced by Heather McTeer Toney)
- Mission: “Our mission is to protect children from air pollution and climate change. We envision a safe, stable future where all children breathe clean air.”
- The Revolutionary Love Project (introduced by Valarie Kaur)
- Mission: “We produce stories, tools, curricula, conferences, films, TV moments, and mass mobilizations that equip and inspire people to practice the ethic of love. Our current projects focus on racism, nationalism, and hate against Sikh, Muslim, Arab, and South Asian American communities.”
- 350.org (introduced by Bill McKibben)
- Mission: “We’re an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.”
- Project Drawdown (introduced by Paul Hawken)
- Mission: “Project Drawdown is helping the world stop global warming by achieving Drawdown — as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible.”
- SFEI Aquatic Science Center (introduced by Felicia Marcus)
- Mission: “As sea levels continue to rise, communities will need to adapt the San Francisco Bay shoreline to create greater social, economic, and ecological resilience. A critical tool for this process is a science-based framework for developing adaptation strategies that are appropriate for the diverse shoreline of the Bay and that take advantage of natural processes. This project proposes such a framework.”
- American Indian Child Resource Center (introduced by Erica Persons)
- Mission: “The American Indian Child Resource Center is a non-profit social services and educational community-based organization serving American Indian community members from across the greater Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area and surrounding counties.”
- Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (introduced by Osprey Orielle Lake)
- Mission: “The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International is a solutions-based, multi-faceted organization established to engage women worldwide in policy advocacy, on-the-ground projects, direct action, trainings, and movement building for global climate justice.”
“Brilliant” is the word one source used to describe Project Drawdown’s ranked list of 100 climate change solutions, begging the meta question, should the list be on the list.
Having a variety of climate change solution options is only useful if everyone who should know they exist does know, making a credible list of climate solutions potentially as important as the solutions on the list
In 2017, Project Drawdown, published the New York Times bestseller Drawdown, edited by the founder, Paul Hawken, 72. (Be sure to watch the full interview with Hawken in the player at the top of the article.)
Mehjabeen Abidi Habib, the author of Water in the Wilderness, based in Pakistan, the seventh most vulnerable country to climate change effects, serves on the Project Drawdown advisory board. She sees the effort as evidence “that it is not too late to make choices to change our world view and the actions that arise from the current paradigm.”
Jason F. McLennan, founder and chair of the International Living Future Institute and CEO of McLennan Design has known Hawken for years and notes that his work was mentioned in Drawdown. “I think it’s brilliant is the short answer,” he says. “It doesn’t spend time and energy on pointing fingers or criticizing things. It focuses on positive solutions.”
Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) who counts Hawken as a friend notes that the project is intended “not just to slow down climate change but reverse it.”
Daniel J. Siegel, MD, author of Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence and a clinical professor at UCLA School of Medicine agrees with the Congressman, adding, “My take on Project Drawdown is that it is a scientifically solid, insightful guide to some of the most important and effective steps we are taking to reverse global warming.”
Habib highlights the optimism embedded in the project. She notes that Hawken says in the introduction that climate change is “happening for us” to help us create a better world.
Credibility from Sound Science
Project Drawdown is no mere journalistic attempt to document and prioritize the science of climate change. It is a serious, multi-year, ongoing scientifically-driven research project to identify the most impactful climate change interventions, ranking them according to their potential to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, with the goal in mind to ultimately draw down the levels of atmospheric carbon and reverse climate change.
Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, serves on the board, bringing political clout. “We [Hawken and I] had worked together on every State of the State I gave as Governor of Maryland from 2010 to 2015. Paul kindly asked me join the Drawdown Board in 2016.”
John Elkington, founder and chief pollinator for Volans, says, “Critically, the mathematical modeling involved has given the rankings far greater credibility than other initiatives.”
“As a scientist, the strategy of Project Drawdown is an important approach to seeing how we can find a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reverse the direction of climate change from the disasters that await to a more promising future,” says UCLA’s Siegel, approving of the approach. Pakistan’s Habib also approves. Fearing that the approach might be US-centric, she was pleased to see “the universality of its priorities.”
Hawken explains the approach, “Project Drawdown gathers and facilitates a broad coalition of researchers, scientists, graduate students, PhDs, post-docs, policy makers, business leaders and activists to assemble and present the best available information on climate solutions.
A bestselling author, Hawken is himself a highly regarded climate voice, frequently being quoted as an expert in the media. He points out that the Project Drawdown team is not doing primary research, rather they are aggregating and reviewing published data. “There is the data. You can find it yourself,” he suggests, arguing for the objectivity of the approach.
Governor O’Malley explains the potential impact of Project Drawdown, “There is a management wisdom ‘things that get measured are the things that get done.’ But when it comes to reversing global warming no one before had done the basic work of measuring the potential impact of the range of human solutions to this human-caused problem. Drawdown has now done that.”
“Project Drawdown reminds us to never underestimate what we can do,” says Betsy Taylor, president of the consulting firm Breakthrough Strategies. “Together, we can address the climate threat and make everyone safer.”
As a clear sign that the work is being taken seriously, Penn State is launching two programs based specifically on Project Drawdown, according to Tom L. Richard, director of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment there. First, is an undergraduate “Drawdown Scholars” program over this coming summer with 40 student-faculty teams working to improve and enhance the analytical models for implementing the solutions. The second is to host an international conference called “Research to Action: The Science of Drawdown.”
The impact of Project Drawdown isn’t just academic or theoretical. In Pakistan, Habib notes action is being taken based on the list. Noting that the most impactful item on the list is refrigerant management, caused the government to prioritize this by policy. “Just today, a project preparation grant has been received to help Pakistan prepare to phase out old refrigerators and phase in energy efficient refrigerators.”
One Problem With Many Solutions
“This is an impressive project, but what is perhaps most striking is the sheer diversity of the solutions available to us, from converting to green-energy technologies to transitioning to healthier plant-rich diets,” notes Congressman Ryan. “Project Drawdown reminds us that although the challenges we face are great, they come with exciting opportunities to change the world for the better.”
Project Drawdown ranks 80 existing interventions that are already being scaled by their potential for carbon impact. The list also includes 20 additional interventions that are proven but are not yet scaling.
Commenting on the wide range of solutions listed by Project Drawdown, Robyn O’Brien, vice president of replant Capital, says, “None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. It allows you to pick something that you are passionate about, to leverage it with what you are good at and drive change.”
“I think the list of climate interventions also highlight surprising things that need their due. The focus on women and girls is huge. So, too, is the focus on food waste. These are things we need to solve for multiple reasons,” says McLennan, whose work on living building is included in Drawdown. Noting that refrigerant management is number one and is “something we can address without too much difficulty,” he says, is an example of the “mundane” on the list.
The list isn’t just interesting or clever in its diversity. “Project Drawdown’s comprehensive framework is proving a powerful lens through which to focus our university’s research, education and outreach expertise on this critical issue,” Richard says.
Similarly, Governor O’Malley says, “So instead of merely connecting the scientific dots that take us all straight to hell, we can now combine that science with current technical know-how to measure, model, and map our way to a future where we Drawdown more carbon from the atmosphere every day than we pump into it.”
The List Changes Perceptions
One way that the list is having an impact is changing perceptions of both climate activists and so-called “climate deniers.”
“The ranking has proved to be a very powerful way of challenging people’s preconceptions of how we impact the climate – and of where the most powerful leverage points are for reversing global warming,” Elkington says.
UCLA’s Siegel says, “As a psychotherapist, I see one of the most powerful contributions of Paul Hawken and Project Drawdown as being the way we can have realistic hope instead of the doom and gloom one often hears when people speak of climate change.”
Penn State’s Richard says, “Project Drawdown offers a positive vision of the future; that the widespread implementation of these solutions can lead to a world of health and abundance rather than one of poverty and insecurity.”
A New View of Climate Economics
Several of the people reached for comment, noted that Project Drawdown provides a refreshing view of climate economics.
McLellan noted, “that doing the right thing can be great economically for the world.”
Hawken explains that implementing wind power will have a positive financial return for the world of over $7 trillion over 30 years for that single intervention.
He notes that the estimate for this and other interventions improves over time as technology progresses and data grows, even since the book was published in 2017. “About 70% of the solutions are actually very profitable and the other 20% are breaking even and 10% cost money,” Hawken says. “I think what people say is, ‘Well, my god, it’s a cost, you know, we can’t afford it.’ We say, ‘We can’t afford not to,’” he says.
Challenges and Limitations
Despite the praise, it is clear that Project Drawdown is not a climate cure-all. “
The key question now is whether we can muster the political will to advance Project Drawdown’s inspiring set of solutions,” points out Taylor.
John Wick, founder of the Marin Carbon Project, spoke with me at length. He is both a fan of and a collaborator with Project Drawdown. Still, he notes that there is still work to be done.
“I would say that that first draft the first list was a proof of concept and that there are other things that that are possibly even more exciting and more will more directly result in wholesale carbon harvesting from the atmosphere and stabilizing the climate. But they weren’t ready for primetime,” he says. “And so what we did with Project drawdown was establish a process whereas new things can come in to this process. And as we perfect the modeling I expect that the [final] draft results will be different.”
O’Malley notes that realizing the potential impact of Project Drawdown will require local adoption. “The global macro-model was a needed and important breakthrough, but success will depend upon our ability to make that model actionable in the small places close to home all over the globe. Cities, towns, and farmlands. Counties and States.”
Implicitly making the case for including the Drawdown list on the list, Hawken says, “ We solve [climate change] by creating the tools, knowledge and capacity for self-organization to address these issues worldwide. ” Whether the list should be on the list or not, here’s to effective self-organization.