Monday, January 31, 2011

"The Power of Community"

Community members came to the Sustainable Living Center on January 27th,  for the first part of a two part film series, “The Wonders of Oneness."

The film, “The Power of Community,” showed the struggles and hardships that occurred in Cuba when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990 as well as the community power and creativity of the Cuban people during this difficult time. Throughout the film Cubans shared how they transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens.

This film was followed by a special travelogue presentation by international traveler and avid urban homesteader Susan Kroll. Susan is also a humanitarian aid worker, and  she spent three weeks bicycling from garden to garden in Cuba in 2004. She shared with us a photo slide show of what she saw and learned from her experience

The film and discussion provided insights for how we can use the creativity and community power in our very own locality to help us live more sustainably. It was encouraging to see many passionate community members come together to learn and share ideas. 

For more information regarding the film visit the Power of Community's website.

Please join us for the second part of this film series, which will take place on February 17th, 2011, 7-9pm at the Sustainable Living Center. The film is, "Dirt! The Movie," and post-film discussion will feature local farmer Walter Haugen. For more information check out our event page or email Hannah Coughlin (

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I heard that Lonesome Whistle Blow

“I heard that lonesome whistle blow….”
                                                Hank Williams

I love trains.  I love riding on them and l love what they represent in terms of the future of transportation in a transitioning world.  I live near the train station and that gives me comfort because it means access to options and adventure.  But lately the train whistles have brought me sadness and despair. 

But it is not the Amtrak whistles or the call of the mixed cargo loads, it is the coal trains.  Why?  Because I know that each time that engineer pulls that whistle cord on a coal train with a load bound for China that whistle wail is the sound of a manufacturing job leaving American soil. 

Hey wait a minute, aren’t the coal shipments and terminal plans going to create jobs?  Yes, that is what we are being told by folks working for foreign coal companies and Wall Street; folks with Benjamins to hand out to focus group participants, but take some time to think about it. 

Let’s take the 5 million tons of coal expected to be shipped from the proposed facility in Longview, Washington or our own Cherry Point as an examples.  That coal will power a city in China of around 490,000 folks for a year.  And let us assume that half of those people are in the work force or 245,000.  Since we know that 40% of China’s economy is export related, then it is logical to assume that 98,000 of those souls are working on products for export.  With the US taking 20% of that production, that means that 19,600 of those workers are making products for us that we should be making for ourselves.  (Some of this should be familiar to students of the Revolutionary War as part of the package of grievances.)

That coal is enabling roughly 20,000 workers and because we are shipping raw materials rather than value-added materials, we settle for less than half of a percent of those jobs created by our, citizen-owned natural resource.  In all of this we should remember that the people behind the local people arguing for the coal shipments and marine terminals in the Northwest are the same folks who are players in the economic engine that is shipping 500,000 US jobs a year to China.  In Bellingham’s case, people should think Goldman Sachs (51% ownership) when the promoters say SSA Marine. 

So when I hear that lonesome whistle blow, I hear the mournful cries of tens of thousands of displaced US workers wondering what the Hell happened to their lives.  All of us have faces that we can put on those folks.  And this is going to continue until we and our elected officials simply say: No, we have had enough.  That time is now.

Bob Ferris 
Executive Director

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Coal Myth and a Question of Fiscal Responsibility

There is an argument that seems to be emerging from the pro-coal crowd that is gaining momentum—not because of its true, but because it sounds good.  And there is a big difference.

Coal advocates are claiming that it is better for China to burn low-sulfur coal from Montana and Wyoming than it is for them to burn more polluting coal from their own reserves and elsewhere in China.  Sounds like a good logical argument and it would certainly be if China and India’s economies were in a flat growth mode.  But since they are both growing exponentially, then they are more likely to burn our coal reserves and their own in their suicidal sprint towards some mythical growth-based nirvana that does not exist and is unsustainable if it did.  (Perhaps this is a task for Myth Busters to sort out?)

It is good to look deeply into the logic of this, but there is a fundamental question that all of us should also ask at some point: Why should China want to buy coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming in the first place?  The answer is not because it is low in sulfur content and other pollutants, because why should they care?  Pollution from their power and heating plants basically takes a week-long jet-stream ride with a lot of it landing on our shores and in our waters. 

The more reasonable explanation to the above question is that our government—even in this time when revenues are constricted and debt growing—is selling coal from federal public lands to foreign and multi-national corporations at a price that makes it competitive with domestic coal prices in China and India.  That might sound reasonable too until you add in the penny per short ton cost that accrues for every mile that coal travels to get to its destination.  So, even with this substantial surcharge, it is still competitive.  Why?

For those paying attention the obvious answer is the US is not charging enough for this citizen-owned resource.  And while that might have been reasonable policy when our country was seeking rapid growth, thoughts of climate change were far removed, and nearly every state in the union did not have to issue mercury-related fish advisories, it simply is not even close to good public policy now. 

We all need to get the word out on the above myth and do something about getting a fair price for our non-renewable resources.

Bob Ferris 
Executive Director

Event Review: "Seabirds as Environmental Indicators"

January 20th and 22nd initiated Whatcom County residents into the world of citizen science and dead birds!

Dr. Julia Parrish of Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) presented “Seabirds as Environmental Indicators”, as part of the Whatcom Watershed Information Network lecture series. Dr. Parrish is a nationally known seabird and conservation biologist, and Director of the University of Washington’s Program on the Environment. She founded COASST, a project that trains hundreds of citizen scientists to collect data on beached seabirds. These data are then used to understand upsets in the marine ecosystem.

A packed room of interested citizens listened with rapt attention as Dr. Parrish engaged the audience with humor and the step by step process of scientific discovery. Highlighting some of COASST’s findings, she told of the discovery of a gillnet bycatch incident near Point Roberts and the investigation into deaths of thousands of seabirds on the Outer Coast. The latter turned out to be the largest such recorded incident caused by a “harmful algal bloom”, which killed these seabirds as a result of a series of interlocking circumstances: a large bloom exhausted of nutrients, the rupture of algal cells, and the molting of seabirds.

On the following Saturday, January 22nd, 25 citizens took the nest step and became trained to be COASST team members. In a day long workshop, participants learned how to survey a beach, identify, document and tag dead birds, and input data into a database that is used region-wide to track bird mortalities and identify problems. Using the very unusual key and guidebook developed for the program, participants also did some hands on work, identifying birds from dead specimens.

Next time you hear about the death of seabirds, know that you can thank your fellow citizens for helping elucidate the occurrence, so that others can figure out how to prevent it in the future.

For other events and workshops with RE Sources, visit our website:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Lump of an Idea Becomes Reality

About a week ago, I fell asleep chuckling to myself about a practical joke I was going to play on my coworker.  Matt Krogh and I had spent the afternoon talking about the issue of a possible coal export terminal at Cherry Point.  He was passionate about the fact that this is a very bad idea and I absolutely agreed.  Regardless of how you slice it there is nothing good that can come from exporting coal that is mined in the Powder River Basin in Montana, shipped by rail through our state, and then transported via huge freighters to China where it will be burned to fuel their economic development i.e. more plastic crap for us to buy from Wal Mart...but I digress.

Like I was saying, I was laying in bed, chuckling as I planned to glue googly eyes to a lump of coal and leave it on Matt’s desk the next morning.  Of course my idea didn’t stop there.  I visualized attaching pipe-cleaner legs and a silly mouth to this lump and photographing it around town.  Soon I could see this character making appearances at key community meetings, showing up for a brew at Boundary Bay or kicking back on the beach surveying the land that is threatened by the short-sighted development plans of some pretty powerful people.

Dusty visits Kulshan Cycles
Well it turns out that I was so inspired by these nocturnal ideas that I made my little lump into reality.  His name is Dusty Coal.  He made his debut at the December Green Drinks, has over 100 friends on facebook, recently test-rode a power-assist bike at Kulshan and enjoyed a slice of cheese pizza at Rudy’s.  He’s also developed quite the personality as an unofficial spokesperson for the coal industry. 

Dusty visits Cherry point
If you’re not already, please become a friend of Dusty's, stay tuned for his new blog, and follow the coal issue closely.  It has the potential to have huge impacts to our community and our region.  In the meantime, I urge you to make your lump of an idea into a reality, too.

Crina Hoyer
Program Director

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sustainable Living Center Event Series Starts Off with an Adventure

RE Sources’ 2011 Sustainable Living Center Event Series kicked off with the first presentation in the, “See the World by Bicycle," adventure slide show series, Thursday, January 13th. The series is co-hosted by RE Sources and everbodyBIKE.

Greg's Bike
Thursday's event was a scintillating peak into the voyage of two brave folks, Vic Hubbard, the Community Food Co-op wine master, and Diane Brainerd, owner of the Old Town Café. The pair shared tips and highlights of touring by bicycle from Barcelona, Spain to Leone, France in five weeks.  Complete with airfare secrets and touring tips. The slide show left the audience feeling inspired and empowered.

We also heard from custom steel bike builder, Greg Heath, of Donkelope Bikes.   Greg shared with us his creativity and passion for fabricating frames, forks, stems, racks, and more. Check out his blog.
And last, but not least, Ken Rasmussen, shared with us the art and history of vintage bicycles. The Pedersen model, to the right, was created with a hammock sling for a seat! For more info, visit his website

Don't miss the next slide show! We'll be diving into The Netherlands and Belgium with Cindy and Therese Kelliher, and northern Oregon, with Scott Dorough. Thursday, February 10th, 7pm-9pm at the Sustainable Living Center, (above the RE Store) 2309 Meridian St. For more info, contact, 360.733.8307.

Check out the other great events taking place at the Sustainable Living Center.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Doing Better in the Face of Tragedy

With tragic events often comes a sense of hopelessness.  That is natural and probably the anger is too.  While revenge, blame, and criticism loom large in people’s minds as appropriate responses, let me offer an alternative: Do something that makes the world better instead.  In other words, take all this pent up energy and use it for good.

Why not take some time to localize your investments?  A first step in that process is looking at your bank and seeing if it sets local investing as a priority.  This action helps on so many levels and is all part of getting reconnected with your community.
Protecting resources is also a pretty good activity.  My wife and I recently had a water meter installed, before they were required by law, so we could benchmark our use and strive to save.  Add to that, the rain barrel we will be installing soon and our pending energy audit from the Opportunity Council, and we feel like we are making some progress in a world filled with mental mud and mire.

Taking time to plan or plant a garden works too.  Re-localizing and supporting local farmers strengthens our connection with our food and each other.  All this is good stuff that will become more and more necessary in the coming times.

Add to the above volunteering or making donations to non-profits and you will start to feel—as we have—incrementally better with each positive act.  

- Bob Ferris   
Executive Director

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Welcome to the RE Sources blog!

Dear RE Source Community Member:

Welcome to the RE Sources for Sustainable Communities’ blog. Our hope with these communiqués is to provide information, share insights, and open dialogues about issues that are near and dear to the RE Sources’ community. 

These posts will be authentic, conversational, and come from the staff that runs our family of programs to supplement and amplify our other blogs (Salvage Times and the North Sound Baykeeper blog). 

Hopefully, these semi-regular posts will be inspirational, sometimes sad, and frequently silly in nature.  Who knows? But they will always reflect the fact that the RE Sources’ team is constantly mindful of our goal to help individuals make the region a better and more sustainable place for all life.

See you in the blogosphere and around the region.

Bob Ferris
Executive Director