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Kent Environmental Council
DECEMBER 2013
In This Issue
KEC Fall Forum Recap: Active Living Crowd Sourcing Project, Bicentennial Plan, Plans for the Future
Greenhouse Gas Hits Milestone in 2013
The Environment in the News
Save the Date: Jan. 10, 2014
KEC Membership
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Featured Article

     

  
Welcome to the December 2013 issue of the Kent Environmental Council newsletter.  
KEC Fall Forum Recap: Active Living Crowd Sourcing Project, Bicentennial Plan, Plans for the Future 

The Kent Environmental Council's Active Living Crowd Sourcing Project and plans for the future were the focus of the group's fall forum on October 21. More than 50 people attended the forum along with moderator Christopher Mallin. Panelist Dr. Gene Wenninger reviewed the Kent Bicentennial Plan's intent and KEC's desire to see how it is being used today as the 10th anniversary of the document's implementation approaches. Charles Frederick then reviewed the KEC active Living Crowd Sourcing project, designed to learn what people identify as good and bad examples of active living in Kent. Frederick and his students studied the data and identified 95 good examples, 28 moderate examples and 86 poor examples. They then placed the good and poor examples into categories:

  • Type (Movement, Destination, Activism, Destination + Activism, or Destination + Movement)
  • Issue (Behavior, Construction, Design, Intention, Maintenance, Safety, Weather)
  • Potential intervention (Device, Condition, Place, Choice)

The panelists then talked about their concepts of active living. A discussion of what is and is not happening in Kent followed.

 

According to Dr. Tina Bhargava, a professor in Kent State University's College of Public Health, public health looks at prevention of disease and illness (not treatment) and community involvement (not the individual). She added that health issues have multiple levels: individual, interpersonal and medical personnel, organizational/civic, community, and policy (e.g., the federal Clean Air Act).

 

How to create an environment in Kent where people live more actively was discussed next. It was noted that Americans sit or lie down most of the time. The following are related to how active or inactive people are likely to be:

  1. A safe, easy, walkable town
  2. Destinations to walk to
  3. A positive food environment (Shopping for groceries in Kent is not a walkable task, and even those who can walk cannot easily carry a supply of food, so they drive a car.) 
  4. School environment (The proximity to fast food outlets leads to an increase in obesity in children.) 

 The panelists noted that you cannot force people or talk them into everything you want them to do. The aim of public health is to increase the range of healthy choices and encourage people to make healthy choices. Choices are often negatively influenced by advertising, media, family and friends. The question is: How do you counteract those forces and help people make healthier choices?

 

Don Schjeldahl, a sustainable development expert, talked about active living being one part of how site selection is evaluated by businesses, along with environmental and economic factors. Corporate investments have to look at sustainability. Innovative changes look to future collaborations. Trails, convenient proximity to restaurants and stores, a good quality of life and good education all tend to be attractive to investors. When companies with an eye toward sustainability come to town, areas thrive. 

 

Companies look to a sustainable healthy community that includes:

  • A healthy downtown
  • Mass transit and areas where people can walk and ride bikes
  • A community that is well organized and where there is collaboration with many partners (e.g., government, environmental groups, recycling community, parks and recreation areas, schools, churches, service groups, arts community, healthcare, outdoor recreation groups, those who manage water and streams)
  • Schools and a good educational system
  • Trained work force 
  • Modern infrastructure 
  • Functional working government 
  • Reasonable costs 
  • Real estate assets ready to go

When Dave Ruller, Kent city manager, came to Kent 8 years ago, he reviewed the city's many plans for common themes. Kent's Bicentennial Plan, which had been nationally recognized, was a big draw when he made his move to Kent and brought with him what he describes as "a collaborative spirit." The city and council have much in common with what KEC and others want for Kent. Kent, however, is not a wealthy community and has more poverty than many of its neighbors; the money available is not sufficient to implement all of the initiatives the city and the community would like to do. "We have bootstrapped our way to where we are now," said Ruller. "We are building a base for the future." Kent's Strategic Plan, which is on the city's website, borrows its first two columns of text from the Bicentennial Plan. "That which gets measured gets improved," Ruller noted, adding that KEC's Active Living crowd sourcing project fits well with the city's strategic plan.

The Kent Parks and Recreation Department, Kent State University, the Kent Health Department, and the city of Kent are collaborating more on ongoing work and planning as they look for ways that their strategic goals overlap. The areas are numerous. 

 

Ruller noted that he tracks the hours city council spends in meetings on each area in the city's Strategic Plan. Recently, he received for the first time comments of concern  about too many bicycles downtown with a potential for cars and pedestrian accidents--a sure sign that some progress has been made in increasing bicycling in town.

 

Ruller noted that Kent as a city has a scale that works, as it is possible to effect change. It is a scale that has made a comeback and boasts a high quality of life and affordability. A cultural change, however, goes along with the physical changes. There has been a good public art effort and a greener downtown. Lastly, Ruller noted that the city worked hard to find a food market, but supermarkets have internal rules about where they build based on their very narrow range of demographics, and Kent does not fit those parameters.

 

Mallin then opened the following questions to the panel: Kent has a population of 10,000 people within a one-mile radius of Main and Water streets. What policies are in place or contemplated so people can come downtown without using a car and a parking space?

 

Schjeldahl said that biking and street crossing are not too safe, and people drive too fast. He noted that he has pushed for "Pedestrian in Crosswalk" signs with solar lights like he has seen in other cities. He added that in California, cars will yield to pedestrians or bicycles.

 

Ruller said the city can create and install some signage. He said the city plans to change signals from the outskirts on state Route 43 all the way to downtown. He hopes that as the biking community continues to grow, people will learn and improve their behavior toward each other. He added that the Summit Street rebuilding project under way will have two roundabouts and is designed to be safer for the many pedestrians in that area.

 

Bhargava said that in California, roads have been redesigned for every kind of user in a safe and appropriate manner. Kent, she said, is not designed for bicycles. In North Carolina, Bhargava added, all roads outside a municipal area (85 percent) are maintained by the state, and any road project where state money is used must be designed as what is known as a "complete street" (defined by the National Coalition for Complete Streets). Bhargava explained the concept, saying that streets and roads are planned, designed, operated and maintained to enable safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for all. People realize they have to share. Implementation depends on many things. In North Carolina, she said as an example, a minimum of 15-foot lanes and an additional three feet of paved shoulder for walking and biking are mandated.

 

Ruller noted that such right-of-way requirements do not fit in urban areas. He added that there will be no drastic changes all over town; however, when Kent undertakes a road project, the complete-streets approach is encouraged. In Portland, Oregon, Ruller added, city planners give up parking spaces to allow for biking lanes; however, this leads to another planning issue. 

 

Persons in the audience noted that bicycling from Twin Lakes to Kent is very unsafe, as is bicycling from the bike trail into downtown Kent and asked if it would be possible to have at least one street with a marked lane to get into downtown Kent, such as North Water Street.

 

When asked about how change people's habits about bus usage, Ruller said he had found PARTA open to suggestions. He also noted that parking meters should be in place in Kent sometime in 2014. Their installation has been delayed by having to examine various parking meter systems before making a final decision on a vendor.   

 

Bhargava added that the community needs to be educated about where to look for bicycles and that bicycles should have an assigned place so people will know where to look for them. She also talked about incremental changes rather than an all-or-nothing approach.

 

Audience member Rick Hawksley noted the concept of shared streets, which involves training people to ride bicycles on the street, requires a change in culture. There is enforcement potential for turning right while a pedestrian is in a crosswalk. He added that signage warning lights to alert drivers would be helpful.

 

KEC's Active Living Focus Group will continue to meet and look at the data for next steps. The group continues to take new examples and encourages everyone to take pictures and send comments. Photos and comments can be sent directly to Facebook or to Charles Frederick or by mailing photos to him at 532 Pioneer Ave., Kent, OH 44240. Anyone interested in joining the Active Living Focus Group is welcome to attend meetings. Contact Frederick by email, or call him at 330-678-5327 for meeting dates and times. 

 

--Lorraine McCarty

activeliving3Greenhouse Gas Hits Milestone
in 2013 

Worldwide levels of the chief greenhouse gas that causes global warming hit a new milestone, reaching an amount never before encountered by humans, federal scientists said. The measurement, 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide, was reached in 2013. May is the month when the chief greenhouse gas peaks in the Northern Hemisphere. It will be lower the rest of the year--but not for long. This year will probably average 396 parts per million.

 

James Butler, director of global monitoring at NOAA's Earth Science Research Lab at Boulder, Colorado, said that within a decade, even in the cleanest of places on days in the fall when greenhouse gases are at their lowest, the world will never see days when the carbon measurement falls below 400 parts per million. Carbon dioxide stays in the air for a century, "so we're stuck," said Butler. Our emissions are not only continuing but also accelerating. Even if we start to reduce carbon dioxide, Butler noted, the global average temperature will continue to go up. Impacts include extreme weather, sea-level rise, loss of Arctic sea ice, and heat-related illnesses and deaths.

 

"Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time," said Thomas F. Stocker, co-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group of scientists who produced the latest report. "In short, it threatens our planet, our only home."

 

The world's top climate scientists on September 27, 2013, formally embraced an upper limit on greenhouse gases for the first time. They established a target level at which humans must stop spewing these pollutants into the atmosphere or face irreversible climate change. The scientists warned that the target is likely to be exceeded in a matter of decades unless steps are taken soon to reduce emissions.

 

A summary of the report, the effort of more than 800 scientists working for the United Nations panel over several years, said there is a 95 percent likelihood that humans are behind global warming, up from the 90 percent level of certainty in a 2007 report.

 

Going well beyond the panel's four previous assessments of the emissions problem, the report said, "It is extremely likely" that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." The panel then endorsed a carbon budget for humanity--a limit on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be produced by industrial activities and the clearing of forests. The panel found that no more than one trillion metric tons of carbon could be burned with the resulting gases released into the atmosphere if planetary warming is to be kept below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the level of pre-industrial times. That temperature is a target above which scientists believe the most dangerous effects of climate change would begin to occur.

 

Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary general, has declared his intention to call a meeting of heads of state in 2014 to push a treaty forward. The last such meeting, in Copenhagen in 2009, ended in disarray. The annual United Nations climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, just concluded with a modest set of decisions meant to pave the way for a new pact to fight global warning. More than 190 countries agreed in Warsaw to start preparing "contributions" for the new deal, which is supposed to be adopted in 2015. That term was adopted after China and India objected to the word "commitments" in a standoff with the United States and other developed countries. China and India say they are still developing countries and should not have to take on commitments to cut carbon emissions as strict as those of industrialized nations.

 

Notes:

1. "Cooler, Smarter-Practical Steps for Low-carbon Living," Union of Concerned Scientists. See http://www.ucsusa.org

2. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch, Ohio Legislators Are Working to Roll Back Renewable Energy Standards." See http://www.theOEC.org

3. Record-Courier/Associated Press, "Carbon Dioxide Levels Hit Milestone," May 13, 2013.

4. New York Times, "U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions," September 27, 2013.

5. Record-Courier, "Deadline broken at U.N. Climate Talks," November 24, 2013.

 

 --Edith Chase  

 The Environment in the News

Converted Byproduct Will Power Up Akron - Akron Beacon Journal - October 31, 2013

 

The city of Akron has partnered with KB BioEnergy to use sewage sludge from the city's waste treatment plant to generate renewable, clean electricity at the Akron Composting Plant on Riverview Road, which will now be known as the Akron Renewable Energy Facility. The project was funded in part with a federal renewable energy tax credit of $9.6 million. The process is complicated, but it works. The sludge is heated to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for almost a month, while anaerobic bacteria consume some of the sludge and cause it to ferment--creating a methane-rich (60 percent) burnable gas. Natural gas is 90 percent methane. About 45 percent of the energy produced will be heat, and 41 percent will be electricity. Twenty percent of the electricity will be used to power the plant, and the remaining electricity will power the city's sewage plant, one of the biggest users in the region. The addition can handle all of the city's yearly 15,000 tons of sludge, and the city will no longer need its composting facility. This is to the delight of neighbors, who had complained about odors. The technology was developed in Germany and is widely used in Europe, where farm crops are used instead of sludge.  

 

Cleanup Efforts in Great Lakes Have Produced a Rare Unity - Akron Beacon Journal - September 14, 2013

 

For all the political squabbling between the Republicans and the Democrats, it is worthy to note that the 94,000 square mile exception to the Republican budget crusade is the Great Lakes. The Republicans in the eight-state Great Lakes region match the Democrats in enthusiasm for the many federal programs--including dredging harbors and controlling invasive predators--that benefit the Great Lakes. The last two years, Congress has given the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative "the exact level of funding the president called for in his budget. That's almost unheard of, given the partisan toxicity right now," said Andy Buchsbaum, regional director of the National Wildlife Federation. The cooperation is due partly to the lakes' equal importance to the economy and the environment. The lakes supply drinking water to more than 30 million people, support 1.5 million jobs and generate $62 billion in wages annually. It helps that the program is popular with industry, which sees the lakes as essential to building a "blue economy" based on abundant water, according to Ed Wolking of the Detroit Region Chamber of Commerce. Rep. Sean Duffy, a conservative Republican from Wisconsin who was elected with tea party backing, notes that the Great Lakes are "a national treasure, so national money should go to it." And despite progress, scientists warn that the danger is far from over because pollution has brought the lakes near the tipping point of irreversible damage. 

 

Plastics in the Great Lakes Problematic - Akron Beacon Journal - September 17, 2013

 

Large quantities of tiny round plastic pellets, mainly from health and beauty products, were collected along with other plastic pieces found in Lakes Erie, Superior and Huron. Some samples taken from Lake Erie were at astronomical levels, according to the leader of the study, Sherri A. Mason, an associate professor of chemistry at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Some Lake Erie samples had more plastics than have been found in ocean samples, she said, adding that the reasons for this are unclear. One water sample from Lake Erie contained 1,100 bits of plastic, and concentrations were equal to 450,000 bits of plastic per square kilometer in the eastern part of the lake. The main source of the microplastics in the Great Lakes is tiny scrubbing beads added to personal care products, such as scrubbing facial washes and toothpastes, according to Mason. The beads are so tiny that they are not processed out in sewage treatment plants and therefore empty into rivers and eventually the Great Lakes. One fear is that the beads will be eaten by fish, which will then be eaten by humans. More research is needed to assess the damage these microplastics can cause. However, Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, both large companies, have told advocacy groups they will stop using spheres of polyethylene plastics in their beauty produces by 2017. Unilever and Body Shop have made similar pledges. Removing plastics from the waters in the Great Lakes is not possible, and it is not clear how long it might take plastics to degrade. Also unclear is whether the plastics are washing ashore to beaches or sinking to the bottom of the lakes.

 

Plastic in lake water is a new area of scientific research worldwide, according to Mason. Plastics in the oceans have been studied since 1999. United Nations estimates indicate that 80 percent of plastics found in oceans originated on land, and about half float and half sink. Mason advocates for keeping all plastics out of the water. "No level of plastics in the lakes is acceptable . . . . The best cure is to find ways to reduce our plastic use. We're all part of the problem." Mason's complete report will be published in the spring of 2014.

 

Use of Rooftop Solar Panels Expanding - Record-Courier - October 2, 1013

 

Rooftop solar panels are expanding into the mainstream as more people look to save money on utility bills. Utility companies are afraid they will lose so much revenue that they won't be able to maintain the power grid. In many states, utility companies are proposing an extra fee for solar customer or trying to roll back or block programs that allow those customers to trade power they generate back to the grid for power they need during other times.

 

Arizona Solar Customers Face Monthly Fee - Akron Beacon Journal - November 15, 2013

 

Arizona regulators voted to allow a charge $5 of a month for customers who install rooftop solar panels, giving the solar industry a victory over Arizona Public Service, which sought a monthly rate increase for solar customers of $50 to $100.

 

California Sees Controversy over Backups for Solar Panels - Akron Beacon Journal - October 13, 2013

 

Rooftop solar panels with rooftop backups in California have created controversy. According to the Southern California Edison, the storage systems create the possibility of fraud about whether the energy is generated only by renewable sources, as required. In theory, customers could fill batteries with power from the grid and then sell it back. Southern California Edison recently rejected the application of one homeowner who installed a $30,000 system that cannot now be hooked up to the grid. The company insists it does not want to discourage the use of solar power and is working with regulators on the problems, but their rules have not caught up with recent storage technology. The California Public Utility Commission reports inconsistency is applications for net metering to energy storage projects.  

 

Ohio Regulators Allow Large Impoundments for Fracking Flowback Water - Akron Beacon Journal - October 11, 2013

 

As of Jan. 1, 2014, Ohio regulators will permit large impoundments, or pits, sometimes exceeding the size of a football field, that can hold millions of gallons of fracking flowback water. Such pits are now banned by Ohio regulations, which allow only lined impoundments that hold fresh water. Fracking wastewater now must be stored above ground in covered steel tanks before disposal or reuse. Companies in other states, however, have found large impoundments useful in reducing both the truck traffic and the water necessary to frack nearby wells. A single shale well can require one million to eight million gallons of water to complete. Engineers claim that properly designed pits are entirely safe and are a closed-loop system; however, opponents in other states have complained about odors and the lack of reclamation that should occur when the well is completed. The Ohio legislature made changes as part of the biennial budget bill in June 2013, and these changes will now be implemented by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

  

Greenhouse Gasses Create Grim Outlook for World Water Supplies - Record-Courier - November 14, 2013

 

Greenhouse gasses are creating a grim outlook for the globe's waters, according to a new report from 540 international scientists. These gasses are making the oceans hot, sour and breathless. The oceans are getting more acidic much faster than at any time in the past 3oo million years. Along with other global warming impacts to water, scientists' worry is intensified.

 

--Lorraine McCarty  

 Save the Date: Jan. 10, 2014 

State Representative Kathleen Clyde, House District 75, will speak at the KEC informal breakfast the Little City Grill, 802 N. Mantua St. at 8 a.m. She will talk about pending environmentally related legislation in Ohio and answer questions.  

Kathleen Clyde
State Representative Kathleen Clyde
KEC Membership

We welcome anyone who wants to join the Kent Environmental Council and support our efforts. If you are already a member, you will be receiving a reminder of renewal by mail the month before the expiration date for your dues. Remember, dues are the main source of income for KEC. We need your support to do our work. Just fill out the KEC membership form. Enclose the completed form and your check made payable to: Kent Environmental Council and mail  to: KEC, P.O. Box 395, Kent, OH 44240. To join or renew online with PayPal, click here. Membership levels are $45, Sustaining; $35, Family; $25, Individual; $15, Golden Buckeye; $10, Student; $500, Lifetime; and $200, Organization.  

 

 

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