During my time in Chicago, I have encountered some great urban farming initiatives.  Here are some photos I took:

God’s Gang is a grassroots organization that engages youth in urban agriculture and landscaping in the far Southside.  Over 40 types of vegetables are grown and a small amount of livestock are kept here.

god's garden

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), a grassroots group that serves the Latino community in Pilson.  Group volunteers have helped to maintain a community garden next to the neighborhood middle school.


Growing Power is an organization started by legendary food justice activist Will Allen.  The organization has been on the forefront of food equity nationally.  Across the street from Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, the organization has planted a fabulous garden that can be used by all Chicagoans.

growing power

Millennium Park also has some of the best green space in the city!

Millenium Park

Also, here is some food for thought?

Gross inequality in access to healthy food

Give green jobs to ex-cons


We’re Still Standing

We lost a few fellows, a few publications and even a few jobs between
Los Angeles and Chicago. Bobby was on crutches, and Huascar was down
for the count. Had it really been just three months? But as we
convened in the Executive Suite of the Hilton Homewood Suites on
Sunday afternoon, there was good news, too. Warren Vieth from Gaylord
College at the Univ. of Oklahoma joined us as a new project director.
Vieth, a former White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times specializing in economic policy,  is now a visiting professor at Gaylord. Pending funding, he will lead a week long fellowship program
next spring on coverage of “Immigration in the Heartland.”

IJJ’s Environmental Justice Fellows shared updates on their projects:

Julio Cesar Ortiz told us of the week he’d spent filming the lives of Los
Angeles port area truckers, putting flesh and blood on the grim
statistics about pollution, asthma, and long hours for little pay. He
and his camera man spent the night with one family, rising at 2 am
with the husband to begin the long, dreary day. He listened to the
wife recount her struggles at home, and documented how the job is
tearing at the cohesion of their marriage. In another instance, one of
the many mechanics who “fix” the illegally old, dangerous trucks
freely admitted on camera that he and others like him are the
“coyotes” of the ports, taking cash to get Mexican immigrant truckers
on the road again with little regard for human health and safety, just
as “coyotes” take cash from those desperate to cross the border
between Mexico and the U.S., with little regard for human life.
Julio’s work is expected to result in a four part series for Univision
in Los Angeles.

Brentin Mock and Phoebe Connelly filled us in on the Anacostia River project.
Brentin dove deep into tangled bureaucracies to figure out what
exactly is polluting this river that runs through one of Washington,
D.C.’s historic black communities. He also traced the flow of
pollutants from wealthier, white communities up river, and tried to
ascertain whether grassroots groups committed to river clean up will
receive any of the stimulus fund largess being doled out a few miles
away by federal bureaucrats. Phoebe emphasized the “policy”
framework of The American Prospect magazine, where Brentin’s work is
expected to run. That framework is driving both reporter and editor to
focus not just on the environmental abuses apparent in the river’s
diseased fish, for instance, but the federal policies that allowed the
abuses and might or might not provide solutions.

Edwin Buggage said he had condensed his proposed, four part series about life in New Orleans post-Katrina into one long piece, and a second, shorter
dispatch.  The pieces have already run in his Data News Weekly and he
will make them available for the fellows to read.  He is also in
discussions with CNN about possible use of some of the work for a
“Toxic City” segment on the fifth anniversary of the disastrous
hurricane. Edwin said he was also determined to use his work to
galvanize city residents to take care of lingering environmental
problems themselves, rather than waiting for unresponsive government
officials to do it.

Kari Lydersen had a great trip to New Orleans, and has separately written two stories for the Washington Post.  The first was about Vietnamese-American residents
deeply concerned about a nearby landfill possibly leaking groundwater
contamination into their community food garden. The second chronicled
Native Americans losing coastal wetlands that they have long relied
upon for trapping and other traditional activities. She will be
writing a longer piece based on this reporting for Colorlines magazine
this fall, using photos and video for an online version as well.

Huascar Robles has done in-depth reporting for his project on coal ash waste
near a small, rural Puerto Rico community.  Residents there shared stories of frequent asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.  Huascar learned through document digging and interviews with agency officials that neither the U.S. EPA nor Puerto Rico’s Enivironmental Quality Board has tested the ash at this site, despite recent federal findings about the high risk of coal ash exposure. He’s continuing to dig.

Talia Whyte faced a double whammy: her Boston newspaper has suspended publication, and the ex-offender food programs she had arranged to profile have lost
funding. She will probably profile Boston’s most successful food
justice advocate instead. Devin Robins will move forward with the first part
of her proposed radio series on community activism and emerging
solutions to environmental problems in America’s poorest congressional
districts.  Because of a move back to Los Angeles from Washington,
D.C.,  she is seeking production space, but has several stations
interested in potentially airing her work.

The considerable economic challenges being faced by many of our
journalism fellows brought home the major shifts underway in American
media. Nonetheless, it was good to hear updates on these fine
projects. We adjourned to a wonderful dinner with past IJJ fellows,
Bobby’s parents, and Mark Hallett, senior program officer for
McCormick Foundation, and his wife, Carmen. The IJJ EJ fellowship was made
possible due to Mark’s commitment to coverage of environmental justice
issues, and the foundation’s support.

–Janet Wilson, Senior Fellow for Environmental Justice

Photo by Umoja Community Builders

Photo by Umoja Community Builders

Last month the US Department of Agriculture released a report on food deserts – areas in the United States where communities lack access to supermarkets and other outlets selling foods necessary for a healthy diet. According to the report, 2.3 million Americans live more than a mile from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle. The report goes on to say that the “urban core areas with limited food access are characterized by higher levels of racial segregation and greater income inequality.” In short, this problem largely affects low income communities and people of color. In recent years, there have been efforts by food justice activists around the country to bridge the food gap. One group in Chicago is taking back the food system online.

The Umoja Student Development Corporation is a Chicago-based, youth development organization which runs a six-week summer program in partnership with youth media group Free Spirit to film a short documentary about food deserts in the predominately African American community of North Lawndale.

“In my neighborhood, there are no grocery stores,” said Porsha Treadwell, a student intern in Umoja’s community builders program. “It is unfair that my community doesn’t have the same access to healthy foods as other communities. It’s just not right.”

In addition to learning how to grow organic foods in community gardens and polling residents about their food shopping habits, the student interns have also kept a blog for the duration of the program about their own eating habits and the various social and environmental injustices that block access to food equity.

Also on the blog, the youth have created a slide show, displaying photos of themselves learning how to use cameras for their documentary.

Treadwell said this program has been a rewarding experience. She noted that she has had informative conversations with other residents about the food problem in the community, and how they now feel empowered to do something about it.

“When a community comes together, we can do powerful things,” she said.

As part of the second day of the Chicago leg of IJJ’s 2009 Ethnic Media Conference, Stephen Franklin, Ethnic News Media Director for Community Media at Columbia College in Chicago, lectured fellows on in-depth reporting.

Franklin began with a roll playing exercise to help fellows deal with sources.  He acted belligerently as a cop, commander, factory rep and OSEA press rep related to a factory accident who denied information to fellow Julio César Ortiz and Senior Fellow Janet Wilson, who played reporter and editor respectively of a television news program working on the story.

Franklin used the example to illustrate how to better work with sources. He stressed the importance of asking questions in the context of situation and added that reporters should use their head as cameras and recorders.

He also recommended having a partner. He or she may have other skills necessary to complete the story. He or she could also be more organized, an advantage when working on these projects.

“Be prepared,” he said when going to an interview and suggested conducting interviews at beginning of the encounter; that might be the only shot for an interview.

Develop a strategy and find out who has got the information. When interviewing, he asked to “read back to people what they tell you,” in order to avoid being sued for libel.

“Carry two tape recorders,” he added in case one buckles. Franklin has a regular recorder and one hidden in his shirt’s lapel. Subjects are notified they’re being recorded, he said. Since the camera is hidden, they don’t feel threatened and open up more.

Fellow Brentin Mock asked for advice on reporting investigative pieces for new media.
Sometimes editors expected stories for websites quicker than print news. Wilson suggested putting out a short-term story with enough information to satisfy editor and readership and work on a long-term story with more in-depth material.

This could also alert potential sources, Wilson added.

When working with long-term stories journalist might end up hyping the story up, said Franklin; not overselling the story is important, he stressed.

Franklin posed difficult questions to fellows regarding working with authorities. Sharing information with FBI and other authorities have several implications.  Each case is considered into its context, but fellows agreed that certain steps must be taken like notifying the editor and the legal department of the publication.

Franklin reminded us of the importance of multimedia for our projects.


Bob Gottlieb, professor of urban and environmental policy and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) at Occidental College, spoke to the fellows yesterday about food as an environmental justice issue.  He alluded to the recent discussion in the food justice community about the possibly origin of swine flu, and the reluctance to discuss it public.  Below might give some insight into this issue.

From Food and Water Watch:

Today, amid increasing international concern about the global swine flu outbreak, Food & Water Watch urged leaders of the U.S. Senate and House agriculture and health committees to investigate the serious human health problems caused by industrialized pork production. The national consumer advocacy organization submitted a letter to Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), asking their respective committees to hold hearings examining the source of the swine flu virus, the pathway for transmission between hogs and humans, and the conditions inside factory farms that could foster the growth and mutation of the influenza virus into more virulent strains. 

“Factory farms have a long track record of maximizing volume and profit at the cost of human health and safe food,” said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch executive director. “The swine flu outbreak is unfortunately just the latest example of the negative public health impacts from intensive pork production.”

Food & Water Watch warned of other potential threats to human health, including the discovery at U.S. hog facilities of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – the difficult to treat staph infection – and antibiotic-resistant E. coli on operations using non-therapeutic antibiotics.  

“The public health issues of disease transmission, antibiotic resistant bacteria and worker health are critically important to rural communities, workers, and consumers and any research into these issues must be done in a way that is independent of any industry pressure,” said Hauter in the letter. “Congress needs to prioritize these topics for credible research that is funded and performed by public entities, not the pork industry or its trade associations.”

The full pdf is at this link:


A Realistic Policy on International Carbon Offsets

Working Paper

Michael Wara – Stanford University
David G. Victor – Stanford University

Published by
Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Working Paper #74, April 2008



As the




United States designs its strategy for regulating emissions of greenhouse gases, two central issues have emerged. One is how to limit the cost of compliance while still maintaining environmental integrity. The other is how to “engage” developing countries in serious efforts to limit emissions. Industry and economists are rightly concerned about cost control yet have found it difficult to mobilize adequate political support for control mechanisms such as a “safety valve;” they also rightly caution that currently popular ideas such as a Fed-like Carbon Board are not sufficiently fleshed out to reliably play a role akin to a safety valve. Many environmental groups have understandably feared that a safety valve would undercut the environmental effectiveness of any program to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. These politics are, logically, drawing attention to the possibility of international offsets as a possible cost control mechanism. Indeed, the design of the emission trading system in the northeastern U.S. states (RGGI) and in California (the recommendations of California’s AB32 Market Advisory Committee) point in this direction, and the debate in Congress is exploring designs for a cap and trade system that would allow a prominent role for international offsets.

This article reviews the actual experience in the world’s largest offset market-the Kyoto Protocol Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)-and finds an urgent need for reform. Well-designed offsets markets can play a role in engaging developing countries and encouraging sound investment in low-cost strategies for controlling emissions. However, in practice, much of the current CDM market does not reflect actual reductions in emissions, and that trend is poised to get worse. Nor are CDM-like offsets likely to be effective cost control mechanisms. The demand for these credits in emission trading systems is likely to be out of phase with the CDM supply. Also, the rate at which CDM credits are being issued today-at a time when demand for such offsets from the European ETS is extremely high-is only one-twentieth to one-fortieth the rate needed just for the current CDM system to keep pace with the projects it has already registered. If the CDM system is reformed so that it does a much better job of ensuring that emission credits represent genuine reductions then its ability to dampen reliably the price of emission permits will be even further diminished.

We argue that the U.S., which is in the midst of designing a national regulatory system, should not to rely on offsets to provide a reliable ceiling on compliance costs. More explicit cost control mechanisms, such as “safety valves,” would be much more effective. We also counsel against many of the popular “solutions” to problems with offsets such as imposing caps on their use. Offset caps as envisioned in the Lieberman-Warner draft legislation, for example, do little to fix the underlying problem of poor quality emission offsets because the cap will simply fill first with the lowest quality offsets and with offsets laundered through other trading systems such as the European scheme. Finally, we suggest that the actual experience under the CDM has had perverse effects in developing countries-rather than draw them into substantial limits on emissions it has, by contrast, rewarded them for avoiding exactly those commitments.

Offsets can play a role in engaging developing countries, but only as one small element in a portfolio of strategies. We lay out two additional elements that should be included in an overall strategy for engaging developing countries on the problem of climate change. First, the U.S., in collaboration with other developed countries, should invest in a Climate Fund intended to finance critical changes in developing country policies that will lead to near-term reductions. Second, the U.S. should actively pursue a series of infrastructure deals with key developing countries with the aim of shifting their longer-term development trajectories in directions that are both consistent with their own interests but also produce large greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The Economist: Trading thin air

May 31st 2007
From The Economist print edition

The carbon market is working, but not bringing forth as much innovation as had been hoped

EVERY year the average sow and her piglets produce 9.2 tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent through the methane emissions from their effluent. In the past, that has been a problem both for the environment and for pig-farmers. In developing countries the pig-effluent collects in open lagoons which smell bad and get infested with flies. Sometimes it flows straight into nearby water systems.

Now this problem has become an opportunity. Bunge, an agricultural-commodities business based in America, builds lined and enclosed pools to collect the effluent and captures the methane that it emits. The farmer can use the gas to generate electricity. By preventing methane from escaping into the atmosphere, Bunge creates a credit which it can sell on the carbon market. The farmer gets to keep 20-30% of the value. Bunge has 40 such projects operating in Brazil and is planning to expand into Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and the Philippines.

The carbon market is truly innovative. Although it works like any commodity market, what is being bought and sold does not exist. The trade is not actually in carbon, but in not-carbon: in certificates establishing that so many tonnes of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent in other greenhouse gases) have not been emitted by the seller and may therefore be emitted by the buyer.

The purpose of setting up the market was, first, to establish a price for carbon and, second, to encourage efficient emissions reductions by allowing companies which would find it expensive to cut emissions to buy credits more cheaply. It has had some success on both counts—some would argue too much on the second.

A carbon price now exists, established by the European Emissions-Trading Scheme (ETS). In its first phase it has been volatile (see chart 2) because information about Europe’s industrial emissions was poor, so the market got a shock in early 2006 when it emerged that the European Commission had been too generous with the allowances it handed out to industry. Phase one allowances (2005-08) are now virtually worthless. But the commission has learnt its lesson and got meaner with allowances, thus pushing up the price in phase two.

The supply of carbon credits comes principally from two sources. The first is the allowances given to companies in the five dirty industries covered by the ETS (electricity, oil, metals, building materials and paper). The second source of carbon dioxide lies outside Europe. The European Commission linked the ETS to the “clean-development mechanism” (CDM) set up under the Kyoto protocol. This provides for emissions reductions in developing countries—such as those on the Latin American pig farms—to be certified by the UN. Such “certified emissions reductions” (CER) can then be sold.

The demand for carbon credits comes mostly from within the ETS, from polluters who need certificates allowing them to emit carbon. There is some demand from Japan, which has a voluntary scheme, and from companies and individuals elsewhere in the world who want to offset their emissions for moral reasons, or to make themselves look good.

The trade is now sizeable. Some €22.5 billion-worth ($30.4 billion) of allowances were traded last year, according to Point Carbon, a data-provider, representing 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2—a huge increase on the €9.4 billion traded in 2005. Europe’s ETS made up about 80% of the total value.

Developing-country CERs accounted for about €4 billion of last year’s trade: 562m tonnes of CO2. According to New Carbon Finance, a research company, carbon funds worth $11.8 billion have been raised so far. Half of that total is managed from London. Climate Change Capital, a niche investment bank, raised $130m for its first carbon fund, launched in July 2005; its second, launched a year later, is now worth around $1 billion. According to Tony White of Climate Change Capital, all the money for the first came from hedge funds, which like risk. By the time the second fund was established, more cautious investors, such as pension funds and banks, were prepared to put money into it.

The money has gone mostly into projects in developing countries to produce CERs. Bunge’s Brazilian pig-farmers are making CERs out of their animals’ effluent. But the bulk of the investment has gone into greenhouse-gas capture in China.

Cheap and cheerful

The most potent greenhouse gas is HFC-23, a by-product of HCFC-22, a chemical used in, among other things, fridges. It is now mostly banned in the developed world. Its global-warming effect is, tonne for tonne, 11,700 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, so it is good to get rid of it, and cheap, too; capturing it and burning it off costs less than €1 for the equivalent of one tonne of carbon dioxide. These days China produces most of the world’s HFC-23. That—along with the fact that the Chinese government is efficient to deal with—explains why 53% of the total volume of CDM projects in 2006—worth around €3.5 billion in total—went to China.

The very cheapness of cutting emissions of HFC-23 makes the trade controversial. Credits costing less than €1 to produce have been sold on the market for up to €11. Factories have found that their damaging by-product, HFC-23, can be more valuable than their main output. The Chinese government, realising how much money there is in this business, has imposed a tax of 65% on revenues from it, and in February this year it launched its own $2 billion CDM fund. So European consumers, who are paying for greenhouse-gas abatement through their electricity and other bills, are contributing billions of dollars to the Chinese government’s coffers via the CDM.

Easy options—HFC-23 and other fabulously dirty (ie, profitable) industrial gases—will soon run out. Guy Turner at New Carbon Finance reckons that the days of the CER that costs less than €1 to produce are over, and that the range is now more like €1-5. But there is plenty of scope at that level. China’s industrialisation is a fast and dirty business, and there will be no shortage of greenhouse gases produced there for rich-country money to clean up.

That is part of the problem. Of the 65% of companies surveyed by Point Carbon earlier this year which claimed that the ETS had led them to abate their emissions (up from 15% the previous year), most were planning to buy credits rather than cut their own emissions. Yet the ETS was intended to cut European emissions as well as Chinese ones.

This is happening on a small scale. At times the carbon price has made it worth power companies’ while to switch from dirty fuels to cleaner gas. “We massively reduced our lignite production when the CO2 price was at its height,” says Alfred Hoffmann, head of portfolio management in Scandinavia and Germany for Vattenfall, a Swedish power company. Lignite is dirtier than black coal. But then gas prices rose, making switching less attractive.


Bringing home the methaneThe carbon price has delivered some of the innovation that it was supposed to generate. Shell, for instance, is pumping CO2 from a refinery in the Botlek area of the Netherlands into 500 greenhouses producing fruit and vegetables, thus avoiding emissions of 170,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and saving the greenhouse owners from having to burn 95m cubic metres of gas to produce the CO2 they need.

Alcan, an aluminium company, is planning to use the heat from one of its smelters to increase the efficiency of its power-generation plant at Lynemouth in Northumberland in Britain. Wyn Jones, managing director of Alcan’s British smelting and power-generation operations, says this will save 150,000 tonnes of CO2 a year (€3m if the price of CO2 is around €20 a tonne, as Alcan expects) and 60,000 tonnes of coal (£2.1m, or $4.2m, at around £35 a tonne). He is not sure how much the project will cost, but is reckoning on a payback period of around five years.

But European emissions overall are not falling, which suggests there may not be as much switching out of coal, or as much technological innovation, as had been hoped. Chinese CERs are too cheap and the carbon price is too low and too volatile. Even when it was bouncing around at €15-25, it did not seem to encourage much new investment. According to Bjoern Urdal of Sustainable Asset Management, who took a detailed look at the effects of the carbon price on the German electricity market last year, replacing old coal-fired power stations with gas-fired ones became worthwhile only at a carbon price of €33. He has not done the sums since last November, when the European Commission chucked out Germany’s “transfer rule” (which would have exempted new coal-fired stations from the ETS for 14 years), but reckons the break-even point will have come down to more like €25.

That helped raise the carbon price. So did the commission’s decision to slash national governments’ planned allocations to industry for the period 2008-12. The price of phase two allowances has risen to a level high enough to get some power generators to switch from coal to gas at the margin when the gas price is moderate; but not high enough to get them to replace coal-fired power stations with gas-fired ones—nor to encourage much of the innovation that carbon trading had been expected to spawn.