Archive for the ‘Matt Petersen Blog Posts’ category

Read Matt Petersen’s foreward from James Houston’s new photo book “Natural Beauty”

July 22nd, 2013

Foreward of Natural Beauty
By: Matt Petersen President and CEO of Global Green

Sometimes I get discouraged about trying to save our planet. The signs of climate change and environmental degradation are apparent in our daily lives.

Even as the ranks of environmental activists have swelled, and an educated public is on the same page about wanting to invest in a clean society and a green economy, much of what comes out of corporate boardrooms, ballot boxes or the media is fiercely opposed to that agenda.

So why am I hopeful? I think we fundamentally want to reconnect with nature and find a balance in our world; even ensure our species’ survival. Thankfully, there are sources of inspiration; those working hard and envisioning a future where we not only survive, but we thrive. One where future generations can enjoy the natural beauty we enjoy today, not to mention breathe clear air and drink clean water.

This book and multimedia project, Natural Beauty, is one such source of inspiration. When James Houston not only asked if Global Green would be his charitable partner and beneficiary, but if I would also write the foreward, I looked at his idea and images he had captured so far. I was honored.

James Houston’s passion and desire to inspire us all, and engage a wider audience in joining the movement, in particular younger generations, comes forth and jumps off the pages. His vision for the project includes a web series, exhibitions and film installations in NY and LA as well as the published book. It’s an ambitious vision to pull off. Then again, James has never shied away fro challenges. He has helped raise awareness and funds for fighting HIV/AIDS and sexual education amongst teens via amazing images, books and even a documentary film. Now, James has turned to the greatest challenge of our time: environmental degradation, climate change and the fight for the future survival of the human species, through the celebration of natural beauty. Speaking of natural beauty, for the last several years I have been going on an annual father-and-son camping trip with my son, my dad, my best friend from college and his son, to a magical place called Butano State Park in California.

Butano is under the redwoods of Central California. It’s a sublime place that feels like another world – tall groves of cool, light and calm that splash mottled rays of sunlight on the forest floor below. The laughs of kids and parents alike are subdued by the quiet of the surrounding trees.

On a typical day, you’ll find our young boys searching the campground and plotting innocent mischief, Grandpa Petersen preparing his famous Swedish pancakes and myself over percolating the coffee on the fire (to the groans and laughs of the adults). We play a game of spirited whiffle ball in a clearing lined by the huge reddish brown trunks. We crouch at fallen trees to watch the slow dance of banana slugs.

I discovered the beauty of this rare grove of Redwoods – one of the only remaining in California – with my dad on one of our father-son camping trips, over 25 years ago. Most of California’s old growth coastal forests were decimated long before my father was born.

I often wonder, will my son, and his son, get to witness the beauty that nature provides? In Thailand or the Congo or Mexico, where I have witnessed extraordinary natural beauty, there is a serious threat from human develipment, greed, and a growing disconnection from nature.

The readers of Natural Beauty, this beautiful, inspiring book created by photographer and activist James Houston, are taking a first step by educating themselves and seeking inspiration. This book celebrates beauty to help inspire and remind us of the need to create a sustainable future.

James’ images capture this in the form of models on the pages of glossy magazines, or gorgeous nature shots selling us the latest model of a car – is often used to sell us the goods that define us as consumers and imbue a sense of status, however real or false. Featured within these pages are those that give us life – among them Mother Nature and mothers – calling out to us to care and to take action before it is too late.

Too late for what you ask? Certainly the loss of the beauty and wonder that so many of us enjoy today of wild places we have been fortunate enough to visit. The threat of climate change looms largest in the future, yet ocean and acidification, loss of forests, and other ecosystem cruses each stand alone for their urgency. So what do we do? These problems seem vast and there does not seem to be enough political will to act. But I believe these challenges are not too large for us tackle.

So why am I hopeful? Because of you, and the potential in all of us. We can reclaim our role as a citizen and no longer be defined as just a consumer. As citizens, we engage in our community, vote and take responsibility for a corner of the workd. In taking responsibility for a corner of our world – whether armed with a simple solution or a crazy idea – we say to others, “We will not be overwhelmed by the seeing enormity of the problems we face. We will act.” And in acting, we inspire and encourage others to do the same.

We begin to build the political will needed for change in places like the US Congress or the boardroom of major corporations. Citizen entrepreneurs spark ingenuity and create a better home, workplace, school, neighborhood, or park (or other place we love) and make a difference to the environment, poverty, and other challenges we face.

I had a crazy idea that Global Green USA could help New Orleans rebuild green after Hurricane Katrina. I put a vision for rebuilding New Orleans green, and many thought I was crazy. But some people responded with an offer to help. Armed with a crazy idea, fortitude, creativity, and persistence – and lots of hard work – we did make a difference, and remarkably made progress on each of the initial goals I set out.

Thanks to our supporters and the incredible team we built. We keep making a difference and help to rebuild greener homes and schools. TIME magazine has said, “There is no organization doing more for the green rebuilding of New Orleans than Global Green USA.”

I helped take responsibility for our corner of the world. You could say it was part of my job, but nobody told me that I needed to help New Orleans rebuild better. I was moved by the horror and inability of our government, at every level, to act and to help our own nations’ citizens. I rallied others to join Global Green and I, despite resistance or reluctance from some, both in and outside the organization.

Once I got to New Orleans, I was also inspired by another citizen entrepreneur, Pam Dashiell. Pam was an activist in the Lower 9th Ward who, after Hurricane Katrina, decided to lead her neighborhood association to make a commitment in the rebuilding. She got the Hold Cross Neighborhood Association to commit to rebuilding the first carbon neutral neighborhood in the US. It is truly thanks to Pam that there are more LEED Platinum homes in the Lower 9th Ward than any other neighborhood in America. Now, it’s not just Hurricane Katrina that showed us the face of the march of sea level rise and global warning which assaulted New Orleans. Hurricane Sandy has shown us how all our coastal communities are at risk.

More people are waking up, sadly, thanks to disaster. Global Green is helping respond in New York and New Jersey with our Solar for Sandy initiative, searching for ‘Citizen Sandy’-the next Pam Dashiell – and supporting their green rebuilding idea. We also see other citizen entrepreneurs popping up everywhere, taking responsibility for a corner of the world.

James Houston’s amazing book, Natural Beauty is one such example of an individual taking responsibility for a corner of the world. With a portion of the proceeds benefiting Global Green he is shedding his definition as a consumer and claiming his role as a ‘citizen entrepreneur’.

The creativity in evoking the beauty of nature through the incredible images on these pages is moving and stirring. This is an elegant yet poignant and evocative collection to help reconnect us, and inspire us. I hope you feel the same.

James did not have to create this book. He told me he was moved to create it as the media, and the economic crisis, take our minds and priorities away from the environmental crisis.

It is the tension of our consumption that is stressing the Earth, and pushing every ecosystem toward collapse. It is estimated that if we continue to consume at the same rathe with the estimated growing population, we will need the equivalent of 2.6 planets to provide us with the clean water, energy, food, wood, and other resources that make our lifestyles possible. Particularly in the US where 5% of the world’s population uses 25% of the worlds energy and resources.

We need to act now to take a different direction; to create a sustainable future. And to be able to reduce global warning and protect the increasing endangered environment, not to mention ensure all of humanity has access to clean water and to reduce poverty.

We can no longer plunder the beauty that exists on this planet to serve our desires. Whether it is the beauty of nature or beauty of women and men, we must change our relationship and no longer claim domination over both.

Last August, I returned from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, where our addiction to cell phones and electronics is driving illicit mining of the rare earth minerals in that part of the world. In turn, the armed militias in the region terrorize the villagers that live near the mines to ensure they continue to profit from the peddling of the rare earth minerals.

In partnership with the organization V-Day, Global Green helped install a solar system at the City of Joy, which serves over 90 women, for 6 months at a time, with emotional healing and training to reclaim their lives.

The convergence of plundering these ‘conflict minerals’ from the region and the plundering of women and girls (with an estimated 500,000 rapes in the last 10 years alone in the region) cause this, in my mind, to be the place where how we treat those that bring life into the world – the Earth and women – come together like no other place in the world.

Beauty can no longer be stolen from us, or just be used to sell us things we think we want or need.

Thank you James for your crazy idea, fortitude, creativity and persistence (and lots of hard work) in helping us reconnect with nature. » Read more: Read Matt Petersen’s foreward from James Houston’s new photo book “Natural Beauty”

Helping Communities: Sandy-Devastated Communities Eligible for Assistance

March 20th, 2013

banner_creating_sustainable_neighborhoodsDo you – or does someone you know – live in a community that suffered significant damage from Hurricane Sandy? Cities, towns, or boroughs in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or Rhode Island that were devastated by the storm are eligible to apply for technical assistance from Global Green USA to help rebuild in a more sustainable and resilient way.

Share the link to apply with your town, city, or borough leadership today, and urge them to submit the online application by April 30, 2013. This effort is part of Global Green USA’s initiative to help cities with community greening projects using LEED for Neighborhoods (LEED-ND) criteria. Funded by the U.S. EPA, our work with the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program gives us the chance to offer our expert guidance on catalytic projects and collaborate with local leaders committed to making positive changes for their neighbors ­­– and the planet. Our reports are up for the eight cities we helped in 2012 and we have already started work on six additional cities we’re committed to serving in 2013 – plus two additional communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Please share our online application today.

Year in Review: 2012 Accomplishments

December 20th, 2012

While everyone seems to be making their best-of lists for 2012, below are some highlights of Global Green USA’s work from the past year. In 2013, Global Green USA will continue its important work, while accelerating our efforts in response to help communities rebuild greener, healthier, more resilient neighborhoods in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Global Green USA Accomplishments – 2012 Highlights

Supporting Local Green Heroes

The launch of our national Citizen Entrepreneur Contest put a spotlight on local green heroes who take responsibility for improving a corner of their world. Cassie Parsons, a farmer and chef/restaurateur from Charlotte, NC, took the top prize for creating an urban farm in a low-income community, and buying their produce for the restaurant.

Transforming Waste Into Assets

After our successful coffee cup recycling pilot with Starbucks, our Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR) team is partnering with New York City public schools to create renewable and recoverable alternatives to Styrofoam lunch trays. We are also working on more pilots for our groundbreaking work to reduce and use the mountains of food waste that come off the island of Manhattan each day.

Greening Schools Nationwide

Our National Green School Makeover Competition invited teachers, students, and their families to submit ideas for greening their school for a chance to win a $130,000 makeover — the winner was the Texas School for the Deaf, which is already saving money on energy, water, paper, and plastic, not to mention reducing waste.

Rebuilding New Orleans

At our Holy Cross Project — a sustainable village in the Lower 9th Ward — we sold four of our green homes to deserving families, with one family reporting an energy bill of $28 during August, one of the hottest months of the year! We started construction on our Community Development and Climate Action Center, and continued our citywide energy program.

Greening Cities

We helped eight cities across the country — from Louisville, KY, to Philadelphia, PA — to create greener neighborhoods with our work on the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program. Closer to our headquarters, we worked with the City of Santa Monica to bring a bike share program to the city starting in 2013, brining 35 stations and 350 bikes to one of the epicenters of LA traffic.

Solar and Energy Efficiency

We delivered solar systems for homes being rebuilt in San Bruno, for women and girls at the City of Joy in the eastern Congo, and nonprofit partners and schools in Haiti. In California, we helped get a first in the nation energy-efficiency law implemented and successfully pushed for closing a corporate loophole to finance school retrofits.

Urban Farming

In June we released our report on the feasibility of urban farming as an economic opportunity – we found it can create jobs, and successful small businesses — in post-industrial cities like Youngstown and Detroit, and helped crafted model codes and ordinances to enable growing food in our nation’s shrinking cities.

 

Seeking Citizen Sandy: Call for Ideas for Green Rebuilding of Devastated Communities

November 27th, 2012

It is inspiring and heartening to see so many citizens — whether from nearby neighborhoods or across the country — pitching in with relief efforts in New York and New Jersey following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

The drive to help those in need of shelter, clothing, and food continues, while the focus is slowly beginning to turn to rebuilding.

Global Green USA knows well the challenges of rebuilding, as we led the green rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I had the crazy idea that our organization could help rebuild better homes, schools, and neighborhoods. And we did. TIME Magazine recognized our leadership and wrote, “No organization is doing more to green New Orleans than Global Green USA.”

As we did after Katrina, Global Green USA is putting forth a plan to help rebuild communities and neighborhoods devastated by Sandy, and help make them more resilient, healthier, and greener. This includes rebuilding schools to be green, with the addition of back-up solar systems, so they can serve as solar-powered emergency centers for future storms or blackouts. Our Solar for Sandy initiative is seeking donations from solar companies and others to put up back-up solar systems on schools, women’s shelters, and centers in each devastated neighborhood to provide light, cell phone charging, and other needs.

Global Green USA is also taking our leadership and expertise to the planning level to look at infrastructure and how neighborhoods can come back stronger than ever. We are forging partnerships with other organizations to identify neighborhoods now, and will announce a call for proposals from cities and boroughs.

Still, this is not enough.

We also know the threats to low-lying coastal communities due to sea level rise. With more than 150 million Americans living in or near coastal cities, we need to continue the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — by raising awareness, calling for action, and rebuilding more resilient communities and infrastructure.

In our work in New Orleans and elsewhere, it is often the individuals and their own crazy ideas that inspire us the most. One such person was Pam Dashiell in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, who committed her Holy Cross neighborhood to rebuild the first carbon-neutral neighborhood in the United States. Sadly, Pam passed away three years ago, but thanks to her commitment, there are now more LEED Platinum homes in the Lower 9th than any other neighborhood in the United States.

We know that to make our nation great and to help the places, people, and planet in need, our leaders need to act, whether it be in the halls of power or corporate board rooms. And we need individuals to stop seeing themselves as consumers — by reclaiming their role as citizens and taking responsibility for a corner of their world. People like Pam.

I call them Citizen Entrepreneurs. They don’t run nonprofits or have the latest cool start-up. They work in their community, care about their neighborhood, and want to make where they live — their city, their nation, and the environment — a better, greener, healthier place. Citizen Entrepreneurs take a crazy idea they have for making their neighborhood better while connecting the dots with the larger challenges we face, and make it happen.

Earlier this year, we had our first search for a Citizen Entrepreneur, a local green hero with a crazy idea to take responsibility for a corner of their world. We had more than 150 people enter or nominate someone they know from all across the U.S., and we picked 13 finalists, all by offering just $1,000 in seed funding. Thanks to supporters, that funding increased so we could offer $8000 to three winners and five runners-up.

Now we want to enlist YOU and get your crazy idea for rebuilding a neighborhood that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

For our next search for Citizen Entrepreneurs: Citizen Sandy, submit your idea — or nominate someone you know or may have learned about — to help rebuild on the East Coast.

We are looking for local green, rebuilding projects that can help make your neighborhood more resilient, and help speed a sustainable recovery. Whether it’s a big idea like Pam’s for the whole neighborhood, or greening your child’s school, or restoring a local park, we want to hear your ideas.

Global Green USA will select one or more project(s) to assist with a seed grant of $1,000 and offer our technical assistance to help with your local green rebuilding projects.

With the help of individuals from across the U.S. — and the world — we hope the seed funding will grow, as it did with our first Citizen Entrepreneur search. We will choose finalists, then open up the voting online to the public before picking projects to be awarded the grant(s) to help seed their green project(s), or take it to the next milestone.

Be sure to enter yourself, or nominate someone you know today.

And if you don’t live in a devastated community and don’t have someone you can nominate, you can help by: A) Joining us in solidarity by sending an “I AM” photo to represent a low-lying community at risk due to sea level rise and telling us your commitment to fight climate change; and B) Making a donation to help increase the funding we can give to our Solar for Sandy and Citizen Sandy projects, and to support Global Green USA’s green rebuilding projects.

Helping Communities Devastated by Sandy to Create Resilient, Greener Communities

November 6th, 2012

As we pray for those who lost their lives to Hurricane Sandy and for the loved ones they left behind, it is heartening to see so many Americans reach out to help those still struggling to return to their homes or facing a shortage of food, gas, or clean water.

 The efforts of those helping, from first responders to those working with organizations on the ground, are heroic and inspiring.

Yet, recovery is just beginning. The storm’s damage is expected to be in the billions, and stands to be the most expensive natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina. It will take months — and based on our experience in helping lead the green rebuilding of New Orleans since Katrina — even years.

I will be in NYC this week visiting some of the devastated areas as Global Green USA explores how we can best help with rebuilding efforts, to rebuild more resilient, greener communities.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina just seven years ago, we quickly responded with a vision and commitment to help New Orleans rebuild the city green. At the very least, Global Green USA will share our real-time experiences — along with fact sheets, and case studies as relevant — from working on the front lines to help rebuild homes to be more energy-efficient, schools to be healthier learning environments, and adopting a neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward.

We need to help New York, New Jersey, and other devastated areas rebuild following Sandy with a focus first on helping those in greatest need and at risk. We must also address the urgent need to fight climate change and better protect coastal cities at risk from sea level rise, which worsens storm surge in severe weather events.

Why? 150 million Americans live in or near coastal cities.

 A little over a year ago, I stood at the end of Manhattan in Battery Park to launch Global Green’s I AM campaign. We held signs reading “I AM NEW YORK” to send a signal that we are all connected, and need to all be concerned with what happens to communities thanks to sea level rise and climate change. Our PSA was launched to help people realize we need to stand in solidarity to push for action on climate change.

At that same spot we stood a year ago, 12 to 14 foot storm surge inundated Lower Manhattan.

The message of our campaign is more poignant and important than ever. With extreme weather becoming the new norm and the impact of climate change on storms like Sandy finally being covered in the news, we can refocus on the urgent need to protect coastal cities from the threat of storm surge as a result of global warming.

Sea level rise is no joke and it must be taken seriously. We can — and must — prepare for the future.

Soon, Global Green USA will announce our next Citizen Entrepreneur contest, and how we can all help the green rebuilding of the region.

For now, however, let’s all stand in solidarity with New York and New Jersey. Join me in posting on Global Green’s Facebook page a photo of yourself holding a sign saying “I AM New York” or “I AM New Jersey,” tweet the photo along with the hashtag #IAMNY or #IAMNJ, or upload it at globalgreen.org/IAM.

And you can make a donation to Global Green USA, helping us continue our work to protect coastal cities, and find ways to rebuild after Sandy. 

Let’s look ahead and work together to guarantee a more sustainable and secure future.

We can do this together.

Sandy’s Reminder: Fighting Climate Change is Crucial

October 29th, 2012

Just over a year ago, I was in joined in New York during Climate Week with Mark Ruffalo to launch Global Green’s “I Am” campaign to raise awareness for the threat of sea level rise, and storm surge. We were in New York’s Battery Park, one of the city’s lower-lying areas that’s most vulnerable to storm surge — where we stood has waves lapping over it, and now we are watching news reports of rising waters there and on other parts of the East Coast as Hurricane Sandy bears down. Hours before high tide, the storm was already showing more strength than Irene, which wreaked havoc just a little over a year ago. Again, lives are threatened and damage will be in the millions.

Let’s pray everyone remains safe, and prepare for the repair and rebuilding of damage that has and will occur. For us, that means getting back to taking action to prevent sea level rise from worsening due to global warming. While storms will continue to brew, we can take measures to prepare and make sure we continue to take the science of climate change seriously — so that we can protect lives, the places we live, and conditions for us on the planet.

Community Action: New Orleans Update

October 22nd, 2012

no_hcp_site_10_08_12After a lot of elbow grease and extraordinary efforts, we finally broke ground on our Community Development and Climate Action center in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. When I visited last week, the site was busy with bulldozers, pile drivers, and other tell-tale signs of construction. This signifies the next step in our building of our Holy Cross Project, a sustainable village in one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Just over six years ago, this was an empty 1.3 acre site (home to an orphanage over 100 years ago) in the Holy Cross neighborhood. Soon it will be an 8000+ square foot facility that will educate the public through our visitor’s center and offer other important services for the neighborhood. It is part of the vision I put forth for Global Green just after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — to adopt a neighborhood, among other important goals, and ensure the green rebuilding of New Orleans. Now, with four of the five homes sold and occupied (the fifth one remains open to visitor’s center until the community center is completed), and the community center under construction, we are well on our way, but we still need your help.

We need to raise another $100,000 to complete and outfit the center to help host educators, students, and researchers and teach them how the homes, the center, bioswales, and rain gardens are performing, as well as create interactive educational features both in and outside the building to educate tens of thousands of visitors. In the 8000+ square foot facility, we will have the visitor’s center and Global Green’s offices, along with many features to benefit the Holy Cross neighborhood, including an ATM, corner store/fresh food vendor, community meeting space, and passive survivability features (for first responders in case of future storms).

How did the Holy Cross Project come about? We called upon the design community to help us realize our vision for this sustainable village through a design competition whose jury included local leaders as well as internationally known architects like Thom Mayne, not to mention Brad Pitt as the competition chair. Then, I made the commitment for Global Green to actually build the winning design — to include single-family homes, apartments, and a community center — which is rare for open design competitions.

There have been challenges. There have been complications. We have jumped through funding and financing hoops and found ourselves unraveling bureaucratic red tape. But we always had the support of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association and we never wavered in our belief that this would benefit the community.

We began by building the five homes and I’m happy to report that all four homes we put on the market have been sold to families now enjoying the benefits of their LEED Platinum, solar-powered, energy-efficient houses. When I was there last week, one of the homeowners said her electricity bill was only $26 for the month, when her friends complained of $150 to $300 energy bills that same month in their similarly sized homes.

In the last weeks, we have met on-site with our developer, city officials, and construction teams and we see the sights and sounds of progress every day — the next steps in taking plans on paper and creating a place for the community.

Now, we look forward to completing the center, and hopefully breaking ground on our third and final phase: the 18-unit multi-family apartment building that will allow very low-income families to rent healthy, green apartments, some for less than $200 a month. I’m pushing hard to get the final financing in place by December 15.

The whole project has been enormously catalytic, and a source of great pride for the neighborhood. Here’s a short video you might enjoy that tells the story, and here’s a link to where you can make a donation to help us complete the vision.

The Big Melt: Fighting the Arctic Thaw

September 9th, 2012
Latitude N81: Otto Fjord on Ellesmere island in the Canadian Arctic. (Photo: Sebastian Copeland

Latitude N81: Otto Fjord on Ellesmere island in the Canadian Arctic. (Photo: Sebastian Copeland)

Arctic sea ice is melting — and at a rate that is alarming scientists. It should be alarming to all of us. Out of sight, out of mind? Not so. While we may live far from the scene of this meltdown, we need to pay attention and act.

Why does it matter? We count on the Arctic ice cap to help regulate our global climate. The ice reflects light and keeps the ocean — and the earth — from overheating. The Arctic thaw is causing rising ocean temperatures that contribute to global warming. Arctic temperatures, including Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia, have risen by 4-7 F degrees over the last half-century. This record rise in temperature in the Arctic region could lead to changes in climate patterns that will affect the entire planet. Scientists are also looking at the melting ice cap as a contributor to changing, extreme weather patterns.

“I understood firsthand the the deterioration of the arctic sea ice on my expeditions to the Arctic,” said Sebastian Copeland, a Global Green board member and environmental activist. “The movement of the ice and accelerated melt have made impossible a return trip to and from the North Pole on foot, as was done up until fifteen years ago. On the Greenland ice sheet changes are so dramatic that they can be tangibly measured by expedition departure and return dates: the government no longer issues permits for summer travel on the interior since 2010 given the rate of surface melt.”

Following this summer of extreme weather comes a new report released by the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center that confirms the frightening trend of rapidly melting ice in the Arctic. Predictions indicate the ice cap will shrink to a new record-breaking low.

Some Facts:

  • Sea ice cover is 47% lower than it was 30 years ago
  • Since 2007, sea ice cover has reported its lowest levels on record
  • In August 2012, sea ice cover dropped to a new low: 4.1 million square kilometers, breaking 2007′s lowest recorded level of 4.26 million square kilometers

Even more alarming: global warming is rapidly accelerating the melting of the ice shelves in Antarctica and Greenland.

Sadly, some of our nation’s leaders think it’s comical for us to fight rising seas. Well, sea level rise is no joke, and we can take action in a way that creates jobs and a greener economy.

I wrote a Huffington Post blog about sea level rise — it received more than 150 comments from a range of environmentalists and skeptics. Why there are some that think there is still a debate is not just a mystery — it’s maddening. There is no question about the facts before us.

We need to act now, and you can help us.

Please share our sea level rise video on your Facebook page, sign our letter to President Obama urging him to fight climate change, and make a donation to Global Green to support our programs and initiatives to fight climate change.

Bringing Light, Giving Power, Sharing Hope at the City of Joy

August 28th, 2012

congo_essense_rdDriving to the City of Joy — located in Bukavu in the conflict-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo — is intense.

Dusty dirt roads, throngs of people, motorcycles buzzing about, and utterly unpredictable traffic.

The route to the City of Joy is called Essence Road. Eve Ensler, whose V-Day organization spearheaded and created City of Joy, said she’s never experienced anything like Essence Road. She’s found no street more intense in her many travels, including to India and Pakistan.

The journey to — and from — the City of Joy is long, and complicated. Multiple flights to get to Burundi or Rwanda, taking two to three days with flying and driving to get to Bukavu. Sometimes crossing borders four times on the drive — exit Burundi, enter and exit Rwanda, and enter The DRC — to this remote yet teeming place.

Yes, this journey is like a pilgrimage. Because at the end of the dusty road amidst poverty and stark humanity, you see hope at the end. The City of Joy.

Built for women and girls who are the victims of the rape and other atrocities inflicted at the hands of armed militias in the region, you immediately feel the energy, the pulsation of love and healing when you enter. Run by Christine Schuler-Deschryver with her local staff, the City of Joy is creating a revolution, and turning pain into power.

My first visit to the City of Joy was for the opening celebration in February 2011, where each of us attending brought gifts and support to this important project. However, in the end, the gifts delivered were to those of us who had traveled far and wide: the pure joy, the singing and dancing that embraced us all and whisked us up.

Women dancing and singing for hours, despite having been raped — many multiple times — and their lives and bodies torn away from them.

Last week, I returned from the City of Joy. This time I delivered a gift I had long promised since my first visit: A solar system to provide reliable, clean electricity to the women of the City of Joy.

Just like traveling to a remote place like Bukvavu, getting solar panels, inverters, and batteries not only donated but then delivered was no small task. But we did it.

congo_matt_with_volunteers2012Ten days ago, solar PV panels donated by SunPower, back-up batteries donated by Trojan, and solar inverters donated by Solartechnik Stiens in Germany all arrived (thanks as well to grants from the 11th Hour Project and COINS Foundation and Green Empowerment, who helped support the project on behalf of SunPower Foundation). All intact.

Fortunately, also arriving with me in Bukavu were three amazing volunteers: Chadi Depelchin, Michael Stangl, and Heiko Steiber.

Despite lost luggage that included needed parts and tools, our team finished the solar installation last Friday.

Just in time for the second graduation of City of Joy students, which included 90 women whom, according to Eve, had showed up six months earlier barely able to function from what had been done to their bodies and lives. All of whom went dancing out of the City of Joy six months later. The electricity from the grid in Bukavu went down during the graduation ceremony, but thanks to the solar panels no one noticed. The grid in Bukavu is often unreliable, yet the sun will now provide the light and power needed to help the women of the City of Joy.

We also delivered solar LED lights, which will replace dangerous, dirty and expensive kerosene lamps that the women staying at the City of Joy use at night to study, and prepare for the next day.

congo_solar_install_roofThanks to our volunteers and donors, Global Green is helping the City of Joy turn pain into power — and solar power — to take back their bodies and their lives.

Still, like we experienced on the first visit, the gifts delivered were from the women of the City of Joy to us, not the other way around.

I was fortunate to be able to sit in on the beginning of a class Eve taught one day. She took them through movements and exercises, including breathing. One woman was having a tough time breathing deep. Eve brought her — let’s call her Franny, as we can’t divulge their true identities — up front.

Franny stood near me as she, perhaps for the first time in a long time, took a truly deep breath. And the smile broadened on her face as she connected to her breath with Eve’s guidance. The look in her eyes was magical. Transformative.

I then got the privilege to share with the class a passage given to me to read at a wedding I had just attended, a betrothal of two amazing women. The piece I read at the nuptials was adapted from an unknown source, and I took a bit more license that morning for the women of the City of Joy.

The opening and closing lines I chose from the piece: If you want to change the world, love a woman. Really love her.

Love in the sense of celebrate. Honor. Respect. And Empower.

congo_rose_vday_vehicleThere’s a passage — “plant trees with her, and watch them grow together” — that to me is an antidote to reverse our society’s false notion of dominion over the Earth, and women. The Congo is the epicenter of these two issues coming together. We can no longer plunder either to get what we want, rather we must care for the Earth and empower women to ensure future generations can enjoy the beauty of nature we do — and have clean water and air, along with a stable climate. I explore more of this in my TEDxWomen talk.

When I finished, Franny and I caught each other’s glances. And the look of joy and pride in her eyes was a gift I will never forget.

Back in California at the very moment we were beginning to install the solar system at City of Joy, a bill Global Green had sponsored in the legislature was killed by the electronics industry. The bill was one small but important step to reducing conflict minerals, which armed factions profit from–it is these forces who rape and terrorize to control the minerals. The bill would have the State of California buy refurbished electronics.

Refurbished electronics include the newest models in factory condition, and are cheaper than new products. The bill, authored by Senator Kevin De Leon, would have also increased demand for recent electronics being sold to places like eBay’s Instant Sale or EcoATM, putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Californians and keeping electronic waste out of the landfills.

Next year, Global Green will re-introduce the legislation, and I will make the pilgrimage once again down the dirt road — the next visit likely to be muddier than muddy rather than dusty, thanks to the rainy season — to the City of Joy.

With me will be more solar LED lights, and a solar-powered water pumping and filtration system to provide drinking water for the City of Joy.

Powered not just by the Sun. But also by the look in Franny’s eyes.

To help green the City of Joy and support the solar water pumping/filtration system and other needed items, you can make a donation to Global Green.

Bringing Clean Energy & Water to the City of Joy

August 9th, 2012

matt_congo_delivering_solarI am excited to be returning soon to the City of Joy in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

My first visit to the Congo was in February 2011 with V-Day founder Eve Ensler, whose organization created the City of Joy. I had made a commitment to Eve to green the City of Joy, and needed to see first-hand what was possible.

Thankfully, it is a place that forever touched my life.

While I was first in the Congo, I laughed, sang, and danced with hundreds of women — all of whom had been raped at the hands of armed factions in the region — as we celebrated the opening of the City of Joy. Later, the memory of their joy in the face of such pain would bring me to tears.

We visited with other survivors who were finding ways to restart their lives, including those in the Green Momma’s all-female cooperative farm. Global Green sponsored 20 goats following that visit.

So, we are helping turn their pain into power. Solar power, in fact.

Next week, I will be joined by three amazing volunteers donating their time to help Global Green install the solar system for the City of Joy sanctuary. We will also work with a local electrician to help improve his capacity and experience to install future solar systems.

Our efforts are to benefit the women and girls in the City of Joy who are there to reclaim their lives and recover emotionally and physically from rapes and other atrocities at the hands of armed factions battling over conflict minerals — rare earth minerals mined in the region for use in making our cell phones and electronics. Our efforts will provide some small amount salve to the wounds afflicted in great part by our own addiction to electronics.

With the solar donation, we are providing a renewable source of power that will enable the women to reduce their dependency on diesel generators and the unreliable grid and give them a home that is healthier and more secure. Global Green’s solar system donation — the first phase of our partnership with the City of Joy — was made possible by an outpouring of generosity that included donations of solar panels from the SunPower Foundation; inverters from Solartechnik Stiens; batteries from Trojan Battery Company; and grants from the 11th Hour Project and the COINS Foundation. And, of course, our amazing volunteers.

You can help Global Green deliver LED solar lights so individuals have a personal light for reading and safety, or water backpacks to help women of the Congo safely carry drinking water without relying on contaminated containers they carry on their heads (which can soften their spines). Please consider sponsoring an LED light for $25, or a water backpack for $10.

We won’t stop there. Our next phase will include raising $10,000 for the purchase and installation of a complete drinking water filtration system for a well in their village, so that women will have access to clean water in the City of Joy. You can make a donation to make this vision a reality.

Back home in the United States, I decided we needed to do more. Global Green sponsored legislation in California and supported rules at the federal level to reduce the amount of conflict minerals in our new electronics — so the armed factions can no longer profit and destroy the lives of women and girls in the Congo.

Right now, our California legislation — SB 1427, which was authored by Senator Kevin de Leon — is stuck as a result of opposition to the bill from the electronics industry. The bill is one part of the larger solution to the conflict in the Congo. It would also reduce what the State of California spends on electronic goods by creating a preference for lower priced, refurbished cell phones and computers. The environment would also benefit, and so would Californians who want to return old electronics and get a little money back through services such as EcoATM or eBay’s Instant Sale.

If you live in California, please call in support of the SB 1427. Or, wherever you live, make a donation today today to sponsor an LED light, a water backpack, or help us deliver a water system.

You can also get educated and engaged in your community. Inspired by my first visit to the City of Joy, I gave a talk at TEDxWomen in which I shared my experiences and called for a nation of citizen entrepreneurs — people who take a responsibility for their corner of the world.

To me, the City of Joy is a reminder. A reminder that we are all connected, and what we do here at home has an impact on the environment as well as other lives across the planet.

And whatever you do, we thank you for doing something today to help improve those lives, and reduce the impact we are creating back here at home.