Oct 162013

About a week ago, I wrote a post on my personal blog suggesting the idea of creating a large-scale document at PowerShift. What I have in mind is a vision of the sustainable future we want, in broad enough strokes to allow local diversity and enough details to also include a path for how to get there. I want a document that can serve as a touchstone for the question ‘what do you want?’, endorsed by a giant gathering of passionate youth and others.

The idea got positive feedback, so this post is dedicated to how we might realistically create such a thing. But first, a few background points:

  1. One comment suggested modeling the product after the Holstee Manifesto (I might also use the Self-Repair Manifesto as an example). I like the idea of pulling out the key points, but I want more detail – and while it’s harder, it’s also worth more.
  2. Building on the above, there are lots of key points to start from. I’d suggest the recent PCI/Transition work Climate After Growth (pp 16 onwards), Donella Meadow’s fantastic Envisioning a Sustainable World, and work from the Commons Cluster.  I might also suggest the constitutional chapter of Blue Mars, but that’s not available online.
  3. If we want lots of people involved, I’d point to open source models with some occasional large-scale votes for community approval. This is too large for consensus (IMO), but I’d say 75% approval is a reasonable target.

Without further ado, a recipe. If you want to get involved, we need moderators, so leave a comment listing what you’d like to help manage and/or write, or email me (info (at) pittenvironmental.org). Or just start writing!

Goal: A document that provides:

  1. A coherent vision of a sustainable future, covering social, economic, and political systems, and energy, transport, building, and food infrastructure.
  2. A plausible path for attaining that future for as many of the above aspects as possible.


Open source and over a short time period with a large number of potential participants means easy access is critical. TitanPad is the right answer here – open source itself, no registration or account required, minimal formatting to get screwed up, infinite undo and great revision-saving. There are two vision-only pads to start, one for the socio-economic-political (SEP) aspects, and one for the infrastructure (INF) aspects. These both need moderators – one or two to look over the whole pad, and probably one for each section while it’s being actively written. Moderators play the role of benevolent dictators – they commit a lot of text, steer the direction, have executive authority, but can also be kicked out by the community at any time by just creating another pad.

At some point – maybe Noon on Saturday, maybe that evening – the vision pads will be voted on (open-view G. Form), an initial release needs to be approved, and the text at that point will be stored somewhere more permanent as a reference (a read-only G. Doc). Work will then start on two more pads on the plausible path forward (ToRightSEP and ToRightInf). After some period, a vote will be taken on those pads as well, and the final text from all four pads will be assembled into a single document.

Throughout the process, moderators and others who want to can meet physically to write and discuss and provide others a way to do so. DLLC is a large place with lots of good nooks and crannies, and the bars nearby aren’t bad either.


The biggest challenge is publicity – letting people know that this is happening at each stage is incredibly important. The second biggest is the amount of text that we could potentially write, and the narrow timeframe to get an initial draft done.  The third may be unpleasant individuals or dissenting opinions – but that’s an opportunity for live discussions.

Solving the second challenge is a matter of recruiting lots of passionate people to write at least a little bit, or read and revise, and thus requires solving the first. Solving the third requires good sources, rational people, and perhaps some training in disagreement – I suggest the article ‘How to Disagree’.

Solving the first requires ease of access and lots of voices. The best page to point people to is not what you’re reading, but this page (http://bit.ly/PSManifesto), which has the information on all pads and an introduction for those that want to get involved. We’ll need lots of people to tell lots of other people, but using hashtags for the conference and sticking QR codes (available on the above page) on communal bulletin boards will also help spread the word. If there are large screens, we should get on those. If there are speakers who think this idea is cool, we should get them to tell people to participate.

We can do this – it’s large, audacious, and would be an awesome accomplishment. What else is the PowerShift community about?

If you want to get involved, we need moderators, so leave a comment listing what you’d like to help manage and/or write, or email me (info (at) pittenvironmental.org). Or just start writing!

Oct 102013

In “A Climate of Change”, this local event from the Wild & Scenic Film Festival is an evening of films designed to inspire love of our wild places and grassroots participation in local organizations who defend them. The event will be held at Phipps, and is free and open to the public, though a $10 donation is suggested. More information at http://j.mp/WildScenicPgh, or at the event site.

Brought to you by the Allegheny Defense Project, with support from our partnering organizations the Allegheny Group of the Sierra Club, and Heartwood, “People helping people protect the places they love,” and with the generous support of 18 local cosponsoring organizations, grassroots groups, and green businesses, including…

– Green Building Alliance
– Thomas Merton Ctr Pittsburgh
– ReEnergize Pgh
– Tree Pittsburgh
– East End Food Co-op
– Center for Coalfield Justice
– Three Rivers Bioneers
– Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP)
– Energy Independent Solutions (EIS)
– Marcellus Outreach Butler
– Diagnostic Energy Auditors of Western Pennsylvania (DEAWP)
– Wilkins School Community Center
– Marcellus Shale Protest
– Three Rivers Community Foundation
– Mountain Watershed Association – Youghiogheny Riverkeeper

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens
700 Frank Curto Drive, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213

Sep 242013

The Penn State Center: Engaging Pittsburgh and ReEnergize Pgh are hosting the 2013 Healthy Homes Fair, which allows homeowners and others to learn about energy efficiency products, services, and potential ecnomic and environmental impacts. The event is this Thursday, September 26th, from 6-8 pm at 1400 S. Braddock Avenue, and is free thanks to sponsors!

Event Flyer with more information!

Aug 212013

Conference logo

Exciting news! This fall, ESW-Pitt will be hosting a regional conference for the ESW network, which will bring together students and professionals from PA, NY, OH, and WV for two days of enlightening discussion, sharing of projects and practices, and training on implementing sustainability. The underlying context will be the shared Great Lakes and Rust Belt regions, with their aging infrastructure and a need to rennovate cities and networks for a more sustainable world.

Featuring regional speakers and a wide variety of session formats – from plenary speakers to small group discussions and trainings – this event will be invaluable for anyone working to implement technical sustainability in the region. The conference is open to all, regardless of ESW membership (there will be a session on starting a chapter), and registration will open in late August.

For more information or to help make the conference happen, visit the Conference Website or contact conference chair Matt Weschler at mk.weschler@googlemail.com.

Feb 212013

There will be no discussion group tonight because I (Alex) will be attending a seed starting event (gotta grow things!). In that vein, however, you should read Tomorrow’s Table, particularly the ‘tools’ chapters and the ‘who owns the’ chapters. For next week (Feb. 28th) come expecting to discuss some of the following questions:

1. What role do organic farming and/or genetic engineering have to play in our food future?

2. How should we change policies around either of these two technologies if we want to promote sustainability (see Box P.3 in the book)?

3. How do we talk about these subjects if people haven’t already read this or similar books?

Jan 232013

(AKA Climate Capitalism)


So tomorrow (almost today) we’ll start our discussion of Climate Capitalism (aka The Way Out). If you haven’t gotten a copy of the book yet, you’re welcome to – there’s an eBook here – but it’s by no means required, though it provides a lot of case studies. I want to focus tomorrow’s discussion around a few specific chapters and toss out some overarching questions about the book to discuss in more detail next week.


Specific Chapters:

  • Green Buildings, Green Neighborhoods
  • Moving On (efficient vehicles)
  • World Without Oil (less oil, biofuels)

Overarching Themes:

  • Is efficiency sufficient? (For what goals?)
  • How industry-driven are changes in these areas? (built infrastructure/transport)
  • Are there solutions that are possible/good ideas but not profitable?
Dec 052012

For the final discussion group of the semester (and Chris and Seth’s last week at Pitt), we’re going to talk about cities. Why cities? Because they’re the nodes of the world – physical, social, economic, etc. We’ll talk about unique sustainability problems with cities, opportunities, placemaking, the super important aspect of scale, and urban infrastructure. Well, we’ll hit some of these things, and probably some others as well. And, of course, we’ll attempt to tie it into Pittsburgh, because that’s *our* city.

For why cities are important and some recent news, there’s nowhere better than the Atlantic Cities homepage – take your pick of articles (I recommend this one about Barcelona).

For the climate change aspect – why it’s important in terms of cities and how we might make carbon neutral cities, see Alex Steffan’s new book Carbon Zero (posted in its entirety at Grist).

For some ideas about placemaking, see the Project for Public Spaces (who helped redesign Market Square, incidentally).

And finally, some plans:

Nov 292012


It’s a bit of a time crunch, but if you’re an undergrad in the STEM fields, and want to help folks in k-12 learn about sustainability, you should come to the meeting this afternoon (Nov. 29th) in Sennott Sq. 5317 – free food and interesting information provided.

See attached flyer for more.

SUSTAINS Kickoff Announcement

Oct 012012

It’s that time again: Even if you’re not much into politics, the start of the presidential debates on Wednesday means that we’re in the final approach to this years general election. A few people from Free the Planet, ESW, and the Sierra Student Coalition (and anyone else who wants to join in) are going to be putting together some voter education events – non-partisan introductions to issues and candidates, and so you’ll be seeing some posts on this site about both the events and the information.

To start, it’s the last week to register to vote in PA – so if you haven’t done that yet, go here and print out a form or walk around campus and talk to one of the many bright-eyed students who are happy to mail in the form for you. Why should you register to vote?

  • Because if you don’t, you can’t vote – regardless of whether you decide you want to in a month
  • Because voting is statistically disheartening but vitally important – and the statistics get better for local elections
  • Because there are lots of people on the ballot beyond the president (see below for details), many of whom have more direct effects on your life than the president.
  • Because if you don’t like either of the two major parties, the worst thing you can do about it is gripe and not vote. Please, register to vote and vote for a third party – it gives them a lot more legitimacy and stresses the status quo, and without some stress, the system won’t change. This should be emphasized several more times for people that normally just don’t vote – these people (particularly non-presidential candidates) do make decisions that affect you locally (funding for local projects, state policy, etc.), and you get a free vote for a three or four or N party system.

Who’s Running?

After a bunch of searching, I finally found a useful website for this! If you go to SmartVoter.org (run by the League of Women Voters), you can put in your address and it will give you your ballot! It turns out that judges and county/city-level elections are in odd years (next year Pgh’s Mayor is up, and that will be super important), but this year we’re electing state senators and representatives, national representatives, and one of our PA Senators, Bob Casey. Also up for election in PA are the Attorney General, Auditor General, and State Treasurer – contested and important races (anything statewide is probably more interesting than anything locally, which tends to run very Democratic). Also, the President is up for re-election, if that’s your thing.

We’ll be pulling together information on these candidates’ positions on several areas – energy, education, healthcare, and economy all come to mind. Look forward to more posts on the subject, and let us know if there’s something in particular you want to see (or help with!).


Sep 272012

The event is designed to get student input on various practical action items and policy issues. We will be utilizing the principles and practices of deliberative democracy to ensure that we have informed, well structured conversations that are conducive not only in regard to an understanding of the topic but also in regard to an appreciation of a more deliberative approach to our democracy.

Participants are requested to read the 10 page Discussion Guide prior to the event.

The Guide provides a summary of the science of climate change and then looks at three areas to be addressed through the following questions:
What can we do for our campus?
What can we do for our community?
What can we do for ourselves?

Information about this event, including links to pre-registration, can be found on their website.