Environment

Environmental Action!: A roundup from ecoRI News

Road to Renewables or Dead End?

“The Road to 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030 in Rhode Island” outlines how established incentives and power mandates can achieve the target through a mix of programs and energy sources, such as offshore wind and small solar arrays. 

The report, authored by The Brattle Group for the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER), cost ratepayers $355,000. OER, an 11-member agency, is funded by the system benefits charge paid by electricity ratepayers. 

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Environmental groups support the recommendations outlined in the report, which was released in December, but worry that the ideas will collect dust like last year’s report on heating sector transformation, also done by The Brattle Group.

“The Road to 2030 could be an exciting initiative — if this study is accompanied by a detailed plan of immediate action from (OER),” according to a letter signed by the Acadia Center, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, the Green Energy Consumers Alliance, and The Nature Conservancy. “Making a commitment to decarbonization is not the same as doing the work and passing the necessary policies to make it happen.”

R.I.’s Green New Deal

More than 500 community members flooded a Zoom meeting in mid-January to witness the launch of the Rescue Rhode Island Act, a $300 million legislative package meant to address climate change, racial injustice and economic inequality, among other crises.

The act will put forth three bills to the General Assembly: one to spur green and affordable housing construction, one to expand locally sourced food production and one to protect clean air and water.

“We have the power to ensure that every single person in Rhode Island — Black, brown, white, Indigenous and immigrant — has a dignified job with a living wage, can afford a comfortable home with enough food, and can walk or play outside with clean air,” said Sen. Tiara Mack, D-Providence, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Renew Rhode Island, a newly formed coalition co-chaired by Monica Huertas, executive director of The People’s Port Authority, and Emma Bouton, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement, is backing the proposed legislation.

Lawns Could Be Greener

Few people put as much thought into the soil beneath their feet as Loren Byrne. A professor at Roger Williams University, Byrne is an expert on urban soil ecology, and he worries that humans are changing the structural integrity of soils in urban environments and limiting the ability of plants and animals to live in and nourish the earth.

Byrne focuses much of his research attention on lawns, which he calls a “human created ecosystem.” While he noted that a lawn provides a nice place for a picnic and is better than pavement, he said installing a lawn is the least biodiverse way of improving urban landscapes.

“The goal with a lawn is often one grass species that’s bright green and isn’t growing or reproducing, which is the exact opposite of what life wants to do,” he said. “In the grand scheme of all life, a place becomes more diverse over time, it grows and reproduces, and humans are trying to stop all of that in a lawn.

“The problem isn’t so much the lawn itself as the monoculture, pesticide-managed lawn. A lot of what ecologists advocate is a more biodiverse lawn where we let the so-called weeds grow and let the grass grow a little taller. That’s good for the soil ecosystem because a higher variety of plants and no chemical pesticides will allow more soil organisms to thrive.”

To create a more sustainable urban landscape, Byrne advocates for what some have called freedom lawns — a mowed lawn that maintains a high diversity of grasses and weeds and good soils.

Students Build Tiny House for Homeless Veteran

The 40-foot-long shipping container that sits next to Jenks Middle School on Division Street in Pawtucket, isn’t far from its original home in the Port of Providence, but since its relocation, it has undergone a complete transformation.

Inside, wood paneling lines the walls of a living room, kitchen space, bathroom and soon-to-be bedroom.

This tiny home is one of a series of projects that 30 Shea High School students have worked on through The Center for Dynamic Learning, a program that educator Kevin Cunha and his wife, Beth, started in 2003.

“The house can last three days without sunlight, and then there’s a horizontal wind turbine that can create up to 1,500 watts as backup,” Cunha said.

The house is meant to be entirely self-sufficient — it features solar panels, rain barrels, a water purifier and small wind turbine — and once completed, will be moved to Dare to Dream Ranch, a veterans organization in Foster, and gifted to a homeless veteran.

But this tiny, sustainable home is more than just a feel-good project; it’s also serving as a hands-on learning experience for the students building it.

For detail on these stories, and to get more of the latest environmental news, visit www.ecoRI.org. Subscribe to ecoRI News’ free weekly e-newsletter at www.ecoRI.org/subscribe.

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