An Open Letter to American Climate Change Deniers

My name is Curtis, and I believe that anthropogenic Climate Change is changing our planet in ways that are hurting and killing people, animals, and our environment at large.

But I am not writing this to convince you about Climate Change. Your mind is made up, you have your own sources, and that’s fine.

What I am here to do is tell you why you should consider converting to sustainable sources of power anyway, and why you should push your local government to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy.

My reasoning here is completely separate from the environmental issue. Instead it’s about the future of your local economy, and about social justice, especially for those who live on a limited income in your community.

The economic viability for renewable sources of energy have been in question for decades when compared to fossil fuels. But I am here to tell you that currently, there are many forms of renewable energy that are already cheaper than fossil fuels, and the leaps and bounds in the improvement of efficiency in solar and wind power just over the last decade have been tremendous, continuing at breakneck speed.

If that is true, you might ask, then why are fossil fuels still being pushed so hard? The answer is simple: supply and demand.

Fossil fuels are a limited resource, and the natural supply is dwindling fast. Even as our reserves get smaller, the cost for energy companies to obtain these resources will remain fairly static. Without investment in renewable energy, there is a near-future scenario where the limited supply of these resources will not be met with a decreased demand, keeping the price stable. Instead, the demand will stay the same or increase, while the supply constricts. This means that the price of fuel, oil, natural gas, and coal will start to increase exponentially, and people will be cornered into paying those monopolistic prices because we didn’t make the choice NOW to invest in renewable energy. The fossil fuel industry will reap record profits, and gain even more power than they already have over our government and our paychecks.

Those on a limited income will be hurt first, as they can no longer afford gas for their cars or to heat their homes. Across all income-levels, electric rates will steadily go up, and the choice to switch to renewables will be harder to pursue without the right policies and infrastructure already in place.

When it’s too expensive to transport food and resources to poor rural communities, people will be forced to leave their land in the hopes of surviving somewhere with renewables, crowding already crowded cities as financial refugees. The fossil fuel industries will always need somewhere to dump their waste, and this newly abandoned and devalued land will be the perfect place. Or maybe a wealthy real estate investor will buy it all up and start a new city over the old farmland. Either way, living off the land will no longer be a viable option. For reference, check out rural Louisiana’s current fishing advisories, downriver from the petrochemical plants along the Mississippi River.

Maybe you have already witnessed some of these changes in your community. How much did gas cost per gallon when you were a child? Has your electric bill gone up recently? What about income taxes? Have wages kept up with these price changes in your community?

There is a dirty little secret about the fossil fuel industry. They have spent millions campaigning and lobbying to expand their business, especially in the US. Our politicians on every level have largely caved to the mountains of money being shoved their way. But those energy companies don’t make most of their money through the cost per kilowatt-hour part of your electric bill. That is largely subsidized- by your tax dollars.

Maybe you have read about all the new pipelines crisscrossing our beautiful country, along with all the new power plants being built? Did you know that the energy companies don’t pay for those either? YOU do, in your electric bill. That’s where the rate increases come from- the price to produce and transport the electricity from fossil fuels hasn’t gone up that much, you are paying for those new pipelines and petrochemical plants, plus a nice little profit for the energy companies building them, who then turn around and sell the energy back to you. Or worse, turn around and sell the extra fossil fuels that you helped pay to produce and transport to foreign countries for a profit! All of this while destroying our countryside here in America.

If this doesn’t sit well with you, I will tell you that it doesn’t sit well with me, either. But we can do something about it.

Talk to your community leaders and raise this issue. You can always coordinate with environmental groups- even if you don’t agree with all of their views, they will help you gather information and resources to promote your cause. Talk to community church leaders and your own congregation. Write a Letter to the Editor of your local paper. Go to town hall meetings, and bring your friends!

Putting pressure on politicians is how to get policy changed for you and the people in your community, rather than for corporate interests. The fossil fuel industry doesn’t take days off, there is too much money at stake for them.

But imagine what is at stake for you.

-Curtis Hren

Founder, Lieutenant Planet

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Louisiana’s Most Unpopular Attraction: Cancer Alley

When people think Louisiana, they think of New Orleans and Mardi Gras, of raucous debauchery and drunkenness. They also may think of truly unique cuisine, music, and culture from a historically contested piece of land, handed back and forth between different European colonizers. Maybe they think of the mysterious swampland that covers much of the Mississippi River delta.

Louisiana indeed has all those things- But after staying and studying for longer than a vacation would allow, one begins to really see Louisiana’s dark side. It is a state full of desperation, hustling, struggle, toxicity, and death. And the state’s largest attraction? An 85-mile corridor of extreme environmental degradation and injustice between Baton Rouge and New Orleans along the Mississippi River, housing more than 150 large industrial plants and refineries for oil, natural gas, plastics, phosphate, and more, un-affectionately called Cancer Alley.

Cancer Alley has a population wherein around 20% of people live below the poverty line, and a suspiciously large amount of that population develops mysterious, toxicity-related illnesses and cancers. The poorest are more likely to live closest to these industrial giants, in places where literally everything is contaminated. In an industrialized country that refuses to provide its citizens with universal healthcare, environmental injustice is often a nail in the coffin for people in these communities.

The air here is polluted, often to the point where the stench from these factories is unbearable, and your eyes water and burn. A light coat of grime coats everything. The water is also polluted, both from accidental spills and intentional (and somehow legal) dumps of chemical and radioactive wastes into injection wells underground, where there is more an “Out of sight, out of mind” mentality rather than any guarantee those waste products won’t leach into the aquifer or the watershed at large. The toxins in the water then affect the seafood that many depend on, in bitter irony, for survival. The latest list of “Fish Consumption and/or Swimming Advisories” for Louisiana can be found here, along with an interactive map here.

Lobbying and corruption from some of the richest fossil fuel and other industrial giants in the world make all of this possible, in an area largely forgotten or given-up on. The EPA and the state tend to turn a blind eye to the area, saying everything is mostly safe. But most of those conclusions seem to be based on short-term standards, not long-term living situations. According to the CDC, Louisiana consistently ranks among the states with the highest rates of cancer, along with many other states along the Mississippi River.

And the problem keeps getting worse. As other companies and tycoons look to take advantage of this perfect spot for industrial building, supported by tax incentives, standards for self-reporting emissions, and a lack of real oversight, locals are not included in the conversation. With every new plant, property values drastically decrease, trapping many in an area that will, because of that same decrease in value, now get less funding for schools, medical facilities, police, and other necessities for a thriving community.

The long chain of transformative wealth that could have taken place since the time of institutionalized slavery has been stolen in Cancer Alley. African Americans have been trapped here at a much higher rate than whites, as much of that potentially transformative wealth was invested in family homes, passed down for generations, that are no longer worth enough to be considered an investment. Homes of sick factory workers with little opportunity and no options for healthcare. In Cancer Alley, though slavery was abolished long ago, it still blows in the wind, burning your eyes and blackening your lungs.

Carbon dioxide is a major GHG, but locally, is one of the least dangerous chemicals in the air.

Recently, Louisiana has continued in its steadfast jog towards the obliteration of its own communities and the health of their most vulnerable populations. The Department of Natural Resources announced earlier this month that it has approved the permit, against much local backlash, for the construction of a new plant in the 5th district of St. James Parish, in the middle of Cancer Alley. The permit goes to Formosa Plastics, a Taiwanese company with a checkered environmental past in Baton Rouge and Texas, and well as Taiwan and Vietnam. Formosa will also get a $1.5 billion tax break to build its new plant through the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Permit, destroying another hundred acres of wetlands to do so.

Every single one of these factories and plants in Cancer Alley are bleeding sores on a body of pollution. What’s worse, every one of those sores is in more danger of bursting every year due to Climate Change. Hurricanes are becoming stronger and more frequent, and have the potential to rip these plants apart, spewing their insides everywhere. All of the pollution in the water that actually makes it out of the delta goes straight into the Gulf of Mexico, feeding red tides and expanding dead zones. In other states, injection wells are thought to be the cause of increasing seismic activity, which would be devastating here. Open and abandoned oil wells are scattered all over Louisiana as well, with nobody to close them because of lack of oversight and enforcement.

Cancer Alley, and Louisiana in general, is in desperate need of saving from the corruption that Big Money plays in its politics. Those at the top are destroying what is left of one of the most important hubs of trade and cultural diversity in American history. Cancer Alley is a social and environmental blight on the United States, barely containing itself from becoming a World Event scale environmental catastrophe.

At this point it seems that the only thing that can save a state so deep in a socioeconomic and environmental sinkhole would be sweeping federal green-initiative mandates targeting environmental injustice at the expense of environmental offenders.

— —

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Fighting The Plastic Problem

You most likely see discarded single-use plastics lying around every day. In the city, they might be on the side of the road, in an alleyway, or falling out of an overfilled trashcan. On the shore, they are strewn all over the beach, and little pieces of plastic are hanging out inside most of the marine life. Farther out to sea, the Great Pacific Garbage patch is twice the size of Texas. In rural areas, plastics and Styrofoam get pushed around by the wind until they end up stuck in the brush, to slowly break apart into smaller pieces over the years. Even the peak of Mount Everest is covered in plastic trash.

Single-use plastics are a part of our every day life. Mass production of plastics began in the 1930’s, and many new kinds of plastic were invented and mass-produced in the coming decades. Plastics were lauded as the new, cheap, and effective medium of production. Polystyrene could be made into a solid form (like plasticware) or a foam (like Styrofoam), and revolutionized take-out in the food world. PVC started replacing metal pipes other building materials. Polypropylene alternatives replaced a lot of tools in the medical industry, and could be used to make dishwasher-safe plastic food containers. Finally, polyethylene became the most common plastic in the world, used primarily for single-use packaging, including plastic bags, wraps, and bottles.

Many plastics are synthetic and derived from petrochemicals (chemicals derived from petroleum). They take an incredibly long time to break down because their chemical makeup doesn’t easily interact with outside chemicals. So once a single-use plastic is made, it’s generally around for the long haul. And being derived from petrochemicals means that it takes limited natural resources from the Earth to be made in the first place, so plastics are a double-whammy of environmental degradation.

So how much plastic is out there? One estimate puts the total global mass-production of plastics at 8.3 BILLION metric tons, with 6.3 billion metric tons now being waste, accumulated in landfills or the environment at large. Only about 9% of the plastics ever produced have been recycled, and another 12% have been incinerated (which comes with its own environmental hazards).

To put it in perspective, the amount of plastic humanity has produced, mostly since 1950, would cover the entirety of Manhattan in trash about two MILES deep.

It was always known, by its very nature, that plastics would eventually smother the planet. But a blind eye was turned to its environmental impact due it’s cost-effectiveness. That’s right, plastics are just another limb on the cephalopodic body of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the petrochemical industry.

But now that this knowledge is mainstream, the question is, what can we do about it? Well thankfully, there are now a plethora of options:

  1. Recycle, recycle, recycle! Push your representatives in government for resolutions facilitating plastic recycling in your community. Many communities have implemented programs that give households recycling bins, free of cost, that are picked up the same as trash. And remember, no one person made this mess- Resolutions for recycling targeting large-scale businesses can potentially have a much bigger impact.
  2.  Opt for non-plastic options. This includes things like bringing your own bags to the grocery store, using a reusable water bottle instead of single-use bottles, and buying from bulk-markets to avoid plastic packaging.
  3. Spread the word about plastic alternatives! Bioplastics are a revolutionary industry, and replacing petrochemical plastics with biodegradable alternatives on a large scale would drastically slow down production of new plastic waste.

Sometimes movements like this can seem impossibly large. After all, plastic is literally everywhere, so is tweaking my lifestyle and talking about alternatives really going to make an impact? If you do it in the right way, ABSOLUTELY. And it becomes a much smaller problem with just a little bit of perspective:

First, it is important to understand that there is a fundamental flaw in market capitalism that nobody really talks about. Usually, the market is coerced by the “invisible hand” of supply and demand. But as you get to the poorer communities, that theory reaches its mathematical lower limit. When people don’t KNOW about, or can’t AFFORD something, then there is no DEMAND for it, at least as far as the market is concerned. This means there is no reason to SUPPLY it.

With contemporary economic inequality being as robust as the petrochemical industries profit margins, the only way to show market demand is to BE VOCAL about your demand. The world at large cannot afford to keep producing plastic waste as it is now- we will drown in it, and they will keep producing it until we do, because it’s CHEAP. But now that we have other cheap alternatives, we must make our voices heard in support of those alternatives whilst denouncing petrochemical plastics.

How do we make our voices heard? Well, just like your mama told you, actions speak louder than words. Those tweaks in your habits produce demand (or lack thereof) in the market. Becoming involved in your local community is another way to make your voice heard. Many, especially in the younger generations, view group gatherings at town halls as excruciatingly analog. But I will let you in on a little secret- That just means that if you are one of the few people that DO go to these meetings, you will usually have a much larger voice than you would expect. You will also find like-minded individuals who were passionate enough to take that leap with you, and from there an activist community is formed! Setting up cleanups in problem areas will beautify your community, and it is often easy to get local media outlets involved, helping to draw attention to the issue.

In the digital world, sharing content can have some impact, but CREATING content is much better, because it adds to the content pool to be shared and makes an issue larger. One ridiculously simple way to create content regarding single use plastics is by taking pictures of plastic trash with company labels on it and adding it to the hashtag #isthisyours on social media. Making this part of your daily routine can create a lot of noise, especially if you also tag your location.

These are things that everyone can do. The generations that exist today will determine the livability of our planet within the coming decades. We already live in a world of climate change, mass extinction, and rising oceans full of plastic. Our complacency will directly correlate with an early death in a toxic world for our children. Action is the only option.

We must fight for our planet, and we must take steps to hold the institutions that knowingly helped to cause these disasters accountable for their actions in such a way that the future of humanity will have something to look back on as they set the direction for the way forward.

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A Defense of The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal. Most recently formally proposed by rising star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a lot of you have heard about it, and are already seeing opposition to it, especially among the GOP. Some of you may not be paying attention, thinking that this resolution is just an environmental initiative.

It’s not.

The Green New Deal is a sweeping reform of our democratic processes, financial institutions, and methods of promoting the values of equality, freedom, and the American Dream. It aims to effectively dismantle America’s forced slide into inequality, fascism, and corporate oligarchy. It is the culmination of progressive thought in the new millennium, wrapped up in a plan to promote sustainable practices and combat climate change by cutting pollution and emissions.

So why is there so much backlash? Because the GND also takes aim at the largest financial institutions in the country, and the world. Some of these institutions have helped put a lot of politicians in office, again not only here, but all over the globe- Corporate entities that have the power to start coups and overthrow governments, often using our own media and military through their ownership of our representatives and media conglomerates. The GND aims to break apart the clumps of power that have been allowed, in direct opposition to the wellbeing of the public, to consolidate behind the scenes over the last few decades.

And those powers are worried. Because all of this is wrapped up in a resolution that doesn’t directly call out any of these institutions.

What it does call for:

“Providing all people of the United States with-

  • High quality healthcare;
  • Affordable, safe, and adequate housing;
  • Economic security
  • Clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

And also, to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers… [and] to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century.’

What it targets, directly:

  • The stagnation of hourly wages since the seventies
  • Worsening socioeconomic mobility
  • The top 1%, relating to the accruing of 91% of gains after the Great Recession in 2008
  • Racial/gender wealth dividesInjustice against indigenous peoples and deindustrialized communities, the poor, and disabled
  • Fossil fuel research/expansion
  • Emissions and pollution sources
  • Anti-union groups –
  • Domestic and international monopolies

Who that worries/concerns:

  • Any large corporation that operates via a business plan that depends on low-paid labor
  • (Predatory) financial, medical, and insurance institutions
  • The elitist and prejudiced communities
  • Fossil fuel and other industries that try to use eminent domain and police power to push pipelines though disadvantaged communities or indigenous lands
  • Big banks, Big Pharma, Big Energy, Big Agriculture, and the MSM
  • Any other industry that hurts public health and wellbeing through pollution and emissions

So, this Green New Deal is bound to get backlash from these entities, and the representatives that they have in office. Goes along with the territory.

There are also, however, others that think the language is not enough. That it is too vague and lacks a specific roadmap. That it doesn’t propose a means of payment for its sweeping infrastructure overhaul. That it has no clear outline for a managed decline of fossil fuel production. But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is playing a sly game of political poker.

You see, the Green New Deal already existed with far more prominent teeth, as part of the official platform for the Green Party during the November 2018 elections, and originally introduced by Jill Stein in the 2016 presidential elections. In other forms, it goes even farther back than that. So all those on the right that say it’s a leftist pipedream are immediately discredited by the simple fact that Ocasio-Cortez’s GND is actually fairly centrist.

To contrast, the Green Party’s version of the GND calls specifically for:

  1. Free quality healthcare and education, as well as complete student loan forgiveness.
  2. Creation of a federal bank that manages distressed properties and expands rental and home ownership assistance
  3. The right to affordable utilities
  4. Nationalizing the Federal Reserve and breaking up the big banks
  5. Establishing a 90% on bonuses for bailed-out bankers
  6. Supporting the formation of public banking systems that operate as non-profits
  7. Revoking corporate personhood
  8. Replacing big money control of election campaigns with public funding and equal access to airwaves
  9. Abolishing the Electoral College
  10. Repealing the Patriot Act
  11. Reducing military spending by 50%

The problem that Ocasio-Cortez’s GND is vague is protected by the fact that it was not introduced as a piece of legislation, but as a proposed resolution. It was designed to give the public and representatives something tangible to grapple with. And the fact that it addresses very real problems like climate change and socioeconomic injustice means that this version will age well, as these problems will only become more pressing. And as they do, this GND will pull public perception on environmental issues to a more progressive place. It will give the Green Party’s platform more exposure, whilst simultaneously highlighting the complete lack of any other kind of plan to address these issues.

The Green New Deal won’t be built in a day. But now it’s in the public eye, and it isn’t just a catchphrase anymore. It is a plan with steps toward environmental and economic sustainability that isn’t something that some other country is doing or that is impossible to do here. This proposal gives the public a real, tangible, and validated conceptual design for the future of the United States and all Americans.

Mosaic Plant Under State and Federal Scrutiny in Louisiana- “Emergency Conditions”

The environment in Louisiana has long been held hostage by a plethora of giant factories and plants in the middle of the state. They use the Mississippi River as a source of freshwater for their operations, and are surrounded, in many cases, by fields of sugarcane or other crops. The oil industry is prevalent here, along with oil-user industries, like plastics producers. The story of the month, though, comes from the phosphate industry. Mosaic, a phosphate mining and processing company that also has heavy operations in Florida, is currently working under investigation by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality as well as the Feds at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The scrutiny comes after it was found that the north face of one of their phosphogypsum stacks was shifting. A stack is basically an area where acidic, toxic, and radioactive slurry runoff from the mining and processing of phosphate is dumped. As the solids settle to the bottom, the dumping site “stacks” upon itself, forming a giant, above-ground pool of incredibly acidic, environmentally unfriendly wastewater. The goal is to skim the top of the pool after a settling period for reuse. Of course, heavy rain can force the hands of the plant managers, and excesses need to be pumped into new stacks, or in some reported cases, pumped into “deep injection wells” underground, which can come with a litany of environmental issues in itself.

The stack in question- from the road, about a half-mile mile away, I still couldn’t get the entire length of the wall in frame.

The stack in question is gigantic- It’s 3000 feet long and over 187 feet high. And the north slope is shifting at a “half-inch to 0.6 inches per day,” according to DEQ spokesperson Greg Langley. The cause of the shift isn’t apparent, but a sudden failure of the wall would be environmentally catastrophic, and the site is operating under “emergency conditions.”

The plant is nestled next to the Mississippi River, upstream from New Orleans. Experts say it would be unlikely that much of the runoff would actually make it to the Mississippi for geographical reasons and the high land buffer between the plant and the river, but it could affect the Blind River to the north and all the land in between. It could also affect surrounding communities- in Florida, there are preliminary reports of high cancer rates near phosphate plants, which might be due to the radioactive nature of phosphogypsum and the runoff.

Satellite view showing relative size of the stack to other bodies of water.

The release of excess runoff into nearby waterways in Florida is seen as a possible contributing factor to harmful algae blooms that have plagued the state and the Gulf in recent years. Runoff is legal to dump if sufficiently diluted. Otherwise, there are no real options for dealing with these waste sites- they sit like open sores, waiting for some catastrophic natural event, like a sinkhole or a hurricane, to breach the stacks and release the waste into the surrounding environment.

Satellite close-up view of the stack and the Mosaic plant

Currently, Mosaic is constructing a road leading through the sugarcane fields to the north of the stack in order to allow access for large trucks to start dumping sediment to create a “buttress” in case of a breach in the north wall, according to Langley. They are also pumping what they can out of the 500-million gallon reservoir in hopes of slowing down the rate of shifting, but with a week of rain on the Louisiana horizon, it might be too little, too late.


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Gettin’ Busy in the Forest

Lieutenant Planet is currently in Tallahassee. This comes after a major win in the Ocala National Forest!

Originally, I was passing through ONF to camp for the night. The recreational areas there are privately maintained, and not affected by the shutdown. After camping, I was driving West on FL-40 through the forest and I noticed there was trash EVERYWHERE. The roadsides aren’t officially part of the National Forest, and they had been allowed to languish. So I decided to stop there for longer and start cleaning while I figured out who (if anyone) was responsible for roadsides.

I committed the Lieutenant Planet initiative to cleaning the entire East-West stretch of FL-40 through the forest. I spent 5-6 hours a day picking up trash, and organized a community cleanup event through the local churches, the newspaper, and various schools and volunteer organizations. I also talked to the Florida Department of Transportation about the mess and they agreed to get the full bags cleaned up after we were done. When the day came for the cleanup, 5 people came, 4 of them from out of town. It wasn’t the turnout I was hoping for, but it ended up getting the job done anyway, even though we didn’t get a lot (relative to the size of the project- 17 miles of trashed roadway) done. How then? The power of action!

LIV the Planet-Van and is Cleanup-Event-ready!

I’ll explain:

When I called the DoT, they called the company subcontracted for road maintenance, DBi Services, and told them that there was a guy coordinating an event using local media to clean up the park’s roadsides. Which isn’t a good thing for a company that has hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts through the Florida DoT. So a few days of cleaning up after the event, I’m heading to Juniper Springs campsite to shower.

I would like to mention here that the juniper springs staff was very friendly and let me have the cleanup right outside their park. They also let anyone cleaning the roadside into the park for free to use the restrooms or get food and drinks. They also expressed concern over the roadways and offered to try to hold their own cleanup event!

So I’m heading down the road and I see two guys on golf carts, picking up trash on the roadsides. Their truck says DBi Services. Previous to this, I didn’t know that they were subcontracted by the DoT. I stopped the van and talked to them, asking where they were from, who paid them, how often they came out, etc. They told me what company they worked for, that they were contracted by DoT, and that they usually came out every couple months to mow, but “someone” had lodged a complaint about the roadsides and organized a cleanup event and talked to the newspaper. I was filled with pride at the moment, but just gave them a “you don’t say” response and left to take a happy shower.

Next day, I called the DoT again, this time talking to the local yard manager, Jeff. He walked me through some of the requirements and parameters that DBi has as per their contract, and gave me the number to their customer service department. At that time, they only had a complaint about the roads on FL-40 near Juniper Springs. But now, armed with new information, I called back.

As per their contract, there is only supposed to be up to 3 square feet of trash per mile of roadway. I was collecting a 30-gallon trash bag full every 100-200 yards, and I told them so. Also, as per their contract, they have to actively respond to citizen complaints within 48 hours. But I broadened the scope of the complaint to include ALL of FL-40 through the forest, as well as ALL of FL-19 through the forest, which goes North and South. They told me it would take two weeks to get it cleaned up.

At this point I stopped cleaning the mess myself and let the guys getting paid to do it take over. I dedicated a day to giving out the correct numbers to call if the roadsides got trashed again to employees at various recreational areas throughout the forest. And I will share them with you, my wonderful readers, as well:

First contact: DBi Services Customer Service Request Line for the Ocala area: 352-622-6279

If that doesn’t get results: Local FDoT Maintenance Yard: 352-620-3000

I, myself, went a little above and beyond as well, and contacted the FDoT’s Fraud Department and opened a ticket with them about the contract requirements not being met, just as another oversight measure. But sadly, DBi Services has met enough of their requirements to keep their contract. What I found out was that DBi’s performance rating goal for road maintenance is only an 80%. As per the 2016-17 Performance and Production Review, page 68, their composite score for the area was 84%.

And herein lies the problem. The contracts are made through legislators, and the performance that the legislators require is layed out in the FDoT 2017 Performance Report:

 “To determine the maintenance rating, field conditions are evaluated by rating each highway component to develop an overall maintenance condition score. Conditions are compared to FDOT standards and a composite state score is set. The maintenance condition rating system evaluates five highway components:

• Roadway – potholes, pavement joints, paved shoulders, and pavement distress

• Roadside – unpaved shoulders, slopes, sidewalks, and fences

• Traffic services – signs, lighting, guardrails, striping, attenuators, handrail, and pavement markers

• Drainage – storm drains, ditches, roadway sweeping, inlets, and pavement edge drain outlets

• Vegetation/aesthetics – landscaping, litter removal, turf condition, and tree trimming”

With a composite score system, a contractor could literally never pick up litter and still meet and exceed the 80% requirement to keep their contract, as long as nobody calls to file a complaint.

And this is exactly what DBi Services was doing. It was woefully apparent that they were just mowing over trash instead of picking it up, which meant large pieces of trash were turned into dozens of small pieces of trash. I saw this every day I was out on the roadsides picking it up- crushed bottles, shredded Styrofoam and plastic, pieces of rubber tires pushed into the dirt, etc.

The big win for Lieutenant Planet was a big win for Ocala National Forest. I charged Tara, an employee at Juniper Springs who was intensely interested in cleaning up the forest, with being the first line of defense for the Forest for the foreseeable future, as Juniper Springs is on FL-40 and also near FL-19. She told me that Lieutenant Planet had taken a big first step and had gotten a lot of people excited about keeping the forest clean, and that she would use the contacts I gave her whenever it was needed.

I am proud of the progress of this initiative, and I hope it can keep doing wonderful works. Ocala National Forest is healing, but DBi Services is under contract for 592 miles of roadway just in that one (out of nine) zone of Florida through the FDoT. The next step is to contact our legislators and tell them to do away with the composite scoring system, and make the requirement to keep their contracts 80% (90?) for EACH category. If the FDoT employees could do it before DBi was given the contract, then DBi can do it, too. It’s our tax dollars at work here! We can demand better!

And that is why Lieutenant Planet is now in Florida’s capital. The next goal is to find out what it will take to change those contracts for the health of Florida’s environment.

Along those lines, if you want to be a part of the Lieutenant Planet initiative of environmental activism and journalism, you can support the effort by subscribing for as little as $1/month on Patreon. A subscription will also give you access to my video-series and travel log as I span the country, as well as show legislators the strength of the political will of the Lieutenant Planet movement! BE the change you want to see, the power is yours!

Environmental Equity

The purpose of Lieutenant Planet is to ring the environmental alarm bells while learning and teaching and fighting for a healthier planet. It is, then, absolutely necessary to talk about environmental equity. Environmental equity involves the level of positive environmental progress made and how its benefits spread across the socioeconomic plane of a community or nation. Some might argue that it’s more important to just make whatever progress we can, wherever we can. While I understand and agree with that sense of urgency, I would argue that not paying attention to environmental equity as we progress could prove to be catastrophically short-sighted and eventually counterproductive.

It goes without saying that wealthier communities waste and consume a lot more than their poorer counterparts. There is absolutely a need to replace wasteful consumer practices in these areas with more sustainable ones, as it is in these communities such practices will provide the greatest impact for the survival of the planet.

But as necessary resources inevitably grow more scarce, the price of said resources will grow past being accessible to the poor. It is important to focus some funding for the under-privileged before food and clean water shortages become desperate crises. Desperation does not leave room for respect for protective regulation, and will serve to undermine policies put in place to protect the environment. It will also lead to worldwide refugee crises, as are already starting to be seen.

It is now painfully easy to imagine a world where the wealthiest have walled themselves off from the rest of the population, and afford their luxury through military conquest while the world around them is eaten alive by the poor in a desperate bid to survive. But it is also easy to imagine a world connected by the common cause of survival through sustainability. While we focus on cutting carbon emissions and consumer pollution from wealthy areas, we must not forget to start putting in place sustainable technologies in underprivileged areas that provide a continuous supply of nutrient-rich food and clean water. To do that, we also must make sure that corporate interests aren’t making it impossible to do so. From deforestation to fracking to pipelines, ruining land and water resources that the wealthy are uninterested in serves none of us in the long run.

So what do we do to help maintain environmental equity as we strive for independence from unsustainable practices and consumption as a whole?

  1. Protect fresh water sources.

A lot of time and energy is being used to treat fresh water to make it viable for agricultural applications and consumption. But such treatments usually occur near the end-market. That is, it stays dirty until it gets to a place with enough resources to clean and use it. This is awful for the environments the polluted water runs through, degrading and destroying the ecosystems that prop up the planets basest food chains- the ones the unindustrialized poor rely on most.

Keeping water clean and clear is an important part of environmental equity- everyone needs water to live!

Major sources of water pollution are often industrial- water used for transport, cooling or cleaning is often discarded back to the source it came from with the expectation that it will be diluted enough to not impact the environment. This thinking is fundamentally flawed, and the practice should be outlawed. It is financial concerns for other methods of waste removal that keep this practice in play.

But fret not! For there are options for cleaning waste water before it re-enters the environment. One option in it’s infancy is called Phased Transaction Extraction, which is being tested in Israel. Israel Science Info magazine writes,

“The two-step customizable process uses lightly heated solvents to extract organic compounds, while simultaneously removing heavy metals with one or more chelating agents — large molecules that bond to the toxic metals and separate them from the source medium.”

This process would remove organic and inorganic impurities from their medium- whether it be water or even contaminated sludge, and the agents used to do so would be 100% reusable. This process would, on a large scale supported by international policy, drastically reduce the worlds industrial wastewater impact without requiring an unrealistic expenditure on wet-waste removal. This would mean that the natural fresh-water sources that the worlds unindustrialized peoples rely on would remain cleaner and safer from upstream contamination.

2. Protect arable land

It is unconscionable that while in some places of the world we are bulldozing through viable farmland for pipelines and industry, while in other places we are bulldozing through rainforests for farmland. With the human population rising at an exponential rate, we have to prepare for a future that is sustainable with the land we have, while recognizing that a lot of that land will be taken up by a living populous. So how do we do this?

One option lies in agricultural streamlining and integration. We have the technology! Wide expanses of rural farmland are, in some cases, completely unnecessary. Vertical farming, a technique that employs hydroponic growth in vertical layers, exponentially decreases the amount of land needed to grow food. It can also be integrated onto existing buildings in urban areas, meaning that a considerable chunk of the food supply for urban areas, including poor urban areas, would be produced without the need for costly transit, all while taking up relatively insignificant quantities of land and simultaneously improving air quality in an urban environment.

3. Strictly regulate commercial fishing

Many indigenous peoples are located near water by necessity. Fishing, then, is often a major source of food for such people. Fishing for daily use does not have a heavy impact on marine life. Commercial fishing, by comparison, has a catastrophic effect. Firstly, a significant amount of marine life is lost to “bycatch” in commercial fishing. Bycatch is marine life that is caught unintentionally. Secondly, even within the realm of commercial seafood, another significant amount is wasted before it is sold or eaten. Thirdly, overfishing changes entire underwater ecosystems that we are woefully inept at understanding. The loss of biodiversity destroys food-chains, meaning the “bycatch” we see is actually just a small portion of the marine life we are affecting. It has been predicted that, at current rates of fishing and ocean warming, all seafood with run out within the next 50 years.

These are three ways to keep the sustainability movement in full swing, while maintaining long-term economic feasibility and environmental equity. There are many more! There are an infinite number of ways to keep our world healthier for all, we have only to keep using our creative forces for the cause and stop letting the industrial giants fill us with the fear that employing these ideas would cripple our economies. We have the means to provide food and water for every person on Earth, it’s just a matter of putting better techniques into practice- Ones that work for everyone instead of a select few.