Category: Environment

Out for Sustainability Summit in Seattle September 13

Starting in 2008 a group of LGBTQ folks in the Seattle area began to meet in hopes of making the planet fabulous. Later this month they will hold a summit with an impressive list of speakers. Shame I am on the wrong coast! If you are in the Pacific Northwest, check them out!

OUT for Sustainability invites you to the first LGBTQ-focused summit on the intersection of environment, society and identities. Fab Planet is a half-day conference containing a series of panels, workshops and networking ending with a celebration reception to mark a day of exciting conversation and future action. Our intention is to spark connection among LGBTQ sustainability leaders and give visibility and language to the intersections of our diverse values.

Fab Planet Summit

September 13, 2014


220 & Change, Pioneer Square in Seattle, WA


Loren Othon

Loren Othon, one of many great speakers at Fab Planet Summit


Quakers speak out about the Environment and Justice

In the Quaker world I inhabit, we talk a lot about Advices and Queries. These short statements and questions focus our attention on topics like Equality, Community, Death and Old Age, Integrity, and Diversity. Quakers in different places use different language and emphasize different points. Some Quakers refer to God and Jesus, while others talk about the Divine or leave off God talk all together.

I have been enjoying the Quaker Advices and Queries iPhone app as I click on it first thing every morning when I wake up (instead of immediately checking my emails which is such an awful jolt to my delicate system and often hurls me into a dreadful mood or gets me working in my head prematurely.)

How Quakers talk about the Environment gets covered by the app, and in spending the past two weeks sitting with these, I appreciate how different Quakers in different parts of the world raise a diversity of considerations. Below are some of these Environmental Queries and the regional/national Quaker groups that published them. Which resonate with you?

Do we endeavor to live in harmony with nature? Are we careful in our stewardship of the world’s irreplaceable resources? -Great Plains Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, Stewardship


In our witness for the global environment, are we careful to consider justice and the well-being of the world’s poorest people? Does our way of life threaten the viability of life on Earth? -Pacific Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, Harmony with Creation, Queries for the Meeting


Do we support measures to avoid pollution of air and water? Do we support measures to establish the conservation and right use of natural resources? -New York Yearly Meeting, query number 10


Are we concerned that humanity’s increasing power over nature should not be used irresponsibly, but with the reverence for life and with a sense of the splendor of God’s continuing creation? -Great Plains Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, Stewardship


All life is interrelated. Each individual plant and animal has its own needs, and is important to others. Many species in Australia and worldwide are now extinct and many more are endangered. Do you treat all life with respect, recognizing a particular obligation to those animals we breed and maintain for our own use and enjoyment? In order to secure the survival of all, including ourselves, are you prepared to change your ideas about who you are in relation to your environment and every living thing in it? -Australia Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, number 44


In what ways do I express gratitude for the wondrous expressions of life on Earth? Do I consider the damage I might do to the Earth’s vulnerable systems in choices I make of what I do, what I buy, and how I spend my time? -Pacific Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, Harmony with Creation, Queries for Individuals


We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendour of God’s continuing creation. -Great Plains Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, Stewardship


We need to respect, revere and cooperate with other life systems on our planet. The earth’s diverse riches are not ours to exploit. Seek reverence for life and a sense of wonder at God’s continuing presence in all of creation. Do you work to conserve the earth’s beauty and resources, both now and in the future, for the many people who depend on this planet and the many other species that share it? -Aotearoa/New Zealand Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, E14


Be aware of the influence humans have on the health and viability of life on earth. Call attention to what fosters or harms Earth’s exquisite beauty, balances and interdependencies. Guided by Spirit, work to translate this understanding into ways of living that reflect our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations. -Pacific Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, Harmony with Creation, Advices


As a Christian steward, do you treat the earth with respect and with a sense of God’s splendor in creation, guarding it against abuse by greed, misapplied technology, or your own carelessness? -Northwest Yearly Meeting, Query 19

Quaker Environmental Advices and Queries. I got the iPhone App!

Today I am hanging out with Quakers at the annual New England Yearly Meeting way up in Vermont. After I became a Quaker Hartford, CT in 2001, I discovered the wonderful and at times quirky world of Quaker Advices and Queries. All over the world wherever Quakers have put together books of Faith and Practice (and Books of Discipline in some traditions) these short statements and questions help focus Friends (aka Quakers) on the topics most meaningful to us.D - Discipline QF&P

One of my favorite queries comes out of New Zealand and raises a useful and direct question about the practice of speaking during the worship service. As Quakers, we are welcome to stand up and share a message, but we don’t want this sharing to be a free for all. Reading the following query, I wonder if the writers of it had a particularly person in mind or they were addressing an epidemic of blabbers during the Quaker worship time. From Aotearoa/New Zealand Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, B9: 

Do you sometimes speak too often, too predictably, or too soon after someone else has spoken? 

UnknownRecently I discovered an awesome app for my iPhone: Quaker Advices and Queries created by Simon Gray. The description promises that the app provides:

A selection of Advices and Queries from around the Quaker world in one handy place, categorised according to themes. Looking for some inspiring wisdom about children and family? Poke the children and family button! Something to say about diversity, the environment, worship, prayer, or Quaker business? Likewise!

I love that the app includes multiple meetings from around the world: The Advices from the Elders at Balby (1656), Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, Baltimore, Britain, Evangelical Friends Church Southwest, Friends of Truth, Great Plains, Ireland, North Carolina (Conservative), New York, Northwest, Ohio (Conservative), Ohio Valley, Pacific, and Rocky Mountain.

I don’t know about you, but when I wake up in the morning, all too often I reach for my phone, check the time, then check email, Facebook, and Twitter. Before my feet touch the ground I am already caught up in a whirlwind of work, social media drama, and news–good, bad, and banal. For the next two weeks though my plan is to turn to the Advices and Queries app instead and clicking on the Environment button. I’ll be sure to share what a find here on the blog.

This is the one I read today:

In our witness for the global environment, are we careful to consider justice and the well-being of the world’s poorest people? Does our way of life threaten the viability of life on Earth?

– Pacific Yearly Meeting, Advices and Queries, Harmony with Creation, Queries for the Meeting


Artwork by Deborah Klein 

Peterson’s Quickie Interview with Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome of WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Last month at the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) annual conference and lobbying days, I attended a workshop on Environmental Justice led by Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome. Like many environmental organizations, CCL is uncomfortably and almost exclusively white (oh, and heterosexual, but that’s for another post.) With CCL’s goal to place a fee or tax on greenhouse gases with proceeds of the collected fee given as a refund to households to help with the inevitable rising energy costs, CCL seems genuinely interested in looking out for the interest of poor and working class people while lobbying for pragmatic energy policy. In hopes of educating its members about the environmental concerns of  people of color, CCL invited Dr. White-Newsome to talk about justice and the environment and the work of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the organization based in Harlem, NYC for which Dr. White-Newsome works as their federal policy analyst. 

First a little about WE ACT for Environmental Justice:

West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT for Environmental Justice) is a Northern Manhattan community-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by assuring that people of color and/or low-income participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. As a result of our ongoing work to educate and mobilize the more than 630,000 residents of Northern Manhattan on environmental issues affecting their quality of life, WE ACT has become a leader in the nationwide movement for environmental justice, influencing the creation of federal, state and local policies affecting the environment.

Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of WE ACT with Chuck Sutton one of the first protests

Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of WE ACT with Chuck Sutton one of the first protests

Since its inception in 1988, WE ACT has grown to the point where it is now reaching out beyond its neighborhoods in Northern Manhattan to play a key role in national environmental justice legislation. Years ago when I attended City College in Harlem and lived on West 146th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, I saw firsthand some of the actions organized by WE ACT as they demanded justice in addressing the dangers of the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant, a massive sewage treatment complex that stretches along the Hudson River from 137th to 145th Street. In the early 1960’s the city originally intended to build the sewage treatment plant near 72nd Street, but the white community there insisted it go elsewhere, so the city fathers dumped it on the citizens of Harlem.

In July 2011 the treatment plant erupted in flames and smoke from a fire in an engine room. In a News One story, Racial Backstory Behind Harlem’s Sewage Plant Explosion, Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of WE ACT, shared some of the history of environmental justice/injustice in NYC. Although hopeful that the city is responding better now than in the past, she also raised some on-going concerns.

Today, all of Manhattan’s sewage treatment plants are located above 96th Street, which for many years was “the line” that separated white Manhattan from Black.

The plant sparked the founding of the very first African-American-led environmental organization in New York, West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT). Peggy Shepard, WE ACT’s Executive Director, says that it’s always been difficult to track the exact effects of the plant on human health. “It’s hard to know now without doing certain kind of tests, but we know to be cautious because of bacteria and other human health issues.”

Wednesday’s fire and sewage discharge illustrates the continuing struggle to rectify the asthma, infant mortality other environmentally influenced statistics that are so high in poor urban areas. And yet, Shepard, hopes that things may be improving.

“I have found the Department of Environmental Protection to be pretty responsive. These events do occur but I think the city is handling a bad situation. It wasn’t that way when we started working on things in the Koch administration,” Shepard said of WE ACT’s early battles with the city to secure adequate measures. “The subsequent administrations have been very responsive.”

Last month in Washington, DC hearing Dr. White-Newsome speak about the work of WE ACT, the environmental justice (ej) movement, and her challenge to CCL, a mostly white, middle-class environmental group, I reached out to her for this interview.


Question One: I heard you speak at the Citizens Climate Lobby annual conference. You are a brilliant presenter. From hearing comments from CCL members that day and the next, your presentation made an impact and opened up a number of climate activists to the reality of environmental injustice and the need to pursue solutions that will promote it. With all of the issues in the world that demand attention, what has drawn you to do environmental justice work and what sustains you?

I am a native of Detroit, Michigan and from a young age, I was intrigued by environmental science, specifically looking at urban pollution. As I progressed through school, and worked in the industrial sector, it became even more apparent that certain communities were worse off than others. That communities of color, and areas that were low on the socioeconomic spectrum, suffered more. It is ludicrous that in the 21st century, people in the US are living – in some cases – like they are living in underdeveloped countries. The fact that many of the challenges we started working on when the environmental justice movement began in the 70s, are still a challenge now, sustains me. The fact that people are still getting sick, dying, being forced to live with trash, breath in dirty air and live near toxic facilities – is unacceptable – especially when we have laws and regulations that are supposed to protect our health, life and welfare. So the quest for environmental justice continues on.

Question Two: In your experience working for environmental justice (ej) where have you seen meaningful partnerships develop in this work among groups or demographics who may not initially have had any engagement in environmental justice? What makes these partnerships successful?

I am a somewhat of a ‘newbie’ in the ej movement, so the answer to this question is totally dependent on perspective. What is interesting is that there are some ‘really authentic collaborations’ that have developed between unlikely partners.  However, there have been many moments in the past – on both the national and local level – where the strife between mainstream environmental and conservation groups, for example, have not included an ej perspective in their work and advocacy, purposefully. These past ‘ills’ in some cases, still breed feelings of mistrust from the ej community. However, in the time I have been engaged, slowly but surely, those in the environmental community – well, some – realize that you cannot have a WIN if ALL voices don’t work together. If the fight is ‘climate change’, well, you need those that are most impacted to help ‘make the case’ against those sectors/people/organizations that are more funded and more positioned to make more ‘noise’ that we can. Successful partnerships to me are founded on respect, authenticity and a common goal. I have had the opportunity to work with mainstream enviros, groups of faith, politicians and many others in my advocacy and it has been a wonderful experience. But there is still a long way to go.

Question Three: You shared some similar thoughts at the Citizens Climate Lobby, and I remember how striking your answer was then. I appreciate your honesty and directness. In fact, it is one of the main reasons I wanted to interview you. As you continue to lobby and organize for environmental justice, what does success look like for you and for WE ACT? 

Personally, success is pretty specific to me…and would include: getting environmental justice legislation passed in Congress; having mainstream environmental organizations, Congressional staff seeking out OUR voices to be a part of the policy making process; acquiring the resources to sustain a building and staff for our ej federal policy office, with a full staff in Washington DC; increasing federal Agency accountability through the development of a annual scorecard to assess how well Agencies are doing to adhere to the Executive Order on Environmental Justice.  


We Want Clean Air - Community Protest

WE ACT members speaking out

Many thanks to Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome for taking the time to answer my questions. Please take some time to visit the WE ACT for Environmental Justice website. It has helpful and insightful resources including Principles of Environmental Justice, links to WE ACT publications, and the WE ACT theory of Change diagram (see below) Also, consider making a donation to contribute to Dr. White-Newsome’s and WE ACT’s vital work.

Come back soon for more Quickie Interviews and check out past interviews with Marlo Bernier and Rev. Nancy Wilson. Stay tuned for more  interviews soon; I have been talking to some pretty amazing people.

(All photos and graphics come directly from the WE ACT website.)

Water Bottles, Plastic, Quakers and Me

The Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) maintains a long tradition of queries, thoughtful questions to help Friends think deeply about important issues. (I alway carry a copy of Britain Yearly Meeting’s Advices & Queries given to me by my Friend Esther, who replaced the plain Quaker red cover with a multi-colored one.)

Similarly Quakers have a tradition of testimonies, statements about issues that Friends have found vital for our faith and practice.

In August I will have the honor to attend and participate in the annual gathering of Baltimore Yearly Meeting to be held in the North West corner of Maryland at Frostburg State University. In filling out my registration form, I scanned the workshop offerings. The following workshop arrested me.

Bottled Water and the Quaker Testimonies: Can They be Compatible?

Americans spend $15,000,000,000 a year on bottled water. The world spends $15,000,000,000 a year to develop and to provide potable water to the developing world. The petroleum used to make the plastic bottles would fuel 100,000 US cars for a year and 80% of those bottles go to land fills. 3,000 children die each day from polluted water. We will use the Testimonies to examine our role and to set a new direction.

Leader: Byron Sandford is Executive Director of William Penn House, a Texan with roots in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas and southern New Mexico.

I have written before about bottled water and the trouble I have with it. (I don’t even think about all the plastic bottles we use for soda and other fizzy drinks since I think they are stupid products that my dad used to remove barnacles from his boat and forget people drink then. But hey, drink the carbonated stuff if you like it). I understand that we can be in situations where we have little choice but to buy and use bottled water unless of course we cannot afford to do so.

Recently Auntie Doris got her very own SIGG water bottle (she actually nicked her mom’s which sat in a cupboard in Gurensey). Why not use our own water bottles that we fill ourselves? In the US, the water industry goes unregulated. The water we buy in bottles comes untested by the government and often is no better than filtered tap water (which we already pay for through taxes and our water bill). Sometimes it is much worse.

One of the biggest issues around bottled water that has weighed on me recently is about plastic products. Plastic: What a wonderful and awful product! So versatile, and it’s in EVERYTHING (probably even Cool Whip!). And it is not going away for a very very long time. Like pretty much never.

I recently have pondered this query:

Can I live without plastic?

To which I have had to answer a resounding NO, at least not with my current lifestyle (no I do not refer to the gay lifestyle, whatever that may be, but to the American lifestyle of one who you will find constantly on-line, on the phone, or on a plane).

So then I asked the question,

Can I live one day without plastic?

Sure on the island of Iona on a retreat, but consider all the plastic required to get me there and and hold all my stuff.

Finally I have considered,

Can I live one hour without plastic?

Barely. But I could spend one hour, barefoot, lying on the grass in my back garden. (Hey, that sounds like a great idea to do right now!)

I will continue to hold this query up in my mind. As a Christian, I feel I need to be a good steward of the Earth’s limited resources. As a Christian living in the US, I feel that any effort I can do, I need to do since my country is one of the largest contributors of waste and the use of petroleum-based products in the world.

I realize that I am connected to people all over the world. I can never make the “perfect choice” that will not have any negative consequences. But I can be thoughtful. I can grapple with these things. I can listen to what the Spirit has to say to to help me do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God among me. (Micah 6:8)

Now if you do use plastic bottles, try to recycle, although I don’t see recycling as a real solution. It requires energy to transport these bottles and more energy and waste to “recycle” them. Most of these bottles do NOT get recycled anyway as creatively illustrated in the following video.

Doin’ Time in Rochester, NY

Phew, so nice to blog about everyday things and not one of those L O N G and serious blog entries. I arrived in Rochester, NY yesterday and tonight did a talk, Homo No Mo? A Provocative Evening with Peterson Toscano. I did excerpts from Homo No Mo and Queer 101, (the scene with Chad & Federico Garcia Lorca) and then a little bit from Transfigurations.

The amazing thing about the presentation is that it was only confirmed late yesterday afternoon, and through the wonder of social networking via Facebook, loads of people got invited and a good number turned out. Alex at Pride Network and Nils of the Eco House (who I know from New England Quakers) organized the event. So yes, Facebook is awesome.

I stayed in Eco House, a cooperative living arrangement where they do loads of things to live in such a way to decrease their environmental footprint. They hang their clothes to dry (dryers use tons of energy), they buy local produce, maintain a vegetarian household (then went vegan while I was here–thanks!), they share one car among seven people, they each have bikes including a house bike (yes, I rode a bike around town), and they don’t flush the toilet when one only pees (which I also practice at home–if it’s yellow, let it mellow. if it’s brown, flush it down. But at home it is easier when it is only my urine in the bowl).

Tonight Nils and Gena and I biked down to to Equal Grounds, a queer run cafe/bookstore/gourmet chololate shop below where Alex and Eric live, both from the Pride Network. We all talked about so many things. This is what I love about what I do. It is like being in an advance, independent study graduate course. Eric, from Portland, told me he is studying something like Eco Psychology (I know he called it something different). We talked about E.O. Wilson, the TED talks, the pros and cons of having an LGBT Resource Center with paid staff, the phenomenon of cross-dressing straight frat boys, the demographics of MySpace and Facebook users, Ferdinand the Bull (read by Nils–see the 1938 Disney cartoon here) and the coolness of Portland, OR.

Okay in other news some glad some very sad…

  • Barack Obama got caught up in the ex-gay debate.
  • Dumbledore is gay (and I have my suspicions about Professor Mcgonagall)
  • The US House of Representatives have postponed their vote of the Equal Non-Discrimination Act.
  • USA Today featured the story of transgender Methodist Pastor Drew Phoenix.
  • Doris Lessing FINALLY wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and talks about the state of feminism.
  • Blogger Disputed Mutability is with child and still maintains life as a blogger (kinda, and she has loads of material to share, and I will get to hang out with her soon).
  • Steve Schalchlin muses about the science behind Musical Healing, (not to be confused with sexual healing).
  • Alex Resare has a new blog address.
  • Bruce Garrett is trapped in his new car and refuses to get out.
  • And here is the sad one, blogger Darian Aaron, shares the shocking story of his friend, fellow-writer Ramone Johnson, who became the target of a homophobic physical assault in NYC. Ramone writes about his experience here.

Ramone, contributer of’s Gay Life column shares,

As I write this I don’t know what hurts worse: My stomach or my eye or the fact that a gay bar kicked me out and refused to help me. I’ve spent the past five years trying to empower gay men, hoping with all my heart that we can one day roam the streets without being afraid, and here I sit at my computer, hurting physically and psychologically. If we can’t protect ourselves who will?

Perhaps we need some legal protection. President Bush? You out there? No need to veto all the good laws.

Tomorrow I fly off to Columbus, OH where I will see my buddy, Bobby Painter, in the lead role of Joseph spinning around in his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat (aka Princess Dress!)

I Agree with the Pope!

Rarely have I agreed with the words of Pope Benedict XVI, but this weekend the head of the Roman Catholic Church addressed a half million young people and urged them to ensure that water be equally shared in order to avoid conflicts. The Canadian Press quotes the Pope stating,

“Before it’s too late, we need to make courageous choices that will recreate a strong alliance between man and Earth,” Benedict said in his homily. “We need a decisive yes to care for creation and a strong commitment to reverse those trends that risk making the situation of decay irreversible.”

He said water needed to be preserved since “it unfortunately becomes a source of strong tensions and conflicts if it isn’t shared in an equitable and peaceful manner.”

I have so many problems with bottled water. In fact, I nearly included a whole bottled water section in The Re-Education of George W. Bush. I already have my character Chad assisting President Bush with a Legacy Makeover in which he suggests the White House goes vegan. One fact I do share is that in order to produce one liter of cow’s milks, it requires 990 liters of water. (and don’t get me started about all the CO2 and waste that gets thrust on the environment as a result of the dairy industry).

But back to bottled water. Unless you are in a place where healthy drinking water is not available (and sadly that is many places on the planet), why buy it?

  1. We already pay billions of dollars in taxes towards securing safe drinking water in most of our cities in North America and Europe.
  2. The water “manufacturers” mostly sell the water in plastic bottles, a petroleum-based product. (The US currently spends more than $2 billion dollars per month on a war in part because it gives us access to Middle East oil).
  3. More and more studies show that heat breaks down the plastic in these bottle and toxic chemicals enter our bodies, something potentially bad for all of us but especially harmful to children and pregnant women. Even if you don’t keep your plastic water bottle in a hot car, before you get it the companies often keep their product in warm warehouses. The extreme heat affects the plastic so that we drink it along with our water.
  4. Most of the water is not even pure spring water like many of us would like to think. In fact, it is often no better than the tap water many folks turn their noses up at. Some tests show that the quality of some brands is actually worse than tap water.
  5. At most gas station “food marts” we end up spending more on water per liter than we do for gasoline (petrol).
  6. Then there is all the water bottles that get into our landfills. Sure some folks look to recycling as the answer, but millions of these plastic bottles get dumped in the trash and add to the growing eco-disaster we have created for ourselves.
  7. The environmental costs of transporting all of this bottled water in CO2 producing vehicles are outrageous (especially when you insist on drinking water flown in from Fiji.)
  8. Now that we are used to paying for water, at a premium, what is to stop it from becoming a commodity that gets traded on open markets creating a situation where something that is vital for life becomes yet another thing that separates the haves and the have-nots?
  9. The fight over reliable water sources go back to ancient times (look at the Hebrew scriptures to all the fuss over wells). Don’t we have enough to fight over right now? Do we need to add water rights to the fray? (sadly this has already begun in communities in the US and UK).

There are no perfect solutions. Not all public water is safe, but most is. We often feel powerless to address the many needs and problems around us, but we can do loads to stop the madness of the bottled water craze. Mainly we can choose to not be part of that system. Buy a non-plastic water bottle and fill it up with tap water (get a filter if you need one). SWIGG has a vast selection of really cool and safe bottles.

And let’s educate each other. If you want to learn more about bottled water, check out and Also read Charles Fishman’s excellent article, Message in a Bottle.