Archive for July, 2010

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” Think of five problems facing the world.

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We know much more about what’s broken than what’s being done to fix things.

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We’re living through a global social change renaissance. Millions of people are building organizations and social enterprises to attack problems using new ideas and models.

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A dowser uses a divining rod to uncover water. We uncover stories of change.”

Listen to a full hour of Small Infinity talk on WCBN’s Environmental Radio Show, It’s Hot in Here! Rachel and Emily explain the project and read one of their favorite stories while their brilliant friends from the School of Natural Resources and Environment call in to share current environmental news with a small infinity twist!

The only reason why the story starts here is because I, Emily, am authoring it. I am pretty sure Tad was cooking up plenty of Small Infinity stories long before we met. And, as you’ll see as you follow this blog, plenty more stories are unfolding in the wake of what Tad started here.

The famous Cyndy Cleveland from the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise made the suggestion I meet Tad (connecting people is certainly a small infinity strength of hers!). I was a prospective student and Tad was an alumni in my city Columbus, Oh. I expected the meeting to go as these things normally do: meet once, talk about the program a bit, get some advice, and try not to bother him yet still find ways to keep in touch. That wasn’t what happened.

You might say the Small Infinity stars aligned when we met. Tad had some pretty interesting projects in mind but needed people to help him execute. I was a projectless, recovering accountant looking for opportunities to grow as a leader and explore this consuming interest I had in sustainability. I signed up to help him out and learn a ton in the process.

Tad’s first idea was to create a robust Green Drinks showing in Columbus. Green Drinks is an international, grassroots organization that encourages folks from cities all over the world (714 as of this posting) to convene regularly to learn more about what is happening on the sustainability front locally and to enjoy drinks, which are more often shades of brown than shades of green.

Tad invited me to join a small team of organizers tasked to figure out the monthly locale and speaker for Columbus Green Drinks. The thinking was this on the speakers- why not give a eco- group a chance to showcase what they’ve got going on if all of these eco-friendly people are already merrily convened? We found a bar with organic beers and a great back room (Yay Surly Girl Saloon) and we were off! Over time the locales moved around, the crowd grew, an array of speakers came, bikes were safely introduced to the mix on occasion… but Tad still had more in mind- something larger, something even more far reaching and something that got people to ACT on their interest in sustainability.

For a little bit less than a decade before 2007, Earth Day in Columbus Ohio passed with an ignorable whimper. This clearly irritated Tad. I am speculating now, but I have a feeling that the lack-o-activity bothered him for symbolic reasons. It may be only one day, but what a city does on Earth Day says a lot about its ongoing commitment to sustainability. Anyway, he talked me and an amazing crew of people from all over the city (amassed largely through Green Drinks) into helping him enact something relatively huge for Earth Day 2007. (Side bar: When we started working together on the first city-wide Earth Day (2007), I could see that Tad’s courage, creativity, and pragmatism were enabling him to envision and execute such a large endeavor. At the time, Tad had to convince me that it was acceptable to think SO courageously and creatively. Fast forward to now and I am realizing that Tad was doing a great deal of what Ben Zanders talks about in this video around 6mins 25 seconds in )

That year a team of volunteers pulled off a two part, city-wide Earth day celebration around the goal “a year in a day.” We set out to get enough volunteers at worksites across the city to log the same hours one person would after a full work year. We accomplished this goal and then some. Hundreds of volunteers from around Columbus logged close to 4,000 hours cleaning up river banks, planting trees, etc. To celebrate, thousands of folks came back to beautiful Goodale Park to enjoy the day, delicious foods, music, and conversations with representatives from 40+ green orgs.

My favorite story in the aftermath of all of this comes from a kind-hearted, adorably hipster friend of mine who came to Goodale Park for the afternoon festivities. He came up to me the next day Totally Excited about organic lawn fertilizer. “I didn’t even know it mattered. Someday I’ll have a house and I would have never known to think twice.” Admittedly, I didn’t even know that there was an organic fertilizer organization there that afternoon, but was totally delighted to hear this validating story.

I love thinking about the aggregated small epiphanies that happened that day, during the Green Drinks events, etc. The organizing team alone had so many epiphanies; many about what was possible for the future now that we had made it through that first experience…

This is a story about honeybees.

A lovely woman I know named Lisa was keeping bees in her backyard – illegally (gasp!).  Bees are technically “livestock”, and until recently, were not allowed in residentially zoned areas of Ypsilanti, Michigan (similar laws exist in cities around the country).  Lisa is a skilled and passionate homesteader, so her bees were thriving – so much so that a neighbor complained to the city about their robust activity.  (I believe the actual complaint was that they were pooping on her car – no joke.)

Lisa bravely stood her ground, and after many months of courthouse and city council debates where many other Ypsi residents testified about the benefits of bees – pollination, honey’s healthful properties, biodiversity – the Ypsilanti City Council passed a resolution making beekeeping legal within city limits.  Beehives are popping up in backyards all over town this summer.

And it doesn’t stop there – immediately after the ruling, the Ypsilanti Food Co-op launched the Ypsilanti Honey Project, where a group of volunteer beekeepers-in-training (led by Lisa, of course), takes care of several hives placed around town.  The goal is to be able to provide local honey for Co-op customers looking for its specific health benefits– so even those who don’t want their own hives can enjoy the sweet, sweet rewards of Lisa’s once-criminal backyard beekeeping.

“Optimism is a political act, and a radical one at that.”

This compelling piece by Alex Steffen, from the blog, tells us how we need to think of the future of this planet not as a hopeless destiny but as “where we are right now, with a brief passage of time.”  How we think about and talk about our future and our world affects what we will be able to do.

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Hats off to the administration of this school that was open to the idea that students could add value to facilities management. This kind of respect and openness at the top-level of an organization is a key ingredient to change. (In general, it might also be just a good idea to keep doors open to good idea as they can come from anyone.) In the Green Construction class taught by professor Hoffman during winter 2010 we learned that the commitment U of M has made to LEED certification for the Ross building, the in construction law building was also the outcome of student led initiatives. I wonder where else this has happened?

Note: the MSNBC Nightly News series called “Making a Difference” is FILLED with small infinity stories. More will surely come.

I was lucky enough to find myself at a meeting with the organizers from a few weeks ago (yes, including Bill McKibben himself, who is delightfully nerdy and very approachable) and as these young people introduced themselves and their work, I couldn’t help but notice that their project,, illustrates exactly what we’re talking about here in the Small Infinity Project., you may remember, sponsored a National Day of Action last October, encouraging people all over the world to plan rallies, gather together, and take photographs around the theme of the number 350 (representing 350 parts per million carbon dioxide, the atmospheric concentration that most climate scientists agree is the upper bound for avoiding major global temperature increases… we’re already over it). collects these photos, and together they make a compelling statement that people all over the world want policymakers to act urgently to pass a binding global agreement.

This year, is sponsoring another day of action on October 10 (10/10/10).  Instead of just rallying, they’re now encouraging communities to plan “Work Parties,” where citizens will get together to get something done.  It was at the planning meeting for the Ann Arbor area work party that I met the crew, who were in town for the US Social Forum.  These young activists, who each represent and conduct outreach to one of six global regions (“Hi, I represent the Middle East”), stood and described some of the projects that will take place in their regions on 10/10/10: folks in Africa are organizing a tree planting; a group in Malaysia is working on a bike advocacy project.  Here in Ann Arbor, we’re going to try to build 350 raised bed vegetable gardens in one day.

These small projects are worthwhile in themselves; just the act of getting together to work on a project like this strengthens communities intangibly, while also producing tangible results.  But’s strategy allows people to participate in their own communities, knowing FOR CERTAIN what we all love to hope- that people all over the world are working just as hard as we are, in their own small way.  That knowledge empowers future action, and, communicated to policymakers, drives political change as well.

Alice Walker said…

It’s true –

I’ve always loved

the daring


Like the young black


Who tried

to crash

All barriers

at once,

wanted to


At a white

beach (in Alamama)


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