Category Archives: Going Green

Compost Bucket via Elaine/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Compost for the Climate

Compost Bucket via Elaine/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0
Compost Bucket via Elaine/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, food waste makes up one-quarter of our state’s trash. That means your biodegradable apple cores and other plant based materials are needlessly taking up space in landfills and causing negative environmental impacts. But there’s an easy fix. Enter composting.

Composting is not new. In fact, as long as plants have been growing, compost has been happening. What do you think happens to all those leaves that fall off the trees in the forests? That’s right –- Mother Nature is the original compost queen!

Any good farmer will tell you that good compost is one of the best soil amendments around. What you should also know is that composting helps alleviate climate change.

Ready to take action? Sign the pledge and start composting. Or keep reading to learn more.

It Works Like This

When organic materials like food and yard waste break down in a compost pile, with plenty of air and water present, the carbon that is released is stored in the new compost, instead of being sent out into the atmosphere. This carbon sequestration –- keeping the carbon “locked up” — helps reduce the greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.

If those same organic materials break down in a landfill, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are released, contributing to warming our planet.

An Easy to Access Solution

According to calculations from Project Drawdown, an estimated 38% of food waste was composted in the U.S. in 2015. In the European Union, that number is much higher: nearly 57%.

Compost can happen on large or small scales. Some cities already collect household food waste. In 2009, San Francisco passed an ordinance that makes composting the city’s food waste mandatory. In Copenhagen, Denmark they have not sent organic waste to landfill for more than 25 years

Many towns in Massachusetts have a compost facility or “stump dump” for yard waste that homeowners and landscapers can use. They won’t take your kitchen waste of course, but it’s not hard to compost in your own yard.

How to Compost at Home

There are a few ways to compost. If you want reduce your waste and get all of the resulting “black gold” dirt, you can set up a compost pile relatively easily at home — find out how. Or, you can take advantage of curbside composting with companies like Black Earth, Dirty Boys, and Bootstrap Compost. In some towns, you can even drop off diverted food materials. 

Interested in learning more about composting basics and the relevant Massachusetts facilities, check out the resources provided by Mass DEP

Pledge to Compost

If each one of us reduces our personal carbon footprint through composting, it can lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across the state.  

I pledge to start composting at my home or in my garden. If I am already composting as an individual, I will work with my school, employer, or community group to set up a pilot composting program in the next 6 months. 

Sign the pledge >

Updated May 30, 2019 to include Bootstrap Compost.

Barn swallows © Mark Landman

It’s Time To Talk About Climate Change

Let’s talk about why we need to talk about climate change. Recent surveys from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication show that Americans understanding that climate change is happening and is human caused are at an all-time high. Yet, people are still so hesitant to talk about this important topic for a variety of reasons.

Barn Swallows © Mark Landman

Reason 1: You Think You Don’t Know Enough About The Science

We know most people aren’t climatologists and trying to know all the facts and figures is just overwhelming. However, our lack of confidence has led to a silent culture and that’s a real problem. When 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, we actually don’t need more people getting into the weeds on the data. The scientific consensus is there, and frankly if that was all we needed, this problem would have been solved a long time ago.

What we need are people focused on solutions. As odd as it sounds, scientific data alone doesn’t change people’s minds, but talking about shared values and personal observations can help people connect and understand an issue. The more you are able to tell a story that resonates with your audience, the easier the conversation will be.

Reason 2: You Think Talking About Climate Change Is Depressing

Most of the time, the news on climate change is all doom and gloom and that can cause people to shut down. Not to mention, human beings don’t like change, and what we are seeing today are growing changes that threaten our communities, livelihoods, and natural areas that we love. Constantly delivering bad news is an exhausting position to be in.

BUT! Remember what we said? People need to hear about solutions, not data infused with fear. You can’t scare people into caring. Solutions to this problem do exist and often times lead to many other co-benefits: job creation, improved health, and increased geo-political stability. Those are all good things, so focus your attention there and avoid blaming or shaming people.

Reason 3: You Don’t Like Talking About Politics

There is actually a lot more consensus on climate change than people presume. As we know, the most renowned scientists have been in agreement for a while, as demonstrated through the recent IPCC report. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Americans even know about that overwhelming scientific consensus.

Plus, while liberals are generally more conscious of climate change, there is still bipartisan consensus at all levels of our government. Last November, in Congress, there was bipartisan legislation introduced for the first time in a decade to reduce carbon pollution and spur innovative solutions. At the state and local levels, the examples of bipartisan action are even more prolific. The only way to bring this issue to the forefront of all political debates is by talking about it more often with lots of different people.

Reason 4: You Aren’t Sure You Can Actually Make A Difference With a Problem This Big

Climate change is a global problem with local solutions. The truth is, there are many things you can do to reduce your own carbon footprint, and even help increase policies that lead to more collective action. If you are looking for one thing you can personally do to address climate change after reading this, the answer is probably fairly obvious- talk about it!

By talking about this topic with people you care about, you’re increasing awareness and socially validating climate change as a worthwhile topic. Adding your voice to the conversation, driven by your values (whatever they are), helps people find comfort in numbers.

Ready to Talk?

Follow these tips, and you’re well on your way to a successful conversation:

  • Meet people where they are, not where you think they should be
  • Stay out of the details and focus on solutions
  • Shared connections and values matter- people make decisions with their heads AND their hearts
  • Talk in the present tense- people understand the here and now
  • The goal is to have a conversation, not decide who is right or wrong
  • Be kind and remember you are speaking to another human being

Need more information? Check out these resources:

Sign the Pledge

Take the pledge to talk about climate change and let others know that we have solutions to address this challenge. Sign the pledge >

What’s Your Climate Resolution?

© Courtney Campbell

As we begin making our New Year’s resolutions, tackling climate change needs to be at the top of that list. 

According to the World Meteorological Organization, 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record.  Heat waves, extreme rain, hurricanes, and wildfires all made headlines across the U.S. and the globe. It’s evident, the problem is here and now.

In addition, two major reports were release in 2018: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change waved the red flag on the effects of climate change and the Trump Administration released the Fourth National Assessment on Climate Change.

You don’t have to be a climatologist or political leader to make a climate resolution. This year, take the Mass Audubon Climate Change Pledge to address climate change through individual and collective action for the good of people and the planet.

→  STEP 1: Talk to at least  3 people about climate change and help them understand how they can be part of the solution

According to data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 70 percent of people in the United States agree that the climate is changing and will cause harm to plants, animals, and humans. But, when asked if people talk about this issue, two-thirds of people in the U.S. say “Never.” This is a real problem. Not talking about climate change fuels the idea that it is a taboo topic, left only to scientists and politicians. It also gives “deniers” a stronger platform.

→ STEP 2: Make adjustments to your daily life by taking 2 individual actions from these carbon-saving categories:

Transportation

  • Carpool or take public transit
  • Walk or bike for shorter trips
  • Upgrade to an electric or hybrid vehicle

Energy

  • Make the Switch to renewable energy
  • Use LED bulbs
  • Turn off and unplug electronics when they are not in use

Food

  • Reduce your food miles by eating local
  • Eat less meat
  • Go vegan! Not able to commit to 100% vegan? Try avoiding meat and dairy one day a week or even twice a month.

Land Protection

  • Plant a native tree
  • Support your local Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary or land trust
  • Advocate for the preservation of local wetlands, forests, and other critical ecosystems that serve as carbon sinks and natural buffers to the effects of climate change.

→ STEP 3: Join or initiate 1 community action to climate change, such as:

  • Encourage your community to purchase sustainable energy through Green Municipal Aggregation.
  • Join a group dedicated to building climate solutions at the local level. 
  • Advocate for changes in your workplace or school that support reducing the organization’s carbon footprint.
  • Support and advocate for policies that will place a price on carbon. 

→ STEP 4: Sign the pledge

Taking a simple pledge increases the likelihood of following through on your goal. In addition, we will be able to see how much of an impact we can all make collectively!

Sign the pledge >

Grass at Drumlin

Switching to Electric Landscape Equipment

Imagine a summer without the growl of gasoline-powered motors, the whine of weed whackers, and the fumes of spent gasoline. Mass Audubon is taking steps to make this a reality by replacing gasoline-powered landscaping equipment with electric versions.

Grass at Drumlin

The move is part of a larger Mass Audubon strategy to green the grid by reducing fossil fuel use and adding more renewable electricity. Electric lawn equipment is one way we can make Massachusetts more pleasant while getting our yard work done and fighting climate change.

Benefits of Going Electric

1. Better Quality

In the past, electric landscape equipment was either more expensive to own or less practical than gas-powered equipment, but with improved battery technology and better designs, electric models are now coveted as top-of-the-line.

2. Fewer Moving Parts

This means fewer points of friction in the motor, require few or no fluids, no oil changes, and as such are generally more reliable than gas-powered models.

3. Safer

Electric options tend to have better safety features and don’t require storing gasoline nearby, eliminating a potential fire hazard.

4. Quieter

An electric push mower or weed whacker is about as loud as a hair dryer. Keeping the noise down is good for our neighbors and for nearby wildlife.

As electric equipment technology continues to improve, it will be able to replace more gas-powered equipment in more situations for more functions. We’re excited to make the transition to electric, and it’s something homeowners and other organizations can do as well.

Plug In At Habitat

Habitat Education Center in Belmont has a new Electric Vehicle Charging Station, the second at a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary (Joppa Flats in Newburyport has the other). Electric Vehicles (EVs) are great tool for fighting climate change and reducing carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles.

We simply need more of them on the road and more places to recharge. Adding charging stations at our sanctuaries is just one of steps Mass Audubon is taking to lead by example. Here’s why:

 

EVs are Better for the Environment

Even when charged by electricity generated from coal, EVs are responsible for fewer heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. In Massachusetts, they are better still, since our electricity comes from greener sources.

At Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries, all of our electricity is either generated by our own solar panels or purchased from renewable sources, so charging your EV at Habitat is about as clean as it gets.

EVs Cost Less

EVs are cheaper to own over the lifetime of the vehicle, since they require less maintenance, include fewer moving parts, and are by many assessments more reliable.

Getting More EVs on the Road

There are two primary reasons there aren’t more EVs on the road right now. The first is EVs cost more up front. In Massachusetts, there are a number of incentives that can reduce the purchase price to less than that of a comparable gasoline-powered car for a private buyer.

The second barrier to EV ownership is a lack of charging stations. Businesses and organizations are hesitant to install charging stations without a steady stream of EVs to use them, but drivers are hesitant to buy EVs until there are more charging stations to recharge. Something needs to break the cycle, and that’s one reason why Habitat and other sanctuaries are looking into installing charging stations.

Thanks for Generous Support!

Donations from the following people covered the cost of the actual charging station:

  • Alan K. and Isabelle DerKazarian Foundation
  • Belmont Savings Bank
  • Sue and Henry Bass
  • John Goodhue and Ann Smith
  • Jane and Jim Levitt

Belmont Municipal Electric Department installed electric service for the station free of charge!

Where to Find It

The charging station is located at the edge of the Habitat parking lot near Juniper Road. Sanctuary Director Roger Wrubel, who drives and EV himself, wants to inspire others to use the charging station, so there is currently no fee for visitors that recharge.

Why Biking is Good for the Earth & You

About 40% of Massachusetts’ carbon emissions come from transportation sources. A significant portion of that comes from passenger vehicles. Reducing the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that we emit from our tailpipes is a complicated problem.

Thankfully, for complicated problems, there are sometimes elegant solutions. Case in point: bicycles. They are a simple machine, incredibly efficient at leveraging the strength of human legs into smooth motion. Here are just a few reasons to opt for two-wheels instead of four.

Photo: Alicia Porter via Flickr

Biking is energy efficient

Biking a mile is 3-5 times more energy-efficient than walking, and for every 3 miles not driven, 2.6 pounds of carbon dioxide is kept out of the atmosphere.

Biking is good for your health

There are many health benefits to cycling, but most directly, it improves heart and respiratory fitness. Biking a mile also burns about 50 calories, is easy on the joints, and may indirectly improve mental health later in life.

Biking reduces traffic

Having fewer cars jammed up on the road has significant effects on reducing emissions overall. By leaving your own car behind, you reduce your own carbon footprint, but you also help ease traffic congestion, slightly reducing the carbon emissions from others. Beyond that, biking  simply makes our communities more pleasant by reducing noise pollution and wear-and-tear on the roads.

Biking could be faster than driving

If you live in Greater Boston and your commuting distance is relatively short (less than 3 miles one way), you can probably bike to work faster than driving. You will be moving slightly slower than cars in a city, but you often have the advantage of bike paths or bike lanes to skip jams at intersections, and you can probably park your bike closer to work than your car, saving some walking time.

If you are commuting farther, biking may take longer. Commuting from Concord to Boston, say, will take slightly more than an hour for a typical commuter. On a congested traffic day, that’s still only somewhat longer than the time spent driving, but the time is spent on rejuvenating exercise rather than simply sitting in traffic.

Biking is cheaper

Cars, on average, cost more than $0.50 per mile in operation, maintenance, insurance, and depreciation. On top of that, you may also have to pay for parking. By comparison, a solid, utilitarian bicycle will cost less than $0.10 per mile to operate and maintain.

Biking is a great way to get to know the landscape

Ernest Hemingway wrote that, “it is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” Any cyclist will tell you that is true.

You will come to feel and understand the landscape, how it determines where we live, how we use it, and how undulations imperceptible in a car guide water into streams and wetlands. You will see birds, wildlife, and other features you may have missed but passed thousands of times.

Biking is fun

There is great joy in riding a bicycle. The wind on our face, the feeling of smooth application of energy from foot to pedal to wheel, the grace of leaning into a swooping turn on a forested bike path—it all awakens a happy child in all of us.

How to Make an Impact

Every mile not driven adds up quickly to a meaningful positive impact. You can make a difference. Here’s how:

  • If possible, bike to work, even if just once a month or, better yet, once a week.
  • When running errands or visiting friends nearby, bike rather than drive.
  • Summer vacation plans? Consider sightseeing by bike instead of driving from sight to sight. Check to see if there is a bike share or rental program.
  • Voice your support for rail-to-trail conversions, bike lanes on roads, and bike-sharing services.

Have you (or will you) do one of these things? Tell us about it in the comments!

Following the Sun at Arcadia

A new, tilting, rotating solar panel is going online at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton and Northampton. Like other photovoltaic (PV) panels, it generates clean, renewable electricity from sunlight.

But unlike other static arrays, this panel uses a tracker that follows the sun across the sky. It adjusts to the height of the sun above the horizon as it changes during the day and throughout the seasons, harnessing 45% more power than fixed panels.

Statewide, Mass Audubon generates more than 37% of electricity from solar, and we purchase the rest of what we need from renewable sources. With this new panel, Arcadia will generate even more electricity than it uses, feeding the excess back into the electrical grid. That reduces the need to generate electricity from sources that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

This particular solar panel at Arcadia highlights the importance of donations to Mass Audubon’s mission. Contributions from two exceptionally generous community members—Brian Adams and Morey Phippen—and Northeast Solar made this possible. The care and generosity of others is what empowers us to address climate change and continue to set an example for the rest of New England.

You can help fight climate change and reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions. Find out how >

Sanctuary Director Jonah Keane contributed to this post. 

Weekend Update March 29-30

Drumlin First LambsSheep fest, bat houses, vernal pools, skull identification, green living tips, and an artist talk are just a selection of the programs scheduled for this weekend.

Families & Adults

  • Celebrate all things sheep at Drumlin Farm’s annual festival, Woolapalooza on Saturday in Lincoln. Highlights include baby lambs, traditional hand shearing of our ewes, and opportunities to watch border collies herding sheep. Local fiber artisans will offer demonstrations and sell their handmade products. Please note: Since this is a fundraising event, tickets to the festival are required for entrance to the farm.
  • Having bat houses on your property is a way to enjoy observing these useful predators of mosquitoes. Join Rene Laubach, bat enthusiast, as he demonstrates how to construct a bat house during Bat House Making Workshop at Pleasant Valley in Lenox. (registration required)
  • Vernal pools are homes to frogs, salamanders, and even fairy shrimp. Find out about these incredible, temporary bodies of water and visit one during Vernal Pool Mysteries at Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton. These “wicked big puddles” may be one of the best places to study the relative health of the nature of Massachusetts. (registration required)

Adults

  • Have you ever found a skull or bone while hiking and wondered what animal it came from? Find out during the Skull and Bone Identification Workshop at Ipswich River in Topsfield, which is designed for naturalists, teachers, trackers, and anyone interested in learning more about the natural world. (registration required)
  • Wellfleet Bay invites you to explore with us the connections between people, wildlife, and the changing climate. During the first of their Spring Speaker Series, John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists will discuss Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living. (registration required)
  • On Sunday, attend an informal gallery talk to hear artist Anne S. Faust reveal the stories behind the vibrant silkscreen images of birds around the world that are part of her A Life List in Silkscreen exhibition at The Museum of American Bird Art.

For a full listing of programs, visit our online program catalog, where you can now register online for many of our programs.

Confessions of an Ex-Lawn Mower

I blame it on the butterflies.

We used to dutifully mow our little lawn in a suburban neighborhood where neat, clean landscapes are highly valued.

Then I fell in love with butterflies and everything changed.

It started with the gorgeous orange and black butterflies that float in my butterfly garden and nectar on my butterfly bush. Great Spangled Fritillary caterpillars spend the winter in leaf litter and then crawl to the nearest patch of wild violets in spring to munch their way to adulthood. So, we stopped raking out the dead grass for fear of disturbing the fritillary caterpillars. And we mowed around our patches of violets.

Then I noticed that the earliest spring butterflies (Clouded SulphursRed Admirals, and Spring Azures) were drawn to the nectar of the early spring wildflowers (dandelions, ajuga, violets, clover, and Robin’s plantain) blooming naturally in my yard. I forbid my husband to mow the lawn until the very last wildflowers had finished blooming and gone to seed.

Even then, when the yard was knee high and shockingly messy, I considered that my beloved lemon-yellow Clouded Sulphur butterflies lay their eggs on the tiny clover plants that dot my yard and the caterpillars depend upon their hostplant throughout the summer. Could we mow at all?

And so it progressed until our yard was alive with insects and I began to see a lawn as the most sterile spot on earth. Imagine what could happen if every lawn, in every town in Massachusetts, became a haven for butterflies, birds, and other wildlife?

There are all sorts of good reasons to mow a lawn: space for children to toss a ball, cookouts and picnics, the enjoyment of yard work, fear of ticks and poison ivy, and so on. But if we’re just mowing our lawns because we’re supposed to, maybe it’s time to rethink.

How about you? Would you give up mowing your lawn to create habitat for butterflies and other creatures? Could you tolerate neighbors who do?

Want to learn more about creating wildlife habitat in your own backyard? Check out: