350, UUMFE, and Bill McKibben

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of joining the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) for their board meeting in Vermont. Amidst the natural beauty of the late summer forests and farmland, I learned more about how UUMFE is fulfilling its mission of “[providing] Unitarian Universalists and their congregations with organized ways to connect energy, ideas, and information about how their lives relate to the living Earth, environmental justice, and future generations.” They’re a passionate group, working hard to provide resources to engage UUs in this important work. Check out the UUMFE website and sign up for their eNews to find resources for engaging yourself and your congregation in environmental issues and to learn more about what other UUs are doing.

I was delighted to have some special guests join us for dinner on Friday night, including Bill McKibben, the co-founder and director of the 350.org campaign to demand strong international climate policy in Copenhagen. Leading climate scientists declare that 350 parts per million (ppm) is the highest level of CO2 considered “safe” for sustaining human civilization on Earth. We are already at 390ppm and rising, illustrating the necessity of immediate climate action.

Despite this urgency, Bill McKibben’s message for us was not one of despair. Small changes like switching to energy-efficient light bulbs are great, but they are not enough. On October 24th, people in over 100 nations all over the world are planning to send a clear message to their governments of the need to commit to diminishing CO2levels to 350. Churches all over will be ringing their bells 350 times, sending the message to all within hearing distance. A farmer in the Cameroon has already worked with his neighbors to plant 350 trees, in solidarity of this movement. We need to work together if we want to make effective change. As people of faith, and guided by the 2006 Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience on the threat of Global Warming/Climate Change, we need to put our faith into action.

Tell UUMFE what you’re doing for the International Day of Climate Action here, look for ideas of something to do here , or find an existing event near you here.

A New Voice of Environmental Justice at the Washington Office

Hello! I am Rowan Van Ness and am the new Program Associate for Environmental Justice through a partnership between the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth and the UUA. I grew up Unitarian Universalist in Washington state and am now here in the other Washington!

After graduating from Smith College with a degree in Economics and a minor in Environmental Science and Policy, I joined AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) in Lawrence, MA, as a Healthy Communities VISTA with Groundwork Lawrence. I managed some of our community food programs and worked with youth on gardening and healthy eating initiatives. I worked on our local community gardens program enabling people to safely grow their own food in an urban, industrial city, and the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which people could “subscribe” to get farm shares each week from a nearby farm.

Many people in Lawrence, like many communities in need, have limited access to fresh produce. People with lower incomes are more likely to have health problems like obesity and diabetes, diseases directly related to food. If fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t easily accessible, or if the only ones you can afford are poor quality, how can you expect anyone to want to eat them? By providing opportunities for people to purchase fresh, locally-grown produce with food stamps and at subsidized rates, by giving people an opportunity to grow their own food in uncontaminated soil, by teaching young people how to cook with fresh fruits and vegetables–these things bring us one step closer to food justice. Click here to learn more about “Ethical Eating,” the 2008-2012 Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

While food is really important, I am delighted to be joining the momentum at the Washington Office for Advocacy at such an exciting time. Though the climate change bill in Senate is not front and center at the moment, we are personally hoping that a strong climate change bill will pass in the Senate this term. With global climate change policies up for negotiation this December in Copenhagen, it is so important for the U.S. to create its own strong climate change policies in advance.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) passed in the House, but only narrowly (219-212). We need to make sure that the Senate also includes provisions for providing employment and training opportunities in green construction in communities who have traditionally been left behind and funding to the Green Jobs Act. Workers affected the worst by the recession and by environmental degradation would get the training and support they need for green-collar jobs. The most important thing you can do right now is to contact your senators and get them to pass a strong climate change bill.

Van Jones, Green Jobs, and Health Care

If you are like me, you were angry when Glenn Beck started attacking Van Jones, worried when the White House voiced only tepid support, and horrified when Van offered his resignation over the Labor Day weekend. From my perspective, it all seemed to happen so fast. In reality, Beck had been attacking Jones for nearly a month. However: 1) I don’t watch Glenn Beck and only know what he’s saying when others tell me; and 2) My attention had been distracted by the health care “debate” being waged across the country – from angry crowds to painted swastikas to congressmen hung in effigy to guns being publicly brandished where the president is scheduled to speak.

Right now, I kind of feel like the clueless tourist who gets her pocket picked because I was too busy gawking at a staged diversion that I failed to mind my purse. Let me elaborate on this analogy:

  1. It would be a mistake to view the health care debate and the climate change/clean energy/green jobs debate as two separate issues. They are both part of a larger struggle.
  2. It would also be a mistake to think that our victories cannot be subsequently taken away from us if we do not remain vigilant.

The billions of dollars in funding for green jobs as part of the stimulus package is one such victory. Van Jones coming to DC to oversee how the money is spent was icing on the cake, but the most important thing was and is the green jobs themselves – the audacious plan to combat global climate change while at the same time providing pathways out of poverty for lower-income class families.

Ultimately, that is what we are working for – economic justice, “REdistributing the wealth” back to the middle and lower classes after decades of it being accumulated in only a handful of the wealthiest households – what Van Jones during his Ware lecture called “the Green New Deal.” Although it is not explicitly “green,” health care reform is part and parcel of the Green New Deal, as it would be a similarly significant move towards greater economic justice. And whether it’s the oil industries or the insurance industries or the stock-holders to whom they are accountable, they are united in opposing our success.

In the wake of Van Jones’ forced resignation, we can talk about the role of racism, we can talk about how Glenn Beck targeted Jones as revenge for Color of Change’s effective campaign against Beck. We can talk about a lot of personal motivations for what happened and we may be correct. But as much as Unitarian Universalists adore Van Jones and take a personal interest in his well-being (I know I do), we cannot make the mistake of focusing just on Van. The attack on Van Jones was but part of a larger attack on green jobs, and ultimately on the economic reforms which we seek. If you don’t believe me, read for yourself the words of the man responsible for Van’s departure (and I don’t mean Glenn Beck):

“Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through with two critical policy victories. First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these green groups trillions, and second repeal the unspent portion of the stimulus bill, which stands to give them billions. ” – Phil Kerpen, Fox News, Sept 6th

So what do we do now? There is a danger that the Senate may be so absorbed by health care reform that it will drop climate change/clean energy legislation. Some voices have even suggested that pushing for a climate/energy bill might jeopardize health care, intimating that we must choose one or the other. What we must do now is remember that the distraction going on over there is actually related to the pickpocket over here. We can’t let the spectacle of “astroturfers” or hate-spewing talking heads distract us from the real goal, the struggle for economic justice. For those of you who are as mad as I am about what happened to Van, the sweetest revenge that we can take is to pass meaningful climate change/clean energy legislation that funds green jobs.

Climate Change-Energy Debate Moves to the Senate

On June 26, 2009, while many of us Unitarian Universalists were gathered at General Assembly, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. The projected vote was so close that we felt compelled to interrupt the scheduled business of GA and ask participants to use their cell phones to call their Representatives. ACES (or the Waxman-Markey bill, as it is more commonly called) passed that day, 219 to 212. When news of its passage came there was joy, relief, and regret. Joy for what was a historic achievement, a comprehensive overhaul of our energy policies, and an important first step to addressing the pressing issues of climate change. Relief because the victory had been hard fought. And regret because the bill that passed was in the end much less than we had hoped for.

Shortly before ACES was voted on, I wrote a rather long blog post reflecting on how it had gotten to be that we were supporting a bill that has some admittedly serious flaws, and why it was important to still act. At the time, I already knew that the fossil fuel industries had been spending tens of millions of dollars to weaken and/or derail the bill. I knew that some of the claims (such as skyrocketing energy costs for families) were outright lies preying on fear. But what I didn’t know was that one of their lobbying firms had resorted to even greater levels of deception. Using the names and letterhead of organizations of color, Bonner & Associates sent fraudulent letters to at least three Representatives, urging them to oppose ACES. One of the organizations that they impersonated and misrepresented was a local chapter of the NAACP; the NAACP supports ACES because of the green jobs it will create.

We are up against opponents who will lie and commit fraud in order to maintain their lucrative stranglehold on our nation’s energy sources. But we are also up against our own apathy. The most painful thing that we had to admit on the eve of the historic vote was that, honest or not, our opponents had been out there making their views known to the people who were going to cast the votes and we had not been. I don’t mean to say that our side did nothing. Organizations like 1Sky and others worked hard to not only get the bill passed but to insert key strengthening amendments that made it more just. And UU groups from the UUA to the State Advocacy Networks joined them. But most of our efforts came in the final push. When talking to staffers of various Representatives, what we heard over and over again was that they had not been hearing from us during the process – during the deliberations in committees, while measures were being put in and taken out. They had not heard from people who wanted the bill to be stronger. They had heard from people who wanted it to be weaker or didn’t want it at all. So what we got was a weaker climate-energy bill, and we almost didn’t get one at all.

So why am I reliving these past mistakes now? Because the conversation isn’t over. ACES passed in the House on June 26th. The conversation now moves to the Senate, which has said that it will use ACES as the starting point to draft its own version. And once again the fossil fuel industries are spending tens of millions of dollars to further weaken and/or derail the process (and using dirty tricks). We need to be out there telling our Senators that we want climate change legislation, and we want it to be even stronger and more just than the version that passed in the House. What’s more, we need to be out there explicitly as Unitarian Universalists. Rightly or wrongly, our elected representatives listen more attentively to constituents who identify themselves as people of faith. And for the most part right now, they are hearing from self-identified religious people who oppose climate change legislation. They must hear from us too.

Act Now:

August 10th begins the Senate summer recess – a time when your Senators come home to listen to you (so that you don’t have to go all the way to DC). Get some members of your congregation (and/or team up with neighboring congregations) and welcome your senators home to your beautiful state. Remind them that you are their constituent, and then tell them that it’s crucial that they pass strong and just climate change legislation as soon as they get back to DC. The simplest (and possibly most fun) way to do that is to attend a 1Sky beach party. 1Sky is holding “welcome back” parties for senators across the country on August 10th. If you can’t make that date, you and fellow UUs can schedule an in-district visit later in the month.

Let your senators know that as a Unitarian Universalist, someone who believes that we are part of an interdependent web of creation, it is our moral imperative to pass effective and just climate change-energy legislation now.

Reassure them that a comprehensive climate-energy bill will preserve the environment, free us from dependence on fossil fuels that compromise our national security, and create millions of jobs in a new clean energy economy. It’s win-win.

Tell them that Unitarian Universalists respect science, and the science tells us that we need to cut carbon emissions, at least 20 percent by 2020.

Tell them that the bill must limit offsets to no more than 10 percent of the emissions cap. Anything greater would compromise the effectiveness of the cap and put undue burden on communities of color.

Tell them that UUs stand on the side of economic justice and therefore, they need to maximize the number of allowances used to create clean energy jobs and train workers to fill them. The Senate bill must also maintain (or improve) the transition assistance that the House version has.

Tell them you want stronger a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS). Urge them to:

  • Co-sponsor S. 433, Senator Tom Udall’s “25 by 25” RES
  • Support Senator Schumer’s stand-alone EERS Amendment (based on S. 548

If you simply cannot make it to your Senators offices, we understand. Use 1Sky’s online tool to fax your senators. Do what you can and please do it soon.


Grist magazine is tracking where your senators stand on climate change.

Lessons Learned from Climate Change Legislation

Almost one year ago at the Ft. Lauderdale General Assembly, Van Jones challenged us in his prophetic Ware Lecture, “Prepare to Govern.” The presidential elections had not yet happened, but Van predicted that change was in the air, and that we who have been outside protesters would suddenly find ourselves as inside leaders. Prepare to govern, instead of protest. What adjustments would we have to make, not just procedurally but also mentally, in order to take up the task of creating a more perfect union, rather than just critiquing what was wrong with the current one?

A case in point could easily be climate change legislation. Last year, when the Lieberman-Warner “America’s Climate Security Act” was coming to the Senate floor, a few in the environmental community were tempted to support the bill. It’s hard to stand against a climate change bill when one is so desperately needed. But the bill did not cut emissions of greenhouse gases sufficiently (according to the recommendations of the scientific community) AND it gave billions of dollars worth of pollution credits to industries while providing very little assistance to low to middle income families. With a president in the White House that, up until recently, had denied that global climate change was an issue and the bill having been introduced by senators with no credentials in economic and racial justice, it was easy to be the “protester” and say that we likely could have a better, more just bill after the elections. Instead of supporting the bill, the UUA, along with the UU State Advocacy Networks, decided to put our energy behind a “climate change principles” letter being circulated by Representatives Waxman (CA), Markey (MA), and Inslee (WA). We encouraged representatives to sign on, thereby setting the groundwork for strong and just climate change legislation in the near future.

The Lieberman-Warner bill died in the Senate, victim of a filibuster. In November, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. In December, Representative Waxman staged a “coup” of sorts, replacing Dingle (MI) as chair of committee on energy and commerce. Because Dingle’s constituency is heavily dependent upon the fossil fuel industries, he has historically been hostile to climate change legislation, whereas Waxman has been a proven advocate for both environmental and economic issues. In February, the new president’s stimulus package was passed with billions of dollars going into green jobs. Obama picked Van Jones to be the person in charge of overseeing the funding. Suddenly, we had several government officials who seemed to know that environmentalism must go hand in hand with racial and economic justice. It seemed like a tide had changed and the right people were in key positions in order to make effective and just climate change legislation a reality.

In March, Waxman and Markey introduced their own bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACESA). It had many good things about it. But there were also things that were less than perfect. At coalition meetings we were told that even though Waxman was now chair of energy and commerce, the committee itself still leaned to the right of the House of Representatives in general in the matter of climate change. So, we were told, the strategy would be to make concessions now in order to get the bill out of committee and then improve the bill later with amendments to strengthen it. The outside protester would have been… protesting, but we were part of the “in” crowd now. It was our allies who were in power and they were sharing their reasoning with us, reasoning that made sense. So.. we praised representatives Waxman and Markey (rightfully so) for an ambitious bill, spread the word that a good comprehensive climate change bill was coming, and waited.

In the mean time, the fossil fuel industries spent tens of millions of dollars to make changes in their favor. When the bill did leave the committee last week, it was even weaker than originally written.

This week, we’ve been told that complex negotiations were made in order to get a version of the bill that had the votes to pass in the House, and the bill’s sponsors (Waxman and Markey) and Speaker of the House (Pelosi) were afraid that any substantive efforts to improve the bill would cause the compromise to collapse. Therefore, no substantive amendments will be allowed on the floor of the House. Moreover, as it stands no representative is willing to attach their name to a substantive amendment AND no members of the progressive caucus are willing to vote against the bill. No one wants to be the person to derail the only climate change bill on the table, so there is no bargaining power to renegotiate. As I met with an interfaith “envirojustice” working group yesterday, almost everyone around the table was stunned. “So…,” I said, “last year I asked UUs to refrain from supporting Lieberman-Warner because it wasn’t effective enough and it wasn’t just. Am I supposed to one year later ask them to support a bill that is not much better (and even worse in some respects)? Just because Waxman and Markey are the sponsors?”

Many around the table were wrestling with similar questions. The facts were that Waxman and Markey said that this was the best bill that they could deliver, and we have no reason to believe otherwise. Last year, we had many reasons to believe that we might be able to get a stronger bill this year. This year, we have no reason to believe that conditions will be more favorable next year. If anything, with midterm elections coming up, there is the danger of the reverse. And every moment of delay means more greenhouse gas pollution being released into the atmosphere. As we continued to discuss, different voices kept coming back to one thing – that representatives had not heard from many constituents telling them they needed to strengthen the bill as it was being considered, so they thought that the bill was ok. (Whereas they were getting plenty of pressure to weaken it.) The conclusion was inevitable: we had failed to mobilize our grass roots.

When Barack Obama won the presidential election last November, we at the Washington Office had told ourselves that while things would definitely be different with someone in the White House whose socio-political views are more closely aligned with ours, there would still be a lot of work to do. Just because we elect a leader whose vision we like doesn’t make it a given that the vision will be realized. But when it came to climate change legislation, many colleagues and I in the environmental justice community – both religious and secular – had made this mistake. Because we had allies in charge of the legislation, we had trusted them to come through for us with strong legislation. But they could not give us strong legislation if we did not have people telling the other representatives that they need to agree. In the absence of that collaborative effort, the bill we have now is the best that they could give us.

Prepare to govern. It was relatively easy to understand that governing meant that we were no longer outside protesters. But in retrospect, it was not so easy to identify what to do in its place. It was not so easy to understand that there was still just as much a need for activism, for grassroots mobilizing, for vigilance in holding our elected leaders accountable. But as Van Jones has said, there needs to be “holding” in holding our leaders accountable. Instead of just telling them what we think is wrong, we need to put forth the vision of what would be right and to make space for it to happen.

In that light, we’re not giving up just yet on the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Please contact your representative; acknowledge that a climate change bill is desperately needed this year, but it also needs to be a strong, just bill. Urge them to:

1. Ensure more clean energy by increasing the renewable electricity standard (RES) to 30 percent by 2020.

2. Hold polluters accountable by giving the EPA authority to regulate carbon emmisions.

3. Reduce free pollution permits to fossil fuel industries (worth billions of dollars) and use the revenue gained to create more domestic green jobs in America and help both domestic and international communities adapt to the global climate changes.

The House of Representatives switchboard number is: 202-224-3121. OR you can fax your representative through 1Sky’s website.

Update on Climate Change Legislation – Call Now!

The following is an update on the status of the Waxman-Markey bill, written by Pam Sparr. Pam is a member of All Souls Church, Unitarian, and consultant to several religious organizations on matters of climate change and environmental justice.

Representatives Waxman and Markey formally introduced H.R. 2454, The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, on May 15, 2009. This is the long awaited official introduction of comprehensive climate change legislation in this session of Congress. The House Energy & Commerce Committee is in the middle of marking-up the bill and the committee chair (Waxman) is hoping to get a vote before they adjourn for Memorial Day.

Many concessions have been made based on what was initially proposed in the bill’s discussion draft in order to cobble together the support needed among Democrats. While the religious community as a whole is eager for the bill to make it out to the floor and be passed, there are calls to strengthen the language in various provisions. Some are concerned that too strong a press to improve the language could tank the bill entirely.


Greenhouse gas emissions targets:
2020 – 17% below 2005; 2050 – 83% below 2005
These targets are not as ambitious as many would like. They are even weaker than what they appear as they use 2005 as a baseline rather than 1990, which is the baseline for international negotiations.

Cap and trade system:
The vast majority of allowances will not be auctioned; freebies phase out over time.
Giving a large % of allowances away in early years diminishes the amount of money available for distributing, including for international adaptation spending. Problems with insufficient regulation of carbon markets can create international financial problems down the road – which can be a justice issue in and of itself. Drafters of the bill have crafted language in a way that they expect free allowances to the utility sector will shield consumers from higher prices.

Ability to buy off-sets:
The draft bill enabled corporations to avoid major emissions reductions through purchasing a sizeable amount of off-sets. This problem does not appear to have been fixed in the actual legislation. The way forest off-sets are handled is a particular concern for human rights activists and environmental groups because of the history of indigenous people and forest communities. Developing countries do not want developed nations such as the U.S. to avoid making their own sizeable emissions cuts by buying their way out of things through overseas off-sets.

International adaptation funding:
2012-2021, 2% of allowances goes to international adaptation and clean tech (1% each); 4% for 2022-2026; 8% from 2027.
These proposed amounts are extremely low in the early years compared to estimates of the U.S. fair-share of adaptation spending, which would be about $7 billion annually (or more than 7% of total allowance value as the bill is currently constructed). The U. S. is legally obligated to provide this funding under international law and the faith community and other groups are arguing that the U.S. has a strong moral obligation to provide compensation for damages developing countries have already incurred as a result of climate change. Crafters of the bill have formulated a system for providing adaptation fund that end-runs the appropriation process. Writers of the bill seem to have found a way to make the stream of international adaptation funding regular and reliable over time rather than subject to the annual vagaries of the appropriations process – which had been a big concern.

Domestic adaptation & worker transition assistance:
The bill provides 2% of allowance values for domestic adaptation needs with half going to address natural resource concerns and half to adaptation purposes, for humans, including public health. Another 0.5% will go to help workers in affected industries.
It will be important to assure that low-income and other vulnerable communities receive priority attention in the use of domestic adaptation funding. The inclusion of worker transition assistance is a big win.

If your Representative sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, contact her/him immediately. The House switchboard is: 202.224.3121. Both Democrats and Republicans need to hear that their constituents support strong climate change legislation. Congratulate them on getting this far on the bill and urge them to:

  • Improve the short-term emissions targets. These are below what the international community expects and what scientists feel is necessary.
  • Increase international adaptation spending. Begin with at least $3.5 billion annually.
  • Assure that low-income and other types of communities that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the U.S. are prioritized for adaptation funds.

April’s Action of the Month and a Call to Action for Environmental Justice

When the Advocacy and Witness staff group was planning out our Actions of the Month – deciding which issue we would focus on each month – it was a given that April would be devoted to environmental justice. Earth Day is second probably only to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as the highest of holy days in our UU liturgical calendar.

It was also a no-brainer that we would partner with UU Ministry for Earth and UU Service Committee on this action, as all three organizations are working to do environmental work through the lens of social justice – acknowledging and addressing the disproportionate impact that environmental issues have on women, the poor, and communities of color. Often times, such issues get forgotten in the struggle to preserve the environment. As people of faith, it is up to us to keep in mind that the interdependant web of existence does indeed include humans and their/our needs as well.

So, the UUA, UUMFE, and UUSC have partnered to bring you April’s Action of the Month: Environmental Justice. If you follow the link provided, it will take you to a page full of resources for learning, reflecting, and taking action on environmental issues in ways that are mindful of the impact on the most marginalized among us. And of course there are worship materials for Earth Day Sunday, the Sunday closest to Earth Day, provided by the UUMFE. Please feel free to use the resources provided during April and beyond.

As I said in the beginning, April is the time when UU congregations are often most thinking about environmental issues. So it is a pleasant synergy that there just happens to be a great piece of environmental legislation on which to take action. Introduced on March 31st by Representatives Waxman and Markey, the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009,” while not perfect, is the most comprehensive and strongest bill to date. It will create millions of jobs, increase energy efficiency, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, restrict greenhouse gas emissions that cause global climate change, and could eventually lead our country to an economy that is both more green and more equitable. But only if we can get it passed, and passed as a version that has not been watered down.

Now is our best change to enact climate change legislation that is both effective and just. A good bill has been introduced to the House by two strong allies. President Obama has indicated that he wants to be able to sign climate change legislation into law this year. And next year’s midterm elections could potentially make legislators more cautious and susceptible to industry lobbyists. Urge your representative to support the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.

Wanna multiply your voice? Download the PDF version of this action, print it out and take it to church with you. Get your fellow congregants to sign the form. And then enter their information on the action page provided above. The site will automatically send emails to your congregation’s Representative on behalf of the signatories. And of course, let us know about it! (environment@uua.org)

What do Michelle Obama and I Have In Common?

Last summer, the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association voted in our annual meeting to devote four years of study and action to the theme of Ethical Eating.

Congregations, communities and individual UUs all over the United States are asking questions about food. Where does it come from? Who grows it? Who gets access and how? How do we eat? How do we cook? How do we share the bounty? What happens when people don’t have access to food? Vegan or compassionate omnivore? Is it better to eat locally or organically?

Which brings me back to the question posed in the title of this post: What do Michelle Obama and I have in common? Not a whole lot. But we do have yards at our homes. And in those yards, we will grow vegetables.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Obama announced that the groundskeepers of the White House compound will tear up a small portion of the lawn to grow an organic vegetable garden. Students from nearby Bancroft Elementary School will help break ground today.

This is quite the success for home gardeners everywhere who have been lobbying the President and First Lady for a kitchen garden at the White House. Famed Chef Alice Waters, whose restaurant Chez Panisse specializes in locally grown and sustainable food, was thrilled. Chef Waters was quoted by the AP saying,

It just tells you that this country cares about people’s good health and about the care of the land. To have this sort of ‘victory’ garden, this message goes out that everyone can grow a garden and have free food.

This is not the first time the White House has grown its own. During WWII, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt grew a victory garden on the South Lawn. And before that, when the country was more agrarian, the White House grew much of its own food, including raising sheep that grazed on the White House Lawn.

Whether you call it urban farming, kitchen gardening, or victory gardening, growing your own fruits and vegetables is an incredibly rewarding experience. According to the New York Times, the White House Vegetable Garden will only cost $200 for compost and seeds. But the results will be worth a lot more than that. Fresh produce to be used in the White House kitchen, or my own, is a time and money saver. And when the bounty of summer comes, I like to give away my surplus vegetables to my neighbors.

In my neighborhood, the nearest food sources are bodegas, conveniences marts and corner stores. Here, you can occasionally find a hard, mealy, tomato or a soft, eye-ridden potato. Most everything else is frozen, bagged or in cans–high in salt, preservatives and sugar. The nearest grocery stores are a twenty minute walk. And the nearest farmer’s market is two neighborhoods over, a forty-five walk. This is difficult for folks who may be single parents, elderly, or on low incomes.

But by growing and sharing vegetables right out of my yard, I bring much needed fruits and vegetables to my street.

I applaud the Obamas for starting their own vegetable garden at the White House. I also think it is great Mrs. Obama insists the First Daughters will be the ones weeding. This will help the girls understand where their meals come from and the work involved in growing the food. But most of all, I thank the family for the wonderful example they are setting.

Van Jones is Our Nation’s "Green Jobs Czar"

When the President’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed last month, $500 million was allocated to funding the 2007 Green Jobs Act (an increase of 400% over the original allocation). Since the creation of green jobs was one of the UUA’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress, we were thrilled. But we also knew that getting the money was only a small part of what needs to be done. Just as important is how the money would be spent. Who would be in charge.

With that in mind, we could not possibly be happier to hear that Van Jones has been confirmed to be the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (Green Jobs Czar has a ring to it, but that’s not his actual job title nor is it accurate.)

In our opinion, no one could be more qualified than Van Jones. Van is the founder of Green For All, an organization devoted to environmental justice with whom the UUA works in partnership. Van is author the the best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy: How one solution can solve our two biggest problems,” which the UUA has helped to promote. And UUs are still talking about Van’s Ware Lecture at General Assembly last year. Entitled Prepare to Govern, Van talked about a “Green New Deal” and challenged UUs to shift from protesters to leaders. To say that his presentation was well-received would be an understatement. The audience erupted into a standing ovation and Van ran into the crowd exchanging high-fives until he was finally engulfed in a group hug from young adult UUs.

Largely in response to Van’s lecture, Advocacy & Witness (of which the Washington Office is a part) made funding for the creation of green jobs a legislative priority for the 111th Congress. At the time when we set these priorities, we didn’t necessarily think it would be easy to accomplish, but we knew it had to be done, for the sake of the planet and for economic justice. Then Barack Obama was elected president, and the economy showed that it desperately needed restructuring… and all of the sudden, almost everyone is talking about a green economy, including the White House. When the Obama administration talked about lifting families out of poverty through green jobs, we all knew who had the new president’s ear and were grateful for it.

Now that it’s official, all we have to say is: Congratulations, Mr. Van Jones! Thanks for everything you’ve done so far. And we look forward to working with you as our nation continues transitioning towards an economy that is more just, more equitable, and more green.

Join the UUA Washington Office’s Call for Senators to Pass Stimulus Package

Yesterday, the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy sent every Senator a letter calling for passage of the economic stimulus package and a document comparing spending components of the stimulus package with the ten largest military contracts from 2008.

Now is the time to tell your Senators to pass this important legislation. We are getting word that Senate offices are hearing far more from constituents who oppose the package. Read our document and then call both your Senators using the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell them to act quickly and pass the economic stimulus plan!