News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Watch this video and you can’t help but connect the dots

Maybe you’re like me, marveling about the mild winter we had in Lowell or how quickly spring arrived (remember those magnolias flowering in March—unheard of so early in the season). Or even, simply breathing a sigh of relief because at last we’re getting some much-needed rain that hopefully won’t ruin the weekend.  Around the world, other people just like us are experiencing their own kinds of climate change, some of it not nearly as benign as we’ve seen in the Merrimack Valley (so far).

Tomorrow, whether or not it’s raining, you like cold snowy winters, or you enjoy weeks of record-breaking heat, please take 10 minutes of your Saturday morning to stand with your neighbors in front of Lowell City Hall at 10:30 for a photo to promote environmental awareness about climate change. Across the globe, others too will stand for this cause, so that we can begin to connect the dots regarding the global impacts of our reliance on fossil fuels. Do it because you can, because it’s important, and because together is the only way we can make a difference.

To put what’s at stake in perspective, watch this excellent short video that truly connects the dots and gives a global perspective on the impact climate change is having. The short piece was written by Bill McKibben of 350.org, and narrated and illustrated by Stephen Thomson of Plomomedia.com. It is well worth watching.

posted in Environment | 0 Comments

Take 10 for Mother Earth next Saturday at Lowell City Hall

Take 10 minutes next Saturday and meet us in front of Lowell City Hall at 10:30 for a group photo to share around the world as part of 350.org’s Connect the Dots rally. The purpose of the gathering and the photo is to put a human face on the concerns of climate change and to share those images across the globe—so that we get the big picture regarding the impact rising temperatures and sea levels, droughts, heat waves, floods, fires, and severe storms are having on us all.

No matter where you stand in the controversy regarding the causes of climate change, there is no doubt we have seen fiercer storms, historically warm temperatures and milder winters, while other areas are experiencing extreme cold, rain and snowfall that are unprecedented in the history of weather record keeping. The idea of sharing global images is to show how many areas of the world have experienced severe climate change, both devastating and deadly: consider Japan, Australia, as well as the fires numberswiki.com

and droughts in Texas just to name a few. Put Lowell on the global map as one of the dots of concerned folks. Join us, Saturday, May 5, at 10:30 in front of Lowell City Hall.

Check their website for more information about 350.org, a grassroots movement whose name reflects the number of parts per million of CO2 that is considered safe for humans. The number 350 is the goal and symbol for the movement, which strives to build global support around efforts to reduce CO2 from its current level of 392 ppm.  The Connect the Dots event is the most recent in the group’s history of rallies and events spanning continents and hundreds of countries in waves of activism and public gatherings.

Following the photo there will be a movie hosted by The Lowell Film Collaborative and light refreshments served inside at the Mayor’s Reception Room. The plan is to raise awareness for climate action and debunk the perception that we have no power to change the future.

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Work together to save our schools

When I think how much Lowell has changed since I moved here in 1993, it fills me with pride because we have all worked together to improve our city. Together, we have supported new businesses, cleaned parks and neighborhoods, renovated buildings, become safer and greener, and strengthened our schools.  Last year, Lowell schools ranked number one for large urban districts in student growth in mathematics and number three in English Language Arts…

And so begins my op-ed in today’s Sun where I took a stab at most everyone charged with funding or delivering educational services to our children.  After two nights of horrendous cuts to our school system totalling $4 million, others must do their part so the cuts go no further.

One huge ray of light in all this occurred last night at the budget hearing (after my deadline for the newspaper had passed) when the school committee was told that based on conversations between the city manager and school leadership, energy costs will be transferred to the city side of the ledger, thus reducing the school deficit by an additional one million dollars. (The city anticipates significant savings and grants due to its “greening efforts,” which include solar panels on school buildings and other investments in energy efficiency.) Not only do the savings come at a crucial time for the public schools, but any savings generated by energy efficiency is a win for everyone. As mentioned in my op-ed, the city manager’s fiscal 2011 budget increases the city’s contribution to the schools by $1.17 million. Combined with the energy savings, the city effectively has shaved $2.17 million off our deficit! Now, where to find another million…

posted in Education, Environment, Local Politics, Money Matters | 0 Comments

Friends selling wreaths in Tyler Park on Saturday

Talk about buying local (see this post from LiL), tomorrow morning from 10-1 p.m., the Friends of Tyler Park will be selling wreaths for $10 and $13 (with a bow) to benefit the many activities involved in keeping up this historic park in the heart of the Highlands (such as planting trees, pruning, fertilizing, and hosting wonderful summer concerts). At this time of year when so many people are asking for donations, this is one of those win-win situations: you can contribute to a worthy cause and get yourself a fresh wreath to adorn your door. The Friends, which is a neighborhood group of volunteers, raises funds to maintain the park in ways that support the environment, such as a totally organic weed and fertilization program. The wreaths will be sold from the Westford Street side of the park, so stop by and pick one up. You’ll get yourself a fresh wreath and support one of the city’s most beautiful and historic green spaces.

posted in Environment, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Trash day in the Highlands…could get messy

As much as I want folks to recycle and am particularly enamored with the new barrels (such a pretty color), I was disheartened today to see so many of the new containers on the streets loaded with trash and waiting for pickup. (I counted at least a dozen on Westford Street alone.) Thinking perhaps it was a Highlands disconnect, I called the Health Department and they confirmed it: Citywide, lots of loaded barrels were put out early—BEFORE the program was set to begin. As the instructions on the containers state, the program starts March 2, which is next week. No problem, they emptied them anyway, but it got me worried that the transition to the new trash system could get messy…


It also got me thinking about what to do with the old containers. There are several options: Reuse them for “Yard Waste” or “Bottles and Cans” by getting free stickers from the Health Dept, 341 Pine Street, or Lowell City Hall (weekdays 9-5) and placing them on your old containers. Or if you don’t have storage space, in a few months the city will schedule pickup of the old barrels. Just think, no need to purchase bags for leaf raking in the fall—another plus for a more recycling-friendly waste system that will save money too! For more information about the new system, check here.

posted in City Life, Environment | 1 Comment

Special film screening tonight

You can watch an interesting movie about the challenges of creating a “green” building tonight at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center at 246 Market Street beginning with a reception at 6:30 pm, film showing at 7:00 pm and a panel discussion at 8:15 pm. The Greening of Southie is a documentary about the Macallen Building in South Boston and is billed as “a story of bold ideas, unlikely environmentalists and the future of the way we live.” This event is sponsored by the Lowell Green Building Commission and the Lowell Film Collaborative with the support of Enterprise Bank.

posted in Environment, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Which water bottle?

I’ve been baffled for some time about which reusable water bottle to get. I got the message that disposable plastic bottles are bad, especially if they’ve been sitting in the sun, because besides the waste issue, they leach some nasty stuff into the water you’re thirsting for. So, then I bought a Nalgene bottle because I thought I heard somewhere that the hard plastic was better, then I heard that even hard plastic is bad if you put them in the dishwasher. Now, one of my health websites that sends me emails is talking about the “BPA”s that leak into water” from even hard plastic bottles. They have links to SIGG, Camelbak, and Klean Kanteen - all companies that offer alternative bottles made of lightweight aluminum for around $20. Before you rush out and get one, Globe Magazine had a provocative article defending plastics, specifically saying that if we would all recycle our plastic it would eliminate the environmental argument against plastic. Too true! The recycling statistics cited are abysmal – in 2006, Americans only recycled 7% of the more than 29 million tons of plastic in use; the recycling rate for Boston is only 12% which is the lowest in the state (lower than Lowell?) which averages about 30%.

Addressing the water bottle issue only in passing, author Keith O’Brien seemed to buy into the argument that the cost of replacing plastic containers would far outweigh the benefits (I wasn’t convinced). A chemist explains that plastic bottles can be reused “if washed with hot, soapy water and thoroughly dried” – is it even possible to thoroughly dry one of those skinny-necked bottles? The net advice seems to be to be cautious and avoid the hard plastic bottles that can leach BPAs and only reuse a purchased plastic bottle in an emergency. So, I guess I’m shopping for an aluminum water bottle; how about you?

posted in Environment, Healthy Living | 0 Comments

“Made in Lowell, MA USA”

I was in Trader’s Joe’s in Nashua Tyngsboro today when I noticed a collection of reusable grocery bags for sale. The brightly colored red bags with a black-and-white store motif caught my attention immediately, and then I realized they were made in Lowell! The tag, printed on recycled paper, noted that not only were the bags “distributed and sold exclusively for Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, CA,” but they were made of “heavy duty 100% cotton” with reinforced stress points. At a cost of $2.99 each, I decided to buy one even though I had my own collection of reusable grocery bags with me. At the checkout, I mentioned to the cashier that I couldn’t resist buying a bag made in Lowell, and he told me I was the second customer this week to comment on them. He also pointed out that he had seen a five-fold increase in the number of customers bringing their own bags to the store in the last year, a fact he attributed, in part, to TJ’s efforts to provide incentives for East Coast customers to bring their own bags—something they’ve been doing in California, where the company is based, for years. (When you use your own bag, you enter a drawing to win $25 in TJ products.) My otherwise uneventful trip to the grocery ended on an upbeat note: more folks getting away from using environmentally unfriendly plastic bags and quality workmanship being made in my home city. Now if we could just get them to open a store downtown…

posted in City Life, Environment | 2 Comments

Festival a leader in recycling

It was lucky that the torrential rainfall held off as long as it did on the last day of the Lowell Folk Festival, letting loose around 4:00 pm and sending everyone running for shelter. We consoled ourselves with sushi at The Blue Taleh and then headed home. The downside was that I missed getting my bag of mulch from the festival recycling center located across from Lowell High. (Since I don’t want to carry mulch around all day, I usually pick up a bag while heading back to the parking garage). I was reminded of that today when someone forwarded information on WasteCap, a public-private, non-profit initiative formed to help Massachusetts businesses find cost effective ways to recycle and reduce waste. WasteCap touts the festival as “the premier example of a major entertainment event with waste reduction, composting and recycling programs.” In case you don’t know the extent of the recycling and trash management that goes on at the Lowell Folk Festival, here is what WasteCap says about it:

What is remarkable about the LFF recycling program is the plan that starts with eliminating waste before it is generated. Most beverages were delivered in reuseable crates; bottles and cans are recycled and food related waste is composted. All food vendors or sponsors agree to use compostable service ware, including the utensils and waxed paper cups. The trash receptacles in the area of the food service areas are collected for composting. Throughout the Festival area, trash barrels are paired with recycle containers for bottles and cans. Volunteers collect the recyclables including corrugate and large containers for sorting and recycling. The compostable waste is sorted by volunteers to remove the extraneous non recyclable materials that may have been thrown in the trash. Each year the Recycling Center hands out bags of the previous year’s compost and the bags of compost always run out. Potted plants at the Recycling Center were planted in last year’s compost by the Community Greenhouse which also uses the LFF compost.

Just another reason to love the Lowell Folk Festival!

posted in City Life, Environment, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Another case against plastic bags

Margaret wrote a post a few weeks ago about making the effort to bring your own bags to the grocery store. Today, my brother emailed me this link for more disturbing information about the damage plastic bags inflict on our environment. I am getting better at remembering to bring my own bags, and I’ve gathered quite a collection of them now. Returning them to the car after unloading appears to be the biggest challenge at this point. Other than trying to increase awareness, it seems the best way to get more people involved is to model what I saw in Ireland: have stores charge a decent fee per bag or as some stores are already doing here, give five cents off for each bag you bring yourself. Keep in mind, bringing your own bags comes in handy for other types of stores as well.

posted in Environment, Healthy Living | 0 Comments

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