WSF Joins Invitation Only White-House Kick-off on Climate Education and Literacy

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Will Steger Foundation Executive Director Nicole Rom joined The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for a Climate Education and Literacy Roundtable on December 3rd, 2014, as part of the launch of a new Climate Education and Literacy Initiative to help connect American students and citizens with the best-available, science-based information about climate change.

The Roundtable brought together senior Administration officials including, among others, OSTP Director Dr. John P. Holdren, NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, along with leaders from the public, private, academic, nongovernmental, and philanthropic sectors to discuss new steps and commitments to connect America’s students and citizens with the skills they need to succeed as tomorrow’s community leaders, city planners, and entrepreneurs, in the context of a changing climate.

The White House has been exploring opportunities at the intersection of two key priorities of the Obama Administration: lifting America’s game in STEM education, and combating climate change.  OSTP’s launch includes a number of exciting new commitments by Federal agencies and outside groups, including the Will Steger Foundation, which was highlighted among 30 of 150 projects submitted! We encourage you to learn about these new commitments on the newly released White House Factsheet.

We also invite you to join the Will Steger Foundation and OSTP in the kick-off of the Climate Education and Literacy Initiative by sharing your photos on social media platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) with a caption of what you are working on, as well as the tags #ActonClimate and #ClimateED

Together with The White House, we recognize that climate change education requires an “all hands on deck” approach. The Will Steger Foundation is committed to building the knowledge of climate science and growing the skills, attitudes and motivations to develop a citizenry that is able and willing to address climate change. WSF believes that every environmental educator and science educator should have the knowledge and skills to teach climate change in their educational setting. WSF believes that every educator should know where to go to find trusted scientific information about climate change, as well as solid educational resources. Finally, WSF believes that every student should graduate high school climate literate as defined by the Climate Literacy Principles: “Climate literacy is the understanding of your influence on the climate and climate’s influence on you and society.”

The Roundtable provided a chance to discuss successful efforts underway and ideas for new actions and opportunities to enhance climate change education and literacy through K-12, high education, and informal education.

Thanks to your support and investment in our work, the Will Steger Foundation is a leading voice for advancing climate literacy and education at top leadership levels, and working directly with educators on the ground in today’s classrooms with tomorrows leaders.

News Watch: Dec. 15

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Energy; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; Water; Wildlife; Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Transportation
TC Daily Planet: The train that was a bus 
 
Water
 
Wildlife

We Need Stronger Bicycle and Pedestrian Laws – Not Weaker Ones!

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There has been much heated discussion of street design and laws related to pedestrians and non-motorized traffic in the wake of a recent vehicle-pedestrian crash in Saint Paul that severely injured 11-year-old Bikram Phuyel. Much of this dialogue has been based on misunderstanding or faulty assumptions and has led to unnecessary vitriol and finger pointing. As an organization dedicated to education and advocacy for both cycling and walking as healthy, safe and easy transportation options, BikeMN would like to contribute an informed perspective on this issue.

Pioneer Press contributor Joe Soucheray posited in his November 12th commentary that the incident with Phuyel is evidence that right-of-way laws for pedestrians actually decrease safety and ought therefore to be abolished. An implicit premise in his argument is that motor vehicle drivers either can’t or won’t comply with existing right-of-way laws—and, clearly, this type of driving behavior endangers pedestrians. In the case of Phuyel, the statute in question states: “When any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle” (169.21 Subd. 2 (b)). Based on the driver’s and witnesses’ statements in the police report about this incident, it is apparent that this was exactly the circumstance the led to the tragic crash. This was also the case in BikeMN Executive Director Dorian Grilley’s crash four years ago.

It’s worth clarifying further that this same statute specifies “the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.” Some news sources have reported that the victim was not in a crosswalk, when it would have been more accurate to report that there was not a marked crosswalk at the intersection he was attempting to cross. The implication in misstating this is that the pedestrian was crossing against the driver’s right-of-way, although it is clear from the statute that this is not the case.

It is also worth correcting the erroneous belief that crossing at a marked crosswalk rather than an unmarked intersection is always safer. In fact, a report from the Federal Highway Administration found that on busy roads, “having a marked crosswalk alone (without other substantial improvements) is associated with a higher pedestrian crash rate (after controlling for other site factors) compared to an unmarked crosswalk.” The victim-blaming narrative that crossing at an unmarked intersection is more dangerous and violates traffic code is flatly wrong.

In his op-ed, Soucheray correctly pointed out that overall pedestrian fatalities in traffic have steadily declined from a peak in 1937, and he attributed this to improvements in vehicle technology, transportation infrastructure and pedestrian education. Traffic laws, however, were completely dismissed as an explanation for this advance in pedestrian safety. Yet it seems hardly coincidental that the trend toward decreasing fatalities has coincided with the adoption of pedestrian right-of-way laws across the country, beginning in 1944 with the Uniform Vehicle Code. Soucheray’s non-sequitur conclusion was that (“new” and unspecified) pedestrian rights threaten to undermine this long-term trend toward greater safety. BikeMN believes that, on the contrary, the correlation between expanding pedestrian rights and greater safety indicates that these laws have had the intended effect of improved public safety.

The laws of the Motor Vehicle Code recognize differences between different modes of transit on public roadways and aim to codify the rights and duties of each user to maximize safety and use of this public space. Operating a motor vehicle is a privilege with a potential for great damage, and therefore requires specialized training and a high-degree of responsibility. By the same token, pedestrians and other vulnerable users require special legal protections in order to safely share these spaces with others. Laws that recognize these practical realities and clarify responsibilities accordingly make public roadways safer for all users.

You may be surprised to learn that the penalty for hitting a pedestrian, bicyclist or other vulnerable road user—even if you kill or seriously injure them and were ticketed for one or more driving violations—is only a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. In many cases, even when there are driving violations and a fatality, only a petty misdemeanor ticket is issued. In some cases no citation is issued at all.

To the extent that existing traffic laws are sound and improve public safety, non-compliance with these laws endangers all users. The cynical argument that drivers of motor vehicles are simply unwilling to comply with pedestrian right-of-way and therefore the code ought to be modified to account for this behavior is illogical and undermines public safety. (A similarly-flawed argument is sometimes made as a justification for increasing speed limits.) Rather than changing successful laws to bring driver behavior into compliance, law enforcement can increase enforcement and penalties for existing laws. BikeMN believes that the penalties for killing or seriously injuring a bicyclist, pedestrian or other vulnerable roadway users while committing multiple driving offenses that add up to careless or reckless driving should be more than a misdemeanor. The aforementioned maximum punishment—especially considering that this maximum sentence is rarely imposed—is insufficient disincentive to significantly influence driving behavior. Just as the enforcement strategy has proven effective in reducing DWI, holding all users of roadways accountable for their legal duties according to our traffic laws and strengthening penalties would increase compliance and thereby safety.

Finally, an essential component of any public policy is education. Even the best-conceived law will have no effect if people are not aware of its application. As noted above, motor vehicle drivers complete extensive education before being permitted to operate on public roadways. Pedestrians too have been targeted through public education campaigns including classroom education. Still, there is room for improvement with education of all road users, as evidenced by the misunderstandings by all sides in this current discussion and in the rate of non-compliance of traffic laws. The current requirement for Class D driver education that “classroom curriculum […] must include instruction on the duties of a driver when encountering a bicycle, other non-motorized vehicles, or a pedestrian” (169.21 subd. 6) does not adequately provide what this education should include. BikeMN works to provide education to motor vehicle drivers through classes and informal teaching opportunities. We are currently advocating for changes to the statute that would provide more specificity on motor vehicle education as it relates to non-motorized road users. At the same time, BikeMN provides pedestrian and cycling safety information to thousands of Minnesotans each year through a range of programs, including Safe Routes To Schools, with our Walk! Bike! Fun! curriculum. We believe strongly that educating all road users of their rights and responsibilities benefits everyone.

Everyone can agree that making the roads safer for all users is a desirable objective. By examining the data that is available regarding current policy, infrastructure and educational solutions, it is our hope that we can implement reforms that will truly improve public safety.

—CJ Lindor, BikeMN Education Specialist

News Watch: Dec. 12

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Conservation; Energy; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Sustainability; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife; 

 
Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
 
Conservation
 
Energy
 
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Sustainability
 
Transportation
Waste & Recycling
 
Water
St. Cloud Times: Letter: Event raises awareness for clean water featuring MEP member group Environment Minnesota
 
Wildlife

 

News Watch: Dec. 8

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Today’s Topics: Climate Change; Energy; Enviromental Movement; Legislature & Agency; Frac Sand Mining; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; Water; Wildlife

 
Climate Change
 
Energy
Rochester Post Bulletin: Letter: Rochester makes positive steps toward renewable energy written Anna Richey of MEP member group Conservation Minnesota
 
Environmental Movement
Duluth News Tribune: Local view: Environment, economy can fluorish together written by Howard Learner of MEP member group Environmental Law & Policy Center
 
Frac Sand Mining
 
Legislature & Agencies 
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Transportation
 
Water
 
Wildlife

MEP signs on to oppose oil transportation in the Great Lakes

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, along with 29 other organizations from across the Great Lakes region, signed on to a December 1, 2014 letter to the Great Lakes Commission raising serious concerns about a draft report on oil transportation in the Great Lakes. 

The best policy decisions develop from quality, unbiased information. So when the Great Lakes Commission decided to recommend policies about oil transportation through the Great Lakes region, their first step was to draft a report providing the background information.

That’s the good news. Any state, province or federal government considering new pipeline or new crude oil terminal will gain from a well-done report. The bad news is that the initial draft of the report was full of misleading and biased information, or in many cases important information was completely missing.

Along with many of our member organizations, MEP is concerned by recent proposals to ship crude oil on Lake Superior. Most of MEP’s contributions to that letter focused on vessel shipping.

The draft report incorrectly assumes that oil transportation and production will increase. Despite population gains, demand for refined petroleum products is down by 20% in Minnesota and down 5% across the Midwest. The report included bold statements like “The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River region is particularly dependent on petroleum products” without any documentation.

The sign-on letter, organized by the Council of Canadians, points out that spill response on both sides of the border is inadequate at this time. As the sign-on letter points out, two critical issues were completely unaddressed in the report: there were no references to indigenous communities, and not a single mention of climate change. The sign-on letter also asks that oil transport not be allowed to place environmentally sensitive areas, such as Isle Royale National Park, at risk of a spill in the Great Lakes.

It’s a good thing the Great Lakes Commission looked for comments on the draft of their report, because that first draft wasn’t very good. Hopefully their final report will be a more accurate and complete description of the issues surrounding oil transportation. MEP and the Council of Canadians are working to see that the right information is in the final report. Then good policy recommendations might actually be developed. 

Read the full letter to the Great Lakes Commission.

News Watch: Dec. 4

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Air Quality; Climate Change; Energy; Forests; Frac Sand Mining; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Outdoor Education; Wildlife

Agriculture & Food
 
Air Quality
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Forests
 
Frac Sand Mining
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
Brainerd Dispatch: Opinion: Pipeline dangers 
 
Outdoor Education
 
Wildlife

News Watch: Dec. 1

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Air Quality; Climate Change; Energy; Frac Sand Mining; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Outdoor Adventurers; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife; Loon Commons Blog

Agriculture & Food
 
Air Quality
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Frac Sand Mining
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Outdoor Adventurers
 
Transportation
 
Waste & Recycling
 
Water
 
Wildlife

News Watch: Nov. 24

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Today’s Topics: Air Quaity; Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Energy; Forests; Frac Sand Mining; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; University Research;  Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife
 

Agriculture & Food
Star Tribune: E.coli worry prompts recall of 1,200 lbs. of beef by Twin Cities company 

Climate Change
Guardian: Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions 
MPR: Minnesota not on track to meet emissions reductions 
Red Wing Republican Eagle: Step up and join Citizens Climate Lobby 
St. Cloud Times: Letter: Plan to cut carbon emissions deserves support 

Energy
Midwest Energy News: Study: Minnesota can easily reach 10 percent solar by 2030 featuring MEP member group Environment Minnesota 
TC Daily Planet: Advocates: Minnesota needs more alternative fuel 

Forests
Associated Press: Minnesota researchers race to stay ahead of mountain pine beetles (In Pioneer Press

Frac Sand Mining
MPR: State fines MN frac sand plant for air quality violations 

Mining
Duluth News Tribune: Our View: PolyMet debate to be louder in 2015 
Duluth News Tribune: Local View: Science must guide sulfide mining choices 
Mesabi Daily News: Analysis: Mining & Politics 
My Central Jersey: Couple paddles 2,000 miles from Minnesota to D.C
Star Tribune: After seven years, Essar’s giant Iron Range project finds a groove 

Oil & Pipelines
Grist: Keystone “trade” talk is still empty nonsense 
Inforum: Letter: Keystone benefits greatly overstated
Mesabi Daily News: Rep. Nolan’s vote for Keystone was for jobs 
St. Cloud Times: Letter: Pipeline vote upholds war on prosperity 
Star Tribune: Cheap-oil era tilts geopolitical power to United States 
Star Tribune: Commentary: Sandpiper pipeline is best choice for state 
Star Tribune: Letter: Here’s the truth about railroad safety 

Transportation
MPR: Capitol View Blog: Transportation talk on Dayton’s lunch menu 

University Research
Minnesota Daily: University researchers look to state for research funding 

Water
Star Tribune: Waste water system pits environmental rules vs. Amish ways 

Wildlife
CBS Local: Vikings Pour More Money Into Stadium But Not For Bird-Safe Glass featuring MEP member group Minnesota Audubon Society 
MPR: Lead poisoning mutes swans’ brassy notes