Civic Footprint

New Orleans  Here’s an interesting idea worth some thought:  creating and measuring a civic footprint.

I had an interesting meeting on Saturday (www.mylifecity.com) about the “green footprint” of the coffeehouse, which involves everything from measuring carbon usage, utility utilization, composting, and whatnot.  On Sunday at an all-baristas meeting at Fair Grinds , I listened to one worker raise a question about corn-based cups that we used to use, and three other workers push back about the carbon footprint involved in bringing the cups in from California followed by a highly sophisticated set of points that they then made about the condition of New Orleans landfills and our inability to handle the methane problem these cups and similar issues created.  I’m not sure I completely followed all of the points, but they were quickly made and deeply felt, and spoke to the high level of appreciation and concern that younger people have gained for the environment.  I found myself both proud of them and, frankly, depressed.

What can we do to inculcate the same deep understanding and involvement with the civic life, that is at the heart of any hope for democracy, that now has become commonplace in terms of the environment?

I found a hint of it in the beginning effort of a group to help individuals measure a personal civic footprint.  I hate to even mention that I found the group in Canada.  Every time I write about something involving Canada, an issue, campaign, or idea, it seems half of the people reading run for the hills, but, nonetheless, that’s where I found it, so truth be told.  Unfortunately, the group, Framework, which seems lavishly well funded is just beginning to sketch this out, and unfortunately (for me) sees this as an individually based barometer, where, if anything, our desperate need is to connect the individual with the collective in the conversation about civic participation and footprint.

In these days when technical skills seem to be everywhere, I can’t believe it would be hard to develop tools and comparisons that create a benchmark for a civic footprint.  We could start the list easily.  For a business and its employees it would include:  number registered to vote, number who actually vote, number who participate in campaigns, number who donate to campaigns, number who read the paper or follow civic events, number who volunteer in the community and how they volunteer, number who sign petitions, number who have ever been a part of a protest, etc, and the same for the business, and so on and so on.

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Simeto Incinerator

P1010041Catania After an engaging number of hours with a collection of officials from neighboring towns, activists, students, professors, and others discussing the principles of community organization and the “burning issues” they brought to the workshop, I caught a lift with Paolo Guarnaccia one of the driving forces behind ViveSimeto to use the wireless at his farmhouse not too far away.  Joining us was the head of the Zero Waste Movement for Italy who lived not far from Florence.  The real point of the journey turned out to be showing me where their fight to save the river and its communities was really joined in a long campaign opposing incinerator construction.

First we saw the “old school” way in which one of the small river towns was simply piping waste into the Simeto, seemingly without a care in the world or any concern for their own health and well being.  Another couple of kilometers away in a non-descript acreage between two low-lying hills no signs marked the proposed site of a landfill that would hold ash from incinerator operations.  Moving along a rougher road another few kilometers brought us to what looked like an abandoned industrial site, which was part of the incinerator operation itself.

Paulo help me piece together the Italian words on the sign.  The project was started and expected to be in full operation by 2006, but here we were in 2009 looking at the skeleton of an operation.  In this long running campaign the incinerator had rushed into operation but then had been stopped by the opposition because the private developer had failed to bother to get the necessary permits to allow the operation.

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