Musicians Rock the Environment

  • Cloud Cult is a rock band that combines songs about love and loss with messages about consumerism and the natural world. From left: drummer Dan Greenwood, cellist Sarah Young, and lead singer and band founder Craig Minowa. (Photo by Casey Mosher)

The rock band Cloud Cult is on a mission to turn music lovers into environmental activists. And they’re determined to do it without what they say is the usual message of environmental doom and gloom. Cloud Cult has fun. That’s more effective, according to the band – and its fans throughout the region seem to agree. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Stucky reports, Cloud Cult is taking environmental activism to new forms… from the way they package their cds, to the flyers they distribute at concerts:

Transcript

The rock band Cloud Cult is on a mission to turn music lovers into
environmental activists. And they’re determined to do it without what
they say is the usual message of environmental doom and gloom. Cloud Cult
has fun. That’s more effective, according to the band and its fans
throughout the region seem to agree. As Mary Stucky reports, Cloud Cult is taking
environmental activism to new forms, from the way they
package their cds, to the flyers they distribute at concerts.


(music of Cloud Cult – “you’re so pretty…”)


Cloud Cult sings about love and loss.


(music of Cloud Cult)


And Cloud Cult sings about over-consumption and the beauty of the natural
world. Band leader Craig Minowa is an environmentalist disguised as a rocker.


(music fades out)


“I’ve tried so many ways of getting the message across and if you’re singing , ‘I gotta go out and
recycle today everybody is just gonna,’ (laugh). Our hope is that you bring people out, they
realize this movement isn’t something that is dark that you have to feel bad about but it’s
something exciting and we can have a good time doing this.”


Minowa founded the band and runs what he calls Earthology Studios about an
hour north of St Paul, Minnesota. This is a business that replicates CDs
for other bands. Minowa says he’s doing the only environmentally-friendly
CD replicating in the country. He takes used plastic jewel cases, cleans them up and recycles
them for new CDs .


“I mean they’re polyvinyl chloride so if you don’t recycle them, if
you send them off for incineration it creates dioxin which is one of the
most toxic pollutants.”


Liner notes are made with recycled paper and non toxic ink. The shrink
wrap around the CD – that’s made from corn-based cellulose.


But it’s not how the CDs are made, it’s the music that’s important to this
crowd at a Cloud Cult gig in Duluth Minnesota. Cloud Cult just released
a new CD, “Aurora Borealis.” Their previous disc, “They Live on the
Sun,” was a hit on college radio.


(sound of music)


Even though he’s here to play music, Craig Minowa can’t let an environmental
opportunity pass by. At the back of the bar – tables with information and sign-up sheets.


“Organic Consumers Association, Great Lakes United and the Environmental Association for
Great Lakes Education.”


“I work for the organization that is putting on the Living Green Conference.


“Is it the first time you’ve been at a bar to promote your organization?”


“Yeah I think so.”


“It’s really a noble cause, I’d like to be involved and sign up. For the last couple weeks I’ve
really been excited and I looked forward to this concert.”


Minowa thinks this is the future of the environmental movement.


“The winning equation is making people feel. Make them feel through the music. Hopefully
then as they’re walking out looking at the organizations they’re more receptive to the statistics on
the table. And that’s when real action is going to take place.”


Craig Minowa donates all profits after overhead to environmental
Causes and says giving money comes naturally.


“You’re not really gonna be able to get somebody to pull 20 bucks out of their wallet and invest
that in protecting the creek down the way unless that same person is able to go over there and feel
in their heart, that is a really beautiful flower and I want to protect that because I have love, I have
compassion, I feel.”


(sound of music)


Cloud Cult tours this winter throughout the Great Lakes region.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Stucky.

Related Links

Bicyclists Peddle Bike Awareness

On the last Friday of every month, people in close to 300 cities all over the world gather together to ride their bikes. The rides are called “Critical Mass” and the goal is twofold: to raise awareness of the rights of bicyclists to be on the road and to promote bicycles as a clean form of transportation. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman rode along on a Critical Mass ride in one Midwest city:

Transcript

On the last Friday of every month, people in close to 300 cities
all over the world gather together to ride their bikes. The rides
are called “Critical Mass” and the goal is twofold: To raise
awareness of the rights of bicyclists to be on the road and to
promote bicycles as a clean form of transportation. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman rode along on a
Critical Mass ride in one Midwest city:


John Luhman says riding a bike is a healthy way to get around
town. He says using bikes can ease traffic congestion. And he
says if more people used bikes, we wouldn’t need to import as
much oil.


But he says none of those is the real reason he rides his bike.


“Well, it’s fun”


Luhman is part of a group of bikers who gather on the last Friday
afternoon of each month in downtown Rockford, Illinois.


The first order of business is to plan the route, which varies from
month to month. Luhman says the riders don’t shy away from
major streets because part of the goal is visibility.


“When people see a group of bikes they tend to pay it more
attention than a single biker. And it tends to make them think
that you know, there are people out there that ride bikes and get
around that way.”


The rides are open to anyone. The pace is leisurely, and they last
about an hour. Today’s Critical Mass has just 20 riders. That’s
far less than critical mass rides in places like Chicago, which
sometimes draw nearly a thousand people. But the Rockford
riders are pleased, since 20 is their largest group ever. Some
months, fewer than ten people show up.


Luhman says he isn’t discouraged by the low turnouts. He says
it’s going to take time to build up a ridership base in Rockford.


“Chicago wasn’t a very bike-friendly city until Critical Mass
came along in Chicago. And people started biking and started
networking with other bikers and raising the awareness of bikes.
And it developed to something.”


Once they choose their route, the riders set off together. They
mostly observe traffic regulations. Their presence seems to have
little effect on the constant stream of drivers heading home from
work.


Terry Patterson pedals west on a main thoroughfare as cars zoom
past just a few feet to his left.


“Just having a presence on the street, taking a lane with this
many people can open people’s eyes, give them the visual that
bikes are viable, that we can have sustainable energy through
human energy.”


“Looks like we’re turning right here. You’ve mentioned some of
the social and environmental aspects of this. Why is this
something you personally participate in?”


“Personally, I’ve been shot at with a paint gun, sling shots, pop
cans, beer cans, cigarette butts, ‘Get a job, get a life.’ People spit
at me; people mess with bikers in Rockford.”


(traffic sound fades out)


Many of the Critical Mass riders say cities don’t always do much
to help their concerns, and they say Rockford is no different.
They say biker’s needs aren’t always taken into account when
new roads are built. And they say existing roads don’t offer bike
lanes.


Doug Scott is the City of Rockford’s mayor. He concedes the
city hasn’t always treated bikers with respect.


“We’re fighting a lot of years of history here, where they weren’t
as highly regarded as they should have been. We’ve done well
with some paths and some other things, but just in traveling
along the streets itself, we haven’t done as well as we probably
should have.”


Mayor Scott says the city does look at the needs of bicyclists
when new roads are built. But he says it’s difficult and
expensive to retrofit existing roads.


After making a loop through Rockford’s north and west side, the
group ends up at the home of one of the riders. There, a large
pot of soup is waiting on the stove and everyone helps them self
to a bowl.


Some of the Critical Mass riders believe in bikes so much
they’ve started a free bike clinic for kids in their neighborhood.
By patching up tubes and greasing up chains, they hope to plant
a seed that will grow into the next generation of riders.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.

Related Links

Restaurants Serve Up Less Waste

When you go to your favorite restaurant, you might not realize how many carrot tops, onion peels and potato scrapings end up in the garbage. In the past, most of that has gone into landfills, but one community is trying to change that by running a pilot restaurant composting program. It hopes to serve as a model for other communities throughout the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty reports:

Transcript

When you go to your favorite restaurant, you might not realize how many carrot tops, onion peels
and potato scrapings end up in the garbage. In the past, most of that has gone into landfillS, but one
community is trying to change that by running a pilot restaurant composting program. It hopes to
serve as a model for other communities throughout the region. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Nora Flaherty reports:


Rene Graff tries to run her restaurant in the most environmentally sound way she can. But there
was one thing – she couldn’t do anything with all the peels, rinds and other vegetable waste that her
cooks generated. Her staff suggested composting, but it wasn’t practical to set up a compost pile in
back where it might attract pests. And it wasn’t practical for someone in the restaurant to take the
stuff away.


“The city didn’t have a compost program where they could pick it up, and as a business, you really
couldn’t have somebody driving the waste out to the compost center, so that was a really big
obstacle for us, was having pick-up.”


Graff started talking to people in her town, Ann Arbor, Michigan. They talked about ways to work
it out so that her restaurant, and others, could compost their food preparation waste. Then they all
found out that the Solid Waste Department had been thinking about the same thing. They all
worked together, and in the end, they put together a program where for 2 months, three local
restaurants separated all of their waste from prepping vegetables, along with coffee grounds and
filters, for the city’s yard waste trucks to pick up.


(kitchen sound – chopping)


They found it was easier than they thought it would be. Emily Adkison manages the kitchen at
Graff’s restaurant, The Arbor Brewing Company. She helped create the system that they used for
food prep composting.


“We would have several bins, one at every station, one at the prep area, one up back on the line,
one right over there by the dish area so the servers can put their used napkins in and coffee
grounds. It’s just as easy as having, instead of a garbage can, you have a 5-gallon pickle bucket
and you throw your scraps in there instead of in the garbage.”


The stuff that the workers throw in the buckets gets picked up by the city’s yard waste composting
trucks. Then, it’s taken to Ann Arbor’s Materials Reclamation Facility, or MRF.


The MRF is a huge, windswept area, with a big population of crows and big, long piles of partially-
decomposed leaves everywhere, emitting a lot of steam and a very earthy smell. Nancy Stone is
educational director for the Solid Waste Department. It’s her job to show people what happens to
their yard and now, food waste, once they’ve sent it here. The whole process takes about a year.
The end result is a high-quality compost, that the city sells to local farmers and gardeners.


“It’s rather crumbly in nature. It has a very sweet smell to it and it looks to me like beautifully
ground espresso grounds. It’s just, I like to garden myself. This is the best stuff to garden with.
This stuff is the best stuff to think of putting on that garden.”


The Ann Arbor restaurant compost pilot program ran for 2 months, and in that time, the city
collected 9 tons of stuff that would have been thrown away otherwise. For Graff, whose restaurant
alone generated one ton of food waste, this is a big argument for future programs, and against
people who say that this kind of program is too small to work:


“When I’m dealing with nay-sayers, the biggest thing they say, ‘if it’s such a small amount that
you’re talking about, is it worth the time, is it worth the effort?’ and I think what people should
know is that every little bit counts, as in I think we were shocked to discover that we diverted a ton
of waste in 2 months, and I would say yes, even the smallest little gesture can have a big impact,
especially if everybody’s doing it.”


And more restaurants will be doing it in the spring — the program is starting up again in May, this
time with 3 more partners. And the people involved in the Ann Arbor program hope that if it works
in this community, it will help lead to a change in the way that other communities, all over the
region, deal with food waste.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Nora Flaherty.

COLLEGES FAILING GREEN TEST? (Part 1)

College campuses were once thought to be hotbeds for environmental activism. Now rather than activism, many people see universities as the primary location for both research and courses on the environment, as well as projects that show how a large institution can be environmentally sensitive. But a new report is giving mixed reviews of U.S. college’s environmental efforts. In the first of a two-part series, The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl explores the issues of greening a college campus:

Transcript

College campuses were once thought to be hotbeds for environmental activism. Now rather than activism, many people see Universities as the primary location for both research and courses on the environment, as well as projects to show how a large institution can be environmentally sensitive. But a new report is giving mixed reviews of U-S college’s environmental efforts. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports.

(Ambient sound – physical plant)


This coal-fired power plant is the primary source of power at Ball State University in Munice, Indiana. Like many college campuses, Ball State relies on this less than clean source of energy to power dozens of buildings for thousands of students and faculty. But unlike many other schools, Ball State has a team of people working on ways to clean up this plant. Team members are also working on other environmental problems the school faces. John Vann is Ball State’s Green Initiatives Coordinator. That’s a new position at the school this year. He says his title has already made things easier for those in the campus community who are looking to improve the environment.


“If I were just another faculty member that said, ya know you should really program your computer to shut down the monitor, it doesn’t carry the same weight if I am dealing with a Dean or with someone else that having this position does. So that really helps to facilitate my implementation of the initiatives.”


Vann’s position is not common among colleges and universities. A new report by the National Wildlife Federation shows that less than ten percent of campuses have a position similar to his. That’s one finding in the wide-ranging survey that looked at about a thousand campuses across the country. The Federation developed a report card to assess how well schools are doing in several areas. The NWF is giving schools a C minus for Transportation issues, largely because schools tend to buy large gas guzzling cars for faculty to use on road trips, and inefficient trucks for campus work fleets. The report card also includes a B minus for landscaping efforts. The report says most campuses are still using massive amount of pesticides and fertilizers to create those flowerbeds of school colors found around campus. Few are using native plants that require less water and fewer chemicals. Kathy Cacciola is the Campus Ecology Coordinator for NWF. She says things are not completely bleak. Schools are receiving A’s in some important areas.


“Energy conservation measures and efficiency upgrades are a key area where there has been improved environmental performance, with 81 percent of colleges and universities instituting lighting efficiency upgrades and 20 percent having plans to do more. That really demonstrates that higher education institutions have taken the lead on really making advances toward a sustainable future.”


But Cacciola points out that cost savings are likely the motivating factor for those areas of improvement. With high-energy prices, a campus wide program to purchase more efficient lighting, for instance, is often more about money than about the environment. She says in other areas where the financial benefit may not be so great, campuses did not do as well.
The National Wildlife Federation hopes the study will encourage colleges to take a closer look at their environmental practices. Tom Lowe agrees. He’s a Dean and assistant Provost at Ball State. He says there is many things colleges should be doing to improve their sustainability. He says one example would be to use more of the multi-million dollar budgets of colleges to buy recycled and environmentally sensitive items.


“And if we could just direct a small portion of those purchases toward sound environmental items, we could stimulate a market in those items, plus we could enable small businesses what are starting up producing those items to make a profit.”


Lowe says colleges have a responsibility to lead the way for other large institutions such as corporations and medical facilities. He says campuses can be showcases for how to be environmentally friendly in an economically practical way. The report from the National Wildlife Federation shows some campuses are already on that track. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.

Related Links

COLLEGES FAILING GREEN TEST? (Short Version)

A new report is giving mixed reviews to the environmental efforts on college campuses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl has more:

Transcript

A new report is giving mixed reviews to the environmental efforts on college campuses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports.

The report card from the National Wildlife Federation gives A’s to schools for their work on energy efficiency and water conservation. But the schools receive B’s and C’s for poor landscaping practices and transportation issues. Tom Lowe is a Dean at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He says campuses must be models for environmental improvements, especially those that can save money in the long run.


“For a corporation, the idea that you could make money by greater environmental stewardship is sort of counter to what they traditionally think. So we have to be the model for that to demonstrate that it is possible.”


The report also shows schools are doing a good job at recycling, but a poor job in making sure they buy recycled products. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.

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COMPANY DROPS ‘SLAP-SUIT’ AGAINST ENVIROS

In recent years, environmentalists and consumer advocates have
been the target of what they’ve termed "slap suits." When the
activists
have blasted companies for alleged pollution or consumer rip-offs, the
companies have returned fire, by filing counter suits. In Ohio,
there’s
a
new development in one of the nation’s longest running environmental
battles — the owner of a hazardous waste incinerator has just
suspended a
so-called slap suit. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Cohen has
more:

Plutonium Shipment Outrages Activists

Activists in Canada and the U-S are trying to stop plutonium from
dismantled warheads from being shipped to Canadian nuclear power
plants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports… the
first shipment was recently slipped into Canada and another is coming
this spring:

Transcript

Activists in Canada and the U.S. are trying to stop plutonium from dismantled warheads

from being shipped to Canadian nuclear power plants. The Great Lakes Radio

Consortium’s Lester Graham reports the first shipment was recently slipped into Canada

and another is coming this spring:


The Canadian government plans to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled

nuclear warheads from Russia. Canada suggested it could mix the weapons-grade

plutonium with uranium and use it for fuel in its nuclear power plants.


Protestors in the U.S. and Canada vowed they’d stop the shipments. During public

hearings in Michigan, some environmentalists and politicians said they’d lie down in

the road to stop trucks. So, when the U.S. Department of Energy planned a shipment of

sample material, the DOE made the shipment classified. Nobody was told when or where

the plutonium would be shipped. This month, the secret shipment left Los Alamos and

entered Canada at Sault Sainte Marie.


Verna Lawrence is the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. She’s outraged her town was

not notified the shipment was coming.


“We’d have barricaded I-75. I had people that would go with me. How dare they do that

to us in our area with the Great Lakes Basin. It’s crazy!”


Mayor Lawrence says the federal government is shipping the plutonium against the

wishes of the people.


“See, the Canadian government and the United States government are in cahoots. They

don’t give a damn about anybody else. And let me tell you another thing: the governors

are not protecting their citizens. If I was the governor and I had the National Guard

and the State Police, they would not set foot on the state of Michigan.”


Just on the other side of the border, the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario also was

not notified.


Once in Canada, the shipment was put on a helicopter and flown to the Chalk River

Nuclear Power Plant where the fuel is being tested. Protestors say it was flown to

avoid blockades by activists and native people. The only road from Sault Ste. Marie to

the Chalk River Nuclear Plant runs through the Garden River Reservation. Cathy

Brosemer is with a coalition of environmental groups in Ontario called “Northwatch.”

She says the shipment was kept secret and the helicopter was used to avoid angry

peopole along the route.


“What we’ve been dealing with right now is the utter contempt the government holds its

citizens in. The government decided to ignore the public’s views on this issue and

literally fly over our heads.”


Canada’s nuclear industry says that’s not the case. Larry Shewchuck is a spokesperson

for Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited (AECL). AECL operates Canada’s nuclear power

plants. He says avoiding protestors was not the reason AECL used the helicopter.


“Quite frankly, AECL was just as happy to leave the shipment on the road. It was the

government of Canada that asked us to put it in the air because that’s what Canadians

were asking for. So, in the end, we did what the politicians wanted.”


Shewchuck says at public information stops this past fall, many people suggested if

the shipments were as safe as AECL and the Canadian government said they were, they

ought to fly them to the nuclear plant.


Protestors question whether a last minute switch from ground transportation to air was

a regulatory shell game to trick opponents of the plutonium shipments. Shewchuck says

the change was proper and followed the rules.


“The regulations in Canada did not have to be changed to accommodate air transport.

Air transport was made under existing Canadian regulations. Everything was done by the

book and nothing had to be changed.”


Environmental activists in the area don’t believe it. Cathy Brosemer says that flight

might have violated regulations and might be key in an effort to get an injunction.


“We believe that there have been some breaches in the way that this was handled and we

are going to try to get something to stop the test of the substance at the CANDU

reactors in Canton/Chalk River.”


The AECL plans to go ahead with tests of the plutonium mix fuel. Brosemer says the

environmentalists will also seek an injunction to stop future shipments. This spring,

Russian plutonium is scheduled to be shipped through the St. Lawrence Seaway, on

through the Great Lakes and finally to the Chalk River plant in Ontario.


The U.S. Department of Energy says there won’t be any more shipments from the States.

And official with the DOE spoke on the condition his name not be used. He says while

the United States is helping to pay for the disposal of plutonium from dismantled

Russian nuclear warheads, the U.S. has decided to use its plutonium in American

nuclear power plants.


The mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Verna Lawrence, doesn’t believe the Energy

Department. She says she and other people opposing the shipments have to be more

vigilant.


“We got to get somebody on the inside, I think. You know, that’s the only way we’re

going to – If you can’t lick ’em, trick ’em, you know. But we’ll figure out a way

because that’s just the first shipment. There’ll be many, many, many more.”


Officials in Canada and the U.S. say it’s ironic that the shipments are causing so

much controversy among some of the same people who opposed the nuclear arms race.

Canadian officials say the nuclear material as fuel is a safe and efficient way to

dispose of weapons-grade plutonium. If the mixed fuel works well in Canada’s nuclear

plants, regular shipments of plutonium from Russia’s dismantled warheads will travel

through the Great Lakes region for at least the next ten years.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Commentary – The Public’s Right to Say No

Earlier this month, the U-S completed a controversial shipment of
weapons grade plutonium to Canada. Despite considerable protest
before the event, the material was shipped without any public
knowledge.
As Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston points
out, this sets a dangerous precedent:

Transcript

Earlier this month, the U.S. completed a controversial shipment of weapons-grade

plutonium to Canada. Despite considerable protest before the event, the material was

shipped without public knowledge. This sets a dangerous precedent, as Great Lakes

Radio Consortium’s commentator Suzanne Elston points out:


Proponents of the plan think it’s a good idea. Take plutonium from dismantled nuclear

weapons, mix it with uranium and use it for fuel in nuclear reactors. The process

doesn’t destroy the plutonium, but what it does do is make it very difficult to use.

Supporters hope that this will prevent the plutonium from falling into the wrong

hands.


The plan had been in the works for several years. The problem was getting the stuff

from Los Alamos, New Mexico to an experimental nuclear facility in Chalk River,

Ontario. As soon as the public got wind of the trucking routes there were howls of

protest, particularly from a group of activists in Michigan. They were concerned about

the risks of an accident when the plutonium was shipped through their community. They

were desperately trying to get a court injunction to stop the plutonium from being

shipped when it was discovered that the stuff had already been sent.


There was no public input, no warning – nothing. Even the mayors of Sault Ste. Marie,

the towns where the plutonium crossed the border into Canada weren’t notified until

after the event. And because the whole thing went off without any problems, officials

were rather pleased with themselves. They duped the public, nobody got hurt – mission

accomplished.


I find this really scary. Whether the shipment was safe or not isn’t the issue here.

Not only does the public have a right to know what was going on, they also have the

right to stop it, if that’s the will of the people. But that right was taken away by

the boys at the Department of Energy and Atomic Energy Canada who seemed to think they

know better somehow.


Well guess what? That’s not what the democratic process is all about. Public input –

regardless of how inconvenient – has got to be considered. Just because a plan is

proposed, doesn’t mean that it should go ahead. Debate is the cornerstone of

democratic process. One of the possible outcomes of that debate is that the public

will exercise its right to say no.


But that wasn’t allowed to happen here. We the people are supposed to decide. That’s

called democracy.


Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living in Courtice, Ontario. She comes to us

by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

Is Race Behind Effort to Block Development?

The battle of the Humbug Marsh is being fought just south of Detroit.
Developers have said they want to build upscale homes near the last stretch
of undeveloped wetland on the U-S side of the Detroit River.
Environmentalists are lobbying to defeat the deal. But developers say race
is the real reason for opposition to the project. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has more: