GOP Congressman Changes Stance on Climate Change

Exciting news! Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) has announced that his stance on climate change has changed. Previously a self-described climate change skeptic, the Congressman announced he’s reversed his position after examining the mounting evidence. Here’s a bit of Rep. Grimm’s interview from the documentary Years of Living Dangerously:

Rep. Grimm represents Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, some of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. (I was just there.) One of the first actions my group took after I joined Citizens Climate Lobby last June was to write Rep. Grimm a letter, asking him to consider a market-based solution to mitigate climate change. Hopefully they contributed to his change of heart. Personally I’m going to believe that my letter was what ultimately convinced him to switch, though recognition of the limitations of my influence coupled with the illegibility of my penmanship make that fairly unlikely.

Rep. Grimm attributes his change to former Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), who coincidentally I just had a change to hear speak this morning at a conference at the New School, “Climate Change Demands We Change. Why Aren’t We?”

Exciting times!

Earth Day 2014, Dune Grass, and Wasting Batteries

I never have my act together enough to do some volunteering for the planet on Earth Day itself, but a few weeks back I headed out to Crescent Beach Park on Staten Island to help sure up the dunes by planting beachgrass as part of a program put on by NYC parks.

Since Hurricane Sandy hit, the Army Corps of Engineers had created a new dune along the beach. With dozens of other volunteers, we planted beachgrass, Ammophila breviligulata, to stabilize the new dunes and hopefully help to protect the island from future storm surges.

The seeds had been collected from Staten Island and cultivated at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center (now high on my list of future NYC field trips.)

Finally, here’s a contender for worst Earth Day promotion. Make Magazine, normally quite awesome, sent out a email advertising “eco-positive products.” Unfortunately, the first one shows how you can use AA batteries to charge a cell phone.

Eh, maybe using disposable batteries to charge a phone isn’t the best use of resources. Though hacking it to work off of a solar panel would be fun and a bit more in line with the spirit of Earth Day!

Reverse Engineering Congressional Contact Forms

I found out yesterday that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (previously) was working on a project to make messaging Members of Congress a whole lot easier:

As of now the only way to send electronic messages to members of Congress is by either using an expensive proprietary third party vendor or directly visiting each legislator’s contact form. Those contact forms are cumbersome and difficult to use. In order to be able to create simpler tools for contacting legislators, we’ve created an open data format that describes their contact forms.

This dataset will be a foundation that’ll allow open government and advocacy organizations to create tools to allow users to email Congress.

That’s from the project’s info page, which today shows that 16 hours after the call for volunteer help, the work for most Members of Congress is done! (Check out their GitHub page if you care to see the nuts and bolts.)

I’m a bit bummed I missed out on most of the fun, but that’s overshadowed by how excited I am that this tool is being created. As a member of the New York chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, I’ve contacted a bunch of Congressional offices, often to request face-to-face meetings to sit down and discuss a carbon fee-and-dividend plan to help slow climate change. This will save me and other folks that want to talk directly to their representatives plenty of time (and save me from quadruple checking the spelling of schedulers’ last names.) We’re currently gearing up for our annual international meeting in D.C., in which we hope to meet with every Member of Congress. In future years, this tool and those that are built on its foundation will certainly play a role in our efforts.

CC BY-NC-ND photo of the Capitol Building by Flickr user Daniel McCullum.