It is Your Community, Go to a Public Meeting

If not you, who?

Public meetings are for the public that means you and me. At a public meeting, you can learn about issues that matter to you and voice your opinion.

When you read the words “public meeting” in the title of this post, what was your first reaction? Was it something along the lines of “After attending meetings all day at work, the last thing I want to do on my own time is to attend another meeting?” Maybe you thought, “I do not have time to go to a public meeting because “I need to get dinner on the table.” or “I need to help my kids with their homework.” or “I need to finish a project for my boss.”

Maybe you worried about finding a babysitter or a way to get to the meeting, work or school scheduling conflicts, feeling uncomfortable speaking in public, or you just hate meetings.

These are all valid reasons for not attending public meetings. However, chances are there will be a meeting sometime, somewhere, about a topic that matters to you that can go to, if you chose to.

I posit that the hardest barrier to overcome might be apathy; the belief that someone else will do it or that your voice does not matter. You will never know unless you show up. You do not need to commit to attending every water district board, county supervisor, or planning commission meeting for the whole year, just make a commitment to yourself to attend one meeting.

Your experience at the public meeting you choose to attend may surprise you, in a good way.

To illustrate the above point, in this post I will describe my encounter with the U.S. federal government at a public meeting about potential wind farms off the California Central Coast where I live.

California Offshore Wind Planning Informational Forum

When I saw a public meeting notice in the San Luis Obispo Tribune that there would be a forum about offshore wind farms on December 13, 2018, I was eager to attend because I have a strong interest in renewable energy, especially wind and solar. This would be my first federal government public meeting. My spouse agreed to go with me.

Entrance to Monday Club Building in San Luis Obispo, CA
Entrance to the historic Monday Club in San Luis Obispo, CA. Click the photo to visit the Monday Club website.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was hosting the meeting at the historic Monday Club building in San Luis Obispo, CA. The BOEM is the division of the U.S. Department of the Interior that is responsible for overseeing offshore energy development including oil, gas, and wind and doing it in an environmentally and economically responsible way.

At the time of the meeting, Ryan Zinke was the Secretary of the Interior (he would resign just days later) and his mission seemed to be destroying public lands, waters, and the oceans for the benefit of the fossil fuel and mining industries. I wondered what possible good the BOEM could be up to with a boss like Zinke.

Information Stations

We arrived at the Monday Club and joined a slow-moving line of people filing into the building.

I noticed a woman wearing a name badge standing on the lawn greeting people in line. When we reached her, I asked her if she was with the BOEM. She answered affirmatively but seemed a little wary as if she was expecting me to say something anti-BOEM. I told her I support offshore wind energy and that I was happy to meet a woman scientist. She smiled and said, “You will meet more women scientists inside” (we did).

Once we made it through the double doors, I realized why the line was so slow. Each person was required to sign a meeting register in the vestibule before entering the main meeting room.

It was loud and hot inside. On the left, a large projection screen was hanging down with a small number of chairs set up in rows in front of it. To the right, people standing behind folding tables were talking with members of the public while gesturing at display boards and maps and handing out printed materials.

BOEM Wind Forum Public Meeting Hand Outs

After receiving of a map of the information stations at the welcome table, we talked with a woman about the BOEM leasing process and picked up a copy of A Citizen’s Guide to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Renewable Energy Authorization Process.

Next, we discussed BOEM environmental studies with another woman and received a list of BOEM studies related to offshore wind farms.

There was a pause in the action when the woman we met outside came inside and introduced herself as Jean Thurston. She gave us a 15-minute slide presentation explaining that if approved, wind turbines would not appear off our coastline for eight or nine years.

BOEM Offshore Renewable Energy Leasing Process Slide
Slide from BOEM presentation showing that we are at the beginning of the process.

Jean pointed out the room next door that was set up for people to make public comments online or on paper. She reinforced that this meeting was to inform the public and gather public input.

After the presentation, we decided to go outside to cool off.

We Meet a Reporter

Outside the cold air felt wonderful. We spotted a young woman and said hello. She said her name was Kaytlyn Leslie and that she was a reporter for the SLO Tribune. I asked her if she had written the article I had seen in the paper. She acknowledged that she had and I thanked her.

Kaytlyn asked us if we would like to be interviewed. Without thinking about how shy and introverted I am, I immediately grabbed the opportunity and said yes. She asked us some questions and recorded our answers on her smartphone.

You cannot imagine my amazement when two days later I spotted a piece in the Tribune by Kaytlyn in which she had quoted me. I had previously submitted two letters to the editor on the topic; neither was printed, so I felt somehow redeemed.

Back at the Meeting

Cooled off we went back inside and listened to an animated man from the Department of Defense talk about Navy weapons testing as he showed us a map of the wind farm areas.

The California Energy Commission representative seemed more interested in chatting with his colleague than us so we checked out the Data Basin program at the next table. This is a tool for citizen scientists and other interested parties to map things like fishing areas or migratory bird paths.

BOEM Central Coast - Morro Bay and Diablo Canyon Call Areas Slide
Slide from BOEM presentation showing the two potential areas for wind farms off the California Central Coast also known as call areas.

That was the end of the information stations. We decided to forgo the public comment room and make our comments online at home so we put our coats back on and left the building.

A Surprising Thing Occurred at the Meeting

This may sound ridiculous but the most important thing I discovered at the public meeting is that federal government agency employees are people, too. Each person that we spoke with seemed generally interested in sharing information, engaging in conversation, and answering questions.

I came away with a new perspective. Many, if not most, federal government agency employees are probably good at their jobs and care about what they do. Who knows, maybe the people at the BOEM breathed a sigh of relief when Zinke resigned.

If we had not gone to the public meeting, I would still have learned about the wind farm projects from other sources, but I would have missed the opportunity to meet and talk with the actual people responsible for managing offshore wind energy development in the ocean waters off the coast of my town.

Pick Your Own Public Meeting

Now, it is your turn to give public meetings a whirl. Find a public meeting about an issue or cause that matters to you and then go to the meeting.

For example, attend a school board meeting to support integrating Meatless Mondays into the lunch program and your child’s school. At a city council meeting, advocate for more electric vehicle charging stations in municipal parking garages. Go to a town hall meeting to voice your concern about oil and gas exploration endangering your region’s drinking water supply and ask your elected official what she or he is doing to protect your water.

Give yourself extra credit if you attend a public meeting and take an additional action like speaking during the public comment period, signing up for email notifications, talking with other people attending the meeting, filling out a survey, or putting the next meeting on your calendar.

Earlier in this post, I admitted that I had never been to a public meeting put on by the federal government (at least that I remember). Just like you, I have my own reasons for not having done it sooner. I overcame my inertia and you can, too.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

Featured Image at Top: Crowd of community members – photo credit iStock/makyzz

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Minimalism – Living More Lightly on the Planet

What would a minimalist do?

Minimalism appeals to me because owning less stuff helps me live more lightly on Earth. I guess you could say I am a minimalist environmentalist.

Stuff is an umbrella term for everything we wear, use, and enjoy in our daily lives like clothes, kitchenware, jewelry, electronic devices, artwork, toys, furniture, books, appliances, gardening tools, and cars. Making all this stuff, transporting it (often by airplane), and then getting rid of it takes a heavy toll on our planet.

You, I, and everyone else can help keep Earth habitable by living happily with fewer belongings.

My minimalism journey began during the height of the Christmas season in 2016 and I convinced my spouse to join me. Over the past two years, we have cleared our home and much of our garage of unnecessary things. This is no small feat as my spouse is an I-might-need-that-someday kind of person and I am not.

During this time, I have ruthlessly divested myself of my own belongings that I no longer need, use, or want including clothes and gifts. I do not miss any of the things I no longer own. I am happily living with fewer belongings.

A few weeks ago, when I hung up my 2019 calendar on the tack board next to my desk, I realized that I was in the third year of what I intend to be a lifelong minimalism journey. January seemed like a good time to review my 2018 efforts and decide if I need to do anything differently this year.

I have made progress but I clearly underestimated the gravitational force of our consumerist society. Divesting yourself of excess stuff is just one part of the minimalist journey. Keeping additional stuff from creeping back into your minimalist home is a lifelong pursuit.

The good news is it gets easier after the first year.

Plugging the Stuff Acquisition Pipeline

During my pre-minimalism days, I was a discerning shopper (some would say picky).

A blue and purple reusable water bottle
The blue reusable water bottle is the one I bought that day.

An image comes to mind that illustrates this point perfectly.

Several years ago, I was standing in front of a wall of reusable water bottles at an REI store with my then 8th-grade niece (now a college freshman) and my sister. They were thinking that I would select a bottle and we would be on our way, and we were, twenty minutes later, after I had evaluated all the bottles and chosen one (which I still own).

Even though I was a discerning shopper, I sensed that in order to transform my relationship with possessions I would need to understand and change my shopping and buying habits.

At the beginning of 2017, using a simple spreadsheet, I embarked on a yearlong effort to track what I bought for myself, for my family, and why I bought it.

My danger areas turned out to be buying things for insurance (just in case) and shopping on vacation. In Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy, I recounted my experience and provided assessment alternatives for spreadsheet averse readers.

For 2018 I committed myself to squeeze the acquisition pipeline tighter and succeeded in reducing the amount of stuff I bought for myself (down by 64%) and for my family (down by 40%). I did not buy one item for insurance.

During my Omaha, Nebraska trip in September 2018, I bought a refrigerator magnet shaped like Nebraska, a cross-stitch pattern with a John Muir saying on it, 3 books (2 used), and a laminated Nebraska native plant guide (that I did not need). This was a substantial improvement over 2017.

However, it was not all smooth sailing.

Impulse Buys

One day when I was shopping with my mother for some much needed short sleeved t-shirts, I bought myself a pair of earrings and a necklace (with a tree) on impulse.

I heard an announcement on the store loudspeaker that there was a 70% off sale going on in Fine Jewelry and convinced my mother to go over and “just look.” I confess I had already bought a pair of gold earrings at another store.

Purposeful Extra Shopping

Another time, I bought something I did not need on purpose. A grassroots group was attempting to pass an initiative called Measure G that would have banned future expansion of oil and gas exploration in our county. Oil companies were spending millions of dollars on ads, social media, and road signs trying to defeat the measure and the Measure G campaign was relying on donations.

View from the Summit by Karen Fedderson Print and Frame
I photographed the framed print lying on my wood floor to reduce glare.

A post appeared in my social media feed saying that several local artists had donated artwork to raise funds for Measure G. I talked my spouse into going to see what they had and fell in love with a print called View from the Summit by Karen Fedderson.

I bought it, had it framed, and it is now gracing a wall in our kitchen. Measure G received a lot of votes but not quite enough to pass (this time).

Desperation Purchases

Last year, I needed a new pair of boots for working in our wild yard and weed whacking the 4-foot tall grass before the fire season. My feet are narrow so finding any kind of shoes that fit is always a challenge.

My spouse accompanied me on several shopping forays with no luck. One day we found a store with a large selection of boots so I did what any discerning shopper would do and tried on every pair in my size. None of them seemed quite right, but I was desperate so I bought the best (least worst) pair.

The next day I put on my new boots and within minutes of walking around the hilly and uneven terrain in our yard, I knew they did not have adequate ankle support for me. I donated the new boots and I hope they found a good home with someone who has a flat yard.

I did eventually find a suitable pair of replacement boots.

Out of the three examples above the only purchase that I regret is buying the desperation boots. I enjoy wearing the impulse buy jewelry and the print makes me smile every time I walk in the kitchen.

Repairing and Holding on to Things

Another positive aspect of minimalism for my spouse and I is that it encourages us to try to repair things instead of replacing them.

My spouse excels at doing simple and complex repairs. For instance, the utensil cup holder that broke off our dish drainer in now wired on and works fine and so does my weed whacker now that it has a new motor. My spouse printed a replacement handle for our 9-year-old vacuum with the 3D printer in our garage prototype shop.

Striving to be a minimalist reinforces my tendency to hold onto things, especially electronic devices, instead of upgrading to newer models.

iPhone 4 Phone and Purple Bird CaseTake a smartphone for instance. Making one is not a benign environmental process and the rare earth materials used to make it are, well, rare. My 7-year-old smartphone is an iPhone model 4 but it still works so when the case cracked last year I bought a replacement because I intend to keep this phone indefinitely.

I hope the examples in this post adequately illustrate that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to minimalism.

Every time someone chooses to become a minimalist living happily with less stuff, Earth smiles.

“One day or day one. You decide.” —Joshua Fields Millburn

Featured Image at Top: Earth shaped like a heart – photo credit iStock/pearleye

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