WWOCN's 25th Anniversary
Environmental concerns focus of conference
Part 1 of 2
resource conservation as necessary goals for mankind’s  survival. Efforts such as the above are in direct response to what we now experience. Our natural
resources are fast depleting. The quality of the air we breathe suffocates people gradually but surely. Population growth and industrial development have
changed nature big time. The threat of decay seems not far behind. What can we, as individuals and as a community do, to help preserve our environment and
conserve our resources? This question was tackled by the special guests of the Wisconsin Women of Color Network on Sept. 27: Annette Miller, Community
Services Manager, MGE; and Monette McGuire, Purchaser, City of Madison.  
     
An emotional welcome
     WWOCN President Rachelle Ashley is Native American, and with a topic very close to her heart, she didn’t hide her sadness as she spoke. “To indigenous
people around the world, we have the wish (to protect) our land, and if you live on your land, you have to find a way to recycle it and to stay,” Ashley began.
“You know,  we always hear people talking about ‘wandering tribes. ‘ Well, we weren’t wandering; we were  making sure that we were not dirtying the environment
that we live in. We were making sure that there was a chance for the land to recover, for the animals to recover, for the things that we ate to recover.” Madison
—  just like all other places in the U.S. — used to be the home of Indian peoples, and traditional remnants are still visible to this day. “You need to remember  
that there was something very special that went on in the spring, in the summer, in the fall around this ‘isthmus,’ as they call it now.,” Ashley said.  “Some of the
ways we know that now is because of all the mounds that are here, the celebrations and the living that used to go on around here, in those months.” Almost in
tears, the WWOCN president said that sometimes we forget about that. “I’d like to think that on certain days, I could look out and see what it used to be. You can
see the villages. You can see the women working. You can see the water. I remember, when people up north come down here, they were always very excited to
see the lakes because there are lots of stories in the north about the lakes — about Monona, Mendota, and Waubesa. “  She added that Waubesa, in the
Algonquin languages, means “swan,” so Waubesa Lake means “Swan Lake.” However, nowadays, Native Americans who come to Madison are saddened by the
dirt and pollution of the lakes. “So let’s keep some of that in mind today,” Ashley concluded. “Let’s keep in mind what this place was, what this place is, and what
it can be.”  
     
Annette Miller (Keynote)  
     At the outset, Annette Miller admitted that she is not an environmental expert, but because of her work for Madison Gas & Electric, she now helps provide
guidance and understanding about how to save energy and what alternatives are available to help protect the environment. “The best thing that we can do is be
informed and be aware, and then you can make choices for yourself about how you want to embrace being green,” Miller said. “But as women of color who
come from many cultures, we already know intuitively what it means to be aware of the environment and think about how we can protect it. It’s not that we don’t
understand it; it’s not that we didn’t learn about it when we were young, from our grandparents and our moms and dads. But with time, things have changed,
especially in technology. We’re now in the 21st century, that’s the difference. Lots of things are in place now that are quite interesting and fun that give a
different sense on how you make an impact on the environment. “
     Miller defined “being green” as “supporting environmentalism” and quoted Webster’s definition of environmentalism as “advocacy for work toward protecting
the natural environment from destruction or pollution.” She likewise used the term “sustainability,” defining it as “the use of an item that is going to be depleted
but can be sustained naturally.” Admittedly “being green” is a huge, complex topic. Miller broke it down in ways that her audience understood. She gave
examples of practices that she and her family try to accomplish in order to help reduce energy consumption and save some money, too. Citing Rachelle Ashley’
s background, Miller said that cultures also influence people’s views on the environment, and challenged her audience to assess their own practices that impact
the environment. “You have to think about what being green means to you as an individual. And what you can do as you live, work and play in your home, in
your neighborhood, in your community, in the city, in the state, (and) as a country.” Miller encouraged the audience to think about resources they use regularly,
consciously or unconsciously, and their environmental impact.
Areas to consider:
Transportation- Can you drive less? Can you go car free? Can you walk? Can you sell that second car? Can you ride the bus? Because we’re using fuel that is in
limited supply, we have to talk about depletion and sustainability.  
Recycling – We generate about 2 ½ pounds of residential trash per day, and we use about a thousand plastic bags per year. It is said that it can take up to a
thousand years for plastic bags to decompose.  
Water – On average, Madison residents use about 82 gallons of water per person per day. How can we reduce that impact in this area? Perhaps we take a shower
versus a bath, and make it a quick one, five minutes or less; use low-flow shower heads or faucets in our bathrooms and our sinks. Maybe we can use rain barrels
to capture the water and then use that to help us garden and grow our food.  
Food – Food is the third largest waste category in our state, and 16 percent  of food is in our landfill. Miller suggests making  a compost in our backyard for our
own gardens and other  community gardens. Or join a CSA — community supported agriculture. How about growing some of your own food such as vegetables
and spices?
Energy – The average U.S. home size is 2,349 sq. ft., compared to the U.K. average home size of 815 sq. ft. The British have taken on a minimalist perspective.  
What does mean if you have a house that size? On average, a U.S. household could use 11,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, compared to U.K’s 4,607
kilowatt-hours annually. Miller then talked about her own household and what they do to reduce energy consumption. “In terms of the heat, we keep it low, and
low being 67 degrees (Fahrenheit). So during the winter, we have it at 67, and when we’re not at home, we keep it turned down at 55.  “Ours is a household of
five, two adults and three kids,” she said, describing her home’s size as 1100 sq. ft.  with three bedrooms. “We live in a small, modest house; we have our girls
double up in one bedroom, and our son is in his own bedroom … and we live a lot in our living room. There’s some nice opportunities that come from something
like that, if you think about it in terms of a household. It creates intimacy; it creates relationship; it creates your children and your spouse feeling connected
because when you’re at home, you’re spending your time together in a small space. So when we talk about what’s happening today in terms of our children and
our families sort of being stressed thin and not being connected, I’d say that’s the exact opposite in our household.” Miller’s household uses CFLs (compact
fluorescent lights) instead of regular incandescent bulbs. CFLs, while more expensive than the latter, use less heat and emit more light. Room lights are always
turned off when  no one needs them. During the day, Miller opens her drapes to let natural light in. She has also learned not to turn on bathroom lights, since
natural light comes in through a bathroom window. Water – The Millers installed low-flow faucets and shower heads, and use cold water as much as possible.  
Car usage – The Miller family has two cars: a van and a small car. Miller uses the smaller, gas-efficient car because her work requires her to go to places to
educate people on energy use.  Food consumption – “We bring our lunch, so we don’t buy lunch,” Miller said. “That’s been actually pretty fun because it makes
me think about when I was a kid growing up, so it’s one those small values.”  The city of Madison has made trash bins for recyclables available, and Miller is very
happy about that because families can recycle stuff. Miller also shared her experience with  swapping clothes, toys and books, which gives longevity to items
that otherwise would have gone to the landfill.
MG&E and energy consumption
     Moving to the bigger picture, Miller focused on energy consumption, quizzing her audience about the top energy users at home. “Furnace is first, water
heater second, and refrigerator is third,” Miller said, stressing the need to know first off which are the top energy users in one’s household to be able to take steps
to reduce their impact on the environment and at the same time save dollars. “So you got to know what the energy users are in your home, and more
importantly, you got to know how much energy you’re using in your home. Do you know that? How much energy are you using per month? When I say energy, I’m
talking about electricity and natural gas. Natural gas typically provides heat, and electricity, I think that’s pretty straightforward. How much are you using and how
does your use compare to the average use of electricity and natural gas. Because if you don’t know that, how are you going to make an improvement? “On
average, our MG&E customers use about 600 kilowatt-hours per month. Kilowatt-hour is electricity, and a single family household uses about 725 kilowatt-hours
per month. The question you have to ask yourself is, how do you compare? As an example, our household — and I am pleasantly surprised to learn this: for a
family of five, with our 1100-sq. ft. home, we actually use somewhere between 400-500 kw-hr. per month! I was quite proud of myself, because I thought it would
be much higher. The highest we’ve ever used was 513 kw-hrs. I talked to my coworkers who have worked at MGE for more than 20 years so they are pretty
knowledgeable about this whole notion of energy and usage, and they were really impressed. I got a little pat on my back.” Miller suggested that we look at our
MGE account and see how much we use and the trend of our energy usage. Monitoring it is the first step toward improving our behaviors to lessen energy
consumption and also save money that can go to other uses at home.

Next issue will focus on energy-saving tips and the presentation of Monette Mcguire on City of Madison’s efforts at going green.
By Heidi M. Pascual
    
“You look at that river gently flowing by. You notice the leaves rustling with the wind. You hear
the birds; you hear the tree frogs. In the distance you hear a cow. You feel the grass. The mud
gives a little bit on the river bank. It’s quiet; it’s peaceful. And all of a sudden it’s a gear shift
inside you. And it’s like taking a deep breath and going … ‘Oh yeah, I forgot about this.’
” — Al
Gore in the opening monologue of “An Inconvenient Truth”

     “What it means to be Green”  “An Inconvenient Truth” is a documentary about the severity
of the climate crisis presented by former Vice President Al Gore. The film educates people
about global warming and its grim consequences if we don’t do anything about it. Gore’s
advocacy for the protection of the environment is one of the many efforts taking place
worldwide since the early ‘70s. We have heard the term “Sustainable Development,” coined by
the Brundtland Commission (World Commission on Environment and Development-UN), to
describe the policy of using resources to meet the needs of the present while preserving the
environment for future generations. We have heard the term “Green Development,” on land-use
planning that considers environmental implications. Being “Green” has achieved a globally
accepted new meaning, an ideology of sorts, that names environmental protection and
WWOCN President Rachelle
Ashley
Keynote speaker MGE's
Annette Miller