A hybrid hardware/seed depot, nature lover’s bookstore and odds-and-ends informational clearinghouse, the Berkeley-based Ecology Center (San Pablo Avenue) beckons locals to come and learn about their residential curbside recycling program, farmers’ markets, and educational and policy-related activities.
Their latest initiative, the Climate Change Action Project, an environmental education program for community members, businesses, government and nonprofits, sets up action-oriented support groups to motivate people towards greater resource conservation and environmental stewardship.
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Link to contact and signup information for the Climate Change Action Groups and the Ecology Center: http://community.livejournal.com/chaos_zine/6334.html
Over the course of one month, a group of about 10 people meet together four times, guided by the Low Carbon Diet workbook and a trained facilitator, to discuss ways to more responsibly manage resources such as water and energy in their personal lives, their organizational culture, and their community – and do their best to have fun with it!
The Ecology Center’s Climate Action Coordinator, Debra Berliner, has tested the curriculum with civic government offices in preparation for reaching out elsewhere, and helped bring about very promising results.
“The groups offer cheerleading and practical advice,” Berliner said. “And there’s a real intention, at places like the Berkeley Mayor’s office, to continue with the program beyond the four sessions we facilitated.”
People in Berkeley and Oakland may request a facilitator from the Ecology Center, and anyone from anywhere may come in and receive training to lead their own Climate Change Action Group.
“We begin by developing goals towards making tangible, measurable changes in our personal lives and communities, but we also incorporate vision, asking ourselves what we would like the world to look like when we’re done.” Berliner said.
Providing support and resources to visionaries – and pragmatists – has played a central role in the Ecology Center’s vision since the place opened in the late sixties. “Back in the seventies, folks had a vision that every community would have its own ecology center, there as a resource for the locals,” Beck Cowles, the Ecology Center’s Information Services Program Manager, said. “And we do get contacted by people from all over everywhere, from Montana to the Bronx, asking how they can set up their own place.”
The Center prides itself on its responsiveness to the locals, and to human as well as ecological concerns. Whenever possible, bookstore and gift shop offerings are fair-trade produced and relatively inexpensive.
“This is not a boutique, “affirmed Store Assistant, Russell Harvey. “It’s a place where, if you can be inspired by inspiration, by others’ passion for a cause, it will happen here.”
Generations of families get involved with the Ecology Center, and the organization’s approach has traced the evolution of the environmental movement over the decades.
“In the beginning there was the Sierra Club, which started by getting people to go out and hike. Then people became philosophical and political, in the sixties and seventies…and now that people are catching on and living out these values, everything’s more pragmatic. We’re actually scaling down our philosophical book sections so we can have more room for ones which answer people’s day to day questions about how to raise chickens, how to recycle, how to find nontoxic cleaners,” said Harvey.
A diversified revenue stream, including income from service-based contracts with the city, such as the curbside recycling program, has sustained the Ecology Center throughout four decades of economic ups and downs.
Berliner and Cowles agreed regarding the importance of financial foresight to any nonprofit, and also advised other volunteer organizations to learn the culture of the neighborhood: what people do, where they go, what they can afford.
The Ecology Center has responded to Berkeley’s culturally diverse, socially active culture through an integrated, justice-based approach, illustrating the inter-relationships among various issues: access to healthy food for lower-income people, local quality of life issues, and climate change/ecological concerns. The Berkeley farmers’ markets accept electronic benefit transfers (for low income people receiving government assistance) and solicits product suggestions from people of all income levels.
In industrial working-class areas of West Berkeley, the Ecology Center’s staff have worked with local neighborhood groups to urge manufacturing firms to produce fewer toxic emissions. Air pollution, among other environmental concerns, impacts areas larger than a single city, and the Ecology Center works in coalition with groups in Richmond and other affected communities to encourage people to engage and conceptualize issues in terms of natural regions.
Regionally and locally, the folks at the Ecology Center and the communities they serve have enjoyed the privilege of watching tangible progress on many of their targeted issues and concerns.
“This city has definitely changed over the years,” said Harvey. “And as people live in Berkeley, even if they weren’t environmentally aware to begin with, they start adopting things. Buying organic, working in a community garden, visiting the local farmers’ market.”
Certainly the Ecology Center and its staff and volunteers have played a part in growing and fertilizing these Berkeley cultural changes, and they hope for more people from around the world to reach out to them to learn about the Climate Change Action Groups and other initiatives. To join a Climate Change Action Group at the Ecology Center, get trained to lead your own group, or have an Ecology Center staff member facilitate a group in your workplace or community at no cost, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Berkeley’s Ecology Center welcomes visitors and happily answers all ecology-related questions. Located at 2350 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, they are accessible via BART/AC Transit #9 and reachable by phone at 510-548-2220 and online at http://www.ecologycenter.org