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15 Things You Can Do To Protect Milwaukee's Environment

Celebrate Earth Day every day by getting involved

Apr. 8, 2014
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Earth Day 2014 arrives on the heels of a very grim United Nations report that found climate change is affecting all continents and oceans, causing noticeable disruptions in our food and water supplies, and disproportionately impacting our planet’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.

The problems may seem overwhelming and here to stay. But we can change the dire predictions about climate change if we all commit to becoming part of the solution.

Here are 15 tips from local environmental experts on how you can protect our natural resources and directly reduce the negative impacts of climate change in Milwaukee and beyond.


1. Grow Your Own Veggies: “Have a kitchen garden as close as possible to your kitchen all season long, for those beautiful summer salad options. Grow lettuce, greens, kale, spinach, green onions, carrots, cabbage, cukes, basil, green beans, sweet peas, tomatoes—and any of your other favorite very fresh vegetables—right out your kitchen door all season long. That will give you the most sustainably grown, delicious, nutritious fresh salads all season without packaging, travel, refrigeration or chemicals. It is such a WIN.

“Other larger crops such as pumpkins, squash, corn, potatoes and watermelons that take up more space while growing and store for longer periods of time can be grown at a community garden or other larger growing space that isn’t right by your house.”—Gretchen Mead, director, Victory Garden Initiative  


2. Go Solar: “Look into solar electricity for your home, business, farm, school or local government buildings. The cost has come down nearly 50% in the past five years. It may save you money!”—Tyler Huebner, executive director, RENEW Wisconsin


3. Be Smart When It Rains: “Try to use less water when it’s raining. Don’t do the laundry, and refrain from long showers, doing dishes and unnecessary toilet flushing if you can on rainy days. We don’t want to add any unnecessary ‘discretionary’ water into our sewer systems.”—Jeff Martinka, executive director, Sweet Water, The Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, Inc.


4. Protect Water Quality: “Help manage water where it falls with green infrastructure. By capturing rainfall or helping drain it into the ground naturally, we can all be part of the solution for reducing water pollution. Rain barrels store 55 gallons of water that you can use to give thirsty plants and trees a drink when it’s dry. Rain gardens absorb water, keeping it out of sewers and from becoming polluted runoff, the biggest remaining threat to clean rivers and lakes in the United States. Learn more about green infrastructure at freshcoast740.com.”—Bill Graffin, public information manager, Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD)


5. Clean Up the Rivers: “Attend Milwaukee Riverkeeper’s 19th Annual Spring River Cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 26. Participants can pick from 50 locations throughout the Milwaukee River Basin. Although the event is free (thanks to our sponsors), we encourage people to pre-register online so we can ensure enough supplies for each site. Go to milwaukeeriverkeeper.org.”—Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper


6. Get To Know ReFresh Milwaukee: “Check out Milwaukee’s community goals and targets for improving the city’s sustainability and livability at refreshmke.com. ReFresh Milwaukee helps connect residents, businesses and other groups with others who work on similar issues, such as urban farming, rehabbing foreclosed homes and energy efficiency.”—Matt Howard, director, Milwaukee Office of Sustainability


7. Take Part in the Great American Cleanup: Do some spring cleaning outdoors by participating in the nation’s largest organized annual cleanup and beautification event. For more information, go to Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful’s website at kgmb.org.


8. Celebrate Earth Day with Rock the Green: The City of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability and Rock the Green will host the city’s third annual Earth Day celebration on Tuesday, April 22, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., at the City Center, 735 N. Water St. The event will feature local food trucks and a free concert by Vic & Gab on a pedal-powered stage. Learn more about the city’s sustainability plans and eco-friendly opportunities and organizations. For more information, go to rockthegreen.com.


9. Demand Transportation Options: “Transportation in Wisconsin is the No. 1 source of our dependence on oil, the second largest and fastest growing source of climate change emissions, and a major contributor to air and water pollution. But, it doesn’t have to be that way, and with cleaner fuels, higher efficiency vehicles, and more and more people biking, walking and taking transit, we are already reducing the environmental effects of transportation. We need to keep working at it.

“Most importantly, state and federal leaders need to give Wisconsinites more transportation options by cutting state spending on costly, unjustified and unnecessary highway expansion projects that waste taxpayer money, and use some of the savings to improve transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure. It’s a win-win-win—saving taxpayers money since transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure is way cheaper than highways; reducing pollution and climate change emissions; and bringing Wisconsin’s transportation system into the 21st century!”—Bruce Speight, director, WISPIRG


10. Celebrate Earth Month: The three branches of the Urban Ecology Center are celebrating Earth Day throughout April. The Riverside Park location will focus on water, the Washington Park center will highlight food and the Menomonee Valley branch will offer healthy living classes. For more information, go to urbanecologycenter.org.


11. Change the Food System: “Getting involved in policy work to change the food system is so important. There are many national efforts right now to change the Farm Bill and label GMOs [genetically modified organisms]. These are hot and important topics, but I always feel like I can make the most difference, while simultaneously seeing immediate change and meeting my neighbors and friends, by getting involved in local policy work. Our local politicians are accessible and ready to listen to the best ways to create a more sustainable food system. Come to a Milwaukee Food Council meeting and get involved with other like-minded people to effect local policy change.”—Gretchen Mead, Victory Garden Initiative 


12. Lobby Your Legislators: “Speak your mind by joining Clean Wisconsin’s Action Network (sign up at cleanwisconsin.org). In 2013, we drove more than 50,000 timely messages to Wisconsin legislators and decision-makers on top environmental issues, such as Waukesha’s proposal to tap Lake Michigan as a public water supply. These messages also helped to derail legislation that could have diluted groundwater protections and left Wisconsin communities virtually helpless against the frac sand industry.”—David Hunt, communications director, Clean Wisconsin


13. Support Clean Energy Policies: “During this election season, ask your elected officials and candidates if they support Clean Energy Choice, a policy that would bring Wisconsin up to speed with nearly half the states by allowing you to go solar with no up-front costs. The policy will also enable our state’s dairy farmers to finance digesters similarly.”—Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin


14. Take Care of the Great Lakes: “The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) provides critical funds for projects to improve the Great Lakes, such as dredging of contaminated sediments, restoration of fish and wildlife habitat, and more. The Great Lakes are the world’s largest system of fresh surface water, providing drinking water for nearly 40 million people, supporting 1.5 million jobs (generating $62 billion in wages annually) and sustaining a $7 billion Great Lakes fishery. GLRI projects are already producing results and should be supported. Current problems will only get worse and more costly the longer we wait.

“Unfortunately, President Obama’s draft budget for Fiscal Year 2015 is proposing a cut of $25 million to this program. If you care about the Great Lakes, please call your senator and representative and ask them to support $300 million for the GLRI in fiscal year 2015. Residents can contact any member of Congress via the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.”—Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper


15. Help Cut Carbon Pollution: “Support the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft carbon pollution rules, which serve as an important first effort to regulate carbon from U.S. electric generating plants, currently the source of one-third of domestic carbon emissions. Much like Milwaukee residents will soon see the notoriously dirty Menomonee Valley coal plant convert to natural gas in favor of clean air, the EPA rules would help drive similar and equally important investments in environmental and public health nationwide.”—David Hunt, Clean Wisconsin


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