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Updated posted by Gordon Soderberg 1 month ago
“What I learned from my military...
“What I learned from my military experience is that…there’s no way this is sustainable and there’s gonna be one day when we go back and die for this stuff.”
I meet a lot of really terrific people in my travels but Gordon Soderberg is one of he most selfless, compassionate men I’ve met in a very long time. He has devoted his entire life to serving others; first through his military service and then, since then, in working in disaster response and in recruiting and training veterans in this field.
From working with Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war protest to being on the front lines after hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy hit, the common element for Soderberg was a large, retro-fitted bus, painted Army green. When the hurricanes hit, Soderberg was there in the green bus, now called The Veterans Green Bus, coordinating first responders and helping those in need before longer-term help arrived.
To get a sense for the type of thing that Soderberg has done, take a couple of minutes to watch this video from a relief effort fundraiser in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It’s remarkable:
Gordon Soderberg and the Veterans Green Bus are now stationed in Detroit. Soderberg’s goal is to further retrofit the bus — which runs on both biodiesel and cooking oil/grease — and to set up a permanent operation. With a fixed location, Soderberg and his team will be able to bring veterans in for training on sustainable energy implementation of all kinds from retrofitting vehicles to run on alternative fuels and making biodiesel fuel to rebuilding homes sustainably and how to coordinate a disaster response. In the process, they’ll be helping local vets learn new skills and find jobs while helping Detroit get back on its feet. Soderberg describes it as a “veterans green incubator”.
This Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Soderberg will be holding a fundraiser in the form of a Pallet Project Fundraiser. For $75, participants will receive training on building furniture like tables and chairs from pallets.
Participants will make one thing to take home, help build a group project, learn to make many useful things out of pallets, where to find them, where to buy them, how to deconstruct them. Fresh local lunch provided. Receive a 10% discount on the purchase of any finished projects.
You can sign up for the event HERE. The Facebook event page is HERE, where you can see pictures and RSVP.
I recently spoke to Gordon Soderberg about The Veterans Green Bus, its history, and why people in Michigan and, especially, in Detroit should be supporting their efforts.
Our interview is below. Enjoy.
So, Gordon, give me a bit of background on the Veterans Green Bus, what you’re doing with it, and how you ended up in Detroit.
We started after Katrina, we were down in New Orleans doing disaster response with a bunch of veterans and activists who were actually the instigators of Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas with Cindy Sheehan’s group, CODEPINK and their anti-war protest. We were members of Veterans for Peace, originally, and we had our Impeachment Tour bus in Dallas. We spent 26 days in the ditch in front of Bush’s ranch.
Gordon Soderberg at Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas
We had satellite internet on the bus. Katrina was rolling up into the Gulf and we saw where it was going and a lot of folks that were from New Orleans were booking flights into New Orleans from our bus using our internet and asking us what we were going to do with the bus. Originally we were planning to continue taking Cindy to DC to continue her anti-war protest. But I was a corpsman in the Navy and there were a lot of other medics that were there and so we decided to head over to Katrina instead. That’s what started my push for veterans to get into disaster response, that initial event.
Once we got there, we were using our internet to get out what we were finding in terms of the disaster response effort. That built to $500,000 worth of donations on our Paypal account. We started funding different groups that were doing different types of disaster response. We set up camps. We went to campgrounds. We put money into Common Ground, another disaster relief group across the river from New Orleans. We started a medical clinic. We told anyone that found us on the internet that, if you can get to us, that we’d pay for their fuel and their food so that they could get their supplies out.
Then, three weeks later, Hurricane Rita hit and caused another whole level of destruction so we had to start all over again in a bunch of different places, working with different communities that were hit with that. That snowballed into a long-term relief effort that Veterans for Peace didn’t want to get involved with. They thought it was a good action to do when there was an immediate and an obvious statement to make. But they weren’t really in the relief business.
So, I set up United Peace Relief, a formal non-profit to do long-term relief. I stayed in New Orleans for essentially four and half, five years running different volunteer camps, helping various organizations use the internet and satellite. We moved satellite systems all over the place, using solar power and sustainable, green technologies. We built a biodiesel plant in our camp in Bayou Liberty and started making our own fuel.
After five years there, who were you helping at that point?
The last two years that I was there, I was making biodiesel from oil that we were collecting out of the lower 9th ward in New Orleans and I was teaching vets how to make that fuel. And then we were running a tractor into the lower 9th ward to keep the lots cleared for folks that wanted to return but still had a one-way ticket out of town and no way back. We took care of about 150 lots in the lower 9th ward, keeping them cleared so that the city couldn’t seize them. And we did things like bring in musical instruments for schools that weren’t getting help and helping other organizations to dry wall and rebuild homes, things like that.
After that, Brad Pitt and the Make it Right foundation moved in and started building green homes on those lots. We got a few vets doing geothermal sinks for those homes.
Then we got hit by Gustav and Ike, two more hurricanes two weeks apart from one another. Our biodiesel plant was flooded in two feet of water and we were looking at an eco-disaster that we didn’t want to cause plus we were running short on money. So, at that point I started looking around for other veterans-based, green energy organizations. I sent a proposal into the Veterans Green Jobs Alliance, letting them know what I was doing and they, initially said, “we’re just a website, we don’t really do anything”. But they asked me if they could use my resumé to make a pitch for grant money to get some things going.
They wrote a proposal, gave it to Walmart, and Walmart funded them for $750,000 and we started Veterans Green Jobs. We moved the biodiesel plant to Louisiana Tech, put a local vet in charge of training at-risk kids on how to make biodiesel, and the organized through a local, grassroots organization to keep that running and I moved up to Colorado to help start programs for vets there, getting them involved in making homes more energy efficient.
Right about that time, Obama came into office and he immediately started putting a lot of money into this sort of thing so we ramped up pretty quick. We ended up with a contract with a grant from the governor’s office and we ended up going from working on 200 homes a year to 1,200 homes a year.
I had hoped to expand the program to get vets trained on making their own fuel. However, Congress had another idea. In 2010, we got 77% of our funding cut with 30 days notice. At that point we had to cut 77% of our staff. I realized at that point that the we needed something more sustainable that wasn’t subject to the whims of Congress. So I bought the bus back from Veterans Green Jobs, folded it ba
Updated posted by Gordon Soderberg 1 month ago
There is article about us today...
There is article about us today on Huffington Post GreenNext Tuesday, it will have been one year since the monstrous Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, killing 117 people in the U.S., destroying thousands of homes and wreaking $65 billion in damage. And while this year's hurricane season has been thankfully quiet so far, it does have some now questioning global warming's role in all of this; that is, whether climate change will actually increase, or decrease, the likelihood of Superstorm Sandy-type storms.
I say forget all that. Now would be a good time to revisit a recent study led by Katie Arkema at Stanford and co-authored by Peter Kareiva, provocative chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy (read his essay on how conservationists need to change their tune, here), that highlights the real problem when it comes to hurricanes: our coastline, increasingly being made more vulnerable to any tropical storm, thanks to sea level rise and habitat loss.
According to the study, 16 percent of U.S coastline -- home to 1.3 million people and $300 billion in residential property -- can now be qualified as "high-hazard." But this number will increase anywhere from 30 to 60 percent by the end of the century, depending on the level of sea rise as a result of climate change -- putting an additional 1.7 to 2.1 million people at risk, along with $400 to $500 billion in residential property. Loss of protective natural habitat like sand dunes and coral reefs compounds the risk even further, most especially for poor families and the elderly.
In the world as it could be, we would be doing everything in our power to protect that coastline (preserving natural habitat being more effective than any solution we could engineer, the study says) so that we wouldn't have to face a Hurricane Sandy scenario every season. But reality check time: We're already losing habitat worldwide at an alarming rate. Federal disaster relief costs have risen astronomically in the past three decades. We are going to have to find an efficient way to deal with the aftermath of these storms.
Enter Veterans Green Bus. Started by Gordon Soderberg, a U.S. Navy veteran with over 30 years of disaster response experience, his Crown Coach conversion can run 3,500 miles on a single fill-up of biodiesel or waste veggie oil (WVO, not to be confused with EVOO) and is equipped with solar windows that power its refrigeration. In the works: A satellite internet system that can run through the evening via solar-charged batteries.
Conceived by Soderberg while serving as a volunteer post-Hurricane Katrina (he built a small-scale biodiesel plant there to run equipment to keep lots cleared), the bus was purchased in 2010 and deployed for the first time during Hurricane Sandy at the behest of veterans service organization Team Rubicon, for which Soderberg served as a volunteer.
For the response to Sandy, the Green Bus (lovingly nicknamed Large Marge) transported volunteers to Rockaway Beach, Queens from Detroit and Chicago, as well as delivered much-needed tool donations from Home Depot. And while the bus may have appeared stripped down, the work inside was high-tech. In Rockaway, volunteer veterans used military grade geo-mapping and analysis software to assess Sandy's damage and keep track of the relief efforts.
Soderberg and the Green Bus also worked alongside FEMA, the Red Cross, and other government aid and nonprofit agencies, powering communication equipment and serving as office space for logistical staff -- most notably hosting former President Clinton for a briefing.
Those bigger organizations, however, seem to have missed out on something obvious to Soderberg: That a huge portion of any organization's disaster relief budget is spent (nay, wasted) on fuel. Fuel to transport volunteers to the disaster site and truck in supplies, fuel to run Bobcats to clear debris, fuel to run the generators. With diesel fuel close to $4 a gallon, those costs add up pretty quickly. "In the 30 years I've done disaster relief, I've never seen a fuel company donate fuel," Soderberg quips.
Converting vehicles to run on WVO may seem quaint in an era of hybrid and electric vehicles, but electricity isn't usually readily available in the aftermath of a disaster like Sandy. Neither is conventional fuel. After Sandy, dry pumps left volunteers waiting hours for a fill-up at one of New York City's few working gas stations. Using a fuel source that's free, abundant and located close to relief workers -- like used cooking oil from local restaurants happy to contribute to relief efforts -- just makes sense.
In the future, one imagines a whole fleet of these high-tech sustainable response vehicles on hand to deploy to any natural disaster. But first, Soderberg needs your help. He's trying to secure a permanent home for the Green Bus in Detroit, in a shuttered fire station now up for auction. There, the plan is to convert the building to house more disaster response vehicles, as well as the veterans who are going through the organization's training program. You can send Soderberg a donation here.
Got a great idea for my next Innovation Earth column? Send tips, thoughts and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-grayson/innovation-earth-green-bus_b_4140689.html?utm_hp_ref=green
Created by Gordon Soderberg on August 30, 2013
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