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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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In Living

Erik Lindberg takes five on a raised garden bed.

Lindberg balances environmental activism and fatherhood


Erik Lindberg is an artisan remodeler, historic home restorer and owner of Community Building and Restoration. He's also an environmental activist who's working on a new book on economics, the environment and energy production in an age of contraction with the working title "Liberal Expectations."

And he's a new father of twin boys, Evjen and Isak.

"It's actually like having three: Evjen, Isak and Evjen / Isak. They are both so unique and interesting separately, but also unique and interesting as a pair," says Lindberg.

He co-parents with spouse of nearly 14 years, Liana Odrcic, who teaches in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

The challenges of raising two kids simultaneously are being more than just simply met by these parents, who say they can't imagine having one now that they have two.

"It helps that we're teaching them to change each other's diapers," says Lindberg.

"Liberal Expectations" is directed toward the thinking of mainstream liberals in the U.S. such as Paul Krugman and Rachel Maddow, the Occupy Movement and even the protesters in Madison.

"When they ask, 'What is wrong?' their answers always miss the mark because, in large part, they don't understand energy and environment," says Lindberg.

The book is part of a long process for Lindberg, who for years has been involved in raising environmental consciousness among Milwaukeeans with groups such as Transition Milwaukee and the Victory Gardens Initiative.

"It started when I did a rooftop farm on the building I used to own. I didn't really understand the issues deeply, but wanted to do something, so I put up the 2,800-square-foot farm and started growing vegetables," says Lindberg.

The Outpost Natural Foods Coop, located across the street, produced a video of Lindberg and his 18 raised beds that got some media attention and also got the founders of Transition Milwaukee to approach Lindberg, further exposing him to how community gardening and urban farming impact our wider environmental reality.

"From them I quickly learned much more about the issues involved in food, energy, and the environment and I was swept up in the excitement and camaraderie of it all. After a year or so of the more focused farming and organization building, I remembered that I had learned how to write in graduate school, and started blogging," says Lindberg.

Lindberg has a PhD in Modern Studies from UW-Milwaukee. Some of his many blogs on energy and the environment appear at Energy Bulletin, a news and research source on the environment affiliated with the the Post Carbon Institute, an organization dedicated to addressing growing economic and environmental crises.

Lindberg started Community Building and Restoration in 2002. Working with the tagline "thoughtful craftsmen," the company offers a host of carpentry services including exterior and interior alterations and historical restoration work. Community Building has won awards from the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission and the Angie's List Super Service award.

He started coupling his green ideals with his carpentry skills in the rooftop farm project, but has since developed into an outspoken proponent of peak oil, which establishes its argument that the world is running out of cheaply procured fossil fuels on government and oil industry research.

Lindberg's research convinced him to take a more active role. It was being on the steering committee of Transition Milwaukee that led Lindberg to writing the book.

Transition is part of an international movement that works for change in a number of direct ways following the basic premise that our current way of life is unsustainable and that people, all of us together, need to do something about it to effect the changes we need.

"I realized that people need to do more than make biodiesel and grow their own vegetables, which are both good things, but to sufficiently address the problem we need to change how we live. One of the disconcerting aspects of mainstream environmentalism is the assumption of consumer as innocent victim of guilty business and government. We're all in this together," says Lindberg, who has taken a leave of absence from Transition since the twins were born and to work on the book.

His sons' birth has further galvanized Lindberg.

"I try not to think much about the difficult world they are likely to grow up into. I hope the world has re-ordered its collective priorities enough to save our remaining resources to create things we really need and that can create a better future for a long time, rather than maintain economic growth for one more election cycle," Lindberg says.

Like most careful environmental researchers, Lindberg sees some people's reactions to peak oil and climate change scenarios as fear that quickly changes into self-assurance that someone would surely do something if climate change or resource depletion were that bad.

"They think it's hyperbolic, but that's a gut reaction, rather than what you learn if you actually study the data. Many think their intuition about the people telling them things they don't want to hear is more reliable than the actual opinion of the people investigating things," Lindberg says.

He isn't dissuaded by these reactions and sees lots of opportunity for outreach and education.

Lindberg is available for presentations as well as teach classes and lead workshops on energy and the environment. Contact him at Community Building and Restoration.

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