Climate Action Now!

Most people think that contacting their representatives regarding climate change and pending legislation is too hard. A while back, I wrote about a web page I created on my other blog to make it easier at how-to-contact-your-leaders. While this is still a handy resource page for contacting your elected leaders, an offshoot of the Climate Reality Project recently created a fantastic phone app that takes the process of contacting your representatives to the next level called Climate Action Now

The Climate Action Now app

When you first set up the app, you can create some custom text that it will insert into your emails like “I am a mother of two girls deeply concerned about the world I will be leaving to them”. Then each time you open up the app – I suggest daily – it will walk you through five actions. For example, one of the actions is “Tell your members of Congress to prevent illegally deforested products from entering US markets”. If I then click the Do It Now! button, I can choose to call or email my two US Senators. If I choose “call”, it will suggest talking points for the conversation. If I instead choose “email”, it presents an email script that includes my custom email text and allows me to further customize the message before I click send. 

Other actions might be to read about plastic production, learn about a recent positive event such as the closing of a coal mine, or contact the leader of a bank to ask them to set a net-zero goal. 

And as you perform acts, you are rewarded with points that can be cashed in to plant trees. The Climate Action Now app is incredible. I have been using it for several months on my iPhone and can’t recommend it enough. An Android version is also available.

Consider downloading the Climate Action Now app today from the iPhone App store or Google Play store and using it daily to make your climate action voice heard. Working together, we can help take care of our common home. 

Paul Litwin

Eco-Summit on the Ridge

For several months now, I have been helping to plan an in-person community summit on Climate Change in Seattle. If you are local to the Seattle area, I hope you can join us on April 23rd at the Greenwood Senior Center in Seattle.

Event Info and Registration

The purpose of this Summit is to bring neighbors together for interactive learning, creating a caring and action-based community around the climate crisis and environmental justice.

This Eco-Summit will steer away from the paralyzing fear and anxiety we hear in the news.  Instead, we will be turning our attention toward realizing actionable solutions and inspire working together; making a difference toward equity and positive change.

Keynote speaker:
Jeff Renner, 
Retired Chief Meteorologist, KING-TV / Consulting Meteorologist / Environmental Advocate

Eco-Summit Topics:
Transportation
Eco-Building
Zero Waste
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
Youth Movement

Event Info and Registration

The Peace Poem

By John Denver

There’s a name for war and killing
there’s a name for giving in
when you know another answer
for me the name is sin
but there’s still time to turn around
and make all hatred cease
and give another name to living
and we could call it peace.

And peace would be the road we walk
each step along the way
and peace would be the way we work
and peace the way we play.

And in all we see that’s different
and in all the things we know
peace would be the way we look
and peace the way we grow.

There’s a name for separation
there’s a name for first and last
when it’s all for us or nothing
for me the name is past
but there’s still time to turn around
and make all hatred cease
and give a name to all the future
and we could call it peace.

And if peace is what we pray for
and peace is what we give
then peace will be the way we are
and peace the way we live.

Yes there still is the time to turn around
and make all hatred cease
and give another name to living
and we can call it peace.

Homemade hemp milk

Hemp seeds, a.k.a., hearts

Ever since becoming vegan, I have been on a mission to find the perfect non-dairy milk for my lattes. I thought I found it in Pacific Foods Original Hemp Milk. That is, until I read the ingredient list and realized it contained things like brown rice syrup and xanthan gum. Brown rice syrup comes with the risk of arsenic poisoning [1] [2]. Xanthan gum, on the other hand, is used as a thickener and emulsifier. While xanthan gum [3] appears to be safe, emulsifiers, in general, have raised some concerns [4].

Which brings me to finding a way to make my own hemp milk. My recipe is based loosely on the recipe from Scott Jurek in his book Eat and Run. (Scott is my ultrarunner hero, by the way.) And now for my version of Scott’s recipe for hemp milk.

Ingredients

* Increase, reduce, or eliminate based on your taste.

Steps

Add all ingredients and blend using a high-speed blender for a couple of minutes. Store in a large glass mason jar in the refrigerator. Keeps for about a week.

Usage

Adjust the ratio of ingredients based on your tastes. For example, some people like the taste of bananas or vanilla more or less than others. I sometimes add a 1/2 – 1 tbsp of cocoa powder to give it a chocolaty taste.

I only recently started adding the 2 tablespoons of ground flax (that amount seems to be just about right for me, but you can certainly experiment with less or more) and I have to admit it really helps give it additional body that it was lacking before.

I prefer to sweeten my milk as I use it. When I use this milk in my latte, I add a tsp or so of maple or agave syrup to it. Alternately, you add about 2-3 tbsp (or more or less depending on the sweetness of your tooth) of syrup to the blender with the other ingredients while you are making the milk.

Wondering if my homemade recipe tastes as good as the store bought, processed food variety from Pacific Foods? Truth be told: no, not exactly. It’s not quite as creamy, nor does it froth quite as nicely. Still it gets pretty darn close, is a snap to make, and is healthier than the stuff that comes in the carton at the grocery store.

Vegan for Life

Photo of a cowUntil 2013, Suzanna and I were pescetarians for some time. That is, we had been eating a vegetarian diet along with some animal products: eggs, milk and dairy products, and sustainably-raised seafood. We tried to concentrate on sustainable organic minimally-processed foods as much as possible which required constant vigilance.

At the same time, we both hoped to move towards a truly vegan diet at some point.

Vegetarian/Pescetarian

Now there are a number of reasons why people choose to become a vegetarian. I moved gradually to being vegetarian. I gave up red meat around 30 years ago. At the time, the primary motivation was health. I decided that red meat was not good for me and that was that. Actually, at first, I actually gave up all meat, but then I backed off a bit and resumed eating poultry and seafood. Fast forward to about 15 years ago when I decided to become a lacto-ovo pescetarian. And while my original motivation was health, I gradually became more and more aware of animal cruelty that is commonly practiced in farming. Still, I thought that milk and eggs were okay, especially organic milk and egg products.

Inconsistent Living

Now, I think it’s fair to say that most people live with a certain number of inconsistencies in their lives. I know that I do. Another way of saying it is that most of us are, to some degree, hypocritical. That is, we try to do the right thing, but it’s not always possible unless you are ready to control everything in your life. As soon as you interact with the rest of the world and buy food, pump gas, purchase a toy for your child, watch a film, drink that beer, work at a job, purchase a sweater, live in a house, or visit a doctor, you lose some of the control over the ethics of the people and processes that happened to get you your sandwich, gasoline, toy, movie, glass of beer, job, sweater, home, or medical clinic.

Since originally writing this post back in 2013, we have dove into climate change in a big way and have made many adjustments to our lifestyle, purchases, and advocacy efforts.

Even your decision to do something as noble as write a check to a charity or hand a five dollar bill to a homeless person, comes with the potential of a number of unintended consequences, e.g. the misuse of the money, contributing to alcoholism.

That shouldn’t, however,  stop you from acting with compassion and empathy!

Then there is the matter of suffering and injustice in the world. Or the fact that we may be living on once stolen land. “How do we sleep while our beds are burning?” What are we to do about all the suffering, disease, and injustice in the world?

At some point, you have to short-circuit the thinking. You can’t constantly think of every possible chain of consequences of every decision you make. Otherwise, life would be unbearable. But for me and Suzanna, this doesn’t mean giving up. We believe in being mindful of the ramifications of the choices we make and taking care of our neighbor, both local and globally speaking.

On The Other Hand

Getting back to the point I was trying to make: I would be lying if I said that I always do the most sustainable, most just, most considerate, least self-serving thing. Though, most of the time I try hard. Of course not. But, when it comes to the choices I make in my food, I try to be fairly conscious and conscientious. And, to be frank, over the years, I have learned about a number of issues with farming, especially the industrial farming that is so commonplace in the United States and “western world.”

In fact, Suzanna and I have talked many times over the past few years about becoming vegan. And then we would move on to something else while we sipped our lattes, ate our cheese, and, though less frequently, consumed a plate of scrambled eggs.

Suzanna and I presented Eat for the Planet at the Seattle Climate Change meetup in February 2022. We shared everything we know to help you learn why going plant-based is the best thing you can do for yourself, the planet, and our animal friends, and how to go about it. Check out the slides or listen to the recording.

Getting Vegucated

Then we watched the film Vegucated in 2013 and the desire to move towards veganism was cemented. If you are curious about veganism or wish to learn more about what really happens on most farms, I suggest you watch this film. You can watch it for free on YouTube by clicking on the above video. See the Vegucated site for more details.

Okay, enough beating around the bush, here’s the long and the short of it:

the businesses and people who bring the vast majority of animal products to market, including meat, eggs, and dairy (yes, even dairy has major issues), treat animals in a disrespectful, cruel, and torturous fashion.

And they are not exactly doing good things for global warming and managing the world’s resources either. This is not to say, that there aren’t a few positives to come out of industrial farming: obviously, many people love animal-based food products. And these practices make food affordable for many people. But Suzanna and I can no longer support these practices.

We have drawn a line in the sand and farmed animals and animal products are on the other side.

line-drawn-in-the-sandOf course, we still have our inconsistencies. To name a few: we buy food at grocery stores and restaurants that do handle animal food. We aren’t throwing away our leather goods. Though, we don’t purchase any more leather, feather, or fur-based products. Also, we often share food with people who eat meat. I will also buy animal products for my children who are not vegan when we eat at restaurants, though we only serve vegan food in our home.

We get plenty of protein: from beans, tofu, nuts, and seeds. And we are adapting to substitutes (analogs) when necessary. Like Daiya cheese. And hemp and soy  milk. And the occasional vegan treat. Hopefully, we can share some vegan tips and tricks in future posts on this blog.

Since originally writing this post back in 2013, we abandoned the practice of occasionally eating wild seafood. We have also moved more towards a more whole-food, plant-based approach. IOW, eating less highly-processed foods, even if they are vegan. Alas, we are not perfect.

We have finally committed to this for good. Our biggest give-ups have been milk and cheese. But, despite what you may have heard, there is life after cheese. And we still have gluten, beer, and wine!

Eat for the Planet Seminar

What activity do each of us perform at least three (often more) times daily and has a significant impact on our health, carbon footprint, happiness, and identity, as well as the welfare of animals with which we share this planet?

If you guessed eating, you are right.

Suzanna and I are hosting a meetup, Eat for the Planet, on Sunday, February 20, 2022, when we will talk about the intersection between diet, climate change, health, and animal welfare. We will offer practical advice on moving toward a more plant rich diet including how to make your favorite foods plant based, advice on analogs for meat and dairy and some great recipe resources. We will also talk about the differences between a vegan diet and a whole food plant based diet and how those choices impact the planet and health.

We hope you can join us for what should be a lively presentation with plenty of time for questions and sharing.

Missed the talk? No problem, you can watch the recording or download the slides.

Paul

Liberty vs. Responsibility

When I started my first job out of graduate school, I remember thinking that I had finally arrived at adulthood. I had a great job, a healthy salary, and no more classes. I recall at the time, realizing that I could now do almost anything I wanted because I was no longer a poor grad student. If I wanted to go skiing, eat a box of Oreos, go out to a bar to listen to a band, or eat at a nice restaurant, I had the means to satisfy my desires. Sure, I had a few bills to pay and a few responsibilities, but they were pretty minor compared to my new found liberties.

Werriam-Webster defines liberty as “1. the state or condition of people who are able to act and speak freely. 2. the power to do or choose what you want to.” Here in the United States, as in much of the world, we value liberty. But liberty, without concern for others, is selfishness, which is not exactly a virtue. Eventually, my carefree lifestyle took on responsibilities by virtue of marriage, fatherhood, and buying a house. I now had to consider the needs of others alongside my own wants and needs and I learned to balance liberty with responsibility.

Likewise, as a responsible citizen, I now consider more than my family’s immediate pleasure, more than our wants and needs. As good responsible citizens, we must consider how our actions affect the common good and our common home, the earth. And as good Christians (or good fill-in-the-blanks), we also consider how our actions and inactions affect the poor, the young, and those who will stand to inherit the earth from us.

While we may believe that no one, including “the government” should be able to restrict our liberties, our burning of fossil fuels, our consumption of food, water, and goods, our dumping of waste, or even our decision not to wear a mask in public during a pandemic, the reality is that all of these things adversely affect others and the common home we share with all of creation and those who will come after us. 

It’s long past time to debate the science of climate change. The science is in and it is abundantly clear that we can no longer continue to exercise our freedoms without any sense of responsibility. 

In May of 2015, Pope Francis stated “Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.” The time to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is now. The time to elect leaders who will put the promises of COP 26 into action is now. In October of 2021, Pope Francis and dozens of religious leaders signed the Joint Appeal which stated “Now is the time for urgent, radical and responsible action.”

Working together, we can help take care of our common home. 
Paul Litwin

Making that Low-Carbon Resolution Stick

During January, I shared with you my four low carbon footprint resolution ideas: eat more plants, use less energy, buy less stuff, and talk and advocate for change. I often think about this column when I run. And this past Saturday I was on a long run on Cougar Mountain while I listened to one of my favorite non-climate-change podcasts, Trail Runner Nation. The topic was James Clear’s Atomic Habits book. 

While the podcast was talking about the book and how it relates to ultrarunning, I thought what if I wrote about Atomic Habits as a follow up to my climate change resolutions series. Let me start by telling you that I haven’t read Atomic Habits and the queue at the library is rather long for this book. (Yes, in an effort to buy less and because I am thrifty, I am a regular library user, but I digress.) Fortunately, the web is full of synopses and visual aids of the book plus I have listened to at least two podcasts about the book, so that makes me an expert, doesn’t it?

All kidding aside, James writes that the four keys to making habits are: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. Let’s apply these principles to our low carbon resolutions. The first resolution is to eat more plants and reduce meat and dairy consumption. You can make this obvious and easy by filling your house with whole fruits and vegetables. Put an attractive bowl of oranges, apples, and bananas on your dining room table or kitchen counter. On the flip side: make it difficult to eat meat and junk by removing those items from your house. Make it satisfying: learn to make some tasty plant-based recipes (see the article for great recipes).

How will you get yourself to buy less? I think the straightest path is to make it harder to buy stuff. That means canceling memberships like Amazon Prime and Costco that reward you for abject consumerism. Make it easy to be satisfied with what you already have. This is where celebrating the small wins might be helpful: I kept my iphone/car/jacket for x years now; woo-hoo! Part of “obvious” means creating the ideal environment and maybe that means socializing less on Facebook and Instagram with those proud of their latest wasteful purchases and more with those who celebrate frugalism and reuse.

For reducing your energy usage, what about keeping a log of your lower-carbon thermostat setting on the fridge so your lower footprint is obvious and you are happy with your small positive steps? Give yourself points for wearing clothes multiple times between washes and for batching up drives, walking instead of driving, and other low-energy behaviors.

Finally, how do you make advocating for change a part of your identity? A big one here is to join organizations that advocate for change like 350.org, Climate Reality Project, Citizens Climate Lobby, or the Nature Conservancy, to name just a few. Associate with those who share a purpose, an identity in advocating a better future for all instead of those caught up with the next best thing. 

So now you have some resolution ideas and, thanks to James Clear’s Atomic Habits, some suggestions on how to make them stick. Working together, we can help take care of our common home. 
Paul Litwin

Resolve to Talk and Advocate for Change

January is the month of New Year’s resolutions. For week four of my resolution series, our last, I want to focus on talking about and advocating for change.

As I have mentioned before in this column, climate activist Will Grant encourages us to act for change on four levels: (1) individual, (2) family and friends, (3) community, and (4) political.

Let me guess that if you are reading this column, you probably have already done many personal actions to lessen your carbon footprint. Bravo! If not, you may wish to read prior columns to get you started on level 1. 

For most people, going beyond personal action to the higher levels is harder, but if we are to make real, sustained change, we must level up! At the family and friends level, there are two great ways to act: first model personal action to your family members and friends and second, talk about climate change/action with your family members and friends. Yes, talk about climate change, but not in a preachy or judgmental way. 

Don’t forget to talk to your children, even though it may be difficult. Start by telling your children what actions you are taking. If possible, try to involve them in some of your decisions and ask them to help too.

At the community level, I suggest you consider joining some climate change groups, participate in activities like a neighborhood cleanup or protest, and, when appropriate, advocate for community action in your workplace, community center, schools and other places in your neighborhood. And don’t forget to support responsible, sustainable companies and organizations and refrain from using the products and services of the big climate change offenders.

And finally, and this one is key, but may very well be the hardest to do (I know it is for me): advocate for change at all levels of government. Vote and make your voice heard. Here’s a resource page to help you: saintfrancisseattle.org/how-to-contact-your-leaders. Using this page, it’s very easy to contact your elected representatives and make your voice heard. 

Resolve to talk, advocate, and vote for climate justice on as many levels as possible to give voice to our children, future generations, the poor, the marginalized, and the billions of animals and plants with whom we share this planet. 

Working together, we can help take care of our common home. 
Paul Litwin

Resolve to Buy Less Stuff

January is the month of New Year’s resolutions. For our third week of resolutions, I wish to talk about consumerism. Wikipedia defines consumerism as “a social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.”

Pope Francis speaks of consumerism in Laudato Si:

Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. 

The reality is that many of us live on the merry-go-round of consumerism, where we buy lots of stuff that is made by poorly-paid workers, often working in terrible conditions, and mostly made from materials and with energy that exacts a high carbon footprint. Then we order it online from amazon.com or another online store and more carbon is spent delivering it to our door. Later, these products with short lives, perhaps along with their packing materials, end up in a landfill.See storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/. Thinking that it’s all good, as long as you recycle, think again (see tinyurl.com/lsia-recycle).

And what happens if you opt to return that product to the online store where you purchased it? Shockingly, in many cases, the returned goods end up being dumped directly into a landfill. Don’t believe me? Read bbcearth.com/news/your-brand-new-returns-end-up-in-landfill

Here are some suggestions on how you can resolve to reject unchecked consumerism and lower your carbon footprint: 

  1. Think before you purchase something new. Do you really need it?
  2. Join the Buy Nothing Community (it costs nothing) where you can get things in your neighborhood for free and give away things to others that you no longer need: buynothingproject.org
  3. If you can’t find that item you need on Buy Nothing, there are lots of websites where people sell used items such as CraigsList, OfferUp, and eBay.
  4. Purchase used goods from thrift stores like Goodwill and consignment shops.
  5. Purchase items that are made with minimal or no plastics.
  6. Purchase items that are refillable or promote a circular economy.
  7. Shop locally, supporting small businesses and, if possible, buying things made as close to home as possible to reduce transportation costs.
  8. Buy bulk whenever possible to minimize the use of containers! Great local stores with bulk sections: PCC, Ballard Market, Whole Foods, and Central Market.
  9. But most importantly, think before you buy.

Can you be happy with less? Working together, we can help take care of our common home. 

Paul Litwin