Connecting to Nature during the Pandemic

It’s easier to work towards preserving creation when you regularly experience the wonders of nature. Unfortunately, the pandemic has kept many of us locked up inside our homes, away from the natural world.

A recent column in EarthBeat (articles on the climate crisis, faith, and action from the National Catholic Reporter) by Barbara Fraser, offered six tips to connecting with nature when shut in:

  1. Open your eyes to the world around you
  2. Make it intentional
  3. Stop and look
  4. Write from the heart
  5. Stop and listen
  6. Remember that we are nature

Look out your window and observe what has always been around you: that tree that changes with the seasons, the flowers blooming in the Spring, the birds and squirrels. Listen for the songs of the birds, the barks of neighbor dogs, the chattering of people. Notice the cycle of the days: first light, clouds in the sky, the beauty of the rain, and of course, spectacular sunsets. 

Many confined people find it helpful to record in a journal or to write some poetry. Don’t consider yourself a poet? “Try an ‘ABC’ poem: look around you and build a poem of things you see, hear or smell, in alphabetical order.”

And let’s not forget…

“We in the West live in a culture that thinks, feels and understands the human being as being outside of nature, of creation, as if we were some sort of special kingdom within another kingdom, as if we were not also earth and natural world,” Moeme Miranda, a Brazilian lay Franciscan told EarthBeat. “Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’ [paragraph] No. 2, has said we have forgotten that we are earth.”

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

Paul Litwin

Just…start

When dealing with the climate crisis, you may be paralyzed with inaction since the problem seems so “intractable and hopeless.” It isn’t. In fact, the climate crisis is waiting for you; it’s calling your name; it needs your help; you just need to start. 

The Nigerian poet, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, wrote:

Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling but start. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have. Just… start.

As far as I can tell, Ijeoma was not talking about climate change, but nonetheless, it is a wonderful quote. The climate movement needs you: yes you. 

May I suggest you start by talking about climate change; start by talking to your family and friends. Have those discussions; it’s easier than you think. You may also want to educate yourself on climate change. Check out the facts at NOAA’s climate.gov. Or read Pope Francis’s seminal encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si, at tinyurl.com/ReadLaudatoSi

And when you are ready to act, consider joining a group such as Al Gore’s Climate Reality climaterealityproject.org or Citizen Climate Lobby at citizensclimatelobby.org or perhaps Project Drawdown at drawdown.org. Just…start.   

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

P.S. Want to learn more about purchasing and owning an electric vehicle? Please consider joining us virtually on May 9 at 3pm for a panel discussion of EV owners, including me, at tinyurl.com/ev-meetup 

Paul Litwin

Will the market cast fossil fuels into the dustbin?

An April 26 Forbes article claims that the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels and that they are already overpriced when compared to renewables and it will just get worse for fossil fuels in the coming years.

From the article:

Solar and wind energy have the potential to meet global electricity demand 100 times over, and the costs of these renewables are collapsing so rapidly that fossil fuels could be pushed out of electricity generation altogether by 2035, according to a report by a U.K. think tank.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrvetter/2021/04/26/how-renewables-could-kill-off-fossil-fuel-electricity-by-2035-new-report/?sh=4531fdd865ed

The original report can be found here:

From the report:

The technical and economic barriers have been crossed and the only impediment to change is political. 

All that’s left to do is to push our politicians to change the policies to make this happen even sooner. Or elect new politicians who will do the right thing for future generations.

Don’t send flowers for Valentine’s Day; send trees

Send love, not carbon

From a blog post on earthday.org:

Nothing is stronger than love — except maybe climate change.

Did you know that a gift of flowers will often travel thousands of miles (often by jet plane) to your florist? Add the refrigerants used to keep the flowers cold and then there is the additional travel for you to get to the florist and the flowers to get to your love. Maybe a gift of flowers isn’t such a good idea after all.

Perhaps a gift that celebrates both your loved one and the planet is a better idea. Perhaps, the gift of a planted tree is the right thing. Here’s a couple of ways to send trees this Valentine’s Day (or birthday, anniversary, …):

  • Earthday.org has a program, the Canopy Project, which is reforesting the planet.
  • Ecosia.org, a reputable carbon-negative search engine with an excellent privacy policy, sustainably plants trees (as researched on a How to Save a Planet podcast) using the advertising revenue from people using their search engine. Ecosia also has its own tree gifting program which I used this Valentine’s Day to gift trees to my wife.

So celebrate your love, responsibly by planting trees for your love. They will thank you and so will Mother Earth.

Paul Litwin

Buy Nothing: good for the neighborhood and the planet

Ever look around your house and realize you have too much stuff? We did. And while the instinct is to make a run to Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul store, there is an alternative. In your neighborhood, there is most likely a “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook where neighbors offer up items they wish to rid themselves of, so other neighbors can pick them up from your front porch or other agreed upon location. (Alternately, you can do something close to this which is to put the item out on your parking strip with a “FREE” sign attached to it. This works better for larger items and when the weather is better.) 

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Not only is this a great way to recycle items you no longer want, but rather than sending the goods to some outfit that you hope can put them to good use, you create a direct connection with someone who most definitely wants your item and will put it to good use — instantly. Plus,  it’s a lovely way to connect to your community one on one, properly distanced, of course, and in most cases contactless and without you getting in your car. (This is not to say, that donating to St Vincent de Paul or Goodwill is not also a viable option; it still is, but it’s a bit less personal.)

This past weekend, we cleaned house — quite literally, and in the process sent an office chair, several storage bins, a mop, a drill, children’s books and games, a mirror, a cooler, two cast iron frying pans, a lamp, and a keyboard, all in a matter of a couple of days, and in some cases, minutes to happy neighbors. And last week, we happily rehomed a set of bunk beds and an espresso maker. We also put a desk out on our parking strip when no takers were interested online and a couple passing by in a car scooped it up in less than an hour. 

Do you feel burdened by your possessions? Maybe now is the time to let some stuff go and further the cause of “buy nothing” or at least “buy less”. 

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

Suzanna and Paul Litwin

Countdown on Climate Change

TED is a conference that features short but powerful talks from scientists, entertainers, teachers, and other thought leaders. Those giving TED talks have included luminaries such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Madeleine Albright, Bono, and many notable speakers. 

Countdown is a new global initiative from TED to accelerate solutions to the climate crisis. The Countdown talks were originally live streamed back on October 10th, but you can still watch the talks for free at https://www.ted.com/series/countdown

The Countdown talks are loosely arranged into five areas or topics: urgency, leadership, transformation, breakthroughs, and action. Under urgency, you will find talks like “Why is the world warming up?”, “The state of the climate crisis”, and “The case for stubborn optimism on climate”, among others. Leadership features “Kids are speaking up for the environment. Let’s listen”, “Europe’s plan to become the first carbon-neutral continent”, and “The city planting a million trees in two years”. 

Transformation includes “Where does all the carbon we release go?”, “Fossil fuel companies know how to stop global warming. Why don’t they?”, and “24 hours on Earth — in one image”. Under Breakthroughs, you will find “The global movement to restore nature’s biodiversity”, “Community-powered solutions to the climate crisis”, and “How we could make carbon-negative concrete”. Finally, action features “Why act now?”, “The race to net-zero emissions by 2050 is on. Can we count you in?” and a talk entitled “Our moral imperative to act on climate change — and 3 steps we can take” by none other than Pope Francis.

The Countdown talks I have already watched have been both inspiring and educational and I am planning to dig in and watch them all. In fact, I am hosting a series of virtual meetings to watch and discuss the Countdown talks in the coming weeks. The first TED Countdown discussion meetup will be held Sunday, November 29th from 3-4:30 pm. Please consider joining us by RSVPing at https://www.meetup.com/SeattleClimateChange/events/274682032

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

Paul Litwin

A life on our planet

I just finished watching a powerful documentary on Netflix that I wanted to share with you and urge you to watch as well. The name of the film is David Attenborough: A life on our planet. In this 1 hour and 23 minute documentary, David Attenborough, who was 93 years old when it was filmed, presents the highlights of his career as a documentary maker and shares lots of footage from his life’s work. If you subscribe to Netflix, you can watch it for free.

You get to see David age over the course of “A life on our planet,” and you also get to witness  the aging of our planet, and you will undoubtedly note that the earth has aged rather poorly during David’s lifetime. 

The film includes a number of wonderful clips from David’s documentary career, including some particularly troubling footage. Like Pope Francis, he raises the alarm concerning climate change and the troubling loss of biodiversity across the planet.

If we don’t change course, we are headed towards the earth’s sixth mass extinction. In the previous mass extinctions, the carbon buildup had taken over a million years to cause cataclysmic climate change and the extinction of a large number of the planet’s species; but the current carbon buildup from the burning of fossil fuels and the troubling loss of both wild habitat and biodiversity have happened over a mere 200 years. The film imagines what could happen during the next 100 years, if we do nothing.

Some quotes from the film that thought were noteworthy:

“If we do things that are unsustainable, the damage accumulates, ultimately to a point where the whole system collapses.”

“This is a series of one-way doors bringing irreversible change.”

“It’s crazy that our banks and pensions are investing in fossil fuels, when these are the very things that are jeopardizing our future that we are saving for.”

“The planet can’t support billions of large meat eaters. There just isn’t the space.”

“To continue, we will require more than intelligence, we will require wisdom.”

It’s not all doom and gloom; according to Attenborough, the solution is quite straightforward: 

“To restore stability to our planet, we must restore its biodiversity…We must re-wild the world.” 

How do we do this? David believes we must phase out fossil fuels and embrace sustainable energy, create no-fishing zones in the ocean, radically reduce the land area devoted to farming, change to primarily plant-based diets, greatly increase the efficiency of growing plants, halt deforestation, and replant native trees on as much land as possible.    

I found this quote at the end of the film to be particularly poignant:

“We need to rediscover how to be sustainable; to move from being apart from nature to becoming a part of nature, once again.”

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

Paul Litwin

Lockdown, A Poem for the Pandemic

Brother Richard Hendrick, a Capuchin Franciscan monk living in Ireland, wrote a poem entitled “lockdown” and posted it to Facebook on March 13th. I was so touched by it, I wanted to share it here: 

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighborhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing.

Paul Litwin

Taking Care of the Planet during the Pandemic

The website earthday.org recently published an article on actions you can take for the planet even while practicing good social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here is a slightly-edited version of the list. I hope this list inspires you with at least one great idea:

  1. Go plant-based. More than likely you have extra time on your hands since you were sent home from work and asked to minimize your time outside your home. Why not take this time to explore a significant change to your diet for the benefit of the planet and your health? You might find this site helpful: https://plentyvegan.com/how-to-go-vegan-starter-guide or see this prior post on eating more plants.
  2. Reading over streaming. How about reading more and watching less? Reading uses less electricity and will likely leave you smarter. Don’t have any books on your bookshelves? The library building might be closed, but most libraries, including Seattle’s at spl.org, have extensive online offerings, which are just a few clicks away.
  3. When life gives you lemons… make disinfectants. Grab your lemon, vinegar, and baking soda and get cleaning. Need some recipes, check these sites out:
  4. Switch to green power. You don’t need to install solar panels or a windmill to benefit from green power. If you live in Seattle, check out SCL’s Green Up program here: https://energysolutions.seattle.gov/renewable-energy/green-up/
  5. Take stock. Now’s a good time to check what’s in the back of your closet or the bottom of your dresser drawers. Perhaps, that forgotten piece of clothing is ready to see the light of day again. Or maybe not. In that case, toss it in your St Vincent de Paul or Goodwill box.
  6. And make stock. Time to start a bag of vegetable scraps in your freezer. Then next time you need some stock, just dump the contents into a pot, add water, and an hour later you’ll have some tasty stock and have saved yourself some money too.
  7. Do an eco-friendly activity. See the original article (below) for lots of activity ideas, perfect for all ages.
  8. Keep your body moving! The gym might be closed, but since you’re not spending all those hours commuting, you now have time to go for that long walk or run. Just be sure to maintain your distance!

Check out the original post here: https://www.earthday.org/11-actions-for-the-planet-during-a-pandemic/

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

Paul Litwin