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

Resolve to Reduce Energy Usage

January is the month of New Year’s resolutions. Why not make a resolution that can improve yourself while also lowering your carbon footprint? For our second week of resolutions, I thought that I would talk about energy usage. Throughout our lives we consume energy in many different ways. At home, we heat and cool our house either by directly burning fossil fuels or by using electricity. Additionally, we use electricity for a vast number of purposes, including powering the lights, appliances, computers, phones, televisions, power tools, and more. Outside the home, we use energy for transportation and perhaps to power our businesses and hobbies.

There are two primary ways to reduce your energy consumption: use less energy or use it more efficiently. Where possible, you should try to do both. Let me illustrate with an example. We all wash clothes using a washing machine. In order to reduce your energy consumption when washing clothes, you can either use the machine less often to wash clothes or use the washing machine in a more efficient way by either using a more energy-efficient cycle of the machine (e.g., a shorter, cold water cycle) or by replacing an older, inefficient washing machine with a newer energy star washing machine. 

Another consideration is to replace appliances and devices that directly burn fossil fuels (e.g., cars with internal combustion engines, oil or gas furnaces, gas stoves and clothes dryers, and gasoline powered tools and garden appliances) with electric versions of the same. 

It’s worth noting that there is a tradeoff when deciding to replace an appliance or device because quite a bit of energy is consumed when manufacturing and transporting goods, so you should opt to replace appliances only when you plan to use the new appliance for a long period of time, otherwise, you end up wasting more energy in your drive to stay current. In general, it’s also best to replace an inefficient appliance or device when it is close to the end of its useful life, but there may be exceptions to that rule if the device has a very large footprint or is an environmental hazard. For example, it makes sense to replace an oil furnace or older diesel car as soon as possible. 

The other consideration is, of course, cost. Not everyone can afford to replace their fossil fuel-powered car or furnace immediately. Hopefully, government programs will soon kick in to ease the financial burden. 

Here are some possible resolutions around energy usage:

  1. Lighting: Use less: turn off the lights when you leave the room. Use it more efficiently: replace older light bulbs with LED bulbs.
  2. Heating/Cooling: Use less: Turn down/up the thermostat. Use it more efficiently: if you can afford it, replace your fossil-fueled furnace with an electric heat pump.
  3. Appliances: Use less: Use them less frequently. Use it more efficiently: Wash bigger loads in the dishwasher or clothes dryer. Replace any fossil-fueled appliances with electric appliances.
  4. Electronic devices: Use less: Put down that phone. Turn off the television. Have some no-device days or evenings. Use it more efficiently: Don’t replace your mobile phone or computer as often.
  5. Automobiles: Use less:  Walk, take the bus, ride your bike, batch up trips. Use it more efficiently: Driver slower. Carpool. If you can afford it, replace your gasoline-powered car with an electric or hybrid.

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

Paul Litwin

Resolution for the New Year: Eat More Plants and Less Animals

January is the month of New Year’s resolutions. Why not make a resolution that can improve yourself while also lowering your carbon footprint? During January, I will focus each week on a different climate saving resolution. My hope is that by the end of the month, you will find one or more maybe two resolutions that you can embrace. 

Thai Crunch Salad from PCRM

This week I will talk about food and how you can change your eating habits to step more lightly on our wonderful planet. Let’s start with why moving towards a plant-based diet is a good idea:

  1. Raising animals for food has a significant impact on climate change. According to Project Drawdown, animal agriculture is estimated to be responsible for 14-17% of greenhouse gas emissions. That is as much warming as the entire transportation sector.
  2. A whole-food plant-based diet has been proven many times to be the healthiest diet, bar none. Dr. Michael Greger is fond of saying that there is only one diet that has been shown to reverse heart disease: a whole food plant-based diet.
  3. According to the Humane Society, “Billions of farm animals suffer in factory farms globally, confined their whole lives to cages so small they can barely move.” Simply put: eating less animal products equates with less animal suffering.

That said, changing one’s eating habits is hard. And you don’t have to go from your current diet to one that eschews all animal products overnight. Here are some ideas on how to approach the change:

  1. Take small but deliberate steps. For example, go meatless on Mondays. Or perhaps eat vegan for one meal a day, say breakfast. 
  2. Find one type of animal-based food and sub it out. For example, replace dairy milk in your lattes and cereal with soy milk, hemp milk, or another plant-based milk. Or replace all your burgers with veggie burgers.
  3. Focus more on adding healthy plants to your meals, rather than dwelling on what you are missing. Create big salads and stir fries full of delicious romaine lettuce, bright-colored bell peppers, crunchy carrots, bok-choy, kale, chard, lentils, and legumes. 
  4. Less protein is not a problem. Most Americans eat about twice the protein and less than half the fiber per day than recommended. And where do you suppose animals get their proteins from? Plants, of course! Legumes, nuts, and seeds have plenty of protein. And the more plants you eat, the more you will increase your fiber while reducing your protein excess.
  5. Eat an assortment of vegetables, fruits, legumes, greens, grains, nuts, and seeds. And avoid the processed foods; they lack the nutrients, whether or not they contain animal products. 
  6. For some great plant-based recipes and guidance, try Meatless Mondays, Vegan recipes on Epicurious, No Sweat Vegan, and the PCRM Vegan Starter Kit. If you love curries, try Vegan Richa and for the occasional need for homemade dessert, checkout Chocolate Covered Katie.
Baked Chickpea Sweet Potato Curry from Vegan Richa

Go slow, but keep taking the next step to improve your health, ensure less animal suffering, and lower your carbon footprint.

Paul Litwin

Teens and a Nun Stop a Coal Mine in Australia

A group of teenagers decided the expansion of an Australian coal mine was not in the planet’s best interest, so they decided to sue the environment minister, Sussan Ley. A 87-year old Catholic nun, Brigid Arthur, acted as the teen’s legal guardian. Together they took on the environment minister and won.

Climate activist Anjali Sharma

“It felt really rewarding to be able to engage in something so historic for Australia, and needed too,” said one of the teens, Anjali Sharma, after the win. The judge ruled that Australia had a duty to care for the youth to protect them from climate change. 

The Australian government is appealing the ruling, and sadly, Anjali and the other teens have been the victims of threats and intimidation, from both individuals and the Australian media. 

Despite all this, the lawyer representing the teens, David Barden, hopes the ruling will inspire others throughout the world to file “duty of care” lawsuits to force leaders to stop new fossil fuel mines and factories.

According to Barden, “It’s a very foundational legal case to approach the problems caused by climate change, and the principles of negligence exist in a whole range of common law countries, from the UK, to New Zealand, Canada and the US as well.” You can read more about the lawsuit in this BBC article.

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

Sustainable Energy is Possible Today. Let’s Help Make it Happen

When it comes to climate change, it’s not all bad news. An article published by CarbonTracker.org back in April  (tinyurl.com/sbwu6j2y) and cited in Forbes magazine states that:

Solar and wind are inexhaustible sources of energy, unlike coal, oil and gas, and at current growth rates will push fossil fuels out of the electricity sector by the mid-2030s. By 2050 they could power the world, displacing fossil fuels entirely.

The world does not need to exploit its entire renewable resource — just 1% is enough to replace all fossil fuel usage. Each year we are fuelling the climate crisis by burning three million years of fossilised sunshine in coal, oil and gas while we use just 0.01% of daily sunshine.

But here is the kicker: the key barrier to moving to a fossil fuel-free future is not technology, it’s politics. We have all the technology to make this come true today, we just need the political will to pull it off. It’s time to call, write, or email your political representatives (tinyurl.com/contact-your-leaders). 

In the words of Pope Francis:

Yes, love is interpersonal, but love is also political. It involves all peoples and it involves Nature.

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

Paul Litwin

Throwing stones at ourselves

In a new study published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, the authors attribute 38% of all heat-related deaths in the 732 locations in 43 countries studied between 1991 and 2018 to climate change. And this increase in deaths was seen on every continent. This is yet more evidence that the human toll of climate change is no longer in the distant future; no longer solely a problem for future generations. No, climate change is here, front and center. 

We have already warmed the planet by 1 degree Celsius. And we have already experienced a significant increase in extreme weather events like hurricanes, typhoons, floods, and fires across the planet. Then there is the extensive bleaching of the coral reefs. And, of course, the disappearing glaciers and sea ice. Add it all up and climate change is upon us.

The lead author of the paper, Ana Maria Vicedo-Cabrera, commenting to the New York Times said, “We are thinking about these problems of climate change as something that the next generation will face,” she said. “It’s something we are facing already. We are throwing stones at ourselves.” Of course, future generations will indeed bear the full brunt of climate change as Dr. Vicedo-Cabrera echoes, “This burden will amplify,” she said. “Really, we need to do something.”

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

How long do we have?

Last week, I had the honor to speak to Nathan Hale High School students about climate change as part of Nathan Hale’s 2021 Climate Day of Action, where about a dozen speakers, some who were students and some, like myself, were not, spoke about climate change. My talk, which was based on Climate Reality Project leadership training that I completed back in April, was entitled “Climate Change and its Solutions” which I shared with about 50 students. 

The day was organized by three amazing young women: Meghan, Bayly, and Una. The three kicked off the event with Bayly stating “Six years left. That’s how many years we have until the effects of climate change are irreversible.” Wow, I thought. Where did they get that number? Is that right?

The Global Carbon Project says we have around 16 years (2027) until we reach irreversible changes at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming over preindustrial temperatures. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated we had 12-35 years back in 2018 (2030-2053). Climateclock.net says we have less than 12 years (2030). Recent modeling by a group of scientists at McGill University says we have until 2027- 2042. Finally, I came upon the Climate Clock in New York City which says we have a little more than 6 years (2028) if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate. That must have been what Bayly was quoting.

How long do we have left to change the direction of this impending crisis? Somewhere between 6 and 32 years. Any way you slice it, this crisis is real and coming for all of us, especially the youth, including these high school students I spoke with last week. And its greatest effects will be on the poor and the marginalized both in the US and throughout the world. We are rapidly running out of time to fix this. As Pope Francis said on Earth Day, a few weeks ago, “It’s time to Act”. Time to demand action from our leaders. What are you waiting for?

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

Paul Litwin

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