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.
So celebrate your love, responsibly by planting trees for your love. They will thank you and so will Mother Earth.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
When life gives you lemons… make disinfectants. Grab your lemon, vinegar, and baking soda and get cleaning. Need some recipes, check these sites out:
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.
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.
Do an eco-friendly activity. See the original article (below) for lots of activity ideas, perfect for all ages.
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!
As I mentioned last week, the coronavirus pandemic is challenging all of us. And many in the world are suffering and even dying because of Covid-19. In addition, many more people throughout the world are suffering because of the efforts to reduce or stop transmission of the coronavirus. These efforts, while saving lives, have, unfortunately, adversely affected people’s livelihoods. In addition, some people can no longer get the medical care or other services that they need. This brings me great sadness, of course, and should not be minimized.
At the same time, our effort at social distancing has actually done some good, in terms of our carbon footprints. In a recent article in the NY Times, Christopher M. Jones, lead developer at the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the U.C. Berkeley Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, said that “all these extra precautions that schools and businesses are taking to keep people home are saving lives, and that’s clearly what’s most important.” He added that these same actions could have a benefit to the environment.
In fact, the efforts of so many have reduced the carbon footprints in a number of areas, including transportation — both commuting and airplane travel are way down. People have reduced their shopping and their eating out too, which also should have a positive effect on climate change.
The net effect is a reduction in our carbon footprints, but perhaps just as important, is the realization, that people can rise to the occasion and change their habits when it is important. Let’s hope that the lessons learned from this pandemic can empower us when the emergency is over and we again turn our attention to the climate crisis.
Until then, please continue to hunker down, practice social distancing and good hygiene. And don’t forget that acts of kindness are always appreciated, as long as they don’t put you at unnecessary risk.
These are trying times. And in these trying times we may need to adjust our goals, alter our approach, and exercise more caution and patience than we normally would.
For example, Suzanna and I had to cancel our Eat for the Planet talk that was set for March 8th. It was certainly disappointing and required an adjustment of our goals. On the other hand it hasn’t stopped me from thinking about improvements I would like to make to the talk, because I know that we will reschedule the talk for a later date. Even Pope Francis has had to adjust too. On a recent Sunday, he prayed from the Apostolic Palace and live streamed his prayers, rather than from the balcony in St Peter’s Square, to reduce the crowd size.
The Coronavirus pandemic is challenging each of us. That challenge can be answered in a couple of different ways. I can adjust my approach, adding a healthy dose of patience, while maintaining my focus on my goals. Or I can just give up, put everything on hold indefinitely, and abandon my goals.
The current health crisis has forced many of us to temporarily increase our use of single-use items. Starbucks and many coffee shops are refusing to fill customer’s reusable cups. Similarly, the use of disposable masks and gloves, and chemical disinfectants have increased significantly. But these are temporary (and understandable) setbacks in reducing our carbon footprints. This doesn’t mean that you should abandon all sustainability plans and actions.
On the contrary, fears of the Coronavirus have forced many of us to adjust our routines, and maybe the silver lining here is that we can actually use this crisis to lower our carbon footprint. Since many of us are now forced to work from home, we won’t be commuting, so that means less of us needing transportation. In addition, the pandemic may force many of us to eat out less, travel less (goodbye, Italian vacation), delay making purchases, conserve more, and consume less.
Once again, we are at a crossroads. We could always take the selfish, wasteful approach: eating, drinking, stockpiling, and consuming with reckless abandon since we have lost all hope. Or, we could go for the ecological conversion espoused by Pope Francis in Laudato Si and take the opportunity to pause, reflect, reduce our carbon footprints, and actually do a better job of taking care of the planet and our neighbors, albeit safely. It’s our choice.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that purchasing and using plastic has numerous negative consequences, including the release of a significant amount of greenhouse gases and pollution from the production of plastic, the entanglement and poisoning of birds, fish, and other animals, the increase of toxins in our food chain and our bodies and the bodies of our children. I also pointed out that the most insidious type of plastic is the single use item.
Before getting into plastic alternatives, you might wonder why plastic is such a big deal if you recycle your plastic. The truth of the matter is that most (around 90%) of the plastic we use either isn’t recycled or can’t be recycled, and even when it can be recycled, remember that recycling itself exacts a carbon footprint. See my recycling article for more on this topic.
A better approach is to reduce your consumption of plastic. Start by taking an accounting of the plastic in your home and office. Walk through each room of your house and note what items are made of or housed in plastic. Then start replacing those plastics, especially single-use plastics, one by one.
Ideas for reducing plastic usage:
Refuse to purchase single-use water bottles. Carry a metal or glass water bottle with you when you are away from home.
Say no to straws. (Seattle has banned plastic straws, but remember to stay vigilant when travelling elsewhere.)
Stop using paper cups (usually lined and topped with plastic) at your coffee shop. Bring your own steel coffee mug to your espresso stand and to work.
Bring metal flatware and reusable dishes to work so you can avoid single-use plastics.
When purchasing food, look for items in bottles, boxes, or cans (not lined in BPA plastic). As much as possible, purchase bulk items in reusable containers and store them in glass jars.
Many aspects of our lives are dependent on the use of plastic. Most of the food we purchase is wrapped in plastic. And our leftovers are often stored in plastic bags and containers. The cords we plug into the wall, and the things that attach to those cords are frequently plastic or made primarily of plastic. Our toothpaste tubes, ketchup bottles, sponges, cosmetics, baby bottles, shower curtains, mattresses, cups, power tools, garbage cans, laptops, and automobiles are usually plastic or made up of plastic parts. Most medical equipment, containers, and devices are primarily plastic. And let’s not forget that many synthetic fabrics are essentially plastic too.
It’s no mere coincidence that the word plastic also can mean “phony,” because the overuse of plastic crowds out natural fabrics and substances and comes with a significant price tag. Plastic exacts a heavy carbon footprint, especially for single-use plastics that are used once and then thrown away.
Plastic is manufactured from oil and uses a large amount of energy in the process. Furthermore, plastic waste is a major ingredient in our landfills and our oceans. But the story doesn’t end there. That landfill plastic slowly breaks down, becomes microplastics, and enters our water tables and our oceans and the food systems via the tiny sea creatures who consume those microscopic plastic particles and then who are consumed by larger sea creatures and the fish that ends up in our diet.
But it’s not just microplastics that are wreaking havoc to ecosystems. An article from 2019 in the Washington Post profiled a massive die off of hermit crabs on islands in the South Pacific caused by the crabs mistaking plastic trash for shells. And we’ve all read about birds being regularly strangled by plastic six-pack rings.
Plastic enters our bodies through the aforementioned microplastics, but also via utensils, bottles, cups, and containers we use to consume food and beverages. BPA plastic is surprisingly still quite prevalent in our food system, lining most of the cans in our grocery stores.
Reducing the use of plastics has numerous advantages: less plastic means lower greenhouse gases, less environmental waste, less chance to entangle birds and other animals, less toxins in the food chain, and less toxins in our bodies and the bodies of our children. Yes, despite its convenience, our planet and the life on it would benefit from far less plastic.
Next week, we will talk about how to reduce our exposure to plastics.
If you live in the Seattle area, you may be interested to know that Suzanna and Paul Litwin will be giving a talk entitled Eat for the Planet on Sunday, March 8th, 2020 at 7pm in the Admin Building at St John’s Catholic Church at 106 N 79th Street, Seattle 98103. Please consider joining us for lots of tips and tricks on eating more plants.