By Betty Shelley (as seen in The Green Living Journal, October 2018)
The theme of this issue is Healthy Home. While we know that we need to maintain the physical structure of our dwelling – the foundation, the roof, the siding and windows, etc. – so that we are protected from the elements, we may be less aware of our obligation to take care of the natural environment that supports us with clean air, water and food, for example. While regrettable, in some ways it’s understandable. When people lived closer to the land, raising their own food or foraging for it as indigenous peoples did, it was much more evident when the ecosystem was out of balance; there would be recognizable consequences. Now, many of us are no longer in tune with our planet’s health for all sorts of reasons: urbanization, industrial agriculture, lack of access.
It’s not because we don’t care. It’s partly because our lives are filled with other obligations and so many more kinds of distractions. And it’s just easier to take for granted that things will keep on as they always have. The seasons will roll around at roughly the same times: Autumn with the sunny days and cool nights and flaming leaves, Winter with its rains and the cold that follows, then glorious Spring with its flowers, then Summer and its bounty and heat. But things are changing. Here in Portland this summer, the record number of 90+ degree days took their toll on the evergreens, causing them to drop loads of needles due to stress. I noticed this because we have four big fir trees in our small backyard and the brown needles were everywhere. It’s also partly because so many of our leaders don’t seem to think the changing climate is a big deal. And because thinking about climate change is a big deal and is disturbing so we duck our heads and put it off until later.
Well, later is here now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report on climate change on October 7th. You owe it to yourself to read a synopsis of the findings in order to get a sense of why I say “later is here now”. As, Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University says “The Special Report is like getting a troubling diagnosis from your doctor. ‘Every possible test has been done and the news is not good’. The doctor, the IPCC in this case, then explains possible treatment options to ensure our future health. We (the public) decide which option to follow.”
I first heard about climate change, then known as “global warming”, at the day-long teach-in that took place during the WTO events in Seattle in November, 1999. What I heard shocked me. But once I got over the shock, it motivated me to work on reducing my impact, to try using only my share of the planet’s resources, eventually reducing our household waste to one 32-gallon can of garbage per year since 2006. As you may know, the US has about 5% of the world’s population but uses approximately 20-25% of the world’s resources. Obviously, that is not sustainable and not fair. I often imagine what it would be like if there was a meter that measured our usage of resources as we use them, and when we used our share for the day/week/year, we no longer had any more of that resource to use. Wow. Picture that for a moment.
In our Less is More: Getting to One Can of Garbage a Year class, we share some of the practices we have adopted in an effort to not consume more than our share of Earth’s resources. Here is a list of just a few of the things we do:
- Consider what we bring into the house: Will it become garbage? Can we use it up? Is it recyclable?
- Eliminate disposables such as paper napkins. This not only saves money because you don’t keep buying things you are going to throw away, it saves the energy, water and trees used to make the napkins.
- Collect water as it heats up for showering and for washing dishes. That water can be used for flushing toilets, for watering the garden in the summer, or just putting it on the ground to replenish the aquifers.
- Reduce the thermostat in the winter and wear sweaters.
- Practice the first two Rs – Reduce and Reuse – before Recycle. And add other Rs such as Refuse, Repair, Resist, and Rethink.
- Plant native or drought-tolerant plants that need less water, remove lawn, and plant a food garden.
There are so very many things that we as individuals can do. Even simple things like taking your own reusable grocery bags, your own reusable cups and water bottles, buying foods in the bulk section of the grocery store, making your own cleaning products, and so many more very simple actions help reduce the strain on the environment. Make a list of things you are willing to try. Start with one, then move on to another when you’re comfortable with the first one. You will get so much satisfaction out of knowing that you are working to help all life and that what you are doing does make a difference.
So, what now? As Paul Gilding wrote in The Great Disruption, this is the time to choose what kind of person we want to be. Will we choose to get involved and help each other? From my experience mentoring groups for Northwest Earth Institute, I would say that once we wrap our heads around a situation, most of us want to DO something. In a recent article in the New York Times, authors Auden Schendler and Andrew P. Jones had this to say:
“There should be no shortage of motivation. Solving climate change presents humanity with the opportunity to save civilization from collapse and create aspects of what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.” The work would endow our lives with some of the oldest and most numinous aspirations of humankind: leading a good life; treating our neighbors well; imbuing our short existence with timeless ideas like grace, dignity, respect, tolerance and love. The climate struggle embodies the essence of what it means to be human, which is that we strive for the divine.
Perhaps the rewards of solving climate change are so compelling, so nurturing and so natural a piece of the human soul that we can’t help but do it.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/06/opinion/sunday/climate-change-global-warming.html?fbclid=IwAR3Ejo91SKr_NF92rpGiLSDnTgBOKGt_zBjpkStgOvnMqMpXKOYWnq8cUD0
I love the use of “the beloved community”. What is more beloved than all that you hold dear? I remember when we had the floods in 1996, and the Willamette River tumbled over the seawall in downtown Portland. Folks came from all over the area to put out the sandbags to hold back the water. We can – and we must – come together again just like we did then.