Books, Climate Change, Mind and Body, Politics, Post, Sustainability

Planting Trees

There is so much thinking (and talking) going on in the United States right now, as action slowly emerges. It’s hard to get unstuck! Last night someone commented on one of my earlier posts on mourning trees, and it reminded me of the genuine value of planting trees to cool our warming planet.

Carl Sagan‘s last book is called Billions and Billions, and it was published in 1998 (he died in 1996). I am fascinated by works that artists (I consider scientists and environmentalists to be artists if they are doing it right) create when they know that they are going to die in the near future. Carl Sagan wrote Billions and Billions as he died of cancer, to the point where his wife had to finish it. Rachel Carson spent over half of her time writing Silent Spring when she knew she was dying of cancer.

So here is Carl Sagan’s advice on taking real action to reduce the negative effects of global warming (this advice was published in 1998!):

The only method of cooling down the greenhouse effect which seems both safe and reliable is to plant trees. Everyone can plant trees – individuals, nations, industries. But especially, industry. Applied Energy Services in Arlington, Virginia, has built a coal-fired power plant in Connecticut; it is also planting trees in Guatemala that will remove from the Earth’s atmosphere more carbon dioxide than the company’s new facility will inject into the air over its operational lifetime. Shouldn’t lumber companies plant more forests – of the fast growing, leafy variety useful for mitigating the greenhouse effect – than they cut down? What about the coal, oil, natural gas, petroleum, and automobile industries? Shouldn’t every company that puts CO2 into the atmosphere be engaged in removing it as well? Shouldn’t every citizen? What about planting trees at Christmastime? Or birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. Our ancestors came from the trees and we have a natural affinity for them. It is perfectly appropriate for us to plant more.

Books, Climate Change, Post

Before the Flood

I watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary, Before the Flood, earlier this week. It was . . . decent. I respect him, as I respect anyone, for putting out art and information about climate change issues. I really liked the places that he filmed, the people that he interviewed, and his personal anecdotes throughout the film. I’m just left feeling that it’s all not enough. The people who need to know more about climate change and act accordingly probably don’t know that this documentary exists, and if they do, will never watch it. Those who have and will watch are going to feel relatively powerless to do anything besides change their diet (which is important, but can feel pretty inconsequential on an individual level).

Ugh, I don’t want to be such a downer about a genuine effort of make a difference on issues that I care so deeply about! Because it’s pretty incredible that a high-end movie star cares so much about climate change, has invested a ton of his own money in making it accessible for others, and weaves so many other important people (the Pope, President Obama, Elon Musk, John Kerry, etc.) into the film. I connected with his skepticism, and his sadness, because I too see climate change as an over-arching source of human suffering that is getting more intense over time.

I follow Charles Eisenstein on Patreon, and he sent out a recent update about his upcoming “sort of about climate change” book that feels appropriate to mention now. Here is a quote:

“Climate change is a symptom of a deeper condition, and part of the reason for our inability to address it effectively is the focus on the symptom. To make [the new book] about climate change would be to feed into that symptomatic emphasis.”

Climate change is happening because we (developed countries) burn fossil fuels to live the way we do, which is disconnected from the Earth’s natural systems. Before the Flood does a great job explaining the consequences of climate change, the politics of climate change, and gives a few good suggestions about reducing consumption, but it does not create an urgent call to dramatically change how we Western consumers are living. It does not encourage human connection with the Earth, which is so needed right now.

Leonardo DiCaprio is not responsible for anyone but himself, and I am grateful for his efforts, but when the film ended, I had a deep, sad feeling that it isn’t going to move the needle very far beyond the current status quo.

Here is an angrier review that is perhaps overly harsh, but I get it. I especially like the author’s comments on filming The Reverent, because I was thinking the same thing when I watched it:

Interspersed throughout the film is Leo on the set on The Revenant, his recent movie about a man fighting against the elements. Apparently the film crew couldn’t find snow in the Canadian Rockies when needed, so the entire crew flew to Argentina to finish filming. This was meant to be an alarming example of climate change, and yet it struck me as the root of the whole problem – the privileged uber-rich who love their entertainment so much that they can afford to fly hundreds of people and piles of gear in fossil fuel-powered planes to film a few snowy scenes on schedule!

Also, Before the Flood reminded me yet again: fuck palm oil.

Books, Mind and Body, Post

Take 3

It’s hard for me to write in here regularly, but I am not giving up. There appears to be a number of things holding me back:

  • Writing about what I really think and then putting my thoughts into a “public” place is intimidating.
  • Imposter Syndrome: me being an “expert” in environmental issues is a fluke and no one is going to listen (I still insist on using quotes around expert and I’ve been in this world since 2004!).
  • More self sabotage: environmental issues are scary and few people want to hear about them at all, let alone from me (a.k.a don’t be a buzzkill).
  • I’m not in the habit of signing into WordPress on a daily basis.
  • I’ve looked at a screen all day for work, so it’s not fun to be in front of a computer for another hour.

But as I’ve said before, it’s past time for me to write about what I know. I can’t shake the itch to share my thoughts and knowledge online and connect with others who also care.

This weekend I was inspired to begin posting (again) from two sources: (1) I started reading The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin; and (2) I listened to a couple of The Tim Ferriss Show podcasts while cleaning my apartment. The Icarus Deception encourages its readers to create art, no matter what, while The Tim Ferriss Show discusses the actions of high-performing individuals and how to live a creative, productive life. I have to start now, and I have to keep at it.

See you tomorrow 🙂

Books, Mind and Body, Politics, Post, Sustainability

The Beauty of Just Letting Go

This week was emotionally challenging for me because I had to let go of something. Letting go is hard, but I can already feel new space in my life to write, think, exercise, spend time on relationships that build me up, and work towards my goals. Exhale.

So in light of that disruption, here are the things that have been on my mind this week:

  • I’ve been leaning on Tara Brach pretty hard this week. I’ve more than halfway through her second book, True Refuge, and it’s excellent. Going through the book and trying out the meditations and reflections is draining, though. It helps me come back to the present (instead of spinning around in my head) and get in touch with my body and heart, which brings up repressed emotions like fear and sadness. Working through this process is cathartic and I’m glad that I’m putting in the time.
  • The first Presidential debate is tonight, and I don’t plan on watching. I already know who I’m voting for, and I don’t want to spend any more time on this election. In general, I spend some time keeping up with the news and I try my best to stay informed on environmental issues because that matters for my work and writing, but I don’t spend much time learning about stuff that is out of my control, which has been coined a “Low Information Diet.” I’m also uncomfortable with the underlying fear-inducing tactics of mainstream news. Here are two articles by one of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache, on what a low information diet is, and focusing on your circle of control.
  • I do my best to avoid chemicals in my household products because they mess with my body and they are not tested for safety in the way that I always assumed (this documentary was eye-opening for me). I’ve struggled to find a deodorant that works, so I bought a new one this week based on this article.  So far so good, but I haven’t sweat very much yet (it’s finally getting cooler – I love fall!). Note: I find that I have no body odor issues when I’m wearing merino wool or 100% cotton versus polyester blends.
  • In Dakota Access pipeline news, the United Nations Council on Human Rights issued this statement on the importance of consulting with tribes on the pipeline and ensuring safe drinking water. I’ve been working on researching this issue a bit more and have been getting more information from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Facebook page. I plan on publishing a more robust article within the week.
Books, Mind and Body, Post

On Taking Care of Your Body

Your body is your greatest ally, and it’s critical to take care of it and treat it with respect.

This past weekend, a person I know went into septic shock and ended up in the ICU. When an infection broke out, her body was not strong enough to fight it. Everything is okay now, but it was scary for a while.

This event reminded me of my life in January 2013, when I experienced a serious illness episode that changed me forever.

Cause

In early January 2013, I got the flu and was laid up for a week. I had been working crazy hours at my law firm job, writing a legal article in my spare time, eating whatever was in front of me, trying to meet holiday obligations in Texas, and missing my Western New York family and friends terribly.

I didn’t know what the flu really was until I got it. I had a fever, chills, cold sweats, mouth sores, and my body ached everywhere. I went to the doctor two days in, but it was too late to take Tamiflu and he told me to ride it out, so I did. For the next week, I couldn’t do anything (TV, talk, read, Internet, etc.) except toss and turn in my bed. After 27 years of being a relatively healthy person, I finally understood how people died from the flu and other infectious diseases.

Despite the awfulness of the flu, I am forever grateful that I got it because it changed my life for the better. I suddenly realized that my life was completely off balance and I was not taking care of my body. I had been prioritizing my job above everything else, I was too busy, I had too many things, I didn’t exercise enough, and I did not eat well.

Changes

Living a healthier and more balanced life is a constant work in progress; I don’t think I’ll ever be done. Three years have passed since I got the flu, and in that time many things have shifted for me. Here is a list of the most important changes that I have made in my life, all in the name of taking care of my body and overall wellbeing:

  1. My body is my ally. For most of my life, I treated my body like it was a thing that I had to battle against. It didn’t look right in the clothes I wanted to wear. My period was painful, gross, and something to hide. My hair needed to be washed in chemicals, dried with electric heat, and flat-ironed into straight submission (side note: my hair is naturally really straight). Although it’s hard to overcome years of habitual thought, now I do my best to treat my body like a friend and ally. What I put in and on my body must be healthy and safe. A loving attitude towards my body matters. Here is an article about loving your body, and I also really love the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach (I realize that both of these links are of the Buddhist persuasion, and although I’m not a Buddhist, I find many concepts wonderful for everyone).
  2. “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is the mantra of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, Food Rules, and Cooked. You can watch the documentary version of Cooked on Netflix.  Michael Pollan is not super inspiring on screen, but he is an incredible researcher and journalist who has weaved together science, history, and human behavior to create a beautiful blueprint for eating and preparing real food that nourishes your body, connects you to the natural world, and bonds you with other people. As for the “mostly plants” part, I love the documentary Forks Over Knives (although I am not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan), and the cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (it is so much more than a cookbook).
  3. No more added sugar. This one is huge, and I already wrote about it here.  For a slightly inappropriate but hilarious take on added sugar, see what John Oliver has to say.
  4. Green smoothies are amazing. I haven’t gotten into juicing because I like consuming the roughage parts of the plant that remain in smoothies. The book Green for Life is a great source of information on green smoothies and why they are so important for digestion, energy, blood sugar regulation, and overall health. Also, a Vitamix is completely worth it.
  5. Yoga for balance, flexibility, strength, and awareness. Yoga is my favorite form of exercise. Although I grew up participating in strict, competitive, rule-based exercise and sports programs, I gravitated towards yoga as an adult. There are so many kinds, and I like the ones that focus on breathing and longer stretches, like yin yoga. Going to a yoga studio once a week to start is helpful to learn the basics, but the nice part about yoga is that once you know a few poses, you can practice it anytime on your own, whether or not you have a mat. Yoga has completely fixed my lower back problems and whenever a muscle is tight, I know a stretch that will get at the right spot.
  6. Meditation. I’ve been trying to set aside time every day to focus on the present moment for a little over a year, and I absolutely love what it’s done for my life and mental health in particular. I’m not going to try to explain meditation here (it’s a personal thing you get into on your own), but the book Wherever You Go, There You Are is incredible. I also like the apps Calm and Headspace.
  7. Minimalism. One of the first things I wanted to do after recovering from the flu was get rid of the clutter in my life. Miss Minimalist really helped me with de-cluttering. I also love this article about the Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, who wrote The Art of Tidying Up.
  8. Financial Independence. I’m still on the road to getting rid of my student loans and gaining financial independence, but I love Mr. Money Mustache‘s blog for inspiration on how to live a less consumer-driven lifestyle. Early retirement is not my goal, but I want to stop worrying about money so I can be a creative person and live the life that I want without finances hanging over my head.
  9. Acupuncture. I know that needles are scary, and acupuncture seems totally crazy, but it works. I started doing it in Austin, and it helped me manage my mold allergy, recover from a dog attack, and reduce anxiety. I also think it’s contributed to me having a faster metabolism. Overall, acupuncture gives my body the energy tune-up that it needs to take better care of itself. I’m lucky to be able to go to an acupuncture clinic that only costs $15 (I sit back in a recliner in a room with other people receiving the same treatment), but a lot of health insurance providers cover it because it’s so effective and safe.
  10. Avoiding chemicals. Chemerical is a tough and slightly unbelievable documentary, but it inspired me to get rid of all of the chemical-filled household products that are unhealthy in ways that I’ll never fully understand. In short, your body absorbs the chemicals in household products, those chemicals have serious health effects over time, and no one is regulating them in a human-safe way. So in light of this information, I’ve used this amazing book to create my own natural cleaning and beauty products, which are effective and way cheaper.
  11. No hormonal birth control. Your body doesn’t have walls between organs, and hormonal birth control impacts every process in a woman’s body. I believe that every woman should be issued one of these at puberty (tracking your cycle is great), and must understand that pumping their bodies with synthetic hormones every day has serious side effects. Here is a good book on the topic.
  12. Walking outside. I try to always remember that I’m a human being, descended from people who spent a lot more time outside than I do now. I try to get outside for a walk at least once a day, if not more (dogs are great for that). Hiking in the woods and being around plants and trees and wildlife regenerates me, and directly contributes to my health.
Effects

The above list of changes I have made over the past three years represents an overall intention to connect with my body and respect it as the only vehicle I have to get me through my life. I have lost a lot of weight and about four dress sizes, and I also have more energy, I’m a better listener, and I am less anxious. The results have been noticeable to everyone that knows me.

I hope that this information can help or inspire others to be more mindful about their actions and how it affects their body. The changes I’ve made have been working for me now, but I expect that I’ll be doing things differently over time.  Also, other people are going to gravitate towards their own ideal ways of living. The important thing is to pay attention and take action to make the changes that feel right for you.