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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.

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Standing Rock Update

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is doing amazing work, by fighting for something (water and land), instead of against something. Although they are technically fighting against a pipeline, their overarching message is “water is life” and they are standing up to protect the natural resources that sustain our world. State and private police forces have been brutal – last weekend, they blasted protestors with water cannons while it was freezing outside.

Winter is coming . . . And as it descends on the Sacred Stone Camp, the stakes get higher. The governor of North Dakota issued an executive order requiring the protestors to leave due to harsh winter conditions, but they will not be sending law enforcement follow through with the executive order. The Army Corps of Engineers is requiring that protestors leave federal land by December 5th. A recent press release indicates that the water protectors are not going anywhere. Their grit is incredible.

Sacred Stone Camp has a great website that keeps people updated and directly asks for help (supplies and funds) from anyone who can contribute. The tricky part about this effort (and environmental work in general) is that the timeline is long, so it requires commitment for the long haul.

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Plant Love: Snake Plant

Although as I child I vowed to my mother that I would never own a single plant because I did not enjoy taking care of hers, I now have approximately 15 house plants in my one-bedroom apartment, plus a small outdoor vegetable and herb garden. My perspective on plants changed when I got my own place because I realized that not only are they beautiful, but they are functional. My aloe plant is great for my skin, my thyme plant tastes great, and all of my plants improve the indoor air quality.

Today I am going to showcase my first and in many ways favorite indoor house plant: the snake plant (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue).

Snake Plant
One of my snake plants…

Anytime someone asks me about my plants and is interested in getting one for themselves, I recommend a snake plant to start. Snake plants are great because they are easy – they don’t like a lot of water or direct sunlight. It seems like the more I neglect them, the more they thrive. The only time I had trouble with a snake plant was when I gave one too much water and the leaves got soggy and fell over. I had a snake plant in my cubicle at a former job where there was only fluorescent light and absolutely no natural light – the beast just kept growing and growing, and it still lives in that maze of cubicles with a friend today.

If you’re interested in getting a snake plant, I’ve purchased them at Home Depot, Ikea, and the indoor plant section of a local nursery.

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Reframing the News

I’ve written here before about my interest in a “low information diet,” which is a strategy to stay focused on what you actually have control over. Although this is a good idea sometimes, I now know that I took it too far. Years leading up to the 2016 election, I had no commitment to understanding the news, and instead got information from Facebook, comedy news shows, documentaries, and a few random websites that align with my interests. I believe that tuning out quality journalism was a big mistake on my part, and I’ve committed to spend some time each day paying attention to what is going on in the world around me and beyond.

Two days after the election results, I deactivated my Facebook account. I’ll be back on soon to stay digitally connected with family and friends, but I’m done using it to read articles and catch the latest news story. I’m horrified at the fake news stories that proliferated through social networks during the election cycle, and how my personal echo chamber was completely different from those who supported other candidates and see the world differently from me. This article and this article sum up my concerns nicely.

So in recognition of this error and my commitment to do better from here on out, I’ve started paying for digital access to the New York Times, the Buffalo News, and I’m about to sign up for a subscription to The Economist. No newspaper is perfect and every journalist comes with their personal biases, but I want to pay for and read journalism that has standards and seeks to uncover what is (closer to being) real.

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Onward

I will remember this week forever, because it’s the week of the U.S. 2016 election results, which blew my mind. I had a feeling that the multi-year campaign was too strange, too filled with fear, and too saturated with misinformation to result in the “status quo” (if you can call the first female president the status quo), but it was a shock nonetheless.

In the aftermath of the election results, I’ve found additional motivation to work harder, pay better attention, and take responsibility for creating the things that I want to see in the world.

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Gratitude

Yesterday I made a “plan for my weekend,” which included re-writing a legal article to post today. But I just got back from a walk with my dog, Sunny, and I realized that I’d much rather take a few paragraphs to recognize that I am so grateful for having one of the best weeks in recent memory. I was recognized for doing good work at my job, I had a number of great conversations with new and old friends, I got to see the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play backup to a Beatles cover band with my family (their rendition of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was awesome), I ate well, and I started brainstorming a new creative project with one of my favorite environmental “colleagues.” It’s kind of blowing my mind that all of these wonderful experiences happened over the course of five days.

I’m also grateful for being in the midst of my favorite season in Western New York. Last fall I was distracted with my personal life and driving pretty much everywhere, but this year I am much more present and living in an a city apartment where I walk all the time. The leaves are gorgeous!

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On the Recent Male Birth Control Upset

This week, people got upset because a trial for male birth control was discontinued due to unbearable side effects – mood swings, acne, decrease in libido, etc. Some women were quick to point out that this is pure hypocrisy, because women have been putting up with the exact same side effects for forever, so men should have to put up with it, too.

But rather than bash men for being wimps, I see this as an opportunity to raise the issue that female hormonal birth control is much more dangerous than advertised, and should not be prescribed as cavalierly as it is now. I was on a low-estrogen form of birth control for about seven years throughout college and law school, and the side effects were terrible (both physical and mental). The worst part was that I never considered getting off of it for years (and my doctors kept encouraging me to try different brands). The more I read about hormonal birth control side effects, the more I learned that this is a common problem. Messing with hormones is no joke and it has real consequences.

About three years ago, I stumbled upon my non-hormonal solution of choice: the Lady Comp (plus condoms on “unsafe” days). Did you know that there is only a small window every month when a woman can get pregnant, and temperature fluctuations throughout the month indicate this window? No one told me! So now I take my temperature at the same time every morning, and the Lady Comp tells me when I can get pregnant and when I can’t. It’s over 99% effective, and I have a solid record for over three years. Maybe it’s more work than the hormonal choices, but I don’t have to deal with crazy side effects anymore, and I honestly feel more alive and present than I did all those years on the Pill.

So yes, male birth control is a great idea in theory. But changing male hormones to lower their sperm counts? Messing with hormones is messing with the entire body, which is not good for any gender.

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Ben the Phoenix Cat

Here is a story of how I recently saved a (cat) life!

This past summer, my parents traveled to a few of the National Parks “out west” for a month, leaving my sister and I to take care of their house and pets. My parents have two 13-year-old cat brothers, Ben and Jerry (yes I named them, yes I used to be addicted to Cherry Garcia ice cream). My sister was doing most of the house-sitting and living there every day, while I traveled into town a few days a week to help her when she got busy. So she was seeing the animals every day, while I was gone for days at a time.

One day I came over, and Ben was totally different. He had always been a rather obese cat – eating a lot, never going outside, and barely getting up from the couch. This time, though, he was skinny! And he wasn’t grooming himself. My sister hadn’t really noticed, but since I mentioned Ben was looking weird, she paid more attention and texted a few days later to say he was getting skinnier and more lethargic.

So I took Ben to the vet, who confirmed my suspicions. Ben had gone from weighing 15 pounds to 10, and his blood sugar levels were off the charts. Ben has diabetes! Shit.

The vet said I (really my parents) had two choices: (1) hospitalize him and then give him two insulin shots at the same time every day for the rest of his life, or (2) do nothing and expect him to die within 30 days. Shit.

My parents chose #2 due to his age and their survival-of-the-fittest, raised-in-the-country belief that giving a cat two shots a day for the rest of its life would be cruel and unnatural. So I spent the next two days petting Ben, crying, and beating myself up for not being nicer to him over the years. I wasn’t mean, but he was never my favorite. . .

That night after crying, indulging in a selfie photo shoot with Ben, and drinking a couple glasses of wine, I decided that I owed Ben some Internet research on cat diabetes to make sure that the vet’s “Only Two Options” decree was actually true.

It wasn’t. Did you know that cats aren’t supposed to eat dry food? Did you know that feeding a diabetic cat dry food is just fueling their diabetic fire and killing them even faster? Did you know that Fancy Feast (classic seafood variety pack specifically) has the lowest carb, highest protein canned food you can buy at the grocery store? I didn’t, until I used that amazing tool called Google.

So the next morning, I woke up early, went to the grocery store, and bought Ben and Jerry their first pack of Fancy Feast. Jerry wasn’t impressed at first (he now loves it), but Ben loved it from the first bite. He ate a lot Fancy Feast. And he has been eating high protein/low carb canned food ever since (my mom buys him something from the natural pet store now).

It’s been two months since Ben’s dead-in-30-days diagnosis, and he is lean, active, and super happy to see me every time I stop by my parents’ house. He could go downhill at any time, but I definitely bought him some time and a higher quality of life.

Today my dad called him “Ben the Phoenix.” I’m so proud.

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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.

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Today I Checked into the Standing Rock Indian Reservation

Today I checked into the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota through Facebook, even though I’m in Buffalo, New York. A lot of people did this today, initially as an effort to confuse law enforcement who were reportedly using social media to target the on-the-ground Dakota Access Pipeline protestors. Even though the Sheriff’s Department issued a statement saying that it does not use check-ins to target protestors, I still feel that the action is significant because it provided a way for people to engage with the effort and get the mainstream media’s attention.

I didn’t know that this check-in was happening until one of my Facebook friends did it and I messaged him to ask if he was in North Dakota. He said no he was not, and he actually had no idea why he was checking in, but had heard from a friend that it was a good way to support some people who needed help.

The #NoDAPL fight has taken up a huge part of my mental space over the past 2 months, and it still shocks me that many people I know have no idea what is going on. I’ve posted some information about it on Facebook, but my posts get very few “likes” and are quickly shuffled to the bottom of my friends’ newsfeed. I get discouraged that “none of my friends care,” which may be true (everyone is so busy!), but I also suspect that the topic of my environmentally-related posts are not part of the Facebook algorithm and are banished from the newsfeed much faster than vacation or dog photos. Ugh.

The Dakota Access Pipeline Protest is important and I see it as one of the cracks in the industrialized age, bringing us to a new era where fossil fuels are left in the ground and the world transitions to full-on renewable energy. Yes this is about protecting the Missouri River, yes this is about honoring Native American treaties, and yes water is life, but also, this amazing and courageous protest is a symbol for the world to rally behind and reject building more fossil fuel infrastructure that will soon be a remnant of our dirty past.