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.


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.


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.



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.

if it is to be, it is up to me

I’m loving the storms that have been passing through Western New York this weekend. It’s been great to fall asleep to the sound of rain, hear thunder, and not water my garden with tap water (the plants grow so much faster and bigger on rainwater!). I’ve been helping my sister take care of my parents’ house and pets while they are on a trip out west.  Unfortunately one of the cats, a 13-year-old tabby named Ben, has been rapidly losing weight, so I took him to the vet, and the diagnosis is diabetes. My parents lean towards the “let nature take its course” pet care approach, so I’m doing my best to spend time with him, keep him comfortable, and feel him food that he likes.

Here are the things that have been on my mind this week:

  • I am participating in MIT’s ULab “Leading from the Emerging Future” course for the second year in a row, and the first live session happened this past week. I was able to participate in the live session on the University at Buffalo campus, and meditate at the same time as over 20,000 people from around the world. I’ve never had that “global meditation” experience before (thanks, Internet!), but it was amazing and I felt infused with energy for the rest of the day. Here is the course website, here is the course book, and here is a sister website.
  • Cat nutrition is on my mind for obvious reasons… I learned that cats are supposed to eat wet food, not dry food. All of the cats I’ve known have eaten dry food, so this is a surprise to me. Here is a Quora thread on wet versus dry food. And here is a detailed chart that gives the nutrition information on many cat foods.
  • This weekend I went to my friend’s workshop on making your own herb-infused vinegar for cooking for medicinal purposes. I made mine with stinging nettle, burdock root, and holy basil (infused into apple-cider vinegar). It’s pretty easy to do (I think these instructions are good, although we didn’t warm up the vinegar and I’m sure it will be fine).
  • The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest of the Dakota Access pipeline continues, and there is a growing community of activists at Standing Rock in North Dakota. I’ve had trouble finding information about the protests on a consistent basis through normal news channels, so I’ve been looking at Twitter and searching for #DAPL or #NoDAPL to find the most current information. Below is a video of Van Jones speaking at a rally in DC, and his comments about “water is life, oil is death” are spot on (my favorite points begin at 2:40).

“We are a Way for the Cosmos to Know Itself”

It’s starting to feel like fall (or less like summer at least), which I am excited about. This summer was interesting – it was my first full summer back in Western New York since 2009, and it seemed hotter than I ever remember. That’s probably accurate considering global temperatures have been setting records for the past few years.

I thought I would write a little bit about what has been on my mind this week:

  1. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline is fascinating for a number of reasons. It’s exciting that a group is taking a serious stand against a pipeline that has been approved through the business-as-usual, plenty-of-red tape-but-will-probably-stand-up-in-court, administrative law process. It’s frustrating to think that this is one of many pipelines being proposed and approved across the country right now, with little media coverage (see Klamath, Northern Access, and google “gas pipeline” for others). It’s scary that a private company set out attack dogs and pepper sprayed protestors. It’s uplifting to see the federal government listen to the protests and step in, even if it’s temporary. It’s great to hear voices that I haven’t heard before.
  2. Last night I watched Episode 1 of the 2014 Cosmos (hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson) on Netflix. I watched the series episode-by-episode in 2014, but decided it would be a good idea to watch again because I am trial-by-fire tutoring a woman for her high school equivalency exam, and the chemistry questions are really hard for me. I didn’t plan on re-visiting atoms or the Periodic Table of Elements ever again, but here I am. Cosmos is an amazing series. It can be a little dense and challenging to understand at times, but it’s worth pushing through because it does a great job explaining science, and opens up your mind in the process.
  3. A Facebook friend posted a link to this amazing cartoon wombat video. “This is your home. It’s the only one you’ve got. Cherish and protect it.”
  4. I’ve been choosing to interrupt my sleep schedule lately, and I’m noticing that I don’t feel as sharp during the day compared to when I prioritize an uninterrupted 8 hours. Sleep has been really important to me since I learned about the benefits in college. So it’s time to get back on the sleep train and get some mental clarity back.

Climate Change is Everything

Happy Earth Day!

Last night I went to hear New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman speak about climate change and its ties to income inequality, and how there needs to be a united progressive movement to combat the selfish and devastating actions of the fossil fuel industry.  AG Schneiderman is leading the charge to investigate fossil fuel companies, most notably Exxon Mobil, to see what they knew about the effects of burning fossil fuels versus what they told the public and investors.

Now that he is getting attorney generals from other states involved, he has become the target of a smear campaign, which questions what he is doing and suggests that he is violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. His quote from the New York Times article, that he repeated last night:

“The First Amendment, ladies and gentlemen, does not give you the right to commit fraud.”

I am so grateful that I live in a state that is taking action against the fossil fuel industry, but I did feel removed from the Attorney General’s fight. I tried to be an environmental litigator for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but I only lasted 10 months. Litigation just isn’t for me. Still, I support his actions and am so grateful for his courage.

The thing that really stuck out for me last night was Attorney General Schneiderman’s plea for the progressive movement to form a cohesive, united front against the selfish fossil fuel industry.

Climate change is not an environmental issue; it’s an issue that captures everything about our failing economic system, unsustainable lifestyle, and disconnected values. Climate change is connected to poverty and race because the poorest people and communities of color suffer the most. Climate change is connected to the economy because it destroys human structures and closes businesses (I just received an email from a dog boarding facility in Austin that is closing because they couldn’t recover from last year’s Memorial Day floods). Climate change is connected to mental health because it’s scary to live in a world where future safety is uncertain.

So happy Earth Day! Now get outside 🙂


Climate Change in Fahrenheit

Climate change has been an important issue to me since I learned about it in college over a decade ago, but I have to admit that I didn’t give the average rise in global temperatures much thought until about a year ago.

There has been much talk about reaching the “2 degree” rise in average global temperature, when the world reaches a climate change tipping point of no return, and then the “4 degree” rise in average global temperature, when all hell breaks loose.

These numbers just didn’t feel big and scary to me. And then one random day I realized… they’re in Celsius!

So in case I am not the only one, here are some average global temperature conversions to help out my fellow Americans:

  • 1 degree Celsius = 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 2 degrees Celsius = 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 3 degrees Celsius = 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 4 degrees Celsius = 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit

When the numbers are translated into the temperatures I grew up with, I feel the climate change issue on a deeper level. And I am a little embarrassed that it took me so long to figure it out.


Grocery Shopping

Today I went grocery shopping, and I have a lot of thoughts about this activity, so it seems like a good place to start writing. I’ll be writing about food a lot because it’s a big part of my life – I’ve learned from good and bad experiences that what I eat has an effect on my entire life.

I’ve been going grocery shopping on my own for over ten years, but it’s only been over the past year or two that I’ve been implementing a strategy. This strategy has helped me buy only what I need (way less wasted food) and buy ingredients that I later combine and cook into a meal, as opposed to buying ready-made and/or processed foods.

So here are my grocery shopping steps:

  1. Before I leave the house, I find a small piece of paper. On the top half of the paper, I write out the next five or so days of the week and what I plan on eating for dinner on those days.
  2. On the bottom half of the paper on the left side, I write out all of the ingredients from the produce department that are needed to make the above dinners. I also add bananas and maybe another fruit or two for breakfast and snacks.
  3. On the bottom half of the paper on the right side, I write out all of the ingredients from the rest of the store (non-produce) that are needed to make the above dinners. I also add in cereal, almond milk, eggs, cheese, bread, chocolate, coffee, crackers, and any household items I need.

    wegmans list
    Today’s grocery shopping list.
  4. When I’m at the store, I keep the pen and list in my hand as I hunt down the items on my list and cross off each item as I put them in my cart. I get all of the produce items from the left side of my list first, and then I go around the rest of the store and grab the items listed on the right side.

That’s it.

I tend to cook similar things over and over again (soup, vegetable fried rice, lasagna), and once I learn the layout of the grocery store really well, I know where all the ingredients are and the trip goes by quickly. I also make large meals for dinner so I can eat them as leftovers for lunch, and I have no problem eating the same thing multiple days in a row. For breakfast, it’s almost always Ezekiel 4:9 cereal with a sliced banana, and a fried egg with salsa on the side.

One more thought: the incredibly huge grocery stores I’ve grown up with have conditioned me to expect access to countless varieties of fruits and vegetables regardless of the season or climate. Today I was looking for organic carrots, and received a reminder that the produce I buy really does depend on real-world weather conditions:

CA carrots are struggling

This is an example of severe weather affecting food production on a large scale. Although severe weather has been happening throughout world history, one of the effects of climate change is more frequent severe weather events. As time marches on, consumers are going to see these types of food production disruptions on a more frequent basis. Being flexible, adaptable, and more self-sufficient is important in this time of increasingly frequent and disruptive change.


The Gathering

I’ve been waiting to launch this website at the right moment, when I have it all organized and full of well-edited articles. But that’s just not happening, so I’ve decided that the moment to launch is now.

Tonight I went to the Rise Up for Climate Justice‘s gathering on the eve of the Paris Climate talks. There was ceremony, singing, and feasting. The evening was simple yet powerful, and each person I met was warm yet serious about climate action. Even though I didn’t know most of the people at the gathering, I felt like I belonged.

Rocks of grief & ribbons of gratitude.
Rocks of grief & ribbons of gratitude.

I feel small and powerless about climate change and environmental issues right now. I’m not going to Paris. I don’t have a powerful environmental policy job. I’m not living a perfectly sustainable lifestyle. I have a lot of student loans.

But I know that my smallness and powerlessness is changing into something else. I am finding my path and my voice, and for some reason, I believe that a part of my journey includes this website.

So here goes nothing. It’s time for Keeping Things Alive to come alive.