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Go Time

The Trump presidency hits me in waves. Right now I’m angry because I just found out that Trump signed a “document” clearing the way for the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline.

So reckless. So dangerous. Such a slap in the face to humanity.

I’m so angry.

So right now I’m listening to “Splinter” by Ani DiFranco on repeat. Here are the amazing lyrics:

Something about this landscape just don’t feel right
Hyper air-conditioned and lit up all night

Like we just gotta see how comfortable comfortable can get
Like we can’t even bring ourselves to sweat

Sweat in the summer, shiver in the winter
Just enough to know that we’re alive
Watch out for that TV, it’s full of splinters
And remember you can always go outside
Really, really, really far outside

And some might call it conservation
And some might call it common sense
And maybe it’s because I am Libra
But I say balance balance balance balance
I say balance balance balance balance

Who put all this stuff in my apartment?
Who put all this ice in my drink?
Who put the poison in the atmosphere?
Who put the poison in the way I think?

O women, won’t you be our windows
Women who bleed and bleed and bleed
Women who swim with the tide, women who change when the wind blows
Show us we are connected to everything
Show us we are not separate from everything

So here’s to the trials of living
Here’s to feeling our share of pain
All the way from childbirth to dying
Here’s to being connected to everything
Here’s to staying connected to everything

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Super Basic Administrative Law

I’ve spent a large chunk of my life studying and working within the environmental law realm, which is a subset of administrative law.

Have I lost you yet? I know this stuff is dense and the terminology sucks. Bear with me – I’ll make it short. Knowing the bare-bone basics of administrative law is important for understanding the U.S.

The U.S. government has three branches (Judicial, Legislative, and Executive), and the Executive Branch is more than just the President. The Executive Branch is also made up of many agencies, like the Department of Justice, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and many more.

Federal agencies further their missions by interpreting the laws that are passed by Congress (Legislative Branch) to make their own rules and regulations. This process of Executive Branch agencies interpreting the laws passed by Congress to make rules and enforce them is what administrative law is all about. It creates a ton of government policy and it all happens outside of elections and the Congressional “how a bill becomes a law” process.

For example, Congress passed the original version of the Clean Air Act in the 1960’s, and then made major changes to it in 1970, 1977, and 1990. But other than that, all of the Clean Air Act rules that power plants, car manufacturers, and other sources of air pollution must follow have been created and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, with oversight by the courts (Judicial Branch). All of Obama’s climate change policy has occurred within the administrative law process.

The last layer I will add on today: although the agency must follow the purpose of the law they are charged with interpreting, the President, as the head of the Executive Branch, appoints the heads of the agencies. Therefore, the President has significant influence on what actions the agency takes during his term.

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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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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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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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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.

 

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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.
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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).