Little Ways to Burn Bright

Is it hot enough for you yet?

A few days ago, a person very near and dear to me made an off-handed comment about the unseasonably warm weather we have been having here in Northern Illinois. I couldn’t help but sigh. I definitely paused and considered whether I should respond the way I did, because I knew the person was trying to be positive, and I strive to be a positive person. However, on that day, I chose to be the Debbie Downer.
“Yea” I told them. “It’s been beautiful. Too bad we kind of…know the reason…” I trailed off, obviously alluding to climate change. I was promptly scolded by this person, who informed me that she didn’t want to talk about it when she was already thinking about it, and there was nothing she could do about it anyway, except start carpooling, which was not going to happen, thank you very much.
I was shocked. This was a grown person who is a functioning member of society, empowered and responsible for their own decisions. Yet here they were, informing me that there was nothing they could do about climate change.

It struck me in that moment that maybe the reason a large percentage of folks aren’t just lazy, or uncaring in the face of climate change…maybe they TRULY don’t understand what they can do to make a difference. They don’t feel empowered with action steps that are easy to fit into their life (and very little that we do to combat climate change DOES fit easily into the modern American life, because our culture relies so heavily on decimation of the planet.)

Education is, after all, a huge key to empowering individuals to change their lives. Perhaps it’s easier for some people who are already busy enough surviving and making their way in today’s crazy messed up world (I’m looking over at the dumpster fire that is our federal government right now), that they don’t have the energy or time to worry about how in the world they can make a difference in a problem that feels so much bigger than them. Additionally, it’s not a problem that they are faced with every single day-that they can see.

It’s different for people who have made a point to educate themselves on issues of the environment and how they can be solved. It’s not a judgement call against people who haven’t- it hasn’t been their priority, for whatever reason. For me, it is. So, perhaps it is my duty to put forward five basic things that can be fairly easily incorporated into one’s everyday life that make a difference.

  1. Minimize food waste in your home. Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to landfills, and contributors to world hunger. Hunger isn’t an issue of having ENOUGH food for everyone, it’s not wasting food and distributing the food we have properly. You can minimize food waste by eating things in the order that they go bad, to avoid rotting produce, looking for creative ways to use what’s in your fridge, rather than purchasing additional ingredients, meal prepping beforehand, carefully planning your shopping list, and more! All it takes is a little bit of forethought. Opt for to go containers in restaurants if you don’t finish your meal, and…COMPOST!
  2. BYOB (Bring your own bag). Bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store, and USE THEM. The cute cloth bag you bought with an owl on it doesn’t really do you much good sitting in your car, your garage, or your kitchen. I leave mine in the trunk of my car, and when I know I’m headed to the store, I move them to my front seat so I have no excuse not to use them. This saves plastic from ending up in landfills, streams, and ecosystems where it can harm wildlife, and it also minimizes the use of petroleum which is used to make the plastic in those bags.
  3. Shop secondhand. It’s actually not as gross as you think it is- stores wash things before displaying them! There are also fun places you can shop secondhand online if you’re a fashionista- ThredUp is one of them. Or, you can even go vintage! It also saves a pretty penny. If shopping secondhand isn’t your thing, consider swapping clothes with friends. If I need a new dress for an event I always see what people I know have that I can use. I also avoid shopping for new clothes if I can at all help it- I take photos of my outfits in the morning so I am constantly forcing myself to get creative and find ways to switch it up. Plus, it makes me come up with new ways to wear things!
  4. Get a library card! This is a great way to reuse! And, it saves you money. Think of all the paper and resources you save when you don’t buy a book, but instead check it out from the library. If you can’t wait for the book, check in at a used bookstore and see if you can find it there!
  5. Skip plastic bags- Opt to store things in small Tupperware containers wherever possible. You save money, and you save the planet.

 

One thing you’ll notice about most of these is that they actually save you money in the long run, in addition to being good for the environment. That’s the thing about sustainability- it’s also good for the economy and for your finances long-term.

 

Pro tip: if you do all of these things already, hop on the google and look for more! You have no excuse not to, you’re already on the internet. 😉

 

 

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My Valentine to the Earth

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Photo credit: Daniel Nueffer, taken at The Morton Arboretum

I know that the awful set-up of a holiday known as Valentine’s Day is over and we have moved on to thinking about St.Patrick’s Day (no, just me?), but allow me a moment to indulge my need to write a love letter to the earth.  I’m not doing this to satirize love poetry, or to poke fun at the holiday, but instead highlight the need to appreciate the beauty of the planet which we inhabit, each and every waking moment of our lives, and which supplies our every need.

———

                The moment we are born into this world, we are shrouded into the arms of loved ones. Those arms may leave us temporarily and we may move on to other loves, but one love, the cradle of the very planet we inhabit, holds us from birth to earth. We return to the very thing we are made of, the mixture of carbon and nitrogen that we tread each day, contains the millions of souls which came before us, that whisper to us, “take note.”

                We must take note of the beauty, the radiance, and the steadfastness of this planet which has held not only our species, but countless others, many of which we don’t even know exist. We must take note, or our own foolhardy nearsightedness will be our own demise. And this planet, so perfect for life, will carry on without us.

                The morning sun greets our eyes to wake us, and we are somehow attuned, (when not plugged in to our devices) to wake up as the sun graces the horizon with its presence. As the day wears on, we engage in the dance of work and play along with every other living creature that soaks in the light and breathes in the air. Somehow, whatever higher power you believe in, some way, of all the chances in the universe we are here, on this great green and blue sphere that can support life.

                I stand in awe some days, barely able to move, I am so paralyzed by the greatness of it all and the smallness of me. I feel inadequate. How can I possibly make a difference? How can my little actions somehow impact the vastness of our world when I am only one piece of a much bigger puzzle? It seems so cliché, yet so many have the same feelings that I do. I hope that feeling of smallness doesn’t encourage action, because it has been proven time and time again in the course of human history that enough small actions can create an earthquake of change. I believe it.

                The miniscule smallness of a bud unfurling in the spring, just as miraculous and life changing in its beauty as the majestic oak or the graceful sinewy of stallions I can only glimpse from the highway as I roll along in my car, closed off from the world. We are so closed off from the world.

                Maybe the key to saving the planet is speaking for it. Bringing people back into the mind-numbing vastness of it all, from the millions of tiny insects which scramble around on the ground, to the open sky above us. It is so worth saving.

                How can an earth be so strong as to support the behemoths of industrial development we add to it each day, each minute, each hour? I feel the land beneath the “City of Big Shoulders”, Chicago, begin to shudder under the weight of the muscle it is forced to bear. Deep below, the bones are cracking. It cannot hold much longer.

                I love this earth. I love this body of life that we are all somehow blessed to tread upon. I will fight for it. I urge you, write your love letter to the earth. Isn’t there somewhere, in this immensity, something worth saving?

 

Standing With Standing Rock- What is “Home?”

Sunday, February 2, 2017, the Patriots beat the Falcons in the biggest football game of the year. I’m not sorry to say that I did not watch. I certainly wish I had seen Lady Gaga’s performance, because she’s fantastic. However, my attention was elsewhere, on a cause which is far more near and dear to my heart.

I had the honor and privilege of attending a fundraiser on the campus of my alma mater, North Central College, which was hosted by the North Central College Democrats and co-hosted by the student group which I was president of while on-campus, Green Scene. I was partially there to support the President who I installed as my successor, Emily Alaimo (who is a fabulous eco-warrior and a force to be reckoned with), and the rest of the group. I was also there to express my dissatisfaction that the Dakota Access Pipeline was being pushed forward by President Donald Trump, and has now been approved. The cost to attend the event was $10, and the money went to the Lakota People’s Law project, a group working to make change and fight for the rights of indigenous peoples across the United States.

The fundraiser raised over $1,000 for the Lakota People’s Law Projects an organization which seeks to stop the seizure of Lakota children by South Dakota’s Department of social services without warning. The thing is, according to lakotalaw.org, “The vast majority of the Native children in South Dakota are taken from their families because of a culturally biased definition of “neglect.” The state of south Dakota does not allow grandparents or other family members to act as foster parents so the children are not always taken care of by a “proper guardian” (defined in western culture and by US law as a parent). Some parents are told the child is taken because of small home size or improper standards of living. The Lakota People’s Law Project was founded to end this tragedy and fight for the rights of the indigenous people to care for their children in a way that aligns with their cultural values.

 

So what does that have to do with the Dakota Access Pipeline? Aside from being an environmental disaster, (which I’ll get into a bit later), this is an issue of indigenous rights. First, I’ll start with something basic that most people can relate to.

Would you want an oil pipeline running through your backyard?

Why not?

In truth, that’s all it is.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, according to time.com (the web home of Time magazine) is a pipeline to be built by Energy Transfer Partners which would transport crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The proposed route for the pipeline would travel underneath the Missouri River, “the primary drinking water source of the Standing Rock Sioux…the Standing Rock Sioux also argue that the pipeline traverses a sacred burial ground. And while the land being used for the pipeline is not technically on its reservation, tribal leaders argue that the federal government did not adequately engage the Standing Rock Sioux during the permitting process-a requirement under federal law.”

Ok. Cool. So, would you want an oil pipeline running through your backyard? No? What about through your drinking water source? Also no, I’m willing to bet. What about through the grave site of generations of your family? I certainly wouldn’t. Oh, and the people who built it didn’t talk to you before deciding they were going to do it?

I’d be angry, too. But because the Standing Rock Sioux belong to a minority group that the U.S. government has tried to shove away into the farthest most remote corners of the country and treat as second class citizens (seriously, look up what the United States has done to indigenous peoples over the years, it’s really bad), we think it’s ok to put a pipeline there.

It’s not.

Which begs the question, why do the Standing Rock Sioux not want a pipeline (other than what I already mentioned? Pipelines leak.

Almost all of them.

Sunoco, the company that would be the one to build the pipeline with the Army Corps of Engineers, is responsible for the largest amount of oil spillage of any pipeline manufacturer.

It’s no wonder the people of Standing Rock are concerned.

The event last Sunday was well attended by people in the community. There were several speakers:

Andrew Van Gorp, founder and director of Sustain DuPage, a local nonprofit organization

Steve Macek, a communications professor at North Central College

Tony Mikelowksi, a former local elected official

The head of the NCC College Democrats

And a surprise speaker, a woman whose daughter had reported on what is happening at Standing Rock, who felt compelled to speak.

Though the topics and methods of speaking of each of these individuals was different, they all addressed the idea of home.

The idea of home is one that we seriously need to keep in mind, not only as it relates to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project which poses as serious threat to the homes of many Americans (and yes, the people of Standing Rock are Americans, too. The land of the Dakotas is my home, because it is part of my country), but as it relates to each individual who was in that room on Sunday, and each individual reading this blog post.

Environmentalism is about protecting our home. We only have one planet, and it is home. There are those that say if we trash earth, we can move to Mars or somewhere yet to be discovered (good luck with that, different topic for a different day), but it doesn’t matter. Our home is here. You don’t trash the home you have with the assumption that you can just find a new one. That’s insanity. You care for it, you love it, you steward it. Your home is also your community which you live in. I encourage everyone to get involved in local policy and local activism. Do you know the stream in your backyard? Your parks? Those are your home, too. Foster a land conservation ethic in people by reconnecting them with the planet. All it takes is a walk outside.

On a broader scale, thinking about what is going on with our country’s leadership (that I strongly disagree with) taking action has to do with a sense of pride in my home. This is not how I want my home, my country, to act. It is not how I want us to be perceived in the eyes of the world, and it is not how I think that we should be treating our family, our fellow Americans. To those who tell me that it doesn’t matter, I disagree, and I will continue to fight with my home, while fueling myself with the company of like-minded individuals. I was blessed to stand up with my fellow Napervillians, DuPage County-ans, and North Central College Community members for what we believe in. Thank you to NCC for hosting, and for all my fellow warriors for being there with me!

 

 

Sources:

Lakotalaw.org

Time.com

Poverty and the Environment- Musing on Intersectionality

 

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I am blessed and privileged to work at an amazing place, The Morton Arboretum. The Arboretum is a leader in conservation research in the scientific community. They have a large number of PhDs on staff, and are constantly involved in partnering with other scientific organizations in the area on research projects.

Sometimes, our science staff will host visiting scientists and open up a presentation by the visitors for staff to come listen. It’s a great opportunity for someone who works in another department (like marketing, which is where I am) to come hear about the great work being done by scientists to support our mission­­—“to collect and study trees, shrubs, and other plants from around the world, to display them across naturally beautiful landscapes for people to study and enjoy, and to learn how to grow them in ways that enhance our environment”. It inspires me to continue my everyday work of promoting programs which drive revenue. Revenue which then goes back to the more “world-saving” work. These science and research based talks are known as “Tree Talks” and are hosted by The Arboretum’s Center For Tree Science.

Monday, January 30th, a group of scientists from the Field Museum of Chicago came to give one such talk. Their names are Chao Fan and Mark Johnson, and they are also working as part of an organization called CRTI (which pops up a lot in partnership with The Arboretum.) CRTI stands for Chicago Region Trees Initiative, a collaboration of organizations around Chicagoland which works to improve and restore a healthy urban forest (urban forest: all the trees within the urban area.) So far in my experiences at The Arboretum I have learned that these science partnerships are often complicated and confusing, and it seems like no scientist works in a vacuum. If it gets confusing, I apologize, I’m doing my best to explain something even I don’t have a full grip on.

The scientists from the Field are working about a “forest composition model” for the seven-county region surrounding Chicago, as part of CRTI’s efforts to improve Chicago’s urban forests.

I’m not going to go into the weeds here in regards to the actual research, because it got very confusing very quickly. What struck me about the talk was a question asked by an audience member: had the scientists investigated correlations between socio-economic factors and the number of trees?

Think about it:

How often are you driving through an area with significant poverty and notice a lack of trees or green spaces? Maybe you don’t, because maybe your eyes aren’t looking for them. However, it’s been researched- it is often those people who are the most disadvantaged that suffer the most from environmental degradation are those who are not well off in the first place. According to a group of researchers from Portland State University, “One of the most visible indicators of neighborhood income, and vegetation density is directly tied to health outcomes, especially for the vulnerable group, such as kids, the elderly, and people living below the poverty line.” (read more) This gets at the intersectionality of environmentalism, or environmentalism at its best.

The environmental movement is important to the overall health of humans. We know that trees and green spaces provide community and health benefits. (I’ll explore more in later blog posts) Unfortunately, those who do not have a lot of money often live in neighborhoods without a lot of green space due to low property value. This becomes a self-perpetuating trend in which the residents of the impoverished area then can’t afford to plant trees, and may not even understand the value of trees and green spaces to human, community, and land health.

It is the job of the environmental movement, in my opinion, to always keep an eye on environmental justice by making sure that our movement not only serves as a feel-good way for educated, white, upper class liberals to “save the world.” Frankly, many of the spaces I have been in (clubs, classrooms, workplaces) with an environmental focus, are white, middle and upper class men. At its best, and in order to best serve all people, we need to ensure that we are serving those populations which need our help the most. Whether that is working to ensure, as CRTI does, that our urban forests are healthy, volunteering to plant trees in an impoverished neighborhood or educate people on the benefits of green spaces to their community, or lobbying to ensure that corporations don’t locate their polluting factories in communities that don’t necessarily have the time or education to fight back, we have to serve all people, because the environment is here for all people. A green, clean earth should not just be for the wealthy, and I for one will always seek to make sure that my environmental activism is as intersectional as possible. (And if it ever isn’t, I always appreciate feedback as to how it can be more so!)