Facing the Gravity of the Situation

I don’t dwell on negative news but sometimes feel it is important to read, and also to share. This article gives a horrific report of fish and wildlife kills due to extreme summer heat. This report comes from Australia but is just one example of ecosystems in crisis worldwide.

I share the author’s feeling about the reported mass die-offs of fish and wildlife:
“This is beyond disturbing. It should have been on the front pages of every newspaper and TV show across the globe. We should be discussing it in urgent, worried tones and devoting a huge amount of money to studying and fixing it. At a minimum, we should stop hauling more tiny fish and krill from the sea in an effort to at least stabilize the food pyramid while we sort things out.”

Fortunately, our positive actions can and do make a difference. Even if you don’t fully believe that, there’s no denying the happiness and peace of mind that comes from taking constructive actions on a daily basis. And knowing you are not alone; that there are many others who care.

The article also offers a useful nutshell summary of the pattern of societal collapse:

“Many people are expecting some degree of approaching collapse — be it economic, environmental and/or societal — thinking that they’ll recognize the danger signs in time. 

“As if it will be completely obvious, like a Hollywood blockbuster. Complete with clear warnings from scientists, politicians and the media.  And everyone can then get busy either panicking or becoming the plucky heroes. 

“That’s not how collapse works.

“Collapse is a process, not an event.”

Regarding the possibility of societal collapse, there are many many things we can do, individually and collectively, to boost our resiliency. In this blog and my book, I set out to demonstrate a resiliency-building approach to life. I hope you are finding my writings helpful.

Wine Bottle Finds Elegant Reuse

Or maybe it’s even an upcycle – you decide! Great way to bring rainwater indoors, from the barrels into the teakettle or the bath! A pale-blue or pale-green bottle is particularly pretty for this use, don’t you think?

(To reduce likelihood of algae forming in a clear bottle exposed to light, I use the water promptly and don’t leave it sitting in the bottle longer than a day or so.)

I find that aesthetics are one of the top enticements that keep me enthusiastic about low-footprint living. I love the aesthetics of used/old/reused stuff. And the human touch (such as handwriting over old peeled labels). For me, aesthetics may be even more of an enticement than finances! And that’s saying a lot, because I am an extreme enthusiast of thrifty living. I’m not going to call myself a “cheapskate,” because I do have my indulgences and splurges. What I might call myself is an ornate minimalist or selective penny-pincher!

How about you: What keeps you really fired-up about low-footprint living? Is it finances, time, aesthetics/creativity, health and wellness, or something else?

Low-footprint living tip: Create a routine

Over time I’ve noticed many a reciprocal relationship between low-footprint living and various personal benefits. The main area that comes to mind is finances. The link between footprint and financial liberation is huge! By reducing my financial overhead, I was able to greatly lower my eco-footprint. Cutting out cable TV, getting rid of my car, moving to a smaller cheaper place. (“Reduce your need to earn” was a great expression I heard in permaculture design class). And the reverse turned out to be true also: The lower I shrank my footprint, the less money I needed to live well.

Besides finances, a couple of other major areas where footprint reduction leads to a reciprocal win-win are time and personal energy. I’ve brought up those topics in various posts and surely will again.

And, just this morning I noticed yet another area of win-win reciprocal relationships. I noticed that having a daily routine helps me lower my eco-footprint, because I’m being more efficient with time and energy. And, in turn, my commitment to living a low-footprint life helps me stick to a routine better, because I’m less likely to allow myself to be sucked into distractions, get overcommitted, and so on.

A routine need not be rigid; in fact, it works better for me if there’s flexibility within the structure. Also, I notice that my routines vary seasonally. In wintertime, I get out and run errands in afternoon when it’s warmed up a bit. In summer, I avoid being outdoors in midday or afternoon sun, so my errands need to get done in the early morning or evening hours. (A lot of the time, errands also serve for exercise. A walk or bicycle ride to the store; a walk around the neighborhood with my wheelie-cart scrounging free landscaping materials from people’s curbside “trash,” etc.)

Here is my current routine, which works great in the winter days of cold temperatures and early sunsets, late sunrises:

Early AM (6:30 or 7): Mind-centering/spiritual practice; body stretching (can be done without artificial light). Make bed, get dressed, plan the day.

7:30-9am: Breakfast, household tasks (sweeping/mopping, washing dishes, mending, laundry, yard), coffee, writing, quiet time to enjoy morning.

9am-: Plug in internet modem/router, get email, respond to communications, make blog posts.

Noonish: Lunch

Afternoon: Artwork; writing; research & marketing tasks, yard/landscaping.

Evening: Civic activities, social time, walks

Notes:

• I unplug internet before bed, or often sooner if I’m going out or planning to focus on art, yardwork, and other offline stuff. I find that this encourages me to be very deliberate about my online time.

• The above is how I most commonly end up spending my day, but sometimes civic and social activities happen in the morning or afternoon instead (or in addition). My low-footprint lifestyle allows me plenty of time and flexibility to accommodate that. Similarly, I sometimes go out to lunch with friends or colleagues rather than eat solo at home/office. And one of my favorite social activities is having morning coffee with a neighbor, either at their place or mine.

• Although I list writing as a morning or afternoon activity, the truth is, writing is a 24-7 thing. Anytime I’m awake and have a write-y thought, writing has to happen. I learned the hard way after losing lots of ideas because I figured I would remember them when it was more convenient to write them down. Nope! If I have a thought at 3am, I turn the light on and write it down. Sometimes I grumble to myself about the inconvenience of interrupting my cozy dark rest to write, but I tell myself in response, “Quit yer whining! How many other people have the option of being able to work anytime and anywhere? Now get out that notebook and pen!” It works. As does my routine.

• Dinner tends to be sometime between about 5:30 and 8:30. Bedtime is usually around 10 or 10:30 but can be as early as 8 or even 7:30pm in the cold dark months! I often read (usually fiction) for a half-hour or an hour before bed. And usually at least one night every week or two, I manage to stay up late (midnight, 1, or even 2) for a comedy show, party, or some other late fun thing. But the older I get, the less I feel inclined to stay up late! (In summer it is easier. I do love being out and about on summer nights.)

• Something about giving tasks a place in my routine really makes me appreciate the rhythms of nature: variations in temperature, wind, light, and so on. Like, on a sunny breezy morning, when it’s my designated “morning task” time, I’ll feel like, “Oh goody! Perfect day for laundry!” And I take delight from that whole set of activities that is hand-washing my clothes, wringing them out, and hanging them on the line. Feeling the sun on my face, hearing the birds chirp.

Some people might prefer a much more structured, less flexible routine. And others might not find it helpful to have a routine at all! What do you think? Do routines work for you? And do you notice a relationship between routine and your footprint-reduction efforts?

Dealing with “Eco-Hypocrisy”

“Definition of hypocrite. 1 : a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion. 2 : a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” (from Merriam Webster)

Yep, had to double-check so I looked up the definition of “hypocrite.” Yes indeed, that is me. Not so much 1), putting on a false appearance; but definitely 2) acting in contradiction to my stated beliefs.

For example, I believe that disposable plastic cups are really bad for the environment. But I still accept them at a party or bar sometimes when I’m not willing to do without a beverage. Ditto straws — I hate them and think they are horrible for the environment. Yet I frequent establishments where straws are routinely dispensed, and all too often I don’t remember to request “No straw please” til it’s too late — the server has already brought it. Sometimes I bring the plastic cups home and reuse them, but not always. Same with straws (they make great protectors for fine-pointed pens or paintbrushes; I just cut them to the ideal length for whatever paintbrush or pen-tip I’m trying to protect).

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It gets worse. A LOT worse. I think that flying is one of the worst things an everyday person can do, environmentally speaking. But I took three airline flights last year, as well as a long-distance solo car trip. All were in connection with my mother’s illness and passing, and the settling of family matters related to same. Still, if I were a true environmentalist, would I not have found a way to make those trips by more sustainable means? In the past, I’ve hitchhiked across country on 18-wheelers that were going my way; why didn’t I do that this time? I’ve also found Craigslist rides in multi-passenger vehicles; or rented a car and packed it with passengers found on Craigslist. I’ve done all of those things on many occasions. Why then, more recently, did I “cave” and fly, or drive solo, rather than insist on a more low-footprint option? Because I felt emotional, pressed for time, didn’t want to deal with sifting through sketchy Craigslist ads, or sitting in a truck stop enduring the various hitchhiker hazards — bad weather, humiliation, possible arrest for soliciting rides? What lame excuses, when I stack them up to my own, self-imposed beliefs about the paramount importance of the environment. I am literally not living in congruence with my own beliefs.

(A note about Craigslist: Am I the only one who sorely laments the decline of the Rideshare section in recent years? It has gone sharply downhill from a downright folksy road-companion bulletin board, to a million desperate sketchy would-be taxi services thinly disguised as “ride offered”).

Or, maybe if I were a real environmentalist, I would have decided that keeping my footprint low was more important than visiting my mom when she was sick, or attending her funeral, or making a separate trip to spend Christmas with my siblings after Mom had passed. But most people, even staunch environmentalists, would probably cut a person slack on this. (For a thought-provoking exploration of this dilemma of “public-spirited vs. personal/emotional” — the extremes to which some do-gooders go in service of their humanitarian convictions — I highly recommend Larissa MacFarquar’s book Strangers Drowning.)

Anyway, I took the flights and the solo car trip, and I have yet to offset them. I did take a step in that direction earlier this week though, by asking Rob Greenfield which carbon-offset company he uses to offset his travel. Although my everyday life has a relatively low footprint, generally ranging from 7-15% of the average U.S. citizen’s, I’m an absolute eco-hog compared with Rob. He only eats what he grows or forages; he produces no waste; and he triple-offsets all of his travel. (He’s constantly getting requests to fly to other countries for speaking engagements, so this is a big deal. One of his conditions for accepting overseas engagements is that the organizers triple-offset his flights.) All of which is to say, when Rob recommends something, it carries weight. Interesting note though: Even Rob considers himself a hypocrite — as in, he notices gaps between his practices and his beliefs. His take on things (as I interpret it) is that we are all hypocrites to a degree, but that we can’t allow that to stop us from doing our best and constantly pushing ourselves to improve. That’s my take also. Otherwise, how could I live with myself? How could any of us?

As I see it, the real value of Rob’s example, beyond just the fact that he has such a low footprint, is that he is reaching so very very many people. That, really, is a way that all of us can live with our failings: We can always be expanding our beneficial influence, even at those times when we are not able or willing to further reduce our negative impact.

This blog post you’re reading right now was prompted by something I did that seemed at first to be yet another example of my dreaded eco-hypocrisy, but turned out not to be. The other day I saw a Facebook post about an upcoming NASCAR event called Celebration of Speed, which is supposed to “showcase an array of the most distinctive and luxury cars from around the world.” Oh what fun, I thought! I immediately made plans to attend, and shared the event widely. (It’s tonight from 6 to 8pm at One Daytona, by the way.)

Well, this morning I had a message in my inbox from a friend, to the effect that she found it strange that I, being an environmentalist, would post a NASCAR event. This friend is an environmentalist herself, and furthermore has turned her environmental passion into a real job (you know, the kind with a steady paycheck), and furthermore, she just so happens to look like a fashion model or movie actress. My knee-jerk reaction was to feel like a worthless piece of crap. “Oh jeez, I really AM an eco-hypocrite!” But then I thought more about it, and considered what would be my real answer to that question of how it could be that I, an environmentalist, could attend/promote a NASCAR event. Here is what I came up with. I hope this helps other people who are struggling with their own inconsistencies, or wondering about the seeming eco-inconsistencies of others.

• Environmentalist doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate cars. You drive, right? You are an environmentalist but you drive every day. I’m not perfect either. (Really there is no such thing as perfect – it’s one of the core points I make in my book.)

• And, the NASCAR thing is a special event. Societies since time immemorial have always had special events. Maybe the jousts of medieval times were sort of like their NASCAR!

• This brings up a major point about why most people don’t want to be environmentalists — we are supposed to be perfect saints and are not allowed to have any fun.

• This question reminds me of one time, an acquaintance saw me eating ice cream. She screamed “I THOUGHT YOU WERE AN ENVIRONMENTALIST!!!” (Interestingly, I don’t think she was even considering the factory-farm, animal-suffering angle, which is the thing that bothers me about consuming ice cream or other dairy. I got the impression, rather, that I was somehow violating her image of an “environmentalist” as some rarefied ascetic creature who lives on steamed weeds, ideally homegrown ones. Though based on the, what shall we say, “solid”? shape of my body, I obviously live on a lot more than steamed weeds.) I replied, “Holy crap, woman, I’m an environmentalist, not a MASOCHIST!”*

(*And by “replied,” I of course mean that I thought of that retort three hours later, when my interrogator was long gone. Esprit d’escalier being one of my secret eco superpowers.)

(And, re ice cream: The truth is, I am phasing “regular ice cream” out of my diet. I used to eat it once a week and now it’s just a few times a year. If I were able to get ice cream that was made from the milk of local, happy, pasture-roaming cows, I would feel perfectly OK about eating ice cream. Or, I like the idea of making my own ice cream from local milk. That is yet another thing to put on my to-do list.)

The other thing I did in response to my friend’s note about the incongruity of an environmentalist promoting a NASCAR event was to actually look into NASCAR’s green initiatives. I hoped and suspected I would find good news. And the good news is, I did! They are apparently doing quite a bit! I got to find out I’m not a hypocrite after all, at least not in this particular case. (See NASCAR links below under Further Reading.)

And on a personal note: Some of my seemingly incongruous love of automotive stuff might have to do with my childhood. We took a lot of cross-country car trips as a family. I have always loved gas-station signs and anything vintage or novelty that has to do with cars. Many a seeming hypocrisy has some emotional or otherwise “humans being human” root. (The “personal note” of “On a personal note…”) (On another personal note, my initial reaction to my friend’s question had a lot more to do with my own emotional stuff than with actual environmentalism. Then again, the more thoroughly I face and handle my emotional stuff, the better environmentalist I can be.)

This is not to say I believe in giving myself a free pass to indulge every emotion or sentimental attachment. But, as eco activists seeking to influence others, we do have to factor human emotions, affections, sentimentality into our equation. Plainly put: If we want more people to get on board with low-footprint living (and if we want OURSELVES to STAY on board with low-footprint living for the long haul), we have to make it a lot more attractive. Which includes making it flexible to people’s individual needs, circumstances, and yes, emotions. (And speaking of attractive, if you are an environmentalist who happens to have a steady-paycheck job and look like a movie star, that’s all the better for the eco movement, and thank you.)

By the way, my love of long car trips continues to this day. I simply love driving cross-country, either by myself or with good companions. Rolling into sun-bleached ghost towns and churchy green hamlets; eating hash browns at beat-up formica counters faded to 1957 yellow; buying honey from a beekeeper out in the Louisiana swamp. I used to take at least one long roadtrip a year, usually alone but sometimes with companions. And I miss it sometimes. However, I rarely do car roadtrips anymore. And I feel OK curbing my roadtrip urge. My craving is mostly satisfied in other ways, such as making paintings of street scenery that includes old gas-station signs. And going to vintage auto rallies and speed-car shows, where I am delighted simply to be a spectator. (Many of these shows I can walk or bicycle to, since, hey, I live in Daytona Beach which just so happens to be a mecca for such events.)

On a final note, if you interpreted the title of this post to mean “How to deal with the eco-hypocrisy of OTHER people,” no worries! The tips are the same as for dealing with your own eco-hypocrisy. Just as we need to be forgiving of ourselves and appeal to our own self-interest as we navigate this path, so we need to be forgiving of others and appeal to THEIR self-interest.

Thank you for being with me on this path.

Further Reading:

Rob Greenfield’s post “Taking Responsibility for My Flights” provides a wealth of resources and suggestions, and also offers an exhilarating glimpse into the mind of a highly successful human being who is truly living his principles and having fun doing it.

NASCAR Green: An Industry Effort As environmentalists we always have to ask: Greenwash or real? Planting trees; recycling; reducing waste; optimizing their fuel mix; even exploring solar car technology … NASCAR’s efforts seem real and wide-ranging to me (and potentially very high-impact in a good way, given the sheer numbers of people who come into contact with NASCAR). But that’s just my take on things. Check out NASCAR’s corporate website, and the Fortune article linked below, and make up your own mind. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Fortune article: How NASCAR Is Going Green “What NASCAR was aiming to do was — again four-and-a-half years ago, not really knowing that green was going to go as far as it did in this time period or as quickly as it did — was to become part of the community that was leaning in a green direction. Then also offer up NASCAR as a proving ground and as a demonstration platform for green technology solutions and products to show their relevance and how they can literally do what everyone has found that green products and solutions can do, which is save money, perform at least as well as the traditional alternatives, and in some cases perform better.” (emphasis mine) “And in that context, doing the right thing by the environment, creating jobs, as a result — new jobs that are here in the U.S. — and also helping us out with our energy independence as well, making us a little bit less dependent on foreign energy sources.”

Virtuous Cycles

Reducing your footprint can help you free up time in your schedule. (For example, by downsizing possessions you can get rid of your storage unit. A friend of mine is doing this and will be saving himself $5,000 a year! This reduces the amount of time you need to spend working to meet your financial overhead.) One great use of that freed-up time is to stop and chat with a neighbor who’s passing by. So many people living the harried modern life can’t spare a few minutes to even meet their neighbors, and we all lose out. Taking back our time is a good step to rebuilding the frayed fabric of our communities.

Yes, reducing your footprint gives you more time to forge ties with your neighbors. And conversely, connecting with neighbors can help you further reduce your footprint, because people who are socially bonded tend to share more resources (tools, transportation, ideas, helping hands…).

It’s a virtuous cycle! A good kind of reverse catch-22.

Eco-Fail! Oh no!

Sometimes it can be depressing out there! Watching fellow humans expend inordinate amounts of time, labor, and money to solve “problems” that are either not really problems, or else the “cure” is worse than the problem.

• At a public building, city workers deploy huge earth-moving equipment to rip out a clump of lush healthy shrubs and other vegetation, in order to install irrigation on its property so it can plant a bunch of fancy landscape plants … even though the existing vegetation had been growing perfectly well there for decades with zero irrigation. 

• At a fast-food coffee shop, a customer finds his coffee cup sticky to the touch, and smelling perfumey, because the employees use a hand-sanitizer that’s scented and leaves a sticky residue. (Hmm, I’d rather risk a few  germs, thanks.) 

• At a community trash cleanup, 100 eager citizens turn out. (Yay!) They pick up a lot of trash … but the cleanup event also generates a lot of trash, as each participant is given a fresh, thick plastic garbage bag, as well as a pair of rubber gloves. (I never did get the whole rubber-glove thing. When someone offers me those, I say, “No thanks, my hands are washable.”) I wonder how many boxes of rubber gloves and thick plastic garbage bags are consumed in a typical “community street cleanup.” 

I could go on but you get the idea. (And probably you could cite many more examples.) As I see it, these “eco-fails” are micro (because they’re hardly on the level of the BP oil spill or other full-blown environmental disaster), yet they are also macro (because they are endemic to our culture; they go on all the time in many places).

Lately I try not to get too worked up about things like this. I do what’s in my power to educate people and present alternatives. (At a recent community cleanup, I used my own bag, which I had found as trash on an empty lot. In my city, I take every opportunity to speak up about options for saving money and conserving water in our landscaping.)

What gets me down more than other people’s eco-fails is my own personal ones. Forgetting my reusable cup but not being willing to forgo a coffee-shop treat, so I generate a disposable cup. Buying a plastic bubble-wrap mailer by mistake, and not realizing til it’s too late. (Oh the irony, shipping out my DEEP GREEN book in a plastic mailer! Dear buyer, if you are reading this, mea culpa!)

Those are tiny; there are many many larger ways in which I fall short of my own eco principles. Taking multiple airline flights last year. Buying a couple of new purses I didn’t really need. Eating processed foods. Buying foods that come in non-recyclable packaging. Accepting a car ride that’s out of someone’s way because I didn’t want to get on my bicycle in cold weather.

Update: Here is my latest one; happened just yesterday. Waitress brings my friend & me glasses of water with ice even tho we had asked for no ice. (We did remember in time to ask for no straw.) I got engrossed in conversation with my friend, wasn’t paying attention to the water glasses, and before I knew it, our (kind, well-intentioned) server went and *dumped out the glasses of icewater* and brought us ice-free water. Ouch! REALLY my bad there!

And those are just the ones I know about. Who knows what I’m doing that I think is OK now, but that I will in hindsight realize was an ECO-FAIL. 

What helps is to remind myself that my prevailing practices and mind-set count for more than the “fails.” (And as far as trying to anticipate future hindsight … Don’t go there! That is brain-spaghetti.)

A big part of my motivation for writing DEEP GREEN was to show people that they can live a very green life, sufficient to restore ecological balance to the planet, without having to be “perfect” or anywhere close to perfect. I see way too many good-minded people beat themselves up for a plastic bottle, a fast-food meal, or an unnecessary car trip, when what matters is what we do over the long haul and how we help shift the culture. “Duration Station,” as my deep-green mermaid friend Ro would say. 

So! If you find yourself beating yourself up for what you see as an “eco-fail,” stop! If you can do something differently in that moment, great — do it. If you can help your city leaders, coffee-shop owner, or others see the value in a more earth-friendly approach, do that. If not,  just move forward, knowing you are doing your best. And thank you for caring! 

By the way, speaking of coffee shops, I just heard some good news: The Dunkin Donuts chain is phasing out plastic and styrofoam, and going back to paper cups and packaging. Woohoo! (My pal CB, who is a frequent DD customer, brightened my morning with these lovely green tidings.) I’m going to try and dig up a link for you and, if I find one, will paste it here shortly. OK, found it! Here you go:

Good Start Packaging Blog: Dunkin’ Donuts Phasing Out Styrofoam is an Environment Win:The future of the environment looks a little brighter after Dunkin’ Donuts announced it is phasing out the use of polystyrene foam cups for its hot beverage products.  Dunkin’ Donuts said their more than 9,000 U.S. restaurants will shift to Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard certified paper cups by the year 2020. According to Dunkin’ Donuts, the corporate shift will remove approximately 1 billion foam coffee cups from the waste system each year, which equates to more than 79 cups-per-minute.”

Important corrections to DEEP GREEN book

If you bought my book direct through me in the early days, you may have received an email notice of important corrections. But since I do not have the email addresses of everyone who bought the book, not everyone received that email. I have also posted a notice on my Facebook page (Deep Green Book by Jenny Nazak). This blog post is another effort to reach anyone who may have fallen through the cracks.

If you purchased the book direct through me in the past 2-3 months, you most likely got a hand-corrected copy of the book. (Woohoo, a veritable collector’s item!) I’m now down to the last 40 or so of my print copies of the book. Anyone ordering direct from me will receive a hand-corrected version while supplies last.

Unfortunately I don’t know of a way to contact people who ordered my book via Amazon (either ebook or print version). I’m getting ready to start the process of updating the book on Amazon to include the corrections (as well as some other, more minor corrections — commas where a semicolon is needed, missing hyphens, and so on). I’m not sure how long the Amazon updating process will take.

In the meantime, by way of attempting to reach as many readers as possible, I’m posting the corrections on this blog. Here are the essential corrections to the book (also shown in the photos above):

Page 27: This sentence needs to be inserted: “Actually Monbiot said 94%. The Riot for Austerity adopted 90% as its initial target for simplicity’s sake.” The sentence goes after this one: “… Monbiot, a journalist and climate activist, asserted that in order to avert global climate disaster, the wealthy industrial nations needed to reduce their footprint by an average of 90%.”

Page 45-46: Four instances of the word “composting toilet”; the correct term is “compost toilet.” (Thanks to Joseph Jenkins Joseph Jenkins, Inc. (author of the Humanure Handbook among many other books about sustainable living) for educating us about the distinction!)

Page 51: US Average household electricity consumption says 1,100 kWh per month; should read 900 kWh per month.

My heartfelt thanks to all who have bought my book so far. It’s been wonderful hearing back from some of you about how you are putting it to use in your life. And I hope my Deep Green book will continue to save you lots of money, time, and your precious personal energy while helping the planet.