Occupy Earth

Building communities
Realizing we are all in this together
Realizing we all have a shared stake
Standing up for what we believe in
Knowing in our gut, what is right and what is just wrong
Hoping for a better world
Standing behind those who dare to demand it
Knowing that this might be our last chance to get it right
Wanting a world where people come first
Where the life giving properties of this planet are protected
Where the rights of the children and future generations are heard
Where we don’t let greed and money and power get in the way
Where we love one another
Where we save each other.

Occupy Earth.

"The Blue Marble" is a famous photog...
Image via Wikipedia

Climate Reality?

In the last year, so much of my reality has changed.

I really can trace that change to a day last November, when I picked up a book called “Now or Never” by Tim Flannery, read it in one night until 3 am in the morning, and was crying by the end. My reality changed. My way at looking at the world changed. In the course of about 5 hours to read that book, it had all changed.

Before, I would find entertainment and enjoyment in going shopping, wandering through the malls with my kids, looking at cute tops for me and new outfits for them. We would come home with bags of stuff, and I would manage to find somewhere in our house to put it all. It was fun looking at all the new designs, the patterns, the colours. I liked seeing new things designers came up with.

I admit, I still like it. But now I realize that looking at this stuff, and appreciating the design, can be separate and apart from plunking down my cash to take it home with me. I can look and be interested by something, without having to own it. Looking at this stuff fulfills something in me that perhaps we all have but have not noticed before – an appreciation for art, design and innovation. This does not necessarily have to translate into ownership.

Okay, so now I don’t really buy stuff. Like ever. And it is not hard, either. I don’t see things and think ohhhh, I want that, I want that! I see things and appreciate them, but don’t even think of buying them. I just don’t care anymore. I just don’t want it in my house. I just don’t want it. I want nothing to do with it. I don’t want to be part of what it took to bring it to this store, where I am standing, looking at it now…

That is what I mean. My reality has changed. I cannot look at any object in any store and not think of its history. Where did it come from? Like really, WHERE. Where on Earth was it derived? Everything came from the Earth somehow, so how was this thing cobbled together? How far did it travel? Who made it? Were they paid a fair wage? Were they exposed to dangerous conditions, to chemicals? Where was it mined? What happened to the place on this planet where it came from? Was wildlife disturbed? Were forests peeled back? Was fresh water used and used and used? Was carbon put up into the sky?

Again I ask myself – am I a crazy person for thinking this way? Like I cannot look at a sweater in a store, and not think about where it came from, what it took to get it to me, and what the real cost was. The REAL cost, the cost to people, the cost to the planet, the cost to wildlife, the carbon cost to our atmosphere. If the REAL cost was presented to us on price tags everywhere, we probably would not buy much stuff at all…

And so I do not. I don’t buy, because I cannot be a part of it anymore. What makes me sad is that I feel like I am the only one. I realize that I might sound crazy for opting out of our consumer culture, but in fact, I am sad because I feel like everyone else is crazy. Everyone else does not realize what we are doing. Everyone else does not see the course we are on. Everyone else does not seem to care that our everyday actions, have real consequences somewhere else, where we cannot see them. The stuff we buy impacts other people that we will never know, it impacts forests that we will never see, and mines that we will never even know existed. It all impacts the carbon in the sky, which of course too, is invisible.

So most of us just turn a blind eye. We don’t want to think it.

Sigh.

So when I walk around now, outside, downtown at my lunch break, in my neighbourhood with all the cars rushing past, or in the store to pick up milk, I look at all the people around me and I feel so different. Different from everyone else. Different from what I used to be. Different from how I used to think. It is like I am walking through the Matrix or something, and everyone else does not know the true reality, and I do. It is a strange and scary feeling all at once. I know. They don’t. Or perhaps they do, but cannot face it.

Thank goodness, I am not the only one who sees things this way. There are others that share my view, my reality. They might not be walking around in the grocery store, but they do exist! They are the people organizing a Climate Reality Project, an online streaming 24 hour event that starts tonight at 7 pm CT. The first presentation is from Mexico City, in Spanish. Every hour after that, the presentations move west, by one time zone. So the next presentation is from Boulder, Colorado and after that it is from Victoria, British Columbia and then from Kotzebue, Alaska. Then over the Pacific we go, with a message from French Polynesia in French, and then from Hawaii in English. These presentations continue over the globe, each starting at 7 pm local time, and the whole thing ends in New York, at 7 pm ET on September 15th, with a message from Al Gore.

24 presenters. 24 time zones. 13 languages. One message.

If you want, you can Like this on Facebook, and tweet about to spread the word.

Reality. What’s yours?

Greeny Blues

Do you ever feel like being green makes you blue?

When I first started out on this green journey 7 months ago, I felt powerless and alone. What a massive problem – what can my tiny voice do? I am just a regular mom. How is changing my actions going to affect anything? I am just one person among billions.

Then I found a community of like minded people, first with fellow bloggers, then among family and friends. I needed to try, to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I committed to change my ways.

This propelled me for several months. It was exciting! I was changing my lifestyle left, right and centre. Lights off, laundry hung up to dry, heat turned down, no more plastic bags, no more food in boxes, more bus rides, less mall shopping, more local shopping, more farmer’s markets, no new clothes, more gently used clothes, no more Styrofoam, no more paper napkins, way less food waste…

And then finally – I built myself a real vegetable garden to call my own.

It was fun. I did things one way for a decade, then bam I changed it all up. It threw my husband for a loop – why all the change?  He thought I was crazy. But for me it felt really good, I was doing something about this problem called climate change. I didn’t feel powerless anymore. I had a purpose. I had a reason for my actions. This was incredibly fulfilling.

However along the way I also learned a lot more about the state of our little planet Earth, this small marble of life in a Universe so vast…

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

Image via Wikipedia

I learned that we need to be really scared about the future. I learned that there are great political, social and economic forces against the reduction of CO2, forces so strong, and so well-funded, and so engrained in our very culture. These forces happen to be also very good at spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about the science of climate change.

I also learned that we don’t have much more time. I learned that our window for turning things around is not measured in decades, but in mere years.

We only have a few years to change.

On one hand I am defiantly hopeful, that there will be enough of us on the good side, on the side that chooses life and sustainability, over convenience and consumerism. That more and more people will figure out what I figured out 7 months ago, and make changes, and inspire others to make changes, who will inspire others, and this whole thing will tip, so that more of us want to do something about it than don’t want to do something, that more of us will look beyond the borders of our little lives and realize that we are part of something bigger, something magnificent and fantastic and we will collectively realize the power we have to change. We will act for each other, for our children and our children’s children. We will act for humanity itself.

On the other hand I am scared. What if enough people don’t join in? What if the governments of the world take just a bit too long to act? What if we keep burning and burning oil, putting more C02 into the sky, and don’t stop before it is too late? We all know that the oil is going to run out one day, and we will have to transition to something else. What if we don’t make that transition when there is still a world worth saving?

Hence, the blues.

Have you ever just cried … for the world? Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed about it all, and it saddens me so deeply and greatly, that I just cry. I cry for the children. I cry for their future.

Am I crazy?

I want to do more, I resolve to do more, I have long lists of things that I want to accomplish, letters to write, actions to take, committees to join. But I struggle. Being a busy working mom, there is just not enough time in each day to do all that I want to do. My minutes feel like tiny raindrops of gold, so precious, so few, so easily lost.

How will I live this life? How will I make a difference? How will I contribute to this groundswell of people now growing steadily, of those committed to living green, spreading green and building a sustainable world for our children? Imagine being a part of something so amazing and magnificent? Imagine being part of the movement that ushered in the solution, in the face of the greatest problem to ever face humanity? I know the stakes are high and the hour is late, I just need to find time between doing the laundry and doing the dishes to pitch in.

Plus I look around me, and everywhere I go, there are constant reminders of how far we need to go to turn this thing around. Pick a category: Food. Transport. Consumerism. Energy. Economy. It all has to change – radically.

We will get there. We have to. The enormity of it all though, has this greenie feelin’ a bit blue.

Dirt!

I watched the film Dirt! last week. Many of us don’t really consider dirt, and when we do, we look down upon it. We don’t like it when we are “dirty” or when other people treat us like “dirt”. Dirt is the lowest of the low.

But in reality, there is nothing more important that dirt, as it is the cradle of life here on Earth. We need high quality dirt, or soil, to grow food. Without any dirt, we could not grow any food, and without any food … well you get the picture.

Many of us think that dirt is limitless. This is not true. Not all areas of the Earth have dirt, and some areas that have it, only have a few inches. This dirt took a long, long time to develop. Once it is gone, it will take a long, long time to develop more. Poor countries that don’t have dirt, or have lost their dirt, do not have an effective way to feed their people. So they go hungry, or migrate to areas where there is dirt. These migrations can cause conflicts among those who do not want to give up their dirt to newcomers. Countries that have dirt, even poorer countries, have a way to feed themselves and enjoy much higher food security.

Here in the West, we are paving over a lot of our dirt. Cities continue to sprawl, roads continue to be built, and less and less land is available for farming. But here we don’t notice the impact that this has on our food supply; it does not impact where our next meal is coming from. We just go and buy our food at the grocery store, much of it imported from other countries.

But wait a minute. We know that we are using almost all the arable land on this planet to grow food. Is the land attributed to feeding us, land that is way off in other countries, poor countries even, now not available to feed the local people that live there? Does our requirement for the next mall, the next suburban development, trump another country’s ability to feed its people?

Map of world percentage arable land.

% of Arable Land by Country - Image via Wikipedia

  So given how important dirt is – how are we treating it? Not very well I am afraid. A lot of our dirt has been lost due to conventional farming practices. When a farmer tills a dry field on a windy day, a lot of the dirt is taken up by the wind, blown into the sky, never to return. Dirt is also lost due to irresponsible irrigation practices that allow dirt to wash away into our streams and lakes and oceans, never to be used again. When we tear down a forest on a mountain, the dirt that remains can very quickly be washed away, without the network of trees and roots and plants to sustain it. On top of all of that, much of the dirt that we do have remaining is subjected to a host of chemical additives, such as fertilizer and pesticides. Unfortunately, nitrogen in fertilizer isn’t even completely absorbed by the plants – up to 70% of it gets carried away to lakes and oceans, creating algae blooms and reducing the oxygen content in the water. Fish stocks decline, aquatic life suffers. This is what has directly caused the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is estimated now to be the size of New Jersey.

We also add pesticides of course, as we don’t want those pesky pests eating up our crops. But pesticides kill more than just the pests; they also kill beneficial bugs and organisms that provide some of the life giving properties of the soil.

On top of all this, we plant vast mono-cultures of single crops. This ensures that the same nutrients are continuously drained from the soil, decreasing its health. Mono-cultures also invite more and more pests, as they provide a limitless feeding ground. So, we add more and more pesticides.

The result? We now have less dirt. We have dirt that is not nearly as healthy as it was 2 generations ago. We are using almost all of the arable land on Earth, yet continue to sprawl our cities, growing out instead of up. We buy food from a world away, perhaps impacting the food security of the local people of that country. We don’t know where our food comes from, and we don’t know about the importance of dirt

We are treating dirt, well – like “dirt”.

Alternatively, organic farming cherishes the dirt. It is all about dirt! Everything begins and ends with the quality of the dirt. Dirt that has been farmed organically has much more life within it, holds much more water, and releases its nutrients much more slowly – just how the plants like it. Organic dirt also holds much more carbon. If we all farmed organically, just think of the carbon sink we could create! Organic farming could contribute to reducing the carbon from the sky, which we so desperately need right now.

As for managing pests, that can be done organically as well. Instead of applying chemicals, there are several other natural alternatives:

  1. Grow strong, healthy plants in strong, healthy dirt, so that they are more able to naturally defend off pests
  2. Plant companion plants that deter pests (like marigolds and onions around your vegetable patch)
  3. Rotate plants every season to mix it up and confuse pests
  4. Introduce pest predators, such as ladybugs, into the mix
  5. Watch over and care for your plants, noticing early when there is a pest problem, so that action can be taken

So the next time you see a pile of dirt, do not scoff. Be happy and thankful for it!

Free Hugs

Today I stepped off the bus on my way to work downtown, and was greeted by what looked to be a homeless man, trying to sell a community newspaper and asking for money for coffee.  I looked at him, gently shook my head, and gave him the warmest smile I could.  As I crossed the street I thought of Juan Mann, the guy that started giving away free hugs to strangers.  These free hugs were a way to connect himself with the people around him, to help people realize that we are all connected, that we all need love and warmth.  We are a community.  I am connected to that homeless man, even if I don’t know him, even if I don’t understand his circumstance.  Instead of giving him my loose change, maybe I should just give him a hug.

I felt my eyes moisten as I crossed the busy street.  I looked around me.  Everyone was rushing about, on their way to work, focused on their destination and on their own busy day.  I did not feel connected.  I am part of something yet I don’t feel plugged in.  Are any of us? 

I really believe that success in the environmental movement will be achieved partly by realizing our connections to each other.  Why should I save those on small island nations, by sacrificing some comforts of my way of life here, when I will not be the one who will lose my home by rising waters, my whole country even?  I will be safe and dry here on the prairies.  Why should I sacrifice for them? 

It is simple.  I am connected to them through our shared humanity.  They suffer, and we all suffer.  I am also connected to non-human life, which is also at stake.  Experts tell us that extinctions are expected to rise horrifically.  How can I be a part of this magnificent creation of life and not care? 

I decide then and there to strengthen my connections with strangers.  I want to chit-chat with the coffee shop girl, make conversation in elevators.  I must thank the bus driver every single time I get off his bus.  I talk to the vendors at the farmer’s market, and thank them for offering me and my family a new choice.  I will push myself to make conversations when I normally would not.  I will listen to people.  I will sympathize with people.  I will congratulate them on good works.  I will connect.

Yet I still feel torn.  I see these huge global problems and very little movement towards solving them.  The strength of the status quo way of life wears me down.  But then I look into someone’s eyes and smile at them, and they smile back.  We are all in this together.  We are all connected.  We all have the capacity to love.  We must have the capacity to find a way. 

In the end, it can all just start with a free hug.

Jupiter

Here is another little known secret – I sometimes wish I had learned astrophysics in school rather than business/accounting. Strange, yes. Let me explain.

When I was on maternity leave with my second child, I found my brain yearning for some intellectual stimulation. I was happy and content being a full-time mother for the year, but did want some mental exercises. So I started in on the literary classics. You know the bunch – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Scarlet Letter, Tale of Two Cities, Emma, Crime and Punishment, etc. I consumed about one a week for a while there. I was really nerdy about it too, looking up the Coles notes online, to learn about the hidden symbolism and allegories.

After a while the passion for the classics took a backseat, as I came across a series of shows  about planet Earth and its history. I am talking billions of year’s history here, like in the formation of the Earth and all its stages. I was really interested in it, so I dug deeper. I learned that the Earth was 4.5 billion years old, and for a billion years or so, it had no life at all. For another 1.5 billion years, it just had only cyano bacteria, which as it turns out, are responsible for the oxygen we now have in the atmosphere. Another 1.5 billion years went by and there was nothing but single and multi-celled organisms. Only after this, in the last 500 million years or so, did the great tree of life we now have on Earth flourish.

I learned also about the other planets and moons in our solar system. I was intrigued by Europa, a moon of Jupiter that is covered in ice. Apparently it has oceans of water beneath, kept liquid by the heat created by the tidal forces from Jupiter’s massive gravity. There is also Titan, a moon of Saturn, which is the only other object in the solar system other than Earth to have stable bodies of liquid on the surface. The Cassini-Huygen spacecraft landed on Titan in 2005 and found hills, rivers and plains. Could either of these moons support life, even in bacteria form?

Then I learned about how our solar system is one of only billions in the Milky Way galaxy and how the Milky Way galaxy is among billions in the Universe. Where does this put Earth? A tiny speck, that’s where. If the Universe was the size of the Earth, then the Earth would be the size of a grain of sand (my analogy). It is so tiny, so insignificant in the grand scheme.

So why are we are so fortunate to have it? Do we even realize its worth, how rare it is? What if we are the only planet that has life, among the billions and billions out there? What if we are extraordinarily special? If this is the case, why are we not better stewards of this miracle?

At night I can stand on my driveway and look to the south and see Jupiter. It is appears as a massively bright star. It outshines every other star in the sky, as it has for several months now. These days when I look at it, I can see that it has a crescent shape. I can tell with the naked eye, how the sun is currently shining upon it. It is 900 million kilometers (560 million miles) away. Yet I can see it, standing on my driveway. What other mysteries do the other stars hold? What is out there?

It reminds me how small we are, how lucky we are to have this one world, one home:

One light, one sun
One sun lighting everyone
One world, turning
One world turning everyone
One world, one home
One world home for everyone
- Raffi

 

Make a Change

The reason I started this blog was for my children. I was scared and fearful of their future, and did not know what to do. I felt helpless and powerless. How can one person make a difference? The situation seemed hopeless.

Then I realized that I had no right to feel that – my children and all future generations deserved better. I did not know the impact I could have on the climate change issue, but I did know that I could add my voice to it. I had to try.

So I started making some changes. Things I did for 15 years one way, I now do differently. It is actually fun, to shake it up a bit, add variety to the ol’ routine. It is interesting to see how easy it is once you take the plunge, making some big, and some little, changes. I am just a regular city mama, making green changes day-by-day. Next year I will step it up a notch and become more political too. To quote MJ:

“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change”.

I love that song; it has such a powerful message.

The change today – a brand new blog header! What do you think? I am so proud of it, as did it all myself using (if you can believe it) the drawing tools in excel. It is inspired by my children, and how I hope we will change in time to leave them a beautiful planet.