Upside down

It has been a bit quiet on this blog lately. Christmas is always a busy time, and this year it was blow the top off busy (something to do with trying to make all my gifts). Once the new year rolled around, there was another project that had to get done, quickly, urgently, and the race continued.

Have you ever felt like you were sprinting, and despite the pain, relished in the fact that it will be over quickly, and then realizing that no – um, sorry – this is a marathon and it will not be over anytime soon.

Today, this very afternoon, I finally feel like I can catch my breath.

Layered on top of all that busy-ness, is my constant awareness of the sad state of the environment. The world is running out of water, is running out of arable land, running out of atmospheric space for carbon, running out of community, and is instead going to the mall to make it all seem okay. Everything is upside down. It is hard to look all around you and realize this, and stay happy.

Sometimes I want to crawl into a metaphorical bubble, with me and my kiddies and my husband and my family and just forget it all. I want to forget where we are, I want to forget about where we are heading, I just want to bury my head in the sand and not think about it anymore. It is so depressing. I want to go back to – before.

But here we are, here today, and there are pressing issues that need to be solved right now, right away. I feel so overwhelmed by my personal responsibilities of running a low footprint household, raising happy children, and maintaining other job responsibilities that there is just no time for other things. Like lately – this blog. Or even more importantly – pitching in to help get us to where we need to go.

If someone like me, who is so passionate about it, who lives and breathes it every day, all day, cannot find the time to get some stuff done – how will others do it? Maybe others don’t have kids, or maybe others don’t feel so overwhelmed and can manage it better…

It all has this greenie feeling a bit blue again.

I can’t even really listen to the news anymore. Oil sands, pipelines, Republican primaries – just listening to it drives me batty. Sometimes I just need to tune out. Sometimes I just want to go somewhere and pretend this is all not happening.

But I know I can’t.

Something inside me cries out. I know these issues are huge and powerful and scary. I know I am just one small person, already stretched so thin. But still…

I want to turn the whole thing upside down.

Love that song.

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Climate for Change

Can our actions make a difference? Is the problem too vast? Do the actions of one individual count?

The film “Climate for Change” answers with a resounding yes. It plots out the actions of everyday people from around the globe, each with a passion for change, each willing to take the leap of faith, each knowing that no matter the outcome, they have to try.

The film features beautiful poetry by Simon Armitage. The poetry forms the narration of the film, and it is spoken as if by an angel, or some other being from above. The message is of caution and encouragement. It really struck me, so I have laid the words out for you here:

The Earth from above
The face of the Earth
Its range and its depth
Its scope, its breadth

The Earth itself
beyond belief
The Earth itself
an intake of breath

Such unequalled heights
Unparalleled scenes
Fantastical lands
Incredulous seas
Such extraordinary air

The Earth in fact like nothing on Earth
Inexplicably rich
Unaccountably rare

But at certain angles
In certain light
The Earth looks out with a different face
The scratches, the wounds, the burns and the scars
Apparent now in this climate of change
Now the weather has taken a turn for the worse.

The Earth is the Earth
And it seems not ours
Dauntingly massive
Out of our hands

Cart wheeling, barreling, spiraling on

Too distant to touch
And too wide to embrace
Beyond the grasp of just anyone

But here and now across the globe
There are those who think with a different mind
Who are pitching in, or drawing a line
Who are underwhelmed by the size of it all
Who are taking it on, one bit at a time

Atom by atom
Drop by drop
Little by little
Grain by grain

They are making choices that make for change.

Yes the Earth is the Earth
and it seems not ours
Dauntingly massive
Out of our hands

But the world is your world
The world right there in front of your face
The world you can hear and see and smell and touch and taste
A knowable, local, everyday place

A world you can shape by action and deed
Closer to home, belonging to each
That world at least, is within your reach

– Simon Armitage

Listen to them spoken, they are beautiful:

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

March for Melting Ice

A male polar bear

Image via Wikipedia

Polar sea ice.  What does it mean to you?  Vast areas of white, white, white, never-ending?  Cold temperatures and a blinding wind? A home for polar bears in the north and penguins in the south? 

Polar sea ice caps our planet, top and bottom. It keeps the water at the poles cold. When it is cold at the poles and warm at the equator – you have the perfect engine to move water around the planet. These currents oxygenate the water and allow aquatic life to flourish. These currents shape our weather. These currents are vitally important to life on Earth, both in the ocean and on the land.

So if the poles warm up, what happens to the currents? What happens to the level of oxygen in the water? What happens to the health of the oceans? What happens to the weather?

It all changes.

So what is happening anyway with our poles? Are they really warming up as fast as some are saying? Is the sea ice melting? Can the sea ice freeze up again?

Well, there is news out today that the Arctic sea ice is set to break some records. It could be lower this year than it has ever been in over 7,000 years. It is set to break the previous record set in 2007.

Yikes.

File:2007 Arctic Sea Ice.jpg

Meanwhile, the animals suffer.

There is news today that chinstrap penguins in Antarctica are starving, as their diet of krill has been diminished. Krill populations have decreased up to 80% since the 1970s in some areas, associated with the continual decline in sea ice.

There is also news out today that king crabs are now moving into the Antarctic, as they can survive in the warming waters. The flora and fauna of this ecosystem are very fragile, and not accustomed to this new predator. The sediment of the ocean floor is changing, as the king crabs eat and forage what was previously left behind. Certain local species are going extinct.

Meanwhile in the north, polar bears continue to lose their hunting grounds, as they depend on the ice to hunt seal. They also have to swim further and further between ice floes, sometimes they drown.

It is all changing.

How much of this is our fault? How much of this is my fault, me personally? If one million penguins die, or one thousand polar bears, what is my contribution to that? If another horrible storm hits, and people die or are displaced by the wreckage, how much of that is due to the choices I have made in my life?

Some of it is my fault. I know it is.

What can I do? How do we collectively start taking climate change seriously? What will it take? When will we realize that we only have this one Earth to live?

Inaction or action? Bystander or change maker? Consumer or creator? What path will I take? How will I live this life?

Well I plan on taking part in 350.org’s Moving Planet: a day to move beyond fossil fuels. There are events going on all over the world, and I want to be part of this global day of action. I want to stand up. I want to be that someone who did something, whose voice was counted.

I want to march.

I plan to take my kids, scooter, tricycle and all. Here in Edmonton, we are going to meet at the abandoned Esso station on Whyte Ave at 11:00 am and walk, cycle or run to the Alberta Legislature building, along with everyone else who wants a clean, green future for their children. Let’s do it for those penguins and polar bears as well.

Who will join me?

Let Them Know

You might have a concern for the environment. It may just be a niggling concern, a bother really, something in the back of your mind that can’t quite get rid of, can’t quite shake. It might be a deeper concern, but you have trouble making the connection between your actions and action on climate change. What can one person do, after all? Or you might have a full out concern, combined with a fear and desperation, for the world to change. So much so that you might decide to start changing that which you can control – yourself.

We all make individual choices how we live our individual lives. But we take cues from others, from society. As a result, most of us don’t do things that are considered really taboo, and we generally all act within agreed upon moral and ethical guidelines. We tend to do what those around us do – what we have learned from our family, our friends, from media and society. We start out doing things a certain way, and for the most part, we don’t change unless something pushes us. We like our habits.

Sometimes we do change our habits due to cost, hassle or convenience. But normally, it takes a lot for us to bother to change. We don’t even realize this. We don’t even think about it. We just do the things we have always done.

For some of us though, one day we suddenly “wake up”. One day we learn a bit more about the environment and climate change, and that adds to body of knowledge we held on the subject before, and before we know it, the scales have tipped. We can no longer ignore it. We can no longer rationalize being a bystander. We finally see the cold hard reality for what it is, and simultaneously, see our part in it. In that moment, we discover within ourselves – something new. We discover that the responsibility for changing the world starts with us, with our actions, and that as individuals we have a role to play. We discover that we are compelled to act.

And so, we change.

It starts small, with the little changes, and then grows bigger. Day by day, we discover new ways to change, new habits to form. We find ourselves considering in every decision – what would be best for the environment, for climate change?

At least, this is how it happened to me. But I am sure it is how it happened to you too, at least somewhat (unless you grew up as a hippy child where these kinds of things were already the norm from the start!). You would not be here, reading this, if you did not have at least some interest in being green.

So we want to change our habits, we want to change the world, make it a better place. Now what?

Well our changes are magnified ten fold, when we let others in on them. When non-greenies observe a greenie doing things that they themselves do not do, sometimes the non-greenies pause and reflect. It adds to their body of knowledge on the environment. Perhaps they think “wow, I cannot believe she does that, she must really have a concern for climate change or something. Why is she so worried about it? Should I be worried about it? Maybe I should…”

Our actions will have more of an impact, if they inspire others to change as well. We want to create a ripple effect. We want to be part of the bits and pieces in people’s lives that get them to stop and reconsider. We want to not only change ourselves, but be a catalyst for change in others. 

So when you do something green, let them know.

There is a fine line to walk here. Do not preach. Let them know through your actions, not words. If you must use words, just describe what you do, and then stop there. Don’t get into why everyone should do it, or why they should consider doing it. Nobody likes being told what to do. We don’t want to turn people off; we want to bring them in.

In doing so we discover that do not live our lives in isolation, and we start to notice all the little (and big) connections we have with others. No matter the connection, where you can, and when it makes sense to do so, try gently letting them know.

For example, when somebody asks me about where I park downtown, or how long my commute is, I tell them “oh I take the bus to work so I don’t need parking, I find it much more relaxing than driving and am trying to be more mindful of my carbon footprint.”

I just let them know.

When I meet someone at a coffee shop, I always get a ceramic mug or bring my own. I don’t say anything. If they ask me why I did not get one “to go”, I just say that I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When somebody starts talking about grocery shopping and asks me where I go for the best prices, I tell them that I try to shop mostly at Farmer’s Markets when I can, because I really enjoy eating local and plus it is fun to talk to the farmer that grew your food.

Let them know.

When a server at a restaurant asks if I would like my leftovers wrapped up, I ask her if she could put it in my reusable container if that is okay, it is just that I swore off Styrofoam and I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When I come out of a public bathroom with wet hands and my girlfriend looks at me funny, I just say that I saw the paper napkin delivery at my office building one day, and was shocked at how many pallets were used for only one week! Ever since then I feel guilty using one or something, it is weird. So, I just shake off my hands instead, or fluff my hair, or just swipe them on the back of my pants. Easy peasy.

Let them know.

When discussing the chore of laundry with other moms, I tell them that the one good thing is how they smell when you hang them to dry outside. Plus it is nice to get outside for just a few minutes, and be alone with your thoughts, listening to the birds sing as you hang wet clothes. It is amazing how much electricity a dryer uses; I can see a marked decrease on my bill. Who doesn’t like saving money?

Just let them know.

I have a saying at the bottom of my work email. I wondered at first, if I should put it there. What would people think? But I was compelled to act, compelled to share my views in a small way, in a hopefully intriguing way. I wanted to be that person that stood up for change. I wanted to be that person that didn’t hide. So at the end of every email it reads:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi

Let them know.

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.

Nature in the City

I am normally not much of a poet, but was inspired to write these today.   I think poetry has a lot to do with noticing the world around you.  Observation, then reflection:

Nature in the City

A falcon, flying, coasting in the wind, circling
Over a freeway
Looking for dinner among the asphalt

A robin, singing, calling out his song in the morning,
Sitting atop a spruce tree
Looking down over a suburban neighborhood

Cotton ball clouds floating, against a purple-pink sky
The sun is setting
Behind the tall stacks of the refinery

A jack rabbit sleeping, tucked in under a shrub
He notices us looking
So he hops out of the yard and crosses the street

Tree flowers blooming, looking to propagate
Then falling to the ground
To lie in the curb of the concrete sidewalk

Turdus migratorius American Robin, Cabin Lake ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

Now for reflections on shopping.  I had not been to a mall for a while due to my nothing new challenge, and surprised myself about how different I felt about spending time there:

Mall on a Saturday

People walking, looking
Carrying bags, talking on phones
Standing in checkout lines,
Opening their wallets and purses to pay

Look at this bag, this cute top
I want a new one today
How about some sandals, or a bracelet, a scarf,
Maybe a new fancy phone?

So many choices, so many things
So many labels and brands
So many people
Walking around

The sun shines brightly outside.

Green City

Just when you are getting frustrated and discouraged by the lack of vision and action on the part of politicians on climate change, they totally surprise you.

Guess what? There are two amazing projects going on right now in my city!

The first one is a long-range environmental plan called the “The Way We Green“, which will be put in front of city council for approval by early 2011. The proposal defines specific objectives to accomplish in the following 7 areas:

  1. Energy & Climate Change
  2. River Water Supply & Quality
  3. Food Security
  4. Air Quality
  5. Biodiversity / Healthy Ecosystems
  6. Waste Management
  7. One Planet Living

I am so excited by this plan. I had no idea that our city was so progressive. We have always been top notch in areas of recycling, but a bit behind the times when it came to things like urban sprawl and efficient public transportation. The fact that this plan could change all that is so inspiring and refreshing and just what I needed to see.

One of the areas of this plan that I am most happy about is the creation of a Food Policy Council for the city. I know that many Canadian cities have this already, so I am glad to see that we are finally getting one too. I am hopeful that this will encourage new ventures of local food production, and increase the food shed of the city and surrounding area. I would love to see a day when local food is widely available and readily accessible by all.

The second development is a big one. Huge. Have you ever sat there and daydreamed about what sustainable green living would look like in the future? What kinds of homes would we live in, how would we transport ourselves, how would our energy needs be met? Due to the massive infrastructure changes that would be required, sometimes I think that this really is only a dream (but one worth having). Perhaps my children or future grandchildren would live in different types of homes and use energy differently, but can I expect to see these kinds of changes where I live in my lifetime?

In short, YES!

There are plans underway to redevelop the city centre airport lands into an environmentally sustainable community to house over 20,000 people in a carbon neutral environment, with no cars. Just think of the urban sprawl that will be averted! Five companies from around the world, including the US, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada and the UK, submitted proposals for the vision for this space. These proposals are now up for display and comment at City Hall and online.

I went to City Hall last week to take a look in person. The displays were amazing. I came away so happy, so excited about what was in the realm of possibility for my city. My favourite proposal, by Perkins + Will of Vancouver, includes these features:

  1. Renewable energy production to power the community and still have enough left over to export electricity to other parts of the city
  2. Urban Farm and greenhouses for local food production
  3. Extensive water recycling system
  4. World class green space and park
  5. Large hill with views of downtown, used for tobogganing in the winter and music festivals in the summer
  6. Cross country skiing circuit
  7. Ice skating rink
  8. Large water feature with a 1 kilometre rowing course
  9. Several community gathering areas
  10. 4 community neighbourhoods, with green “fingers” reaching in from the large central park
  11. Links light rail and bus transit, no cars
  12. Cycling and hiking route that connects the community to the city’s river valley park system
  13. Residential buildings that feature lots of windows and solar panels
  14. Commercial areas to provide services to residents, as well as local jobs
  15. 4 schools – 2 elementary, 1 junior high, 1 high school

Take a look at the master plan! Can you see how the plan plays homage the former runways, respecting the history of this space in the design? 

I think this is a beautiful model of sustainable development. I really feel that this submission, more than any others, celebrates my town as a winter city, and provides many venues for an active social and community gatherings. I was also so pleased to see that it goes beyond net zero, and incorporates local food production as well! If this is built, I would love to live there!  Here is their video submission:

My second favourite submission was from KCAP of the Netherlands.  Their video was fantastic:

If you live here too, you have until February 28th to submit your comments on each of the submissions online. I did this last weekend. The city will be choosing a winner in a few months, and then will embark on a 15 month process to consult with the public and refine and develop the plans. They expect to break ground in 2013.

Bring on the green!

What do you think of these developments? What exciting things are going on in your city?

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