Sunday, December 23, 2012

'tis the season for what?

Let me start with this premise. Christians celebrate Christmas as a way to commemorate Jesus’ birth. That’s the seed anyway of the holiday frenzy I find myself annually caught up in. I don’t know if it’s the same for those observing Hanukkah, but not getting sucked into the consumerist vortex that is American Christmas is like trying to lift your limbs on the centrifugal force ride at the amusement park.

 As a result, each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate one million tons of trash. Between the packaging, holiday cards, unwanted gifts, wrapping paper and excess food, we discard about 25% more stuff during the holidays than during the rest of the year. 300,000 trees are cut down to make holiday cards in the US alone. In fact, half the paper that America consumes is used to wrap and decorate consumer products.

If you know me well, you know I try to consider the planet in my choices and those our family makes. But I resist offering tips on being more earth friendly because everyone has access to green tips through newspapers, magazines, TV and the internet. I’m more interested in impacting your thinking and perception as a way to generate change or cultivate habits that make sense for your situation.

So I’m hoping if I inform you wrapping and tissue paper are NOT recyclable in most municipalities and that most wrapping paper is coated with heavy metals and contributes to air and water pollution and deforestation (which in turn impacts our health) you will consider alternatives to that enticingly pretty paper. Maybe try reusable bags,cloth, newspaper,old maps or even grocery bags that you or your kids can decorate. You could even be a two-for-one recycling machine if you get those items from the thrifty which not only saves you money but means no new resources were used to make the bags, cloth, etc. Then when the person you’re gifting reuses that stuff, you're now a three-for-one-recycling machine and you've helped them precycle and recycle. 

I just geeked out right there, didn't I?

And if you have kids, you probably have a ton of artwork around you can use to wrap with. The kids feel proud and you don’t have to bury their artwork in the bottom of the recycling bin when they’re asleep.

I’m also hoping that if I mention how destructive coal mining is to coal mining communities, you might consider solar holiday lights for the outside of your house, putting your lights on a timer or using LED lights which use less energy and if one goes out the rest of the strand still works. The thrifty is a great place to find lights, by the way. And fake Christmas trees and holiday decor.

Or if you knew that 30% of landfill is packaging, you might consider precycling which means choosing an alternative to that item encased in unrecyclable plastic or cushioned by Styrofoam, which is not only unrecyclable but downright evil.

No matter what faith tradition you follow, this is the time of year we commemorate God’s tangible engagement with humanity. In the Genesis creation story, the phrase ‘And God saw that it was good’ is repeated after each ‘day’ God created something. While I’m not a big Bible reader, I don’t remember God calling anything else good multiple times. 

During the holidays, in our efforts to honor God’s intervention in humanity, it seems a dishonor to trash the thing God repeatedly calls good.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Part 2-Mountain Top Removal: What is our response-ability?

“Think about it. Why have we developed ethics for homicide, suicide, and genocide, but none for biocide or geo-cide? So far, no one has been hauled into court for species extinction—the death of birth itself for millions of God’s precious and unique creatures. Earth and its integral functioning apparently have little claim upon us, despite our total dependence upon it and despite our origins as adam from ada (earth creatures from soil; Genesis 2:7).” Larry Rasmussen

In the US, about 50% of our electricity comes from coal. One of the ways coal is extracted is through Mountain Top Removal, a form of surface mining in which explosives, up to 3.5 million lbs daily, are used to blow up mountains, removing up to 1000 vertical feet, to get to the coal seam within.

And in a masterful use of doublespeak, the ‘overburden’ is dumped into valleys. Overburden in mining terms means the material that lies above an area of economic interest. In reality, it means everything on the mountain: trees (which guess what? ABSORB CARBON), grasses, flowers, wildlife and their habitats. 

PAUSE> Because I love words and contemplate their weight, I am saddened by the term 'overburden'. How did humanity stray so far from our soul satisfying awe and reverence of nature that the stunning Appalachian mountains- brimming with harmonious beauty and astounding biodiversity-are perceived as merely a hindrance to the black fossil matter below? To call what makes a mountain a mountain, 'overburden' is desecration.

CONTINUE>As you can freakin' imagine exploding mountains have disastrous ramifications. When explosives are detonated, communities suffer earthquake like damage: cracked foundations, walls and water wells. Fly rock (think boulders) rains down on people and their homes. Uprooting all that vegetation causes flash floods for those below. Discarding the mountain tops into the adjacent valleys devastates streams (think water source for millions), the ecosystems therein and whatever livelihood and recreation affiliated with them. 

Below is an 8 minute video detailing the practice. Here's a link to another.

As I've done research for this energy series, I've watched dozens of  videos on MTR. Each time, I couldn't help but think of this scene from LOTR:

Treebeard doesn't become engaged in the fight until he sees the sheer annihilation for himself. He anguishes over the loss of his Ent friends then in righteous indignation declares war on Saruman. As humans we have the gift and responsibility of compassion for beings other than ourselves. I don't have to be a mountain to advocate for mountains. Besides, that six degrees of separation thing works with nature too. My long scalding hot shower in Kansas City while all lights and appliances are humming is linked to the contamination of aquifers in Kentucky that's jeopardizing my own drinking water. My reliance on coal energy is also linked to the compromised vitality of people living in mining communities.

What will wake us up as Americans in the same way as Treebeard? When the 400 million year old Appalachian mountains are all completely, irrevocably leveled will we finally pull ourselves away from diversion X to muster change? Or are we waiting until every single person we know has asthma or cancer? 

What is my response-ability? Earth and its integral functioning do have claim upon me because of my total, humbling dependence upon it.  

The fictitious devastation in the film clip mirrors that which is wrecked by coal companies: monstrous beings (think machines 22 stories high, able to hold dozens of cars in  their buckets) work around the clock heedlessly consuming nature to fuel an insane and deadly pursuit. In our case we don't pursue the ring that rules them all. 

We pursue the American Dream.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

okra interlude

Okra is beautiful. First a creamy white five petaled flower appears. Where the flower meets the stem, an okra pod begins to develop.The pod seems to gently twist the flower closed as it lengthens. Eventually the flower will wilt into a little cap on the end of the pod before falling off. What is the point of such a flower with its rich maroon interior?

I took a picture of an okra flower for this post yesterday. Today I realized it didn't do the plant justice and when I went to take another photo it was too late; the flower had already become a cap. They are only in full bloom a day or so. Again, what's the point of such artful ripening, particularly when it is so fleeting? Why does such creativity detail a vegetable?

Because its survival depends on such beauty. Would that we could understand ours does too.

Friday, September 21, 2012

coal: what is it good for? part one

I struggle to write this series of posts. The last thing I want is to cause people to become overwhelmed, immobilized or checked out as a result of what I share. How can I as an individual possibly counter global warming and protect habitats? I can barely keep my house clean let alone clean air or water. 

But as a writer, I strive to unravel that status quo seam stitched around life as we know it to glimpse what’s underneath. It’s my hope then readers will seek their own solutions and alternatives.

I've included many hyperlinks so you can further your own knowledge. The hyperlinks also testify to how much incriminating information there is about coal.

I attended a screening of the independent film Dirty Business about the coal industry. What is there to say about Old King Coal that you might not already know?

* The mono-economy of coal mining has created a generational cycle of poverty and forced dependence much like sharecropping where miners live in houses owned by mining companies and have to shop at stores owned by mining companies.

*Miners and their families fear jeopardizing their jobs by reporting about high levels of contamination in drinking water supplies.

*As far as jobs go, coal mining has become heavily mechanized. Coal industry employment in the US has fallen by half in the last 20 years, despite a one-third increase in coal production.

*Coal producing states consistently rank lowest in indices for health and income.

*Coal fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution. Why does that matter to the average Joe? Because Joe can't be blissfully average since mercury in the food chain and breast milk interferes with the development of babies' brains and neurological systems and is linked to learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, problems with coordination, lowered IQ and mental retardation.

*Coal regions have the highest mortality rates. Yearly, 24,000 people die prematurely because of coal-fired power plant pollution. I’m not even mentioning the higher rates of:
-cardiopulmonary disease 
-birth defects
-chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
-lung and 
-kidney disease prevalent in the people living in coal country.

*People tend to glaze over when the connection between coal and global warming is brought up. That’s why I’m detailing how coal mining impacts humans living in areas where coal is produced. You don’t have to be treehugger to be anti-coal. 

It’s destroying our own species. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

we can do better than this

I went to the Ethnic Enrichment Festival this weekend and couldn't help noticing this. It seems ironic that the byproduct of celebrating and learning about different cultures is trashing the planet that supports all of us.


I wonder if we perceived ourselves as world citizens rather than consumers if we would behave differently.

Oh and fyi, Styrofoam and bones aren't recyclable.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I may be the only person in KC who didn’t enjoy the Color Run. Two reasons. First, I dislike anything marketed as ‘fun.’ I also dislike anything marketed as, ‘healthy’, ‘educational’ or ‘good for me’. Declaring it so doesn’t make it so; it only makes me think you’re trying to sell me something. Conversely, just because something is not deemed fun, healthy, educational or good doesn’t mean it isn’t or more importantly, that I can’t get those things from it. My brain, senses, heart and intuition can tell me whether something is worthwhile or not. So that’s the first reason I disliked the Color Run: the hoopla about how frickin fun it was gonna be to have colored corn starch thrown at me.

Here’s the second reason: the waste involved. Because the land of AWAY is mythical, it was decidedly not fun to see people throw trash on the ground. All those plastic pouches of color runners were given to toss, thrown to the ground. There were trash cans but they were few and far between. Besides, people were having too much fun to be bothered with finding trash cans. But that wasn’t the worst of it. It was the disposable water bottles handed to runners as they crossed the finish line. Since trash cans and recycling containers were not immediately available, people threw water bottles, some half full, to the ground.

Would those same people at an event labeled ‘earth day’ or ‘litter clean up’  or 'water awareness day' behave differently? It’s why I dislike the aforementioned artificial categories; they inhibit our ability to assess situations for ourselves.

Because we’re at an event where our prime directive is fun, does that mean we don’t have to be responsible?

And who shows up to a run in Kansas City in July without their own reusable water bottle? Those who rely on others to think of their needs. It’s like at kids’ sporting events where parents are supposed to bring drinks and snacks for the team. Does running around for 30 minutes on a soccer field really require a disposable pouch of liquid high fructose corn syrup and an individually packaged bar of solid high fructose corn syrup? I know I sound like a killjoy. Maybe that’s because sugar laden products merely resembling food have been marketed to us as fun-snacks-on-the-go for so long we've bought into it. They’re synonymous with the fun of kids’ sports. I’m not sure how fun obesity and diabetes and overflowing landfills are. I’m not sure how fun a generation of kids growing up expecting snacks every 30 minutes is. But I’m pretty sure a generation of adults conditioned since childhood to expect someone to supply them with a snack and drink every time they break a sweat is fun for the companies supplying the products.

We allow companies to infantilize us, making ourselves dependent on profit driven entities to conjure then meet needs. Take the ridiculous disposable water bottle. We believe it is superior to a) regular tap water b) bringing our own reusable water bottle and c) in the case of  sports, prehydrating before an event so we don’t need their evil product. And yes, I mean evil. The ubiquity of disposable water bottles presages a terrible future.

Do we want companies ever looking for a larger market share to control water supply? How fun would the world be if water were privatized and the only way you could get it was to buy it? Currently tap water is about .50 cents per year. The equivalent amount of bottled water costs $1,500. Access to affordable healthcare is nothing compared to a future where access to water will be limited to only those who can afford it. Do we really want to go there?

No matter how thirsty I am I will refuse a disposable water bottle because so far I live in a country where eventually I will get to a drinking fountain or a faucet. I don’t want those options eliminated because I was so busy having ‘fun’ that I didn’t pay attention to what was happening around me.

And I haven’t even gotten to the part about how toxic the damn plastic bottle itself is. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

lavish accident

For 6 years I’ve planted vegetables in my front yard. After all this time I still have an uneasy relationship with seeds. I worry about planting them too deep, too shallow, too close. I guess I could take a ruler outside or keep notes on what works from season to season so I could become more proficient at seed planting. Instead I just live in vague apprehension of planting poorly and conversely, vague hope that things will work out. Each time I plant a seed it is with dubious anticipation and each time something sprouts I am delighted. Same thing. Six years. Over and over.

That is why I love this sunflower.

Among my tomatoes, a random, accidental seed germinated into this tall beauty. I did not plant it too deep, too shallow, too close. No vague apprehension or hope accompanied its placement in the soil. It just grew, on its own. It feels like a gift from the universe, bubbling laughter from the garden gods.

"And faith is the awareness that creation is the gift that keeps on giving." Walter Brueggemann 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

hinged on promise

I woke up at 4 am thinking of plastic water bottles. My child’s teacher told me she’d buy some for a class party and at the time I felt myself suppressing a reaction.Then I got sucked in to the busyness of my day so the reaction waited.

This school year I’ve been uncharacteristically disengaged from school functions. I couldn’t stomach the waste. I had to turn away from recycle bins stuffed with trash, empty classrooms with lights on, air conditioning units cooling vacant classrooms all weekend, class parties for every imaginable event where disposable party ware was used and kids went home with pointless plastic crap, I mean party favors. I turned away from my daughter’s teacher who refused to let her use the backsides of paper. I couldn’t stomach Styrofoam trays in the cafeteria and mounds of wasted food. I refused to attend the Earth Day concert because I couldn’t endure hearing children sing about caring for the earth because the system, that in the process of schooling them in the three R’s, is also schooling them to disregard the earth. I turned away from volunteering at events because I knew I would spend the time digging recyclables out of the trash. 

The only thing I didn’t turn away from was volunteering in the garden.The simple work of engaging children in planting, watering, weeding and harvesting I could handle. Some had never touched a seed or felt a worm tickle the palm of their hands. Some for the first time experienced the pepper bite of a radish freshly pulled from soil, spinach not from a can, the crunch of snap peas. Planting the idea that their food comes from dirt, this I wouldn't turn from because it is hope filled work, hinged on promise. 

Last year, a handful of parents and I worked tirelessly on green initiatives for our school so we started this fall still spent from our efforts. Our impetus and energy could not be the only things driving change. Why didn’t other parents and school staff see this as part of our children’s education? I personally felt dejected; profoundly impotent before these Herculean tasks. How could I possibly change culture? Trying to get my children’s school to embrace sustainability seems impossible. But what is the alternative?

The alternative is to acquiesce to a second rate reality. At church, a pastor talked about the walls of Jerusalem being in ruin for almost a hundred years. The Israelites resigned themselves to a degraded, inferior existence far different than the promise of the covenant. By living within crumbling walls that should have served as a fortress, they exposed themselves to unfathomable dangers, tolerating a second rate reality.

Because we poison what sustains life on earth, we tolerate a second rate reality.

Because we live as though poisoning the earth doesn’t matter, our lives are second rate in terms of our vitality. Diabetes, leukemia, asthma, endocrine disruption, neurobehavorial disorders are just a few of the physical maladies we've become accustomed to living with, not to mention the emotional and spiritual ones.  

Because we squander limited resources, we behave as second rate stewards of the future. Because children are capable of stewardship, education established on consumption is second rate, devoid of relevancy for real world engagement.

So what happens to that which is degraded if left unamended? Yes, it is a Herculean task to redress a dire situation, an immense endeavor to provoke change. But again, what is the alternative?

The pastor who spoke on the walls of Jerusalem challenged us to seek the profound potential in second rate reality, to not just resign ourselves to living subpar. As I’ve spent time researching and writing for this blog, I’m learning to despair less. Ironic, since researching environmental issues turns up overwhelmingly depressing information. Instead of turning away because I can’t stomach it, I’m seeing everything as baseline: this is where we are now; this is our starting point; the school buses and cars idling in the parking lot-this is our before picture. Where is the possibility, the opportunity in this rubble?

Getting our small school to use both sides of paper, compost, recycle, put lights on motion sensors, air conditioners on timers, or rely on reusables rather than disposables may seem puny in comparison to industry polluters or corporate farming. But these tasks are worthy of a Herculean effort. And if the school staff cultivates stewardship as a habit practiced along with the three R’s, imagine the influence they’ll have on countless students. Indeed, if students learn as children to consider the impact of their choices, what does that mean for their future as parents, community members and world citizens? Therein lays profound potential. This too is hope filled work, hinged on promise. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

a lethal shade of green

Ah, the smell of summer.  Lilac? Peony? Roses? No, pesticides and gasoline. In neighborhoods everywhere, lawn care season is underway. Our preoccupation with green lawns is but another example of how our attention is manipulated. In my post purple hair, I brought up the metaphor of navigating a room with just a flashlight. The flashlight simultaneously reveals and conceals by directing our attention to what the light is pointed toward. We’ve been sold a homogenous green carpet from last frost to first frost as something to strive for. A multimillion dollar industry thrives on spotlighting the perfect green lawn. The real cost of how we achieve or maintain our patches of green is rendered immaterial because the industry doesn’t flicker light on it.

Do we consider the fossil fuel expense of lawns? Nope, although we burn over 60 million gallons of gas to keep our lawns trimmed (and this sum doesn’t even account for edgers, blowers or lawn services cruising the city), that particular detail falls outside the flashlight beam so we don’t think about it.

Shouldn’t it be disturbing that at over 32 million acres, the largest irrigated crop in America, is turf grass? Why are we willing to spend 29 billion dollars a year, averaging over $1,000 per household, on something that serves no purpose other than to fulfill a societal obligation that comes with home ownership?  You can’t eat it, sell it, weave it, wear it, climb it, smoke it or use it for shelter. Who’s spotlighting the pointless expense of lawn care?

Do we even know why we have lawns in the first place?

Over 800 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water, but we use over 50% of our residential water for landscaping. Apparently in the Midwest we’re burying our heads in our manicured grass about the inevitable water restrictions we’ll eventually have to abide.

And not only are we wasting water on something that naturally can’t survive here, we’re poisoning that water for the future through the chemical regimen used to achieve that impossibly green lawn. Who’s shedding light on how three times as much chemicals (67 million pounds yearly) are used on lawns per acre than on agriculture? Does the weed n’ feed label inform you, among other toxins, a constituent of Agent Orange- 2,4-D-is commonly used in lawn chemicals? A growing body of research links lawn chemicals to various cancers, endocrine disruption, infertility and birth defects. But why can’t we figure out on our own if it has ‘cide’ in its name, as in pesticide or herbicide, it means suicide and homicide for ourselves and future generations?

Isn’t it our responsibility to cultivate curiosity as to the consequences of our choices even if no one’s directing us to? Even if no one's shining a light on it?

I don’t want to engage an activity mindlessly just because it’s social convention. When I’ve learned all I can about something then I have the freedom to truly choose that thing or not. As much as I respect sheep, I don’t want to be one. Especially if sheepish compliance leads to slaughter. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

purple hair

There’s a metaphor I can’t get out of my mind. I've been thinking about how popular media, advertising and marketing are flashlights that direct our attention to what they want us to see. If you’ve ever navigated your way with only a flashlight, say through your house when the electricity goes, you know danger lies in what remains shadowed. It’s not the ottoman illumed that you trip over; it’s the laundry basket you didn’t see. Whoever holds the flashlight then has a tremendous amount of power.

They dictate what you see and walk toward, what you don’t see and are thus vulnerable to.  

During a game of hide and seek, our ten year old friend with purple hair was unwilling to hide under our deck because of spiders. The savvy advert that sold her on purple hair dye (turn light on how cool she’d be) probably left out the fact that coal tar, a known carcinogen, and hormone disrupting phthalates were in their product (turn light off long term health impact). Maybe our friend is afraid of spiders rather than the product on her scalp because the lowly garden spider doesn't have good PR.

Why do we accept what we’re shown as all there is to see?

Interestingly we’re directed to fear, avoid or protect ourselves from certain things: spiders, bees, ticks, sunburn, dry skin, chapped lips, poison ivy, wrinkles, hair loss (or growth), germs, weeds, dingy anything, perspiration, cold, heat, natural smells. Even more interestingly, we’re encouraged to BUY protection to combat these foes. There’s an arsenal of home cleaning and health products marketed to defeat household grime or unwanted hair. But why are these things considered more dangerous, more threatening, than the artillery used to defeat them? We don’t bat an eye about the chemicals we slather on from head to toe, clean our homes with, spray on our lawns or ingest. Nor do we question the synergistic impact of the chemical soup we live, breathe and have our being in as long as our lives look like a Target ad.

What we accept or reject should be based on intrinsic merit, not packaging.

Pierce the darkness on one product you currently buy. At the most, a 10 minute internet search is all it takes.  Please consider sharing your discovery in a response to this post. Instead of relying on a flashlight, let's light up the entire room.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

borrowed, part 2

It's necessary to do what my friend did in Costco and explore the true cost of bananas. This video captures it:

By our choices we impact the dignity and health of others. Next time you go to the grocery store tell the produce manager, store manager and check out person you’re willing to pay for fair trade bananas. Take your children with you and tell them why you’re doing it.

It’s an enrichment opportunity...for the children of others.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I live in an era in which I’m expected to devote resources to provide my children enrichment opportunities, all with the notion that it will somehow serve them in the future, maybe even get into college. There’s a whole industry around this, starting when babies are drooling in diapers. It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy because what parent doesn’t want his or her child to try archery or throw clay on a wheel?

I wonder though how this mania translates into adulthood.

That is, what sort of future adults are we shaping when we condition children from a young age to assume whole chunks of time, energy and other resources are to be devoted to their personal interests? America is only 5% of the world’s population but consumes almost 25% of its resources so what expectations of the world are we already giving them? And when they’re adults, how will all this individual enrichment equip them to heal, let alone inhabit, a world we’ve damaged in pursuit of personal interests?

The other day a friend was in Costco with her children where bananas cost $1.50 a bunch. She took the time to explore with them how mounds of bananas could be in the Midwest at that price. They talked about how and where they were grown, when they were picked, who did the picking and packaging, how they were shipped. The kids learned that the purchase price doesn’t cover the true cost of bananas.

That’s the sort of enrichment opportunity our children need.

It is also what the world needs.

"Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." Native American proverb 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

progress is a comfortable disease*

This morning I woke up to no running water. Since I wake up a good two hours before the other four people in my house, I wondered what this would mean for our morning routine: showers, brushing teeth, breakfast, preparing lunches. Pooping. I had a momentary sense of panic. What if this went on all day? What if it was my whole neighborhood, the school, businesses all around me? Two things then occurred to me, both of which seem incomprehensible because they're happening simultaneously in our world today.

One, for a nanosecond I experienced the water anxiety faced by the 884 million people worldwide who do not have access to safe water. While I was contemplating how to brush my teeth, make my tea, get rid of bodily waste hygienically and prepare food for my family, I was confronted with details and decisions I never have to consider but people, mostly women, worldwide are confronted with daily. All day. Every day.

Two, I and most people I know are completely dependent on systems we know nothing about. I turn a handle to get water. I flip a switch and get light. I flip another and am climatically comfortable. Otherwise, I have no idea how to procure those things for myself.

I don’t know why this passes for progress.

*title from an e e cummings' poem

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

everything beautiful in its time

“beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” 
Annie Dillard

It is February 2012, the near end of a mild winter of mostly 50-60 degree weather punctuated by an occasionally frigid day, some rain and gusty winds. All winter people have exclaimed delightedly that the weather has been gorgeous, even thanking God at times.

It makes me wonder what’s being taught in science classes that there’s wholesale celebration of 50 degree weather in January. It makes me wonder at the depth of our addiction to comfort and convenience; after all winter is sometimes frigid and a hassle to get around in. It makes me wonder at the alarming depth of our detachment from natural cycles.

I decided to google winter to find out why it happens, wondering if it serves a greater purpose than to facilitate photo ops and sledding. 

It does. 

Many invasive and poisonous species of plants die back in winter, keeping their growth in check. Warmer weather and higher levels of CO2 make plants grow, mature faster and obviously earlier, producing more potent allergens. Because trees need a dormant phase in their life-cycles, the abundance and health of Vermont’s Sugar Maples are declining due to milder winters, impacting that region’s economy (but spurring Vermont’s Governor to respond aggressively to climate change). 

Seasonal bird migrations are out of whack. Birds aren’t finding what they normally feed on along migration routes and if they reach their breeding grounds, are breeding earlier. But because of the warmer weather, vegetation has bloomed and insects (whose populations are also kept in check by winter dormancy) have hatched earlier than the avian offspring that feed on them. 

Most hardiness zones, used by farmers, gardeners and nurseries to select what and when to plant appropriate for one’s region, have shifted 5 degrees since last published in 1990. In ecological terms, that’s a dramatic shift in a short time. Many previously synchronized life-cycle events have become disrupted.

But because we operate as though separate from these natural rhythms, seasons seem relatively meaningless to us. We don’t adhere to ecological cycles in what we eat, how we work, play, rest or even dress.

It is with this in mind I think of Ecclesiastes 3. 'There is a season for everything’ is often co-opted for the stages of one’s personal life, relegated to mere metaphor. Maybe the metaphor would resonate more viscerally if we actually experienced seasons as expanses of time and place we physically live in rather than something else to consume or avoid based on our predilections. Make no mistake: trying to adhere to biological rhythms would be frickin’ hard, close to impossible for 21st century people. Yet we humans strive to construct our own rhythms to encompass work, rest, play or restraint when all along natural rhythms already exist for us to live within. 

Take Lent, a time when many Christians decide to give up something to be reminded of what Jesus gave up. Maybe during Lent, for example, Midwesterners could forgo out of season fruits and veggies. Many would have to learn what actually is seasonal or what even grows where. It would be a way of engaging their Lenten discipline naturally as well as engaging Ecclesiastes’ concept of seasons concretely. Self restraint within the context of seasonal restraint could create a more communal, organic experience of Lent.

Imagine if whole churches did this. Imagine the repercussions. It may even provoke conversations about idolatry, carbon footprints, privilege, entitlement, addiction to instant gratification, genetic engineering, pesticides, slave labor, deforestation, monoculture farming, bee colony collapse, and other fallout of non-seasonal living.

Like climate change.

“Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath[c]; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” Ecclesiastes 3:18.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Naked is Good

One of my favorite stories is The Emperor’s New Clothes. To me it speaks truth about most things in life. We pick certain lies, deem them truth then persuade ourselves and others of their false veracity. As though enough people expressing the same sentiment makes it true. In the story, swindling weavers create an enticing falsehood, mesmerizing the vain, insecure emperor with their artful detailing of the non-existent.

While advertising may be the modern day equivalent of the deceitful weavers by targeting our insecurities, greenwashing preys upon our deeper need for integrity. We like to believe we’re doing good for those directly in our care without harming others in the process.

Lest we deem ourselves too sophisticated for the clothiers’ tricks, let’s consider bottled water. The weaving is brilliant. Get people to pay a thousand times more for what they can get for pennies. Get people to believe that virtually free (less than 1 cent a gallon) tap water is harmful but bottled water (5 cents per ounce) is healthy. Ironically almost half of bottled water is municipal tap water, the other half not as well regulated. What is publicly subsidized is then poured into environmentally hazardous packaging and then resold to a willing public for a much higher price. Moreover, almost 2 million barrels of oil are used to make plastic water bottles and transporting those bottles burns even more oil. Americans drain 60,000,000 water bottles a day, 90% of which don’t get recycled (as if that matters, but that’s another post). Millions of gallons of water are wasted in the plastic making process, polluting waterways where the water is extracted. Many communities oppose the use of that water, arguing that water underground or flowing from natural springs is publicly owned and should not be exploited for profit. The bottled water industry then has the audacity to claim this:

Greenwashing mollifies us into believing our choices are benign when the naked truth is they’re toxic.

As a Christian, “the truth shall set you free,” is a familiar verse. I’ve been taught truth, or knowledge that has transformative power, is rooted in God’s reality. Problematic of course, because all sorts of spinning is done with Biblical thread. For me then God’s transformative truth has environmental implications. If God consistently defines creation as good then it is a lie to regard all this goodness as merely a tool for our own ends, to serve our personal insecurity as it were. By extension, “For God so loved the world…,” means all of it: not just Christians, not just people even, but everything from magnolia trees to newts.

I get that water in parts of the country, in fact world, is not potable. Yes, cause for insecurity. But it should also be a call to social action. It is outrageous that natural bodies of water are too contaminated to drink from. This is a reality that simply should not be acceptable. Are Christians too entranced with the symbolic water of life to address real water issues? I’m particularly concerned about safe, accessible water for all because I am a mother of three girls. In many parts of the world, it is women and girls who spend hours a day, hours seeking fresh water sources for their families, not getting an education, often endangering their lives or worse. As Christians espousing love for neighbor, stockpiling or purifying our personal water supply isn’t the response to which we’re called.

If we aren’t relying on municipal water systems, then we can easily remove ourselves from engaging in public discourse on corporate polluters, bond issues or ways of upgrading municipal water treatment. If we can buy what is advertised to us as clean water from a pristine lake, then we won’t stop to consider what’s beyond the label, like the chimera of magical clothing. We can easily forget those who cannot make the same choices. Indeed, we can easily forget that access to clean water shouldn’t be a matter of choice but a basic human right.

In The Emperor’s New Clothes, a child too young to be manipulated (unlike our own) by advertising, freed the villagers from the tyranny of insecurity. I’d like to think our role as Christians is to speak truth and life into the tyranny of deadly illusions. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

sorbet cojones

My daughters love Island Way Sorbets.These tropical fruit sorbets come in their own fruit casing. So the lemon sorbet comes in a half lemon, coconut in a small coconut shell, pineapple in a tiny pineapple half. But you know what a killjoy I can be so I get distracted by why the lemons are so big and if there are implications of cutting the coconut and pineapple so young.Then my mind wanders to how much is wasted at the processing facility and I think about the plantations where these items are grown and harvested. Anyway, to be clear there is nothing at all environmentally friendly about this product. It’s ridiculously unfriendly. Each item is individually packaged,12 little plastic spoony things are included and it’s shipped from South Africa. SOUTH AFRICA people. So when I saw this in the upper left hand corner of the box I laughed out loud and took a picture.

Ah, the wonders of greenwashing.