Thursday, November 12, 2015

seeing red

Disturbing, tragic things happen in the world. Paying attention to the news sometimes compels me to abandon so-called civilized society and become a hermit. But occasionally a story will surface that restores my faith in humanity. An individual or group can prick our consciousness about an issue we’ve previously overlooked. The indignant cry for justice of these brave few motivates us to create change for good as in the cases of abolition, women’s right to vote and the civil rights movement.

During November 2015, I am witnessing such a movement take place in America prompted by the faith community I was raised in. In our Davidian way, Christians are finally uniting against the corporate Goliath, Starbucks. 

For years this ubiquitous coffee chain has been blatantly peddling to go cups and no one has raised an eyebrow. 

Thankfully, those of us who care about Peace on Earth around this time of year are outraged about the implications of these cups. In case you don’t understand what all the fuss is about, here’s a thumbnail’s sketch of what’s troubling some people of faith.

According to FDA standards, food and drink containers can only have a limited amount of recycled content. That means all new cups are made from virgin paper then bleached and chemically treated. This process requires a lot of water and energy while exposing factory workers to harmful chemicals.

You may be surprised to learn paper comes from trees which sequester carbon. Ironic since the process of extracting raw materials, manufacturing said materials into single use disposable cups then shipping to go cups to a Starbucks near you, emits carbon. Too much carbon you may also be surprised to learn, is slowly rendering the planet unhabitable. 

And, these iconic vessels are not recyclable or compostable because of the plastic lining that keeps them from disintegrating in your hand. Since Starbucks hawks anywhere from 2 billion to 52 billion paper cups (and plastic tops and cardboard heat shields) a year, we’re expanding our landfills and poisoning our water while decreasing our forests.

Can you see why people are outraged?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

connect the dots: part 1

One of my daughters attended Space Camp week at Science City.

At pick up there is a line of cars stretched out of the parking lot, waiting for the gates to the exclusive, campers-only parking lot to open. The drivers idle in front of Science City, waiting for their science-enriched progeny to emerge.

Science City, a place meant to enhance one’s understanding of science, allows idling in its parking lot even though the science is clear on the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change. They even have an interactive display on climate change inside the overly air-conditioned building.

Maybe idling doesn’t count this week because it is not ENERGY week.

After the gates open, people exit their cars, some left idling, and stand in line to get their kids. I wonder how many of these kids have asthma and allergies. But it isn’t AIR POLLUTION week so maybe the kids have a week’s reprieve from respiratory ailments.

I notice a number of overweight parents and kids who through masterful idling are lucky enough to get the closest parking spots. But it isn’t HEALTH week so maybe parking at the adjacent lot and exerting oneself 20 meters, instead of idling, isn’t an option.

A take away from Space Camp? Astronauts’ favorite candy is M & M’s because they like to toss the melt-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hand morsels into the gravity free setting and catch them in their astronaut mouths as they float by.

My daughter also got to take away some free advertising for Science City in the forms of a t-shirt, a reusable bag and a plastic water bottle.

Clearly it wasn’t WATER CYCLE week at Science City. If it was, they would have learned the water footprint of manufacturing t-shirts (over 700 gallons of water per shirt).

Nor was it ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT week or they would have learned that manufacturing reusable bags is sometimes actually worse for the planet than single use disposable plastic bags.

Shall we even consider the destined-for-the-dump crap reusable plastic water bottle that’s made from a nonrenewable resource and leaches chemicals into water?

Ok, ok. I’ll be thankful they didn’t offer bottled water.

But when is CONNECT THE DOTS camp?

Friday, August 14, 2015

don't be evil

There’s a Google vehicle parked across the street in front of my neighbor’s house. Idling, windows rolled up. Why the vehicle needs to be on, I don’t know since it’s an unseasonably cool 73 degrees this Midwestern August day.

But the Google fiber guy inside is on the phone jotting on a clipboard, probably connected to work and the almighty golden Google grid.

The Google guy, this conduit of connectivity, does not see the connection between his idling and climate change as he works to foster greater worldwide connection for my neighbor. My neighbor, at any moment, will come outside with his gas blower to ‘clean’ the sidewalk of errant blades of pointless just mowed grass by blowing them into the street so they’ll get washed down into the sewer system which is not intended for lawn debris (Ah debris: that fabricated category for things we can’t be bothered to see our connection to because we’re so busy connected to the internet of the insipid).

Yes, I’m so glad we have GOOGLE fiber in my neighborhood. Maybe the neighbor and I can have a conversation regarding the connection between the gas mower and blower he uses for his 4 x 4 lawn and the planet. Maybe we can connect about lawn debris. Maybe we can connect about how all this will impact his baby’s future. Chances are we won’t. Chances are, instead, he’ll ask me to connect over Candy Crush Saga.

The most connected generation and we’re harnessing all that access to knowledge for diversion instead. 

Thanks, Google fiber guy. What’s the temperature on your planet? Doesn’t matter. It’s cool and comfy in your vehicle.

Friday, July 31, 2015

I am walter palmer

I am Walter Palmer because I have coerced orangutans from the safety of their habitat for my palm oil laced food, cleaning and beauty products.

I am Walter Palmer because the maiming and torture of cow, pigs and chickens is an implicit reality of the factory-farmed meat I consume.

I am Walter Palmer because I have allowed cows to suffer before their untimely deaths as a result of conventional dairy products in my diet.

I am Walter Palmer because I too sport my trophies: shoes, coats, couches and bags.

Although I have never hunted, held or fired a crossbow or gun, I am Walter Palmer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

tugging at nature

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it attached to the rest of the world." John Muir

I have had the same compost bin since 1999. It’s just a rectangular piece of hardware cloth shaped into a cylinder with the ends twisted together. Each spring and fall I untwist the ends and form a new cylinder next to where the old one was and transfer the contents with a pitchfork. Each time I turn it I’m greeted by a nest of mice, a few snakes and of course a bunch of bugs. At the bottom of the pile I’m always rewarded with dark, rich soil for my garden.

An open bin means birds and whatever else eat from the compost sometimes litter the yard with food they weren’t quite able to make off with. It also means occasionally dumping kitchen scraps on an opossum. Nothing’s quite as startling at seeing a furry white face peering at you in the dark. Sometimes I’m so startled I fling the compost at them. They don’t move. They actually play possum. 

For years my backyard has been an unruly gnarl of weeds and invasive vines. I want to upgrade to a composting tumbler because changing the way I compost is phase one of my backyard renovations. I am determined to beautify it.

A friend gave me a two-barreled tumbler that I spent a June morning transferring compost into. When I got near the bottom of my old pile, I heard something scurry away. As I shoveled decaying matter-leaves, rotting vegetables, paper napkins-into the tumblers, I happened to shovel in a bright pink something. I took a closer look. It was five baby mice, no more than a day or two old. Pink as new erasers, blind, furless, all huddled together, straining their tiny heads around, shivering. I could almost see their hearts pounding through their translucent skin.

I called for my seven-year-old, who would be enthralled with their discovery. She came running over and asked me to put them in her hands. No easy task since suddenly my hands seemed huge and potentially harmful to their delicate skin and sheer smallness. She held them for a long time asking questions. Where is their mom, can we keep them, can we keep just one, why are they furless, where will they live now, why are their eyes closed, can we keep one, why are they clumped together, when will they look like mice, why can’t they crawl, can we keep one, are they cold, why are they shivering, do they need to nurse, can we keep one.

She then wanted to build a little nest for them. In the compost pile she found an avocado shell, relatively intact and lined it with fresh dirt, nestled the babies into it then blanketed them with orange lily petals. She wanted to keep them overnight. Just one night, maybe just one of them, can we sleep out here with them, can we keep one. I told her the mom was nearby watching and waiting for us to leave so she could get them. We found a leafy sheltered place near the old compost pile and we left the little avocado lifeboat.

I am grateful for my daughter’s curiosity regarding the mice and the tenderness with which she handled them. I’m grateful she didn't recoil at their appearance. I'm grateful she had the opportunity to interact with nature in a way most of us normally don't get to.

Maybe the scurrying I had heard earlier was the mom abandoning her collapsing home. Or maybe the mamma mouse was indeed nearby watching and took them by the nape one by one to a new nest. But I suspect they perished or were eaten by something else, as is the way of things.

Even if I’d kept the compost pile as is, who’s to say these mice wouldn’t have grown up and found their way into the mouth of something bigger or to a trap in someone’s home, as is also the way of things.

For 16 years, I had unwittingly provided a little world for some creatures. It contained biodiversity and everything these particular mammals needed to live. But just as unwittingly, I demolished that world, 'improving' my backyard. 

Each day I interact with nature in ways I’m completely unaware of. May I bring awareness to these interactions. May I also bring curiosity and tenderness, like my daughter.

May this underscore my relationship to all beings around me.