Sunday, November 20, 2016

the best laid plans…

"and so to tenderness I add my action" Araceles Girmay

We were showered with well wishes and encouragement.

For our personal needs we were offered subzero sleeping bags, tents, a pocket stove, glove liners, a lantern, seasoned advice for camping in single digits, food for the long drive and more.

For the Water Protectors, a friend donated a bag of OTC meds, another dropped off comforters. We were handed cash.

My poetry mentor stopped by with a stone and feather. Years ago the stone from San Carlos, Mexico called to her and became her sacred stone. This week, it asked to be taken to a new home, to be among other sacred stones at Standing Rock. The consecrated feather from a Peruvian Shaman had participated in countless ceremonies. This week, it too asked to be taken to Standing Rock.

Like anything you do that matters, you realize you aren’t doing it alone or just for yourself. As friends messaged about donating on line or brought goods to my house, I realized I was a conveyor, carrying their energy, hopes, their intentions with me. I felt buoyed by this.

When we left at midnight, I placed the stone and feather on the dashboard, powerful totems to lead the way. Yet another friend met us off the highway at 3 am in the blustery Iowa cold and filled our car with thoughtful equipment for the wintering Water Protectors. We drove on.

Then it started to snow. Hard. We couldn’t see. We slowed down. Still couldn’t see. Checking the weather and road conditions we realized, at 6 am, we couldn’t continue. We decided to head home. The drive back was full of doubt. Should we have pushed on? Should we have hunkered down somewhere and waited for the blizzard to pass? Could we have extended our trip? Maybe driving would have been better in daylight?

A 12 hour round trip. I had wrestled my conscience about the emissions of this trip before leaving. It was painful to burn that much carbon for no good to come out of it; contradicting and undermining the cause we were going to support.

I felt distraught. We had planned so carefully, carved time away to make this weekend happen. A friend was watching our daughters, another friend got them off to school, we had folks at Standing Rock waiting for us, a car full of useful gear to deliver. The rock and feather had insisted on this journey. What will happen to the energy, hopes and intentions we had been entrusted with? I felt like I had failed; let people down.

…oft go awry

Later we would find out vehicles had slid off the highway and roads were closed. Even snowplows were discouraged.

Besides check the weather when you plan a trip, what could I learn from this aborted mission?

This journey certainly wasn’t about my personal pilgrimage, finally participating in something I’d been following for years. It wasn’t just about delivering practical items for the winter either. Another group from Kansas City will take the donated items.

As we briefly white-knuckled through the storm, I thought about how climate change disrupts our best-laid plans. Granted a blizzard in the Dakotas is not unusual and had been foreshadowed by the Farmer’s Almanac. But it got me thinking about the 22 million people displaced by climate change since 2008. What happens to the hopes and intentions of these refugees? We take for granted the ability to execute our plans, even if they’re delayed by circumstance. What happens when we simply cannot? It’s really inconceivable isn’t it? Yet it is an increasing reality worldwide.

I also thought about the sacred stone and feather desiring to go to Standing Rock. I believe they want to take part in their planet’s restoration. For too long we humans have placed ourselves in dominion over the earth, subjugating all the earth’s elements to satisfy our intentions. But it is further hubris to now assume humans are the only beings capable of caring about the earth. The earth and its elements are living sentient beings, invested in restoration in ways we can’t understand. Maybe that’s why the DAPL saga has seized our hearts and imagination.

As conveyor for the intentions and hopes of others I felt both buoyed and weighted with responsibility, humbled and honored. Maybe it is the same when we remember we belong to the earth and the earth belongs to us. Maybe restoration happens when we become humbled enough and honored enough to realize indeed we belong to the earth and the earth belongs to us. 

How then do we manifest such understanding in our lives?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

why I rarely take my kids to the pool

For most kids, summer equals days spent at the pool. In the greater Kansas City area, there are over 60 public swimming pools, not to mention the big aquatic joints and small neighborhood spray parks. Across the country, there are millions of residential pools. I suspect most hotels, recreation and health centers have pools too. Access to swimming pools, indeed swimming, seems like something we can take for granted.

This is one side of the equation.

Here’s the other side:
One in 10 people have access to safe water.
One in 3 have access to a toilet.
Worldwide women and girls often spend up to 6 hours collecting water, averaging 3.7 miles daily.
Globally, 1/3 of all schools lack access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
43 countries are considered water stressed.
85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet.

This means thousands of children worldwide are not slathered in sunscreen frolicking poolside. Instead, about 2000 children under the age of five die because of diarrheal diseases linked to water, sanitation and hygiene. Daily.

It is a thin sliver of luck that puts my kids on this side of the inequitable water equation. My family and their dad’s family emigrated from countries and regions from which the above stats were drawn so that our kids could dive for toys in more water than many 3rd world communities will ever see.

I cannot reckon these two realities.

I know not taking my kids to the pool does not add water to the world’s water equation. I know it doesn't quench the thirst of a Somali baby or carry the 50 lb water bucket for an Ethiopian girl or water the Bangladeshi farmer’s field. But I cannot reckon my privilege with the world’s water crisis.

For most of the world, water is an unmet need, a tenuous link to life, not a source of recreation. Further, it pains me to see a finite, diminishing resource taken for granted while we ourselves are mere inches away from our own water crises.

"I am not writing about nature. I am writing about humanity. And if I have a subject, it is justice." Barry Lopez

Monday, March 21, 2016

shifting our gaze

This may be a familiar story. Downstream people are drowning and we frantically rescue them. But as soon as we pull some out, there are more and more people drowning. We then strive to improve our rescue efforts. Perhaps a better way to save people is to shift our gaze upstream to understand why people are falling into the river.

This analogy applies to toxic chemicals in our homes. Focusing just on where and how to safely store chemicals keeps us downstream because it maintains the assumption that people fall in without questioning what’s causing them to do so. No doubt rescuing is necessary; but let’s strive to keep people out of the river by keeping toxics out of our lives.

The average American is exposed to thousands of toxics daily yet only a small percentage of these have been safety tested for human exposure and none for synergistic impact. In fact, home and health product makers aren’t required to list all ingredients in their products nor do they have to prove they’re safe. Moreover, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) hasn’t been updated since 1976 while new chemical compounds are approved daily for use. Even while legislation is slow to keep up, it can also omit dangerous, even known carcinogens like asbestos. Found around the country in older drywall and insulation, asbestos is still legal for use in the US and Canada even though exposure causes the devastating cancer, mesothelioma.

Why are there toxics in our lives in the first place?

Clearly people will continue to fall into the river if this reality goes unchecked. It’s vital to advocate for more legislative measures to eradicate untested chemicals from being used in everyday products and mandate labeling to accurately detail contents. This is putting up protective railings upstream.

While seeking consumer protection and governmental measures, what else can we do?

Start by examining the products already in your home. For instance, anything scented contains phthalates, known endocrine disruptors. But because of proprietary laws, they’re listed on labels only as ‘fragrance.’ Is scented deodorant or laundry detergent something you really need? If so, consider alternatives to achieve the same end. Pleasing scents are possible without exposing yourself to harmful chemicals.

Are there products you think you can’t live without? Understand many household products serve a fabricated rather than a real need. Research them at Environmental Working Group to learn what goes in labeling, what’s left out as well as healthier replacements-if that product is indeed necessary. Fabric dryer sheets are an example of a fabricated demand for an unnecessary product full of toxics.

Oftentimes you can make your own replacements for health and home produces out of simple ingredients like baking soda and vinegar. It’s surprisingly easy and saves you money. Vinegar by the way is a terrific fabric softener that is a safe alternative to dryer sheets. Don’t worry, your clothes won’t smell like you’ve been dyeing Easter eggs.

Most importantly educate yourself. There are many documentaries, books and articles that detail the chemical soup in which we live and explain how toxic chemicals insinuate their way into our lives. Included below is a list of useful links.

It is not a given we have to live with toxic chemicals in our everyday products. It’s not a given people will just fall into the river and rescuing is the best we can do. This keeps us downstream.

Let’s investigate what’s happening upstream.

Websites detailing toxic products and alternatives:

Friday, February 12, 2016

truly magical threads

A few years ago I wrote a post about bottled water, likening it to the Emperor’s New Clothes. Since then I’ve become an environmental educator so in class we examine the marketing, manufacturing, science and social justice aspects of the bottled water industry exposing the human, societal and environmental dangers:
*Bottled doesn’t undergo as stringent, consistent testing as tap.
*It comes in a toxic leaching package.
*It’s a petroleum package, worsening climate change.
*Plastics bioaccumulate toxics in the food chain (of which humans are a part).
*The bottled industry pollutes through its extraction, manufacturing, distribution and disposal.
*Bottled water is largely tap.
*The sources of what water isn’t tap, don’t have to be revealed.

But because most of my students come from homes where bottled is normative, this hardly convinces them tap water is the better option-short or long term.

Then Flint happened and the emperor got new threads.

Suddenly people were shipping pallets of bottled water to Flint, bolts of illusory fabric, perpetuating the delusion that bottled water is safe.

Why is it a delusion? All the water we have is all the water that’s ever been and will be on earth because it constantly moves through the water cycle. That means whatever we put in our water-pesticides, ice melt, medications, microbeads-impacts the water cycle, impacts all water. That means there is no pristine, magical place where bottlers can source water.

There just isn’t.

Believe me, I wish there was. I wish I could get clean water from a pristine, magical place uncompromised by all the ways we pollute water. I wish the emperor’s new clothes were dazzling enough to clothe me.

But here’s what I want even more.

I want us ordinary people to shake off the emperor’s robe of Consumer and gear up as Citizen Advocates in the same way the ordinary people of Flint became water experts and whistle blowers. Flint is everywhere.

I want my government to invest in water infrastructure so that water doesn’t become a privatized commodity only accessible to those with means.

I want everyone on the planet to have clean water as specified by the UN: “All peoples, whatever their stage of development and social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantities and of a quality equal to their basic needs.”

Little d democracy in action.

I want to be able to look my students in the eye and tell them unequivocally that their tap water is safe because an informed citizenry takes seriously the responsibility of protecting water and that very real mantle of responsibility will be theirs for the next generation.

I want to look your children and mine in the eye and tell them we refuse to buy illusions and will instead put our effort into a future of accessible safe water for all of them.

That would be truly magical. 

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.--Chief Seattle