Undo

For a few weeks now I have been thinking about how to surround myself with more positive things and just as importantly, how to minimize my time with things that I do not find fulfilling or rewarding.  This is a bit of a real challenge for me in some regards.  I like to stay informed and yet much of the information I see brings on feelings of despair and hopelessness as it zaps motivation.  One thing that has been going pretty well is my participation in a program through work geared towards helping me get healthier.  I weigh in daily and the scale automatically uploads the data for my health coach to see.  I also have to log all food intake, exercise, etc.  In short, the program adds accountability, reasonable goals, and tracking which have been helping me make positive changes.  As someone who has struggled with their weight most of my adult life, I am hopeful this approach will invoke lasting changes.

This week, my health coach encouraged me to make an “un-do list” which aligns quite well with what I was already thinking about in terms of getting more positive.  Her sample list is below and I have added some additional (mildly comical) thoughts below and plan to spend some of my day off today “unning”.  I will need to think more about additional un-do options.

The UN-DO:

  1. Energy-sapping people
    1. For me this will be cleaning up my Facebook feed, unsubscribing from e-mail feeds, and limiting time with people who are unjoyful.  Kindness matters.

                                                               i.      If the bulk of your contact with me is in regards to asking me for money so you can do pointless things like sending Scott Pruitt (EPA) as many Climate Change for Dummies books as possible, I am unsubscribing.

                                                             ii.      If your friends call my empathy towards indigenous people dumb, I am unfollowing you

                                                           iii.      If you are aware of my efforts and goals towards a healthier body and you take joy in shaming me for drinking a 6oz can of apple juice because of all of the sugar it contains, consider yourself unned.

                                                            iv.      If you do not “believe” in science…

  1. Energy-sapping food
    1. I have done pretty well here but need to continue to improve and be vigilant about portion control and rationing sweets
  2. Over-doing the over-thinking
    1. Maybe I did too much of this on #1 above
  3. More social media than socializing
    1. See 1a (or 1-1 as this goofier editing program made it).
    2. I am also thinking of invoking phones down time for portions of some evenings.  Sometimes our family of four are all within 8 feet of each other and all in our phones.
  4. More hateful than grateful
    1. This is a big one.  It is easy for me to get riled up about the current negative actions on the environment and spending more time with those working on and implementing solutions as opposed to fighting with the naysayers will make me more grateful.
  5. Doing someone else’s to do list rather than my own
    1. There are some areas of my life where this occurs but not too many.  I think of this as needing to ask and be honest with myself about how some things make me feel and then making adjustments as necessary.
  6. Focusing on what I can’t control
    1. Amen
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Let’s roll

A recent op-ed by Mark Reynolds of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) is titled “To solve climate change, the passengers must now fly the plane”.  It does a good job creating a metaphor but I think there is one area that could use an adjustment.  Here is a portion of it:

When it comes to climate change, most Americans are like the passengers on a jetliner wanting to arrive safely at their destination but thinking there’s no need to be involved with the actual flying of the plane. The “people in charge,” surely, have things under control.

Lately, however, the plane has experienced a rough ride:

  • On Christmas Day, the temperature at Santa’s workshop – a.k.a. the North Pole – approached the melting point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, about 40 degrees above average for that time of year.
  • With 2016 hitting another high mark for average global temperature, 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred in the current century.
  • Floods, like the disasters that struck Louisiana and North Carolina last year, are happening as a result of unprecedented rainfall measured in feet rather than inches.
  • As we start the new year, 37 million people across Africa are without food because of crop failures caused by droughts and floods exacerbated by climate change.

All this turbulence is prompting some of the passengers to rise from their seats, walk to the cockpit and check with the pilot. Upon opening the door, however, they are shocked to see no one seated at the controls.  For a number of years, President Obama did his best to keep the plane aloft with executive orders to address climate change, chiefly the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at power plants. But the 44th president has donned his parachute and exited the plane, leaving the pilot’s seat disturbingly empty.

So, how do we avoid crashing into a mountainside?

It’s time for the passengers to start flying the plane, and by passengers, we mean citizens.  This entails setting aside cynicism about our government and engaging with people in Congress who represent us in Washington. Government will respond to the will of the people, provided the people tell the government what we want.

If we take a look at the facts, our current president has tweeted that Climate change “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”, is a “Hoax”, is an “expensive hoax” and is “bullshit”.  He even tweeted “Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health”.  Trump made campaign promises to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, has approved fossil fuel projects, has made staff appointments of outspoken climate change deniers, and placed restrictions on how scientific agencies can communicate to citizens.  The really sad thing is that with majority party control, making progress to address climate change presents a huge opportunity where the current elected officials could be heroes by following the CCL recommended and widely supported plan that would initiate significant job creation and shift the U.S. economy while moving towards clean energy. 

So back to the metaphor above.  I agree we are all passengers on the plane, the only problem is that from our seats we can hear that the captain is indeed still at the controls, we can tell he is there by his constant chirping over the PA system.  When we try to go have an honest dialogue, we learn that he has a likeminded flight crew, numerous DHS agents, and a legion of unconditional followers who will not hesitate to verbally abuse or attack the majority with a factual view of science.  As we listen to the chirps continue, we realize that a thin skinned unapologetic egocentric madman is at the controls; bullying anyone who asks tough questions or has an opposing view.  Relying on hope that someone close to him will get through to him and shift his mindset is not enough.  As passengers, we need to take action to prevent a crash landing that few will walk away from.  We can no longer afford to sit in our seats and listen to the same rhetoric and misinformation, it is time to get up and demand action; let’s roll.

Mark sums it up well by reminding us what Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart once said, “We aren’t passengers on spaceship Earth, we’re the crew. We aren’t residents on this planet, we’re citizens. The difference in both cases is responsibility.”

The Onion tribute: Using sex to sell climate science

Despite an overwhelming majority of countries, religions, companies, and scientists publicly stating that they are in favor of immediate action to help mitigate man made influences on climate change there are still pockets of powerful and influential people in the U.S. who oppose it.  Concerned about delays in action, Yale University commissioned the Paddleford Warren Research Trust (PWRT) to identify the demographics of this group and determine what could influence them to get on board.  PWRT found that the majority of those who did not believe in man-made global warming were white males between the ages of 45 and 65.  In researching that demographic they learned that the primary influencers of their climate science opinions were females like Sarah Palin, Megyn Kelly, Maria Bartiromo, Tomi Lahren, and other outspoken female climate science skeptics.

Yale University took this information and has partnered with other academic institutes and is in the preliminary phases of implementing a plan to bring more influential women to the scientific side of the discussion.  Wesley Thibodaux from the Peoples Grant Institute (PGI) is overseeing the financial help his organization is providing.  In an interview, Thibodaux stated “with no disrespect to the women in science today, we need to bring more overt sexuality to the table when it comes to discussing climate science.  Sex sells and action is long overdue”.  The grant process includes many common initiatives to get more women in science but in reviewing the grant application there are areas where it differs significantly.  The application asks for a headshot and video of the applicant talking sternly about anything climate science related.  It outlines the awards that an applicant can receive which include wardrobe vouchers, makeovers, and even plastic surgery.  Thibodaux defends this by saying “look at the TV today, big oil is spending money on $2300 shoes, tight white designer dresses, and requesting low camera angles for their legion of ladies to continue persuading inaction on combatting climate change, it is time to sex up science and get these dirty old men back to reality”.  He concedes that it is unclear whether this campaign will have any impact on climate change but says that his team can definitely influence public opinion, “what is the alternative, to wait for these old men to die, we simply do not have enough time for that”.

In a follow up with Yale University, they confirmed that they are partnering with the PGI and adding scholarships to the mix for “qualified female candidates”.  Yale stated that this process is no different than what is commonly done for athletics and is an important step in bringing science to the forefront.  Yale Human Behavior and Psychology professor, Dr. Kirk Frederic (PhD) adds “Studies have shown the providing old white men exposure to an attractive female with opinions makes them more likely to adopt those opinions as their own.  When it comes to scientific fact, it takes a little longer exposure but the same holds true”.  PGI holds up Kait Parker as one of their successes and a reason to continue to expand the program quickly and Thibodaux (PGI) is no stranger to the concept, his late father is a former music video producer from the 1980’s that brought Tawny Kitaen to the Whitesnake videos and produced Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher video which according to Thibodaux Sr. “increased young men’s school attendance at a critical time in their development”.

 

The following blog post was satirical in nature and some characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

This is not a drill

At my church our value and mission statement talks about how we ‘welcome without exception’.  This past weekend this statement was put to the test.  As a congregation we voted on whether or not to become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) community; one that explicitly welcomes people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.  This vote was a true test of our mission statement and a timely moment to find out who we are as a congregation.  In a time when there is a lot of uncertainty for minority groups and emboldened hate crimes are occurring, knowing that my local congregation passed this with 95.2% of the vote brought tearful elation.

The results of a different vote the week prior brought me confusion, concern, and disappointment.  As someone who believes that the number one priority of every nation should be moving away from fossil fuels, the whole US election cycle was a disappointment.  The debates did not have any direct climate change questions and the topic was touched on for less than 2 minutes.  It appeared as though something that is incredibly important to me had virtually no prioritization with the candidates or moderators.  I empathize with Trump voters and agree that a shakeup in Washington would be beneficial.  It would be great to see term limits for politicians and having less “Washington insiders” in leadership roles.  To me, the views documented by Trump on his own website and his treatment of humans created a scenario where the ends would never justify the means.

The president elects website indicates that he intends to open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands for fossil fuels and “Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.”  I think it is generally understood that there is no such thing as “clean coal” and I truly cannot imagine any scenario where increasing our production and use of fossil fuels will be a long term benefit.  Despite being white, heterosexual, male, Christian, and born in the US, I am afraid of the president elect.  I can only imagine how an undocumented lesbian tree hugging minority must be feeling at the moment.

This is a critical moment in history in my opinion, one of those moments where I think about a futuristic conversation with my children and grandchildren asking me what I did to protect human rights as well as the habitability of our planet.  While I have day dreamed many times recently about moving off of the grid and completely escaping the society that seems to be gaining a voice, I realize that I need to help shape it.  I need to Testify.  One other great thing happened at church this last Sunday was a well-timed sermon that I strongly encourage you to give a listen to, you can skip to the 9:03 mark and go from there.  It is important that we as a society, as human beings with compassion, and as citizens of this planet recognize this opportunity to Testify and stand up for ourselves and others.  We need to ensure our elected leaders understand that they were actually elected to follow (the will of the people).  The wonderful and timely sermon concluded with a great rendition of Leonard Cohens’ Hallelujah which of course only added to the tears already rolling down my face.

Off Topic: The Police and BLM(2)

Growing up I had plans to follow in my father’s footsteps and be a police officer.  What changed my mind was the TV show COPS.  I still find it and similar shows interesting to watch, but back in college I realized that I would never have the patience and disposition of the officers on the show.  I realized, as an example, that if I came to a home where a husband had clearly been beating his wife, I would not have the right temperament to legally deal with the husband.  I would have likely issued some form of my own justice in that scenario.  Though my self-control has matured through the years, recognizing that would be a challenging career for me while I was still in college was likely very beneficial in retrospect.

To this day, I am still very much pro police.  I think they have an incredibly difficult and challenging job that has never been under more scrutiny.  Any job where a split second decision can determine if you or someone else lives or dies has to be psychologically and mentally challenging.  I think that the majority of officers are very good people doing very good things.  Like in any occupation, there are a few bad apples but I do not think that is the core issue here.  Officers are a reflection of society and the analytics support that racial bias still exists in some police forces just as it does in society as a whole.  Many police forces have already taken steps to improve this and many others are in process.  Certainly with the limelight on this issue, positive iterative changes will continue to come.  If you have strong skepticism about the police, I challenge you to call your local precinct and find an officer to treat to lunch so you can speak directly and gain a better understanding of the fact that they are human and want to go home after their shift.  Many officers have co-workers who were senselessly shot during routine traffic stops or similar and that can without question impact the mentality of an officer.

As a society, I believe that part of our role is to make things easier and less confusing for officers so there is no question about our intent.  There are many ‘shoot or don’t shoot’ videos circulating social media showing just how challenging it can be for officers to not know someone’s intent.  When it comes to routine traffic stops, I think following Coffey Anderson’s PSA on what to do is a good idea.  Ensuring that the officer can clearly see your hands, your car is off, your license is already on the dash, and you are respectful is beneficial.  It is embarrassing to say, but I have been pulled over about 6 times in the last 8 years (speed, taillight or headlights out, etc.) and have only been given a warning each time which I attribute to making the officer comfortable.  On a more comedic note, The Chris Rock show did their own PSA back in the 90’s which is still relevant and funny.

Being Pro Police does not mean that I am anti-black.  I have struggled with the inappropriateness and idiocy of some protesters but it is important to recognize that those people are a reflection of a small percentage of society who think hurting police will have a positive impact.  There was a small protest group the other day who were demanding that the police force as a whole dismantle.  I do not think this groups spokesperson had very good foresight in to what the consequences of lawless society would be.  What caught my eye on the live news footage of the protests the other night was how the majority of protesters wanted to be peaceful and were making efforts to stop the violent perpetrators who had showed up.  I am still not convinced that marching on freeways or making unreasonable demands for immediate justice is an effective means of pushing things forward positively, but I support the cause.  A few days ago I heard a sermon (skip to 8:10 mark) which brought me more empathy and a healthier perspective to social injustice as a whole.  As an example, I struggled with the fact that the phrase Black Lives Matter seemed to leave out all non-blacks as though they did not matter.  Now, when I hear or see the phrase BLM I infer “too” at the end of it and that I think BLM2 is a more accurate depiction of the intent.  For me, the sermon influenced a change in my perspective that provides me a healthier balance.  Pastor Andrea is one of my favorites and this sermon is timely and well thought out.

The last link of this entry is from Trevor Noah of The Daily Show, give this video a view if you have not seen it.  Like The Daily Show does so well, it mixes substance and comedy.  ‘You can be pro-cop and pro-black which is what we should all be’, I couldn’t agree more.  We, as citizens of this planet, need to be more cooperative, tolerant, and patient so we do not continue down a path of being divided.  Our diversity is what makes us great and worth celebrating and there is room for both “sides” of this issue to make improvements and compromise.

MRC Field Trip

As a part of a Master Recycler / Composter class that I am taking we recently went on a field trip. The two most interesting stops for me were to a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) and a sanitary landfill. Getting a first-hand look in to exactly what happens to single sort recycling and trash was very educational.

The MRF was part impressive technological marvel and part old factory line worker. On the one hand there were sophisticated conveyor belts, gears, magnets, optical lasers, and air pressure to help sort the materials. On the other hand, there was a visible shortage of employees on the line who were tasked with helping to manually sort items that do not belong or were missed by the automated systems. These jobs of watching and pulling various materials flying past on a conveyor belt are challenging to staff but very necessary to ensure a quality product is produced so that there is a market for the materials. For a good visual of how a typical MRF works, check out the last three and half minutes of this video.

The landfill had its technical aspects as well; like collecting methane gas from the breakdown of trash, liners and pumps to protect from ground water penetration, and more. But in the end it is not all that sophisticated, as it is a giant piece of land being filled with trash and covered. In the picture above I happened to take it as the hydraulic line on one of the trucks ruptured. If I had a better camera with me, I would have zoomed in to show the sad sight of a bunch of bald eagles (our national emblem) sifting through and snacking on our garbage.

My trip left me with several takeaways:

  1. As citizens of the planet, we should continue to work towards reducing consumption and voting with our dollar to buy sustainably sourced items. Not bringing something in to the system in the first place is even better than recycling it. As one of my old favorites says, you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.
  2. Plastic bags are a huge problem. At the MRF they are undesirable as they wrap around the equipment and cause machinery breakdowns. Do not put them in your single sort bin and do not put your recyclables in bags, put recyclables directly in your cart. At the landfill, there were three fence lines surrounding the facility filled with bags that blow around on windy days. We should all be moving beyond plastic bags for our shopping and kudos to Minneapolis for passing a law for 2017 that does just that. So, if you find yourself with a pile of plastic bags they should be brought to a local grocery store who likely has a bin for recycling them. That way they get to a facility who specializes in them and they can use them to create engineered lumber, yard furniture, etc.
  3. MRF’s do not want your shredded paper. It falls through the system and ends up contaminating the glass and other recyclables making them less marketable. Ironically and sadly, I had just shredded a pile of financial statements the week prior and had thrown them in my single sort. Fears of identity theft are warranted but we have several options to improve and keep recycled material at a high quality:
    1. Go paperless – most bills and financial information can be sent electronically which simplifies filing and saves some trees.
    2. Only shred what you need to – There is typically only a part of a page or two that really needs shredding and the rest of the information is marketing or does not have personal information that would be beneficial to a hoodlum; minimize what you shred.
    3. Take advantage of shred events – There is one near me coming up and a quick search should find options. Shredded paper is recyclable but a MRF is not equipped for it so finding a shred event is a great way to protect your identity and ensure the lifecycle of the paper is not wasted.
    4. Compost – as a last resort you can compost your shredded paper, use it as a weed barrier, etc. The caveat is you would want to avoid certain items on a vegetable garden, etc.
  4. Put the caps on your recyclables. MRF’s do not like loose caps as they fall through the system and end up in the landfill, can cause equipment problems, etc. They prefer caps be left on even when it is a plastic cap on a glass item, etc.
  5. Use common sense with recycling and if you are in doubt, check your local haulers website or call and ask them. Garden hoses, extension cords, coat hangers and items like that clog machinery and do not belong in single sort. Our MRF tour guide also mentioned that they routinely see dirty diapers coming down the conveyor belt and that the strangest item was a live turtle. Let’s try to be less lazy with our choices and if you are not certain whether a turtle is recyclable, ask someone :).
  6. Aerosols require special care to recycle. Items like spray on sun screen, hairspray, and shaving cream containers often have a mix of metals and plastic and are pressurized which can create a hazard when going to a MRF and yet they are recyclable. The best way to handle these items is to collect them a take them to your local specialty recycling center like The Recycling Zone which most counties have. One idea is to keep a bin that you put these items, alkaline batteries, fluorescent bulbs, electronics, and similar in and then take it there as needed. The great news is it is free and the workers will even come grab the stuff from your car.

There are 8 MRF’s in the MN metro area and they all offer tours as they want the public to be educated and to improve their recycling efforts so that they produce a high quality product. I encourage you to read up on your haulers website about what exactly they recycle and organize a MRF tour if so inclined.

The human disposition

My wife recently discovered a lump on my body and a closer inspection found a second one. This was a concerning discovery and I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for later that week. In the days leading up to my appointment I had some internal angst, worried about cancer and various other potential issues. This got me to thinking more about death and I recalled a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency blog I had seen detailing options for ‘dying greener’.

Conventional funerals, burials, and cremations are typically not environmentally friendly. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota, cemeteries across the U.S. each year bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid (includes formaldehyde), 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets), 30 million board feet of hardwoods (caskets), 1,600,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults), and 14,000 tons of steel (vaults). Flame-based cremation is typically the best of the three traditional methods but is also energy intensive and little regard is given for the release of mercury and other emissions that come from the process.

Our traditional means of human disposal is not at the top of the list of environmental concerns, but like many things it presents an opportunity to improve. Over 10 years ago The Mayo Clinic created a process called Alkaline Hydrolysis as a means of disposing of cadavers more efficiently. Today that process is becoming more mainstream with progressive funeral homes offering it as a ‘green option’. It is sometimes called bio cremation, green cremation, or flameless cremation. The process places the deceased in to a steel cylinder that is filled with 95% water and 5% alkali which are heated to 350 degrees. This makes complete decomposition, which would normally take about 25 years, only take about 2-3 hours. The end result is nothing but some soft bone fragments and possibly mercury cavity fillings remaining, everything else is dissolved in to a sterile solution. Dexter Morgan could have really benefitted from having access to this technology.

At the doctor, my lumps ended up being nothing to be overly concerned about (lipoma, a benign body fat tumor). Regardless, it is good to know that when my time comes I can be taken to the Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater and boiled in to dust using less energy and emitting 75% less carbon than alternatives. I also saw a video about burial pods on my nieces Facebook feed recently. That is an interesting thought as well and could transform would be cemeteries in to forests.