Sustaining Changes

In my efforts to get healthier, I have changed some habits which are having positive results; most notably what and how much I eat.  It is clear that if I sustain these changes, it will continue to benefit me by reducing my likelihood of some diseases, making clothes shopping less depressing, and in aligning me closer to my self-image.  Making these changes has been a challenging endeavor which requires a heightened sense of consciousness to avoid falling in to old habits.  As an example, yesterday I went in to a gas station to say hello to a neighbor who works there and I needed to fight my urge to buy some junk food and a sugary beverage which is exactly what I used to do.  I browsed around the store and ended up buying a small pack of almonds and refilling my stainless steel water bottle.  As I drove home and ate my almonds, I thought they tasted delicious and that is one of the more notable things with my efforts, the foods I am eating taste better than they used to.  Some days I am tempted by unhealthy foods but mostly I do not miss them.  I miss the habits and situations that used to accompany them, so I am making new habits and new associations, ultimately re-training my brain which is an iterative process with it’s up and downs as you can see from my daily weigh ins above.  Some days I take a few steps up the down escalator but most importantly, the escalator has continued in the desired direction.

Today, Earth Day 2017, I was thinking about the importance of sustainable changes like the ones I making towards better health.  The mindset required for making more environmentally conscious decisions also requires a sense of consciousness and will require breaking some old habits.  This can mean different things to different people but what is one sustaining change that you can make to help improve the long term sustainability of our planet?  I am genuinely interested in your ideas and resisting my urge to list a plethora of examples / choices.

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See something, Say something

The “If You See Something, Say Something” mantra became commonplace after 9/11 and there is still an active campaign by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which they licensed from the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The campaign includes signs stating this near airport entrances, public service announcements, partnerships with various agencies, and more. At the core of the DHS initiative is the idea that “It takes a community to protect a community. Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our nation safe.” After watching a Frontline episode last night (American Terrorist) which outlined the story of David Headley and the failures of intelligence analysis to prevent the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the need for everyday citizens to speak up when something seems wrong is critical. Despite their best efforts, security agencies cannot effectively review the 3 million e-mails sent every minute and the countless other online communications to keep nations safe from terrorism. They require the help of everyday citizens to speak up.

At the start of today, I found myself very frustrated. It is Earth Day and the amount of fanfare and conversations about it seem very limited. Many folks I have encountered seem to have no knowledge of it and give it no more thought than National Candy Corn Day, Peculiar People Day, or Talk like Shakespeare Day. Yes, those are all real “days”. On the one hand it is sad that we need an Earth Day and that every day is not spent helping to better promote caring for the one planet we have. On the other hand, we will see an increase in some media coverage today regarding the importance of mitigating our use of fossil fuels which might spark some healthy dialogue. Unfortunately much of the media attention today thus far has been focused on the differing opinions and giving equal airtime to those opposed to action despite the overwhelming evidence that the time to act has been in hand for a long time. One example is president Obama giving an address on the importance of taking action while in the Florida Everglades today. The leading media outlets are busy talking about how the fossil fuel funded presidential nominees are responding and the uncertainty they feel there is on man’s impact to the warming planet. The story should be as simple as 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have occurred this century, the last global cold temperature record was in 1911, the greenhouse effect has been well understood for nearly 200 years, and more than 97% of peer reviewed papers on the subject agree that global warming is real and being caused by human activity. Global warming is not something to believe in or not believe in, it is a scientific explanation for the facts.

Part of my frustration stems from a lack of meaningful action being taken by society as a whole, or I should clarify, the frustration stems mostly from a lack of meaningful action being taken by the U.S. Working towards handing future generations a planet thriving and sustainable should be a core priority to be taking the lead on. Instead, we (the U.S.) consistently see profit margins and the economy taking priority over the environment. One recent example is the desire by some in Congress to turn over the federal public lands and national parks to states to manage. This includes a provision allowing the states to privatize the land for mining, drilling, and to sell portions to real estate companies in the name of economic progress. Sure, selling some of the northern Minnesota forests to a paper mill might create some jobs and additional tax revenue, but what if every state acted selfishly like this and did not consider the broader impacts? If we want economic benefits and a healthier planet, the answer is a carbon fee and dividend program which will help gradually shift us away from fossil fuels while not punishing taxpayers.

So on this Earth Day, let’s not lose sight of our moral, spiritual, and personal responsibility to care for this pale blue dot. We as a collective society need to do more of See something, Say something. There is a fine between bringing a concern forward and getting traction versus appearing like a crazy person. I have had various successes and failures in this area and have no doubt a few people I have engaged view me as radical, in part because my approach was not as respectful and articulate as it should have been. Implementing an environmental See something Say something campaign could be trying to get your local sports facility to recycle, getting your kids school to stop using polystyrene, or trying to get your company to investigate the ROI on installing solar panels where the typical ROI is now 7-10 years. Regardless of your passions, establishing a constructive dialog is usually the first step in making improvements so on this Earth Day and every day that follows; let’s not be afraid to use our voice.

Hope or despair

When originally considering names for my blog, I had briefly considered ‘green man in a red circle’, a take on my tree hugger self being flanked by some conservative republican neighbors. I quickly dismissed the name as I wanted to stay away from politics as much as possible and not make it the backdrop for my blog. I continue to want to avoid making climate change a political issue, knowing that in order to take meaningful action on protecting the environment, we need action independent of political affiliations. However, after the recent U.S. midterm election results and the somber feeling I awoke with today, it seems worthy of some reflection.

As I have said previously, I do not consider myself to be a member of any political party but knowing that many of the politicians who were just elected continue to deny the science of climate change is disheartening. A few of the pre-election debate quotes are listed below for reference:

  • “I don’t necessarily think the climate is changing” Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
  • “97% of some of the liberal scientists polled believe that humans are doing this, this is not settled science.  Just like perhaps, many of those same scientists, 97% perhaps, believe there is no God.  But they don’t know, there is no science on that, so scientists like the rest of us humans can have beliefs but that doesn’t make it science.” Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN)
  • “Global temperatures have not risen in 15 years, so there might be climate change but we are not seeing that reflected in temperatures.” Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
  • “I, uh, googled this issue a couple of days ago and see that there are 31,000 scientists who say that human action is not causing the global warming at all.  And in fact the last 17 years there has not been global warming.  The temperature has been very stable for the last 17 years.” Steve Pearce (R-NM)

This list could go on but the point here is that the big loser in this recent election might very well be the environment. Even if the democrats had taken majority in this election, the same statement might still hold true. There has been very little meaningful action taken in the U.S. on climate change regardless of who has been in office.

This election fell on the heels of the most recent IPCC synthesis report which highlighted how the atmosphere is getting warmer as are the oceans, which are also getting more acidic. It outlined the causes (CO2 and methane) and added how natural forces have not contributed to temperature rise and how human activity is the primary culprit. It discussed in detail the impacts of sea level rise, thawing permafrost, global changes in weather patterns, plant and animal adaptation issues, human health issues, and food supply challenges. It concludes with data on what specific mitigation steps and what different levels of CO2 parts per million will mean in terms of warming and sea level rise.

So given what we know to be true about the current earth and political climates, how can we proceed with making any progress on climate change policy? The answer is the same regardless of who is in political power; stand up and speak up. No important issue in human history has ever been overcome with the shrug of the shoulders or by giving in to despair. As a people we must demand more from our leaders and this needs to be done by contacting them and ensuring your voice is heard.

The late Gaylord Nelson (Senator and Governor from Wisconsin and founder of Earth Day) once said “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around” and we need to keep that perspective and understand that the economy will mean very little should we continue to move our planet towards un-inhabitability. He also said “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” This is also very true and we need to speak up now so future generations do not loathe us.

Earth day Every day

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Earth Day is a tradition of bringing environmental concerns in to our consciousness.  While we no longer accept air pollution as ‘prosperity’ or use leaded gasoline like we did 44 years ago when Earth Day began, there is still plenty of room for improvement.  As a collective society, we still have not completely accepted our role in climate change nor have we made serious efforts to improve our behavior.

Thinking about the current dependencies we have on fossil fuels is astounding.  In one quick example; we step in to a car which (likely) burns oil and gas, many components of the car are made from plastics which are derived from oil, the street we drive on is oil based, the tires are oil based, the food we are going to pick up at the store is encased in plastic and goes in a plastic bag and we pay for the stuff with, you guessed it plastic.

While eliminating fossil fuels from our everyday lives might seem impossible, we need to make more significant iterative steps towards changing.  The greenhouse effect has been well understood since the late 1800’s and any peer reviewed science article will tell you that pulling resources out of the earth and burning them is not a long term sustainable practice.  Our planet and our atmosphere are not limitless so we need to stop treating them like an infinite toilet bowl.  Thanks to my good friend Tim for letting me paraphrase and plagiarize much of the detail below.

Recent reports by the world’s best scientists stress that the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans.  Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and people’s livelihoods.  The observed impacts are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest – nobody is untouched.  More intense and frequent weather events such as flooding, drought and fire have occurred and will become worse.  Unchecked carbon emissions put at risk agriculture, global security, human health, water resources and the economy.  The reports also conclude that there are opportunities to respond to these risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage if we wait much longer to implement policies to deal with them.

I have three requests of you.

First – If you don’t know about climate change or are unsure about it I hope that you would take 30 minutes to read the first two documents below (the third is bonus material).  The papers in the following URLs are derived from the best climate scientists we have in the world and all are rooted in peer reviewed science.

  1. The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change – This 20 page report is one of the best, easy to read summaries, that I have seen.  It is written by the American Association for the Advancement of Science who is the group behind Science magazine and one of the world’s largest non-governmental science organizations.
  2. A Discussion on Climate Change: Evidence and Causes – This summary paper is from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council is designed to summarize the science of climate change for general audience consumption – it too is excellent.
  3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report – this is a detailed report (warning it’s long) with lots of “in the weeds science” on climate change and the risks associated with it.

Some people have the general opinion that climate change is a “naturally occurring event”, a “hoax”, something conjured up by “alarmists”, is a “conspiracy” or something similar.  If you know someone like this encourage them with an open heart and mind to watch the PBS Frontline report “Climate of Doubt” and/or read the peer-reviewed Drexel University study on the climate change countermovement.

Second – Contact your U.S. Senators and U.S. House of Representative on a quarterly basis and let them know you’d like to see congressional action, now, to address climate change.   Climate change has been made to be a political issue – it is not.  Thermometers don’t care if you are Republican or Democrat.  Climate change is a moral, economic, and national security issue and Congress should be implementing policies on how to solve it.  Waiting has not and will not help anybody.

Third – Please speak to friends and family about this very important topic and/or forward this link to them.  The great news is that we have the technology to meet the challenge.  However, we have a short window to invoke policies that will allow the greatness of the United States to be innovative and be a world leader in staving off the greatest risks of human caused climate change.

Finally, I used to think that climate change was something I was concerned about for my kids as they got older – this was false thinking.  For 29 years in a row global temperatures have been above the 20th century average and 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in in the 21st century.  Climate change risks the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, the planet we have been entrusted to care for by God, our economy, our own families health, and our kids/grandkids future(s).  We have the solutions to avoid the risks and damage.  Please join me in having respectful conversations with those you know and with our elected officials about climate change.