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

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.

30 day challenge: Accessorizing the sun

A few years ago I watched the Ted Talks by Matt Cutts called “Try something new for 30 days”. It is a short light hearted talk worth viewing that that more or less states, if there is something you want to do or change, commit to doing it for 30 days. More recently, a relative kept his online status updated with his “30 days of biking” and that rekindled the idea for me.

For the month of June I have decided that the core gadgets I use on a daily basis can only be charged via solar power. Thanks to my lovely wife and kids, I already had everything I needed to undertake this effort, I just had not put it into practice consistently. My gadgets are my phone, my Microsoft band, and my Bluetooth speaker. My solution is an Anker portable fold up solar panel and an Anker battery power bank. After about 22 hours of direct sun, the battery will fully charge from the solar panel. Based on past use, I know that the Anker battery can charge my phone nine times before needing more power. Presumably adding in my other devices will increase the frequency of how often I need to charge the battery brick but I still only anticipate it being once a week or so. For charging the battery bank from solar, I have found that leaving the panel spread out on the dashboard of the car with the battery in the glove box works well while parked in a sunny location at work.

You might be questioning my logic as the ROI on a $100 worth of solar panel and battery bank that was gifted to me will take a long time to recognize, but for me it is not about that. For me, it is a small iterative step I can take that is positive. I am hopeful that after a successful 30 days, I can sustain this practice and add in another new 30 day challenge. Transitioning to this model also forces me to be more proactive and plan out my devices energy consumption and re-charging. As I hope our family will be transitioning to an electric vehicle in the coming year or two, having this type of planning mindset for energy consumption and charging will be very useful.

I also feel compelled to mention that I used charge my mobile phone every night and then about 6 months ago I changed a few key settings which dramatically increased the battery life of my phone. The single biggest change I made was reducing the frequency of which I sync my e-mail accounts. I used to have them sync ‘as items arrive’ and I changed this to ‘once per hour’. The majority of the time the content constantly syncing, re-organizing, and deleting on my phone was unnecessary as I was managing that content from my laptop while working anyway. As time passed, I also realized that my nose was not in my phone as often which I think is a good thing. I can always manually sync when I want to check e-mail, otherwise once per hour is plenty. I also no longer allow non-essential applications to run in the background. For example, if I look at Facebook on my phone I log out and close it when I am done. This is another thing that offers the healthy by-product of looking at my phone less. When I want to consume content on my phone I do, but now I avoid toast notifications and others various things that used to nudge me for their attention.  I have also found that hooking up to my home wireless uses much less battery than cellular.

While solar powering accessories might not be for everyone and might not reduce emissions to a significant degree, I am excited to do it and already starting to brainstorm on my July plans. To you, I will quote Matt Cutts and say “Why not think about something you have always wanted to try and give it a shot for the next thirty days”.

Turning down the service

In the late 90’s or early 2000’s I took a work trip to Chicago and stayed at the Omni Hotel on Michigan Avenue. At that time the hotel was better known by the phrase “Guests of the Oprah Winfrey show stay at the all-suite Omni Hotel” which concluded each episode of Oprah. Fast forward ~15 years and a work trip brought me back to the Omni Hotel. The hotel truly is a luxury hotel in a great location and not too long ago it went through an $11M renovation. The public information about the renovation boasts about the upgraded public spaces, new guest and specialty suites, and a unique blend of modern and historical charm.

Returning to my room one evening is what first got my attention to their lack of sustainable practices. As I entered my room I found the TV on the relaxation channel, several lights on, the furnace on, and my ice bucket filled up. All of which had been off / empty when I left my room. It seems the turn down service attendant had followed protocol and prepared my room for me to turn in. Upon closer inspection I noticed that the lamps in the room all contained incandescent bulbs. It seems the $11M renovation did not include any modernizing of the room lighting. In hindsight, I should have done more research prior to booking my stay.

I reached out to the front desk and was told to leverage my do not disturb sign to avoid turn down service and was referred to the website for contacts to discuss sustainability practices further. I voiced my concerns respectfully to their leadership, asking them to consider making the turn down service an opt in practice. The next day I received a call saying that they would flag my account if I wanted and then would not change my bedding, towels, or turn down my room going forward if desired. I had them go ahead and do so, but the person on the phone was not the right resource to discuss the broader issue.

Most hotels these days have an Environmental Mission Statement and have instituted numerous things to help reduce energy consumption. Next time I will do more research first and likely stay at a Wyndham, Marriott, Starwood, InterContinental, Fairmont, or Hilton who are all more invested in environmental stewardship and sustainability. In a city as green as Chicago, where there are solar powered trash and recycling compactors on most blocks, the Omni hotel is a disappointment. Lastly, I should mention that the Omni Dallas made great investments while being built in order to achieve LEED certification; including capturing rain water for irrigation use, automated lighting and thermal controls, automated guest room energy management systems, water saving fixtures, low VOC products, recycled building materials, and more.

Tainted: North Dakota

First, I feel it is important to say that I have friends and family in North Dakota (ND) and I am confident that there are plenty of good people in the state doing good things. Hopefully tainting ND does not get me uninvited to an upcoming wedding. However, the way the fossil fuel industry is running portions of the state is not in humanity’s best interest. A recent L.A. Times article outlined the volume of natural gas flaring currently being done in ND. The picture above illustrates this well; in the Williston Basin where the Bakken oil fields are there is not a major metropolitan area and yet a picture from outer space depicts a different story, simply from all of the natural gas flares being burned and wasted. Currently $1 billion worth of natural gas is flared each year in ND, about 30% of total production. There are not too many industries where you can ‘throw away’ 30% of your product and still be highly profitable. But natural gas flaring and wasted energy are just the tip of the iceberg in Western ND. Portions of the state are neck deep in an “oil boom” which has helped lead to an incredibly low unemployment rate but has brought on numerous unintended consequences. ND has failed to get ahead of the needs surrounding infrastructure, crime prevention, and governance. This has led to overuse and erosion of infrastructure, a wave of illegal waste dumping and other crime, and disputes over land and mineral rights. There are examples where it appears as though the fossil fuel industry has politicians bought and paid for or perhaps have just been allowed to conduct business to make the most profit with little regard for the long term economic and environmental consequences. ND produces over a million barrels of oil per day and has 17,500 miles of pipelines. In September 2013 a spill released over 20k barrels and was only reported to the public after an Associated Press inquiry. It is a relief to know that while oil covered over 7 acres, officials stated no wildlife was harmed and no groundwater was contaminated <sarcasm>. Cleanup crews opted to burn oil on the surface and later dug ditches to collect and vacuum what remained. Starting oil on fire as a cleanup procedure is an interesting approach, let’s hope they do not begin doing that at local car repair shops. Further research revealed that there have been over 300 spills since January 2012 that were never reported to the public. Jim Fuglie, a ND native and former governor appointed Director of Tourism has a great blog outlining more of the issues here. If the oil ever does run out, ND has the single largest known deposit of lignite (coal) in the world and may choose to move from exporting one dirty fuel source to another. And a few final statistics on ND; the state’s energy consumption per capita is the 4th highest in the US, 79% of all electricity generation comes from coal, and wind farms have taken a back seat to oil despite the state being ranked 6th highest in wind energy potential with average wind speeds of 10-13 mph.

Links worth clicking

Of local interest (MN):

  • Paul Douglas Blog – Paul provides accurate weather and forecast information as well the latest information on climate change and how it is impacting us.  Perhaps, he says it best, “My intention isn’t to alarm you or depress you but prompt you to go online and see the real scientific findings, free of ideological spin or snark.” This is the most comprehensive and consumable blog I have seen because it is so factual and provides great detail.  Pick a day and give it a read.
  • Minnesota Retiree Environmental Technical Assistance Program – RETAP is a FREE program and intended for businesses and schools interested in reducing their energy consumption.  Engineers will come to your business and do an assessment to determine ways to reduce waste, save energy, conserve water, etc.  This program is highly organized and something that every business and school in Minnesota should be taking advantage of.
  • Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment – MNCEE is a great local non-profit that brings energy solutions to homeowners as well as businesses.  You might have seen their home energy squad vehicles in your neighborhood helping install efficient lighting, programmable thermostats, insulation, and more.  Regardless of if you are a homeowner or business owner, this group can help you save energy and accelerate the return on investment for renewables.  They also sponsor the Minnesota Energy Challenge which has brought schools, businesses, and neighborhoods into friendly competition to help save energy.
  • Minnesota Renewable Energy Society – Whether you are interested in attending workshops or classes on sustainability solutions or speak to homeowners who have implemented clean energy solutions, this is a great place to start.  They have dedicated staff and you have most likely seen them at the ECO Experience at the great Minnesota get together.

General:

  • The Story of Stuff Project – This site has great information about some of the issues with our current approach to sustainability.  If you have not seen any, check out the videos Annie Leonard does under the movies section and start with the original; Story of Stuff.  Coming soon is the Story of Solutions which will recognize some of the great opportunities and work being done.
  • Citizens Climate Lobby – The CCL is a non-partisan national group with local chapters who recognizes that getting local elected officials aware of the facts is critical to getting change implemented.  Their site and group is highly organized and regardless of if you are interested in engaging a congress person or writing a letter to the editor, this is a great site to give a read.
  • Department of Energy – The DOE site has all of the information on tax credits and rebates, energy saving information, energy use per person averages, details on emerging energy solutions, and lots more public information.  The Environmental Protection Agency has similar content with an additional focus on human health impacts and you can jump over to the Energy Star website for comparison of the efficiency of new appliances and more.

Places to find factual and scientific information on  climate change:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA is a Department of Commerce agency that does weather forecasts, storm monitoring, climate monitoring and more.  They are dedicated to protecting humans and natural resources and the site is full of interesting information.  Climate.gov is also a NOAA site promoted to increasing the public understanding of climate science and climate related events.
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – The IPCC is the international body of scientists in charge of assessing climate change.  Thousands of scientists from around the world contribute to the work and the assessment reports are incredibly detailed.  The IPCC is one of the primary targets of the denier community because their information is so scientifically factual and damaging to the fossil fuel industries impact on our planet.  The fifth assessment report is officially released tomorrow (Monday 9/30/13).

Fun:

  • Walk off the Earth – because sometimes sitting back and appreciating talented people is a good investment of time.  If you have never seen their videos, there are plenty to check out and be entertained by, like this one.