Journey to a sustainable future

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Environmental Issues are People Issues

Many people don't "care about the environment."  They equate environmental issues and policy with strange legal ramifications that would increase cost of living and decrease jobs, all for the purpose of saving the endangered leopard frog.  There is a certain "Maslow's hierarchy of needs" in play with environmental issues. For those us not struggling with mere subsistence, though, there are a multitude of reasons to "care about the environment." 

Perhaps you don't care about the fossil fuels your spouse uses to mow the lawn.  But you probably do care about the benzene your spouse breathes in while piloting around a combustion engine that injures over 9,000 children each year. 

Perhaps you don't care about the declining polar bear populations due to climate change.  But you probably do care that your three year old is bouncing off the walls in Fairfax County, Virginia, because it is simply dangerous for him to play outside when it is 7 degrees Fahrenheit in January...or 105 degrees Fahrenheit in July.

Or maybe you don't care that your kitchen floor is made from linoleum, or your child's sweet strawberry raincoat is made from PVC.  But maybe you do care that PVC (which is what linoleum is made of) releases dixoins, which are the most potent, carcinogenic chemicals humans have yet created.

Maybe you don't care what chemicals farmers pour onto their fields, so long as you get cheap food.  But maybe you do care that farm workers in California now have to wear respirators when tending strawberry fields.  And maybe you do care that the neurotoxins used as pesticides are increasingly linked to ADD, ADHD, and autism.  And that your son has an almost 1 in 80 chance of developing autism.

Maybe you don't have kids.  So maybe you don't care that BPA was originally developed as a pharmaceutical source of estrogen, and you now ingest it on a regular basis via bottles and canned foods.  And maybe you don't care that atrazine (another pesticide) causes testosterone levels in males to plummet, thus decreasing sperm counts and fetal testicular formation.  But maybe you do care that as a female, your chances of developing breast cancer are 1 in 8, partly because of this constant inundation of excess estrogen.

Perhaps you don't care about cars, fossil fuels, and smog.  But maybe you do care that you have to carry around an albuterol inhaler to control your asthma.

Maybe you don't care about local bat extinctions due to a fungus that is widening its spread and virility due to errant weather patterns.  But perhaps you do care that your backyard is overrun by mosquitoes, and you just don't remember it being that bad when you were a kid.

Maybe you don't care about the environment.  Or climate change.  Or fracking.  Or the government's resolute resistance to doing anything about these companies who poison for profit.  But hopefully you care about your children.  At the very least, hopefully you care about yourself.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Clutter...and obesity

I have a thought: if we had to clean and itemize and categorize and organize every single item in our houses, we would have a lot less stuff.  Likewise, if we had to grow and process and preserve and bake and mix and cook and broil and serve every meal, we would eat a lot less. 

My mother gave me 6 weeks of housecleaning as our "baby" present when A. was born; and then she gave us another chunk of housecleaning for Christmas.  This was AWESOME.  A true sanity and sleep saver.  But I am happily back to cleaning the house again (honestly; I kind of like cleaning) and realizing how much stuff we have.  We have lived in this house for 4 years, and doubled the size of our family, and wow, does it show.  We have major decluttering ahead of us in the coming months.  Purging and decluttering takes serious effort, and it is quite tedious.  But in the end, if I can shave two minutes off my dusting time, that would be so worth it!  I do not like cleaning enough to do more than I need to.  And with two small daughters, I certainly don't need to look for things to clean.

I am also, even more happily, back to cooking and baking.  Roast chickens, muffins, apple coleslaws, yogurt, etc, are once again emerging from my kitchen.  R. and I are even going to make mayonnaise this week, which will be an exercise in experimental cooking to be sure.  It's a lot of work.  I mean, it's not terrible; the chickpeas are bubbling away in a crockpot on the porch so it's not like I'm stoking a woodstove and chopping kindling in my spare time.  But it's certainly not drive-through fast food.  When I am the one mixing the breading, dredging the raw chicken through raw eggs, and frying it in loads of coconut oil, I am certainly going to enjoy the organic homemade goodness of chicken strips.  And I am certainly not going to overeat.  I'd rather save a few strips of chicken for lunch tomorrow...and save myself a little bit of work then!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Embrace your biology

Since I last wrote a blog post (um, one year ago!) we have added a sweet new daughter to our family.  "A" was born at a freestanding birth center, just like her older sister, into the loving hands of a midwife after a spontaneous, drug-free labor.  This used to be unremarkable.  This used to be normal.  This used to be the way all humans were born, and then scooped into the arms of their euphoric, exhausted, exalting mothers who immediately nursed and cuddled them.

The Caesarean section rate in our county is over 40%.  VBACs (vaginal birth after caesarean) are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.  Inductions at 39 weeks are common.  I am not decrying the existence of C sections.  They save lives.  Just like formula instead of breastmilk, sometimes C sections are the smoothest way to a safe delivery. The WHO insists that this is only 10% of the time. 

What I am decrying is that women are being cheated.  We are being told that our bodies are incapable of birthing, incapable of breastfeeding.  Incapable of biology.  We are told that the highest biological act we can do--create--nurture--sustain--and can be done better by technology.  We are told that our bodies no longer know how to do these basic things, things that no other mammal on the planet has a 40% failure rate of doing.

Women have a RIGHT to exhilaration and power and all-surpassing, immediate love.  Babies have a RIGHT to the hormones and immune system advantages of a normal, natural birth followed by normal, natural breastfeeding.  Our technocratic model of life tells women that they are not capable, not worthy, of that power and that emotional charge.

Part of it is that our society is scared of women with power.  But I think more than that, our society is scared of biology.  I have heard various midwives and birth activists call birth a "sexual act" and it is that, but it is more purely a biological act.  Our society is uncomfortable with biology.  Just look at our views of death, antibiotics, breastfeeding, eating iceberg lettuce in January, and giving preschoolers their own "age appropriate" iPads.

We are doing more and more and more to set ourselves away from our "ecological umbilical" as Joel Salatin calls our connection to the Earth.  We are so desperate to divide ourselves from Nature.  And it is going to kill us.

Those most affected by all of this disconnect are the ones without a voice.  The poor people in Los Angeles who live and (try to) breathe in the inescapable smog.  The tribes in Africa, now environmental refugees, displaced by drought and famine.  The children of migrant farm workers, horribly exposed to pesticides so that we can have cheap tomatoes.  The babies who want to breastfeed.

Not that we should worship the Earth, and not that we don't get to use it.  Humans are the pinnacle of Creation.  But we still are a part of Creation.

Nothing is going to change with birth, with carbon emissions, or with sustainability until we admit that we are dependent on the Earth.  Part of being human in our world today is bearing the burden of civilization's wrong decisions, and the responsibility of rectifying them.  Let's embrace biology.  Let's be human.  Let's start changing our corner of the world NOW.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

So long, Facebook

How am I going to have time to read and journal everyday? Well, I probably won't have time everyday; it's a rumination and an aspiration, not a resolution! :-) But step 1 is deleting my Facebook account. I read a great, pithy letter to Facebook in Taproot Magazine the other day that echoed my sentiments exactly.

I am not a crazy Facebook person. I haven't changed my profile picture since February. I very rarely ever post anything besides links to this blog. I do not have a SmartPhone/iPhone. But I do check FB multiple times per day, and look and read through it. For no real reason, honestly. I am an introverted person who prefers a small circle of close friends, whom I stay in contact with via personal visits, phone calls, and emails. I do not actuallly connect with people on FB. And to be honest, I highly doubt that many people truly do connect on FB in an empathatic exhange of real time sentiment and thought that takes in the entire scope of human communication.

So although I am only a daily FB user, rather than an hourly or quarter-hourly, I am still deleting my account. I have better things to occupy my thoughts and time with. Things that actually energize me, educate me, and make me a better person--like sleep! Or journaling. :-) Things that don't make me uneasy about my own privacy and security.

Will it be inconvenient? I imagine that it will be, in some ways. But I am hoping that what I get back from it will more than compensate for some mild inconvenience.

ps yes I will miss seeing pictures of your sweet babies, but I have my own sweet toddler to stare at
ps 2 this is not meant as a judgement; just doing what works for me and my family :-)

New Year's Ruminations

Last year, my New Year's resolution was to buy nothing new OR used for myself or the house.

That, needless to say, has been an absolutely epic failure.  I have a few theories as to why this is, and a few ways that I am going to work on it.

For one, minimalism is a state of mind, not a state of your wallet or your closet space.  I was trying to fix the symptom, not the cause.  And I also discovered, to my utter horror and shame, that I like buying clothes.  I do not know when this happened.  In college, I seriously wore the same 4 pairs of pants, the same 6 long sleeved t shirts, the same Romeo shoes, and the same black fleece to class.  Oh, and of course, the same black rain jacket (welcome to Corvallis).  And I didn't care.  And no one else did, either.  If the sun shone, which it rarely did, and it was warm enough, I wore sandals and a skirt.

ok, not exactly feminine, but oh so warm and comfortable!

So this year, I am not saying that I can't buy any new clothes.  I am, however, going to talk with Steve about each and every clothing purchase beyond underwear and socks.  Steve doesn't really care, but he has agreed to be my "accountability partner" to help me beat this clothing monster that I am struggling with.  I am also going to decrease my "allowance" so that more thought is required about what I want to spend money on.  My allowance covers clothes, books, haircuts, shoes, entertainment, magazines, chocolate, and other miscellaneous items for myself, as well as activities for me and Rachel, and Rachel's clothes. 

More important than these outward changes, though, will (hopefully) by the inward changes I am looking to cultivate in myself.  I just ordered the book Simple Abundance by Sara Ban Breathnach.  My goal is to read an essay a day, and journal about it.  I read a few quotations from God is in the Small Stuff by Bruce and Stan that prompted me to begin this true journey to contentment:
"Be as satisfied with what you don't have as with what you [do] have."
"Your wealth is measured by the fewness of your wants."
"Being deprived of something you desire is better than having something you despise."
"Satisfaction begins when comparison stops."
"What you are bears little resemblance to what you have."
"Appreciate simplicity."

Step 1?  Delete Facebook account

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thoughts on Technology, Part 3

hand washing, hand rinsing, line drying diapers while camping
You know how computers were supposed to save us all this time, so we would have more chances to spend with our families?  And cell phones were this amazing thing for emergencies?  And home washing machines and dryers were going to lighten the laundry load?  And vacuum cleaners would mean we no longer need to go beat our rugs clean twice a year?  And cars would help us get places quicker?

All of those are true.  But, they have surpassed their intended purpose, and have instead created more work. 

Think about it: computers are so ubiquitous that you are supposed to have access to one at all times; you should be able to, and are often expected to, check your work email on your weekends and proofread proposals and memos on your vacation.  You are expected to bring your work home with you.  I thought that the amazing thing about work vs school would be that there is no homework!  Even for us stay at home moms, we need to be "current" on Facebook, and know what the greatest holiday crafts on Pinterest are.

Cell phones certainly are used for emergencies--thank goodness, as almost all of the pay phones have disappeared!  But now, we keep our cell phones on all the time.  On us.  We take them to dinner, to the movies, to church, to the playground with our children.  And not for emergencies...for entertainment and conversation through the digital interface, instead of face to face with real people.

Now that we all have our own washers and dryers, we have more clothes.  We spot clean our clothes less.  We are less likely to have, as adults, work/play clothes, and "regular" clothes.  Fewer women wear aprons in the kitchen; fewer men wear coveralls in their home wood shops.  Because it is so "convenient" to clean our clothes, we don't worry about getting our clothes dirty.  Granted, this is also because clothes are so cheap, so they are easy to replace if they get stained or ripped.

A long time ago, people only had rugs.  "Carpets" did not really exist.  Rugs could be swept, but to be truly cleaned, they had to be taken outside and worked on for hours.  So that was only done a few times a year.  With the vacuum cleaners, it is much easier to keep rugs clean.  But because of this, we now have more rugs to keep clean.  And we are expected to keep them cleaner--after all, we have the modern convenience of vacuum cleaners.

Cars...don't get me started.  Do I own a car?  Yes.  Am I glad I do?  Yes!!!!  But because of cars, and because of how the American system of living and working is built on the automobile, we live far from our friends, and far from our work.  Many people live 10 or more miles from a grocery store or gas station!  Cars are supposed to make us more sociable, and help us to get around.  Instead, they have lengthened the distances between our friends and our families, and allowed us to live further from where we actually need to be.  Which means, of course, that we spend more time driving, and we don't end up getting anywhere much more quickly than when we lived in town with our friends.

All of those inventions and pieces of technology are wonderful things--or they can be, if you place limits on them.  I hope that we are not too involved with our technology and modern conveniences to stop and ask, "Who is serving whom?"

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Less Stuff, not More Storage!

Miss Minimalist recently wrote a blog post about the fallacy of organization and pretty storage.  Which is funny, because I have been thinking about writing my own blog post about that same topic for the past week, so now I'm finally getting around to it.  :-)

Too many times, I have fallen prey to the thought that ARGH!! What I need is more closet space!  I solved this problem by consigning and donating a lot of clothes.  In my (very small) closet I now have room to hang my skirts, sweaters, shirts, pants, shorts, dresses; as well as Rachel's dresses and sweaters.  Yay!   Much better than continually grumbling about the lack of closet space...just make more closet space by making a smaller wardrobe!

Recently, I announced to Steve that I wanted to purchase a bread box.  My grandmother had one, but honestly, I haven't seen them in ages; even at thrift stores!  So I resolutely started searching Craigslist, and nothing really turns up within a one hour drive of me.  I make our bread, and am tired of having bags littering my counter top.  A bread box would certainly solve that problem.  But you know what else did?  The cupboard!  I rearranged the cupboard a little bit, composted some old beans and barley that I unearthed, and stuck the bread in its big bag up there.  Voila!  No bags of bread on my counter; no bread box on my counter; and heck, I already paid for the cupboard, right?

We were also thinking about purchasing one of those nice shelf/cupboard things that stands/hangs above the toilet in the bathroom so that we had more space for things in the bathroom.  Thankfully, a minimalist drive seized us before we made that purchase, and instead, we cleaned out--and I mean, REALLY cleaned out, the bathroom cupboards and drawers.  Steve has this (unfortunate) habit of picking up ever. single. shampoo/conditioner/lotion/soap from hotels.  He says that he uses them when he has duty at work.  Thankfully, he agreed to take them all to work, and grab what he needs from there, rather than storing them in our bathroom drawers until he has a duty night.

I am going to write entire blog post someday about the wonderful things about living in and owning a small house.  I used to think that the lack of closet and storage space was a major detriment of small houses, but now I think it is a bonus.  It requires some work, and some more creativity, but it sure does keep you from easily accumulating stuff!  So when you find yourself thinking "I need more storage!" try to rephrase that into "I need less stuff!"  Good luck!