Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When Scientists and Policymakers Work Together

Some days, the best I can do to fight climate change is to read.

It's really easy to get wrapped up on all the political brouhaha in the other Washington and think that the Constitutional crisis needs more of my attention than science does. But when you consider the fall of a nation compared to the fall of humanity, perspective straightens itself out. Doesn't it?

I'm still stuck in the zone of what I could do that would make any difference. But I've decided that my tiny voice is still a voice. I can still make calls, write letters, and protest. I can still make my tiny little difference. So, today I read in order to make a difference. Yes, I said that I read.

Not only that, I read the National Geographic.

Now, I don't exactly trust National Geographic as much as I did before Rupert Murdock bought it and started printing Jesus covers with the National Geographic brand on them. But, I read their article about oxygen levels in our oceans. Did some tenured National Geographic writer sneak this one under the wire? Thank you Craig Welch.

It's worth reading. The story is that tuna, marlin, sailfish and other diving ocean predators are having to hold their breath or hunt closer to the surface because of huge areas in which oceans no longer hold enough oxygen to support life because of rising temperatures.

Rising temperatures.

Loss of oxygen in many huge areas of the ocean, millions of square miles. Changing habitat, squeezing predator and prey into smaller areas. Dead zones. Stress on the fish. A sixty-three percent loss of  the small deep-sea fishes that feed the ocean. And indirectly, us.


This is what we're up against if we don't start making changes regarding climate change. It's a motivator, right? It got your attention, right? I hope so.

Polar ice melting, species extinction, coral reefs bleaching, oxygen levels dropping making huge swaths of our oceans uninhabitable, seas rising, extreme hurricanes crashing onto our shores, wildfires burning out of control.

We're not looking at our future. This is our present situation. We are beginning to drown in it, burn in it, lose our homes to its fury. Next, we face starvation in the name of climate change. This is going to be bigger than the AIDS epidemic, the pandemic flu of 1918, the cost of human lives in WWII, bigger than malaria, ebola, zika, and all other diseases combined. The only thing that might be as disastrous would be if that big asteroid hits. But that big asteroid is a phantom menace. We can see climate change happening around us if we admit it to ourselves. I spent days this summer looking out the window at a strangely purple sky and trying not to breathe too deeply because of the wildfires burning nearby. And I was one of the lucky ones.

Scientists, you have work to do. Policymakers, you need to fund them. How can we keep ignoring what has hurricanes slapping us in our faces?

And yet I hold hope in what we can accomplish given the drive to do so. Today, I also read that the hole in the ozone layer has healed more quickly that scientists thought possible. It's expected to be completely normal within fifty or sixty years. Scientists and policymakers worked together. Imagine that?

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mostly Excuses

Here's what I want to do to live more sustainably:
  1. Plant a little garden - if I plant a little garden, there's half a chance that it would succeed. A big garden would be a definite fail. I'm not a gardener. I like knowing what the plants are and how they grow, but I've got a yellow thumb and I forget to take care of the plants. Just now, I realized that Seth has eaten the second to last leaf of my shamrock. How unlucky is that?
  2. Buy locally - I used to belong to a CSA, Jubilee Farms. They were wonderful, farming as organically as they could, growing unusual produce for me to experiment with, stretching my palate, and generally teaching me and Nick more about farming. I learned that I don't particularly want to farm. See the first on the list. But as a child, Nick picked strawberries, peas, green beans. I allowed him to play with a collard leaf one afternoon if he promised to eat it. I had to look it up to see if he could eat it raw since he said he didn't want me to cook it. Raw was good. The reasons I stopped being a member of the CSA were that I ran out of time to pick my produce in the summer even though picking peas always reminded me of my grandma. I stopped because I didn't get to pick what I wanted and there were lots of foods I couldn't eat. I stopped because it got to a point that I was the only one eating the produce because Mike couldn't and Nick didn't want to and it clogged the refrigerator and spoiled. I reasoned that being a member of a CSA was not helpful if the food was going into the garbage too often. Plus, I got really sick on the same day I ate burdock root and even the sound of the word makes me a little sick to my stomach even though it is years later. My revised and reduced plan is to visit more farmer's markets. I could find time to do that, buying more locally, buying more sustainably-grown foods. Plus, I think it would be fun to see what people were growing and making out there. But most of the farmer's markets start in May. What are we supposed to eat until then?
  3. Tell you more of my ideas - I admit that the idea of getting all those gym people to put energy back onto the grid was a strange one, but you should hear my idea for wind-farm house paneling to capture breezes. There is always a breeze. When the air is completely still, it's weird. Still, I have no idea if harnessing the breezes would bring in enough power to make the whole idea worth it. But I'm certain it would be pretty.
  4. Donate - When I get money, if I get money of my own, I will donate to endeavors that are working to educate us, to change our hearts, to implement their own ideas for living sustainably. Right now, I don't earn enough to make any percentage of a donation worth anything. So far, I've given $6.00 to the Indivisibles group that was my donation from my Angry Housewife Fights Tyranny book royalties. Six damned dollars. Pathetic, right? But at least I had the idea to benefit the Indivisibles groups with my royalties. A bonus is that if we get Trump out of the Oval Office, we might get on with our fight against climate change. With royalties from a climate change book, I'd support the Sierra Club or the Environmental and Energy Study Institute or - do you have any good ideas? I might even buy carbon offsets, but I have a little problem with the idea that every single person in the world could make enough carbon offset donations to actually fight climate change. See what I mean? Someone has to lean the other direction to make it balance.
  5. Compost - The hard part about composting is that it attracts rodents. Living out here in the forest, we have rodents. We even have a bear. Do they make a bear-proof compost bin? I could see a heavy-duty plastic bin that's been clawed and rolled around until the contents had no need to be turned. Leaves and yard debris would be fine. I could start with that, but we already do that by leaving our yard alone so much of the time. Debris just goes back into the earth without being dug up. See? I'm good. All I have to do is eliminate all yard work and let my yard go fallow. Perfect, right? In a hundred years, I'll have a good inch of useful topsoil. When you ask me to add food scraps into the mix, I start thinking of the rats that plague Mike's power tools in the garage. We lost a drill press to a nest. This was a drill press that could drill a hole into your tailgate. It was a serious piece of equipment. It would still be working if mice or rats hadn't nested inside it, if they hadn't chewed the heck out of the wiring inside it. So, whenever I mention composting, Mike goes all gray in the face and clenches his teeth. He has a war going with the rodents in the garage. He won't even buy grass seed and put it into a hard plastic bucket. Those beasts chewed right through that thing. But I might be able to quietly put some leaves and sticks into an old plastic tub and make my own dirt so I can stop buying that crap they sell at the garden center. Yes, I could make my own dirt, eventually.
  6. Sleep more and do less - just kidding.
I'll have to go to one of those big lists and see if there are any other things I can do to fight climate change. What I've got here are a bunch of excuses. I'm feeling rather ineffective right now. But at least I'm still thinking about how I can have an effect, how I can maximize my impact.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, February 19, 2018


"It's not often that poets and writers get a chance to save the world," wrote Paul Hunter. "But here we are, on the verge of environmental disater..."

I went to a writing workshop run by Paul Hunter last Saturday at the Book Tree. I wrote about a tree that I loved. I wanted to write about maidenhair fern, broccoflower, tree branching, river braiding, Fibonacci, and fractals in space and time. When I signed up for the workshop, the description referred to Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist by Paul Kingsnorth. I was reminded of my New Year's resolution to do something tangible about living sustainably. Could driving thirty one minutes to an almost local bookstore for a workshop run by an environmentalist poet qualify as a concerted effort?

I know, I know. I've been absent for how many days? You wanted someone who would perfectly portray what a New Year's resolution is supposed to be? Instead, I've been absent. A zero. Negligent. Plus, I haven't kicked my salads in a plastic tub habit. I'm not very good at this. Admitting the truth might be the first real step. But I've been avoiding the whole thing.

Honestly, some part of me had thoughts of that resolution whenever I drove my errands. 'Can't right now,' I thought. 'Can't write and drive safely.' I know. I've tried it. 

Sometimes my New Year's resolution to do something about climate change was pressed into my thoughts by a radio show, Living on Earth. You may not be a religious science geek like I am, but I get the best nudges from the Universe when I'm supposed to do something and have been shirking my duties. Living on Earth has been a big part of those nudges. Thank you, Living on Earth for that. Then on CBC, I heard about how the managing director of a company, Richard Walker of Icelandic Foods in Canada, has vowed to make his company plastic-free by 2023. He was so awesome that I broke my 'no writing while driving rule' and wrote down his name and #toocoolforplastic.  If all I did during those missing days was to listen, then I'm at least not completely off the rails. I was actually a little jealous of Richard Walker while I listened to his great idea to eliminate plastic from his company because he'd taken a big step while all I'd done was listen to the radio and think about what I should have done last week but didn't.

See, when I was safely at home, free to write, I got distracted. I procrastinated my New Year's resolution to live more sustainably, to make concrete steps toward a world in which I could do that without leaving my husband, son, and home to go native or learn farming in the middle of nowhere. I'm not a survivalist.

It really is going to be hard to make changes that we need to make if I'm having this much trouble all by myself.

Someone at Paul Hunter's workshop said that we're all afraid to use the word 'population' when discussing climate change. It's true. Can we really save the world without addressing our burgeoning population?

But at least I'm here, not a complete zero, trying to continue with my resolution. I'm still trying, but sometime, I'm going to have to write about futility and recycling plastic grocery bags. I'm going to have to write about existential angst and the big battery in my Prius. I'm going to have talk about what I've been doing and what I still need to do.

I'm going to have to fail before I can imagine succeeding. Okay, I'm here today to tell you that I've failed for at least two weeks now. Listening to the radio is not a success. It's not.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, February 12, 2018

How to Be a Stowaway

I usually come here to whine.

No whining today! I'm taking a break from whining. Are you with me?

Nick is home sick from school today. This morning, he worried about what he'd miss. This is high school, chemistry, trig, American literature. Serious stuff. Picture a kid who's dizzy from not being able to breathe properly who sits at the computer trying to catch up on work he's too sick to comprehend. He's on all the steroids except prednisone. By the strength and duration of the virus Mike had last week, I imagine prednisone is coming, but later in the week when we hear bubbling in Nick's lungs.

I get nostalgic when Nick stays home from school. He's more independent that he used to be, even when he's sick. I miss the days when we read him to sleep, a chapter each night from a book we'd chosen together. Some of the books he wanted me to read were hard to get through, but when he picked Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, or finally Tolkien, it was a joy. Nick would fall asleep and his chapter would end and I always wanted to read on ahead. Often, I kept reading, my voice quieter and droning its sleep-sleep message. I might have to repeat those pages the next night when Nick said he didn't remember them, but so what?

Did you do that? Do you still?

I wish I could go back in time with a book in hand, Destiny's Gambit by RJ Wood. I'd sit at Nick's bedside to read it to him, chapter by chapter, adventure after adventure. Now that we're past that time, I don't tell my friends that I still read kid's books without being required to, but now you know. When I'm reading a book like this, I almost remember what it was like to be a kid.

I loved Jake this awkward boy in the story who surprised himself with magic he didn't know he possessed. Does it always seem like having a rough time of it leads a kid that way or am I just wishing it were so because I was an awkward girl? This awkward girl still loves characters like Jake.

And now the next book in the series is coming, Beyond the Moon!

Here's where the story is headed:

Beyond the Moon picks up after the battle above the ice planet Nystal, where Earth-kid Jake Flynn and crew have recently escaped from the Crimson Cabal. Their voyages continue on the other side of the galaxy where magic has displaced technology and monsters are real. Jake continues to grow in his new abilities to channel energy and fly tall wooden ships in space, but struggles with having been named the Justicar, a prophesied champion of the light. Pushing forward, he sets course for new planets in search of allies who will stand with him and help stop the cabal from resurrecting a long dead queen. To succeed, Jake must learn more about channeling and how to balance his new and unwelcome responsibilities with the continued search for his missing parents and a way home to Earth.

Aided and mentored by the young Life Magian, Starla Silvertree, her aged protector, Ottomeyer Riversend, and assisted by veteran sailors Jehnna Marik and Captain Billy Goldbar, Jake must make heavyweight decisions with deadly consequences.

Unicorns, ghost ships, pirates, space battles, magi wielding lightning and fire, dinosaurs, and a Valkyrie – Jake must face them all in this epic sword and space adventure. By the end, Jake will take another step toward adulthood, discover truths about his parents’ fate, suffer the death of a comrade, and muster the courage to charge into a final showdown with the terrifying snake-woman, Celia Sable.

I can't wait. You'll find me on the couch, Beyond the Moon in hand, stopping now and then to read something aloud to the consternation of Mike who will probably be in the middle of watching a the mess of politics in the news. He might give me a look. I'll get the hint and curl up with the cat to read quietly.

I'm getting the better deal in this scenario. My imagination will soar through asteroid fields. I'll hear battle commands. And in the end, I'll stow away on the Voyages of Jake Flynn.

Thank you for listening, jules

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Having the Sex Talk in the Car

"We are what we repeatedly do," Aristotle said.

I like that. So, the fact that I consistently bring my motley assortment of reusable grocery bags into the store and insist that the cashiers don't give me any new bags means that I'm a new-plastic avoider.

I'm also a paper-towel avoider and a food-waste eliminator.

Enough about what I repeatedly do already. I'm just bragging. What I want to talk about is what it takes to start that new habit so that I become a better climate-change resister instead of a climate-change-inertia-butthead.

I have a friend who had a minivan when her children were young. That van served its purpose, but now it's dead and she has to buy a new car.

What does she want to buy?

Another minivan, just exactly like her old one. She mourns the death of her old minivan. I get that. I do. A lot of life is lived with young children in a vehicle. Dinners are quickly consumed, drinks are slotted into cup holders or spilled, music blares, and conversations about sex and other deep issues occur.

I found that the car was the best place for those awkward conversations because your child cannot get irritated and walk away from you. Plus, you only make eye contact sporadically while you keep your eyes on the road, thus reducing the awkwardness for both of you. The only drawback is that there is a temptation to keep that conversation running until you arrive. Don't do it. I know. I made that mistake. Just get in and out of those necessary words and shut the hell up. Turn the radio onto heavy metal when you're tempted to go over it again, close your mouth, and rock out while your teenager mulls over the awful realization that his parents actually had sex at least once.

My friend. Right.

My friend was stuck in the thought of getting another minivan just like her old one despite the fact that she only needed two seats most of the time and four would do all of the time except when she was trying to haul a crew of kids to a paintball party.  I can tell you that she and I have discussed climate change and know that she is not in any way a climate-change denier. She just had not made the connection between mass extinction and her minivan habit. She did not want to get out of her comfort zone.

Habit was ingrained. I get that.

I'm waiting for an interesting book to come into my holds at the library, Making Habits, Breaking Habits by Jeremy Dean. I read about it in Brain Pickings. I love Brain Pickings - so much good information. I should develop the habit of reading it every week.

And now I have one more book on my figurative pile of books that I intend to read. I can't wait. I hate having to wait when I need a book now, but do I really need that book this very day? Can't I aid the environment by getting most of my books, music, and movies at the library?

Yes I can!

But those are already my habits even though I love shopping at bookstores. The bookstore owners near me know that I'll come in and talk too long when they see my face at their doors. But I really do use the library. Every few days, I stop by the library as a matter of course after I pick up groceries with my reusable grocery bags.

Sorry. I'm not here to lecture you about all the great things that I do that you could do too.

In his book, Jeremy Dean followed a study carried out at University College London about how long it really takes to form a habit. It turns out that the twenty-one days that is generally quoted to you is only for the really easy stuff. He said that the hard changes can take almost a year.

A whole damned year!

That's why I'm having so much trouble changing my carbon footprint. It's going to take me a whole year of dedication to change my habits if I can even stay focused on a few practical things I want to do.

Oh shit. We're all going to die of climate change disaster. We're just going to up and fricking die because I don't know how to focus on the next thing I need to do to fight climate change let alone institute it into habit. How the hell is everyone in the whole world going to shift if I have this much trouble on my own?

We need to science the shit out of this problem, but even there, we're going to have to evolve out of our current paradigm. We're going to have to learn to think about everything with sustainability in mind. And that's a habit that's hard to create.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, January 29, 2018

Making It to the Rockies

Did you ever get into the car and just drive?

I have to admit that I did that yesterday. I blew my carbon footprint out of the water. I hate when that happens.

The problem is that I have to consciously live small to control my carbon footprint. A small life is one that stays home most of the time. One of my grandpas lived in the same county his whole life and never traveled out of state. I can't do that.

Even when I'm upset about something and have nowhere in particular to go, I apparently can't do that.

A small life never gets on a plane. A small life never takes a long shower or splurges on strawberries in January or drives the dog to the luxury dog park by the water just because it would be a beautiful day to see the lake.

I can't walk the dog out my front door. I always have to drive somewhere because we live by a highway. For a while, I took Teddy to every dog park within twenty miles at least once. These days, I try to combine his dog park stops with whatever errand I need to run. I try to make a small single loop.

Summer sucks for that. Teddy stays home for all of the errands and then I loop back out to take him somewhere to see his friends. Yes, he has friends. His friends' people ask me how the book is coming along and what happened with that job I was supposed to have gotten. Even Teddy needs to see his friends once in a while. So do I.

It helps my footprint that I 'work' from home. (I'm having a crisis of faith, that writing six pages a day and editing sporadically in between is a 'real' job. Please tell me this is a real job. I need to hear that it's a real job and I'll actually earn decent money some day.)

At least the three dog parks we visit most often are within a fifteen minute drive. The closest one is seven minutes away. The bonus is that the grocery store is on the way home.

Imagine you're an environmentally-minded person who loves to travel the world. How do you manage your carbon footprint then? I know a guy who's traveling the country with his girlfriend in a small RV. They have no other home except their parents' homes. If they don't drive their RV more than I drive in a day, will they ever get across Kansas?

Every time I drove across Kansas, it seemed so incredibly long. You began to look at the Rocky mountains in the middle somewhere and it took forever for them to grow into full-sized mountains. In fact, they're so tall they look like they should arrive much sooner than they do. Kansas seems so flat it feels like you should be able to see the curvature of the earth when you're on the road there. It seems like those mountains should never appear until they are close, almost there. But with the Rockies in Kansas, you're almost there for about eight hundred miles.

So, if my friends adjust that RV to the same amount of gas I consume with my Prius - then how far could they go without blowing up their carbon footprint? It sucks to be an environmentalist traveler, doesn't it?

And what about traveling by plane? What about the classic European tour? How many five minute showers do you have to take to make up for that?

Does anyone have a chart that compares the carbon released for different activities?

Well, the Nature Conservancy has a free carbon footprint calculator, but it doesn't get down to the level of five minute showers versus the flight to Europe. I was excited to know that our lives are small enough that our carbon footprint is 30% smaller than average assuming I did it right. I might not have done it right.

Thirty percent is a start.

But what I want to know is how to keep from exhaling so much, how to keep cows from farting, how to keep our cars from blowing CO2, how to get trees to breathe in and out around me more than I do.

The Nature Conservancy calculator didn't have any questions about how many trees we host on our property. If that were on the questionnaire, we'd be cruising in our attempt to shrink our carbon footprint. We host a lot of trees, big trees, tall trees, trees that breathe out clean oxygen into our air. Douglas fir, Western Red cedar, Japanese maple, Western hemlock, big leaf maple, alder, Alberta spruce. I love our trees. I love how the air smells in our yard, sweet and clean.

Maybe those of us who like to travel should have to host a small forest to make up for our miles. Or plan a bike ride or walkabout instead of a flight. I could just see my mother's face when I tell her we're going to bike out there instead of flying. Ha!

I'd never make it to the Rockies.

Thank you for listening, jules

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Luxuriate in Time

The shrinking carbon footprint I would most love to accomplish today is the one in which I stay home all day and don't drive anywhere, not even in my hybrid.

Wouldn't that be nice?

I would further benefit the planet by staying in my pajamas, thus decreasing the volume of laundry for the week. Eating leftovers instead of cooking would allow us to throw out less food. If I could keep from having to run a load of dishes, that would be nice, right? And finally, if I sat under a single lamp reading my book all day, my energy consumption would remain low.

Doesn't that sound nice?

Do I have to think about the production of the book? Was it locally sources? Did it's production occur under sustainable practices? They are good questions, right?

In the meantime, I have the book. I have the compact fluorescent bulb in my reading lamp, and I want to snuggle under a blanket while keeping the room temperature low. All of that is climate-friendly. Right?

I vote that, in an attempt to reduce our carbon footprints, we designate at least one day a month to staying home and lying around.

What would I call it?

Shrinking Footprint Day? Climate-Centered Day?

No, even better. It would feel like a Green Valentine's Day, the day I give a gift to someone I love. You know who I mean, like the 'I'm with her' signs at the protests that show an arrow pointing to a picture of the Earth. And it would be a little gift to me at the same time, to stop the rush- rush of life and luxuriate in time for a change.

Alas, I have to drive somewhere today because we're out of milk, there are no leftovers left in the fridge, and Teddy needs time at the dog park with his friends because yesterday it was blustery and there were no dogs to play with. Yesterday was a sad day for Teddy.

Ultimately, decreasing my carbon footprint means not moving and not moving means either that the book is really good and I can't put it down or that I'm dead.

Nobody ever talks about the ultimate solution to climate change - population control. Does a person have the right to have as many children as they want? It failed in China. It failed miserably. I remember thinking how barbarian it was for a government to take control of reproduction. And yet the trees, the ones who put oxygen into the atmosphere, can't compete with the growth of us carbon dioxide exhalers.

I'm like everyone else. I don't want to be dead, so the solution to climate change is, like Matt Damon said in the movie The Martian, "We need to science the shit out of this problem."

Every move we make should be toward a sustainable solution to everything that is produced and consumed.

And in the meantime, Trump has added a tax to imported solar panels. Remember, he's going to bring back coal. Right? Well, fuck that shit.

Thank you for listening, jules