Let’s Get Real

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Environment Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, September-October 2016 edition

To date, my mode of operation has been to post articles onto my blog previously printed in The Boonslick Weekly. I’ve enjoyed the privilege of writing a weekly environmental column in our local newspaper for over four years.  That came to an abrupt halt after this article ran. My column was deemed “too political and no longer inspiring”.  Seems I pushed the envelope too far for this small conservative community. I’m still processing this piece of information and will share my reflections on my next posting.  For now, this is how I chose to get real.

Let’s Get Real

I try my best to not be too “political” while writing this column but sadly, the environment has become a partisan issue.

While industry enjoyed business as usual dumping their toxic waste into our waterways, by the 1960s the accumulated pollution was no longer acceptable. Fish were dying in the Great Lakes, rivers were catching on fire, and smog was inundating our larger cities; all threatening our health and well being. Federal laws in the 1960s addressed those concerns – The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and others began to regulate what industry could do, all receiving bipartisan support. By the 1970s the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the tradition of Earth Day began, all were on board.

Gradually a shift occurred as documented by the League of Conservative Voter’s scorecard. In 1973, 59% Democrats and 28% Republicans in the Senate, while 63% Democrats and 32% Republicans in the House supported pro-environmental laws. In 2016, 96% Democrats and 14% Republicans in the Senate and 94% Democrats and 5% Republicans in the House cast pro-environmental votes.

I’ve been studying this phenomenon for a while now. Best I can understand, everybody, public and politicians alike, loves the environment; it appears the divide occurs when it comes to regulating pollution. Federal regulations are seen by some as a threat to economic growth or individual liberty. It seems the “big picture” is being lost.  With change always comes the opportunity for innovation – if we had worked together from the get-go, solutions prioritizing our individual liberty and health would have been found. Unfortunately this collective effort didn’t occur.

To get around the discomfort of scientific evidence, industry and politicians started questioning science, the very science that has protected us, brought innovation and enriched our lives. It seems the flash-point was when scientific evidence confirmed humans were contributing to global climate change and the risks it posed. When serious discussion began about further regulating greenhouse emissions in the 1990s, the political divide escalated. Those who were most concerned about “conserving” our earth were dismissed as liberals or socialists. Again we had the opportunity to seize the opportunity for innovation.  If we had chosen to subsidize renewable energy over oil, we would have painlessly decreased emissions, while creating a robust economy enhancing the health of our earth and populace.

Here is my dilemma; I’m not one to post fuzzy cat postings on Facebook. While I enjoy writing about my love of nature, these are not typical times. We are experiencing an unprecedented escalated assault on our health and environment. Industry and big money are firmly pitted against the environment, all too willing to compromise the health of our bodies and environment. In that effort “alternative facts” are now treated like facts and scientific evidence questioned, ignored and buried.

To honor my subject matter – the environment –you may have noticed I have been speaking a bit more candidly. Many of my readers, who too are quite worried, have thanked me for those efforts. While now wracked with concern, I hope to return to a lighter message soon.

 

Common Wealth

I recently read “A Conservationist Manifesto” by Scott Russell Sanders and found it to be quite profound.   He discusses the concept of common wealth, all “natural and cultural goods” we share including “the air, waters, soils, and oceans; outer space; the electromagnetic spectrum; the human gene pool and the diversity of species; language in all its forms, including mathematics and music; knowledge in all its forms, from art to zoology; all manner of artifacts and machines, from stone scrapers to supercomputers; the practical arts such as cooking, building, herding, and farming; the practice of medicine; the body of law, the structures of democratic government, and the traditions of civil liberty; parks, community gardens, state and national forests, wildlife refuges, and protected wilderness areas; museums, libraries, schools, plazas, and other public spaces.”  He argues these are common wealth because “none of us, as individuals or even as nations, could create these goods from scratch, or replace them if they were lost.”

For years the government has favored giveaways including below-cost timber sales in national forests, patenting of organisms, oil drilling in wildlife refuges, subsidies for the nuclear industry and agribusiness, off-shore tax havens for corporations, and waivers of clean air regulations.  Our common wealth became further at risk in 2010 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United.  Now corporations can give anonymous unlimited funds to politicians.

These corporations need consumers so they flood the media with advertising.  According to Sanders, by age 21 the average American has been exposed to 30 million ads.  They convince us “you, the isolated consumer, are the center of the universe; your pleasure, comfort, status, looks, convenience, and distraction are all that matter; you will find happiness and fulfillment through buying this product or service; the entire Earth is a warehouse of raw materials at your service.”  So now the circle is complete – Insatiable consumers take from the common wealth oblivious to the common good.

He suggests we live more lightly.  “We need a dream worthy of grown-ups, one that values simplicity over novelty, conservation over consumption, harmony over competition, community over ego.”

To sum it up, “We are born into the legacy of the common wealth, and we pass it on, either enhanced or diminished, to future generations.”  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Pick up Litter, Use your Voice and Vote wisely.  Future generations will be glad you did.

Over-Extended Family Christmas

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http://www.clipartkid.com/stack-of-presents-cliparts/

Days past, kids were happy with a gift or two for Christmas and basked in the joys of creating gifts for their loved ones. In most households, those days are long gone. Now most houses are filled with Stuff; neglected toys spill into all rooms of the house. According to the American Psychological Association, children see at least 40,000 advertisements a year. Kids haven’t developed filters, leaving them highly susceptible to advertising.  Easily convinced they need the “hottest” toy on the market, they do whatever it takes to eventually wear down their parents so they buy it. And, they not only want Stuff, they are also convinced they need to gather money to buy Stuff for their loved ones as well – a well rounded Consumer.

All this shopping has taken a toll on our families. 2015 Federal Reserve reports show Americans have 918.5 billion credit card debt averaging $7529 per household. No doubt, debt causes stress. Although it may be hard to stop or circumvent the tidal wave of consumerism, there are other options – lots of them.

For starters, thinking about those less fortunate fosters the true meaning of Christmas.  In the spirit of giving back, the family might want to volunteer at a food bank or other organizations serving those in need.  As an annual tradition, the family could join forces, sort through their belongings, and make a donation. Outgrown or unused items find new life through organizations serving those in need.  Maybe enjoy a beautiful day together outside on a family pick-up litter outing. Through giving, the spirit of gratitude and compassion grow.

As for family gifts, with a simple Google search, one can find a myriad of presents kids will enjoy making for their loved ones. To add to the fun, they might need your help! As for gifts for the kids, it won’t be the “hottest” toy, but second hand stores are filled with fun, interesting and stimulating gifts. Expand their world and vision with nature related gifts. Or consider a gift of experience, perhaps a class to boost a natural ability, or a family outing.  Above all, remember Time is the most precious gift of all. Stuff inevitably loses it’s luster, while quality time with a loved one keeps on giving.

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https://www.shutterstock.com/search/multi-racial

Grumblings

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http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/notes-grumbling

Some days I’m more easy-going than others.  I realize we all have different priorities, which is good.  Diversity adds color to the palette.  I also realize we are all busy.  But if we are lucky, we do more than just put out fires.  Instead of always reacting, we are proactive.  I try my best not to judge, but some days, actually most days, it seems our environmental life-line would naturally be somewhere in the top five.

Grocery stores are a struggle for me.  For starters, I usually see litter in the parking lot.  Once inside, likely now with soiled hands, I see expensive colorful products displayed on the end-caps, poised for impulsive shoppers.  I see produce and meat products packaged in Styrofoam along with huge displays of Styrofoam products – every size and use imaginable; and single-use disposable water bottles prominently displayed throughout the store.  Then I’m surrounded by all the unhealthy, highly processed foods that claim to be “Natural” simply because this misleading term increases sales.  The FDA has no rules for “Natural” labeling.

Then there is the daunting check-out lane.  As I’m waiting, my eyes gravitate to carts filled with over-packaged single-serve products, Styrofoam products, bottled water, chemical “cleaning” supplies, and unhealthy processed food.  Then the cashier bags and double bags purchases into maybe 20 plastic bags!  Seriously, does a package of toilet paper need to be bagged?  Shaken, I clutch my cloth grocery bags.

Finally I’m out of the store and driving back home.  I see a guy flick out his cigarette butt, or perhaps fast food packaging.  I’ve promised my friends I will no longer stalk and follow these folks home, so I just honk.

Once home, I grab my mail.  I sort through all the junk mail, catalogues and newspaper inserts – Seriously, is there no end to the assault on our trees to produce millions of ads we don’t want or read?  As I settle in and read the news,  with more frequency I read about another environmental assault such as a chemical or oil spill threatening our waterways, soils and atmosphere.   Although, I am grateful for the coverage, since most infractions never make it to news print.

Sigh.  Once when perseverating to a sage friend, she advised me – “You need to spend half your time helping the environment and half your time enjoying it”.  Think I’ll take a hike.

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https://www.greatsmokies.com/hiking.php

Why I Care

 

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Me pondering when 24 year old, perhaps thinking about nature? This was certainly a beautiful spot along a river in Tennessee.

As a child, I wandered aimlessly thru the woods for hours, then cooled my tired feet in the rippling stream as I watched the meanderings of minnows and tadpoles. Once replenished, I wandered on, open to all adventures.  Although never verbalized, I always cared.  As an adult, I have now found my voice.

Now as I revel in the sights, sounds and smells as I hike through Harley Park and along the Katy Trail, I gladly pick up litter obscuring the beauty.

As I visit pristine National and State Parks and drive upon clean cities, I see the possibilities.

As I hear the birds chirping and delighting in the morning, and flock to our bird feeders after snowfall, I want to keep the skies free of pollution.

As I admire majestic California Redwoods and the Big Burr Oak near McBaine, I gladly recycle and use less paper products.

As I breathe in the scents of the flowers & herbs and the fresh air after a rain, I feel an awakening.

As I feel the warmth of the sun and the strength of the wind, I see the potential of harnessing renewable energy sources that don’t pollute the earth.

As I drive thru billboard-free Vermont and Maine, I delight in the views around the next bend.

As I am mesmerized by the ocean waves flowing in and out, watch a waterfall trickling, flowing or thundering over the ledge, and canoe along clear waters, I strive to minimize the chemicals, plastics and cigarette butts flowing into them.

As I hike thru the forest along a clear mountain stream, soak in a hot spring along the way, and summit a mountain, I feel alive!

As I shop at the Farmers Market and see and taste the bounty nature has provided, I want to protect our seeds, soil, and water.

As I meander through the woods and snatch a discarded chip bag, I know I have made a difference.

As I stroll across the Missouri River Bridge, and watch a beautiful sunset melt into the river and fill the sky with color, I am replenished and energized.

As I see a child mesmerized by nature – closely examining a cloud, flower, animal, or build sand castles by the ocean, I know I will always do my part to conserve and preserve those marvels for future generations to come.

 

Love of Hiking

Words always seem to fall short when I attempt to articulate what hiking means to me. Of all leisurely pursuits, hiking has always been my activity of choice. In lone pursuit at a very young age, I continually wandered beyond the boundaries of our farm in pursuit of trees and creeks.  This was no small task as I was surrounded by crops and my legs were much shorter then!  I finally discovered a pristine creek in the woods where I spent hours enthralled with minnow filled pools along with the sounds and sights of water trickling over and through the rocks.  My parents and family weren’t into camping or hiking.  Someway I pursued those adventures anyway – perhaps nature chose me.

Continue reading “Love of Hiking”

Travels Southeast Bound

One January, we were chilled to the bone so we hit the road, heading south. Always aware of the environment, here are my sightings.

Our Mississippi State Park campground was absolutely beautiful but there were no recycling bins.  Anti-litter signs are prevalent – “Pick It Up Mississippi” along roadways and “Adopt-A-Highway America” along the Interstates.  It appears these signs are effective, as we didn’t notice much roadside litter.  As for local cuisine, I wasn’t much interested in fried chicken on top of waffles, boiled peanuts, or fried pies but I was glad to see the produce stands emerge as we traveled further south.  Overall, Mississippi is quite beautiful.  Much of the land is sparsely populated and filled with healthy forests.  While logging does occur, we didn’t notice clear-cutting scars.

Continue reading “Travels Southeast Bound”

The Challenge of Living Green

I’ve come to realize, I need to choose my battles wisely.  My quest to live chemical-free can be exhausting!

While cleaning, I no longer mindlessly grab bottles of chemicals that promise to render me a clean surface with ease.  Fortunately I now know how to use vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide quite effectively after test-cleaning for months – yes months!

Food is always a work in progress as I continue my research.  I’ve found many foods labeled “Natural” aren’t natural at all.  I avoid single serve, over packaged and disposable products as well as farm raised fish full of hormones.  Since GMO (genetically modified) foods aren’t labeled, I call food producers to inquire.  I also study food growing practices to determine the most important produce to buy organic (check out the Dirty Dozen). I have a small organic garden and frequent Farmer’s Markets.  Next I hit the grocery stores – not just one, several!  I try my best to buy locally first and give the store managers feedback about their offerings.  Then I head to Columbia for more healthy food options.

Considering Styrofoam as the biggest environmental irritant of them all, I don’t budge on this one.   Many times I search for the elusive vegetable or fruit not packaged in Styrofoam trays. Worst yet, I absolutely love coffee, at many community events I sadly turn away as I smell the alluring aroma nestled in Styrofoam cups.  As for take-out foods – many times not an option for me.  If only the Styrofoam price tag reflected its environmental damage – then it would be expensive to produce and not so prevalent.

One would think a stroll through the park would be relaxing but no – I’m generally compelled to pick up litter and “mine” recyclables from the trash bins.  Some days, when I need a break, I don’t bring a bag with me but invariably, I see a plastic bag snagged on a tree somewhere so I’m compelled to fill it up!  As for the dispersed cigarette butts – It takes a “full energy” day and gloves in tow for me to grab those.

Reduce/Reuse/Recycle – I’m always considering these principals.  It may take a little more effort but I always save money while conserving our natural resources and Trash Day is always a breeze!

Yeah, being an Environmentalist isn’t exactly glamorous but we do what we have to do.

 

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