I traveled south this weekend to Manchester, New Hampshire for a three-day healing retreat, an experience that was to lead me into intimate lessons with a small group of women, all healing from chronic illness of one sort or another. The conversations, exercises and reflections were hard, hard work for me and others who probably also face each day with very limited energy. Amazingly, not one of us gave up in any way. We stayed with the work into the evening, each day, knowing and trusting that it was moving us to a new place of understanding our disease. More importantly, our healing. Continue reading
With appreciation, I offer another guest post from Vermont farmer and author Ben Hewitt. This post is about his family’s experience living and farming off the grid; be sure to read his recent guest posts about food safety issues on Nourishing Words.
When my wife (then girlfriend) Penny and I were looking for land, we didn’t have a lot of options. This is largely because we didn’t have a lot of money and, even then (1997), they weren’t exactly giving away farmland in northern Vermont. We spent a discouraging year tromping through swampy five-acre thickets, trying to convince ourselves that, with enough sweat equity, we could turn the land into something that felt like 50 arable acres. Still, young and naïve as we were, we didn’t fall for our own lies. Continue reading
There’s always more to learn, and there always seem to be inspiring people ready to share their stories. And, just when I think I’m doing fine, I realize there’s more I can do to make a positive difference.
Tonight I attended Project Laundry List’s annual meeting and celebration of National Hanging Out Day. Project Laundry List works to make air-drying and cold-water washing laundry acceptable and desirable as ways to conserve energy. Tonight’s discussion was to focus broadly on the small changes we each can make to save energy in our daily lives. A couple of names on the panel of presenters drew my attention and I was curious to find out about energy and conservation initiatives underway right here in my hometown.
The panel included an owner of a vegan restaurant in Concord, a car dealer (speaking about vehicle maintenance and changing driving habits), a very active community volunteer and green businessperson, and the mayor. The audience of forty or so people was a lively group of environmentalists, eager to share information and inspire action in others.
Here’s a very short list of things I realized I could easily do now to conserve energy and water:
- Drive 55 miles per hour. If we all did this, the United States would cut 20 percent of its fuel usage.
- Wash my clothes in cold water.
- “Imagine an egg under my gas pedal” to help avoid excessive acceleration and braking.
- Walk to work, even once a week.
- Buy a low-flow shower head.
- Check my tire pressure more often and keep my tires inflated properly.
- Give up plastic bags completely.
- Get more involved in making my community a better place by volunteering.
The list of suggestions was lengthy, and I did feel good about the things I already do to lighten my footprint on this earth. Being a (99 percent) vegetarian, growing some of my own food, driving a hybrid vehicle, using CFL and LED lightbulbs and drying my clothes on a drying rack are all great things to do. But there’s so much more to be done. The need is huge, and it will take small and big changes made by all of us to truly make a difference.
I was inspired by the challenge to think of my own lifestyle in contrast to that of people in a third world country and evaluate my energy consumption accordingly. Making that comparison should help me to rationalize any change I might be reluctant to undertake. How would I view my one mile commute? My need to do several loads of laundry each week, some in hot water? My habit of leaving my computer on all the time?
I came away realizing again that perhaps the biggest way that each of us as individuals can contribute to creating positive change is to inspire someone else to make even a tiny change.
Consuming one pound of meat is the equivalent of driving an SUV 40 miles. If I can inspire a couple of friends to give up one meat meal a week and try a vegetarian alternative, that would be the equivalent of not driving that SUV 4000 miles in one year. Meatless Monday really is a powerful concept, isn’t it?
One woman spoke of the pledges she made twenty years ago on the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day, one of which was to give up the use of paper products. “The more I’ve done it, the less I’ve missed it,” she said. A panelist described walking to a public place in the evening to read, to take advantage of lighting that would be on for the evening anyway, rather than turning on lights at home.
It takes 16 to 21 times of repeating a new activity to create a habit. After that, it’s a routine that requires little or no conscious thought to continue, which means we should be ready for a new challenge.
As we approach Earth Day in just three days, let’s consider the small and not so small things that we each might do to create a cleaner, more sustainable environment. Then, go one step further and inspire someone else to make a small change, too.
A woman in the audience commented to the panel: “Thank you for all that you all do to make this place a community instead of just the place we all live.” Judging by her energy, she’s been a major contributor herself to creating this community.
And then, I got recruited by the mayor to join the City’s Energy and Environment Committee.
Like I said, there’s always more to be done!
In the coming days, as 2009 winds to a close, we’ll hear lots of summaries of the past decade. The Green Fork blog, from the Eat Well Guide website provides an excellent look back at the lack of progress in this country in addressing energy and climate change issues. At the same time, the writer strikes a hopeful chord in looking toward the future, and emphasizing individual responsibility. It’s a worthwhile read, and a good blog to bookmark for information and ideas on sustainable food and environmental issues.
The website itself, the Eat Well Guide offers a nifty database to help readers find “local, sustainable, organic” restaurants, caterers, bakeries, grocery stores, farmers markets, CSAs and more, all by zip code, location or keyword. For my local area, 40 organizations came up; it’s off to a good start.
A great example of a tool that’s there, ready to help individuals, business and farmers bring local food communities together, anywhere. As the Concord, New Hampshire local food movement gets underway, I hope we encourage use of this tool and others like it to get the word out about local options.
President Obama is going to propose in Copenhagen next week that the United States cut its carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020.
I got to wondering what my personal role in our country’s achieving that goal might be. Many online carbon footprint calculators are available; this one calculates your carbon footprint and allows you to store the information for later reference. A perfect option for measuring personal progress.
The calculation has two components: the primary footprint (house, fuel, plane trips, overall energy usage, etc.) and the secondary footprint (food choices, clothing, furniture, other purchases, etc.). We have direct control over our primary footprint and indirect control over our secondary footprint.
My carbon footprint is 8.60 tons of CO2 per year. The average carbon footprint in this country is 20.40 tons per year. The average for other industrial nations is 11 tons. That seemed like an accomplishment to be proud of until I read that the average carbon footprint worldwide is 4 tons.
According to this website, my personal goal should be to decrease my carbon footprint to two tons per year! That’s a decrease of about 75 percent. That’s what needs to happen if we’re really going to address global climate change.
Based on my answers to the questions, I guessed I should take fewer flights, buy less new clothing and consider tucking my money under my mattress, rather than using banking institutions.
In an effort to be more scientific, I returned to the calculator to see what goals I might realistically set for myself. The site also offers plenty of specific data about what contributes to a hefty carbon footprint, with information about appliances, light bulbs, water usage and more. Recalculating my footprint for my new, theoretical self was more fun.
I added a person to my now theoretical household, creating a household of two, rather than one. I then projected modest savings in monthly electric and gas bills–enough that I could expect to be routinely drying clothes on the drying rack and probably keeping the thermostat at about 60 degrees in the winter. Those two cuts reduced my overall footprint by nearly two tons.
The first time around, I’d called myself a vegetarian, since I’m closer to being one than to being either a fish eater or a meat eater. In the second round, I opted not to overreach to become a vegan, though I’m sure it would have helped a lot.
Flying is a big contributor (huge!) to the problem. Although I’d heard and read this many times, taking the test and then retaking it with fictitious data drove home the point. Decreasing my number of cross-country trips from three to one per year, and adding one train trip per year to New York City (to meet my sister there, rather than flying to Montana) decreased my carbon footprint by another 1.35 tons.
I saved a little more here and there by projecting changes like buying no food with any packaging at all and by imagining my household with zero waste production. So much for my flexibility around the “no packaging rule”? And, could I really never throw anything out? Never?
Tucking my money under my mattress would save me another .40 tons!
Even with these changes–most of which seem pretty tough to me–I only managed to decrease my carbon footprint to 4.54 tons per year.
Leaving my 2009 data stored in my account, I decided to chip away at making some further changes in 2010. I can do a better job with this. I’m sure we’ll hear in the next couple of weeks more detail about how the country as a whole will meet its goal of 17 percent in 10 years. Certainly, setting and meeting a goal of decreasing my own carbon footprint even 10 percent in the coming year would help a tiny bit.
What’s your carbon footprint? Is it a number we each should get to know? I think so. Knowing it, and what comprises it, demysticizes it and makes changing it seem possible.
Knowing it makes part of the problem of global climate change mine to address.
The announcement of yesterday’s annual Thanksgiving round of “what I’m thankful for” prompted some good-natured groans around the table that quickly gave way to willing participation. We shared with lots of laughter, thanks for food, family, good health, the baby in our midst and more. In total, these quick expressions of thanks represented the most basic things in our lives. Although some were resistant to being nudged to come up with something on the spot (or maybe the resistance is part of the tradition, too?), there was no shortage of offerings. After all, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.
A couple of weeks ago, I paused while pulling out of my driveway on a miserably cold, rainy morning and looked back at my little house. I was struck by how warm and welcoming it looked, and was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude. Simple gratitude for having this house to shelter me and my dogs on that particular dismal November day. The feeling was strong and clear and actually brought tears to my eyes. I thought about the feeling often throughout the day and mentioned it to a friend later. Oddly, it had felt good, like I’d been missing something important for years and had suddenly seen it very clearly for the first time.
Can that kind of feeling of gratitude improve your overall health?
I woke up this morning to an NPR story about a recent study on this topic, and all indications are that, yes, expressing gratitude is good for you. According to the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness from the University of California, Davis, people who found ways to cultivate gratitude and express thankfulness in their daily lives were more likely to:
- exercise regularly,
- report fewer ailments,
- have more energy,
- have a better chance of achieving their goals,
- feel more connected to others,
- be helpful to others in their community,
- place less importance on material goods and
- even sleep better.
The study recommends the practice of keeping a gratitude journal. In the context of a holistic approach to health, this practice makes sense. It’s fascinating how this simple routine could open doors to other ways for the body to take care of itself. In short, although the annual Thanksgiving round of thanks is a fine tradition and an appropriate public affirmation of our collective gratitude and thanks, there’s much to be gained by doing the same throughout the year. A private routine of recognizing what I’m grateful for seems both manageable and uplifting.
Today, I’m grateful for the connecting of the dots that this year’s Thanksgiving exercise provided for me.
And, of course, for the Brussels sprouts, easily the best vegetable of all.