Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Eco-Inspiration 2

Stream in Yellowstone NP.  I am so grateful
these places have been preserved for me to enjoy!
It’s that time of the year!  Oh my goodness, how I adore the holidays.  I love hanging out with my lovely family and seeing all my friends from home.  I can’t wait to take another ramble in the woods with my dogs, and bundle up as I walk down the hill toward the creek with my little sister.  I want to drink coffee with my parents while my brother plays guitar and my sister-in-law sings.  These are my holiday memories.  And I have a lot to be thankful for, and so do you!  Feeling a little holiday stressed?  It happens.  So, I thought I would take a few minute and remind you of 5 things for which you should be very thankful!  I know the official holiday of giving thanks has passed, but I thought we could always use a little more gratitude.  Don’t you?

1.       You have immense creative power!
“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree--and there will be one.” ~Aldo Leopold

2.       It’s never ever, not ever, too late to start trying to make a difference (thank goodness!)
“It is almost too late to start, but tomorrow is even later.” ~Slobodkin and Dykhuizen

3.      Everyone is just trying to find their own path, and we should be thankful for those people in our lives who let us struggle, and wander, and wonder.  Those are the people who really have our backs.
“…It is not the only or the easiest way to come to the truth.  It is one way…” ~Wendell Berry

4.       For just as long as cynics have existed, people like you have been making a difference!
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

5.       We live in a world of staggering beauty and immense possibility.
“As many know, the Chinese expression for “crisis” consists of two characters side by side. The first is the symbol for “danger,” the second the symbol for “opportunity.” – Al Gore

Double Arch in Arches NP
FINAL WORD:  For those of us trying to live simply and in line with values slightly different from the main stream, the holidays can be a stressful time.  Try to remember why you choose to be where you are this holiday season.  Be present, be patient, and be joyful.  After all, what the world always, with out a doubt, needs more of is joy.

What do you think?  What do you give thanks for this holiday season?  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Low Impact Travel: Thanksgiving 2012

I am back from my Thanksgiving travels.  I’m still pretty tired, and have a ton of school stuff to catch up on, as usual I suppose.  This year, travel was especially crazy because ticket prices were so high (ouch), so I took a red-eye flight on Wednesday which got me into Nashville around 5am CST.  I then flew out of Nashville on Saturday at 7am CST.  Quick turn around, and a few very early mornings!  I thought I might reflect on my wanderings and talk about small things we can do to make our travel footprint a little smaller. 

I did some school work in the morning and early afternoon.  The usual.  The boyfriend (hereafter D Lo) picked me up from school right after class, and I went straight away to making brownies for my roomies and my rideshare buddy.  I went through my fridge and tried to pick out the veggies that would go bad before I got home.  I juiced up a carrot, cucumber, chopped a sort of mealy apple, and threw all that in  the blender with some kale, frozen raspberries, and bananas.  D Lo usually avoids my “salad smoothies,” but I think he was counting on missing me, so he drank up, and it was proclaimed “not that bad.”  My lab mate and her boyfriend swung by to pick me up just as the brownies were done and the smoothies were in our bellies.  My lab mate is from the Bay Area, so she just dropped me off at a train station near her house.  I jammed out to podcasts all the way to the airport.  Once there, I got real hungry, and got another smoothie (this one in a plastic container).  A quick jaunt from SFO to LAX, a speedy veggie burger and fries from Burger King (I really love to eat while I travel) and I was on a plane again and on my way to the southern homeland!
Green smoothies are one of my fave snacks.

Travel Dos:
#1àDo make sure and use up your food before you leave home.  Waste not, want not as they say.
#2àDo ride share and ride public transit when you can.  SO MUCH less stressful than dealing with holiday traffic.
#3àDo remember to pack your own snacks.  Things you buy at the airport as so over priced, wrapped in plastic, and usually not that good for you (I’m looking at you Burger King).

Many many cooks in the kitchen!
I rode in the car SO much today, but in that part of the country, it’s much harder to avoid.  Public transit is just not really well developed in more rural areas.  I also went on every errand with all my siblings.  Really, nothing beats riding in a car, chatting, listening to music on a beautiful fall, country day.  I just love Kentucky.  I had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I didn’t take that many pictures, but I am so blessed to have such lovely family and friends to spend these times with me.  I did make everyone laugh till they almost cried when I admitted to drinking cabbage juice last year when I was working on my thesis.  I’m a weirdo in a family of weirdoes, and we all like it that way.  My brother even made a fabulous vegan dish for me to enjoy with the Thanksgiving Feast!  We ate, and drank, and played games until the cousins had to head home.  It was a great holiday.     
Post dinner entertainment from my bro and my sister's beau.  

Travel Dos:
#4àDo remember it’s the holidays and you are supposed to play and do things you don’t always do (like eat till you have a little tummy pooch! Yum!! Or ride all around town in a car.)

My newest niece puppy who I met Friday.
This was my only full day in Kentucky.  I’m so glad my brother got this day off work so we could all hang out till he and my sister-in-law had to leave at 1pm.  My college roommate was also in for the holiday with the family, he’s an adopted kid to my parents, and he got to stay till lunch time as well!  That evening my best friend and another college roommate stopped by to hang out and chat and eat more food!  I also had some time on Friday to talk Christmas plans with my mom.  She is going to make me some bulk food bags and some reusable face cloths (think a reusable item that will replace cotton balls in the bathroom), more on this later.  I also remembered where I got so many of my good-for-the-earth habits when I watched my mom fix a few Christmas decorations instead of throwing them away and give tons of leftovers to us in reused containers (No, D Lo, that is pie not feta cheese!).  I also had an amazing conversation with my sister about women in science and the impacts of our diet choices.  She is pretty amazing and works for the National Park Service, and her park just got its first female director!

On the road again, way way early.  Too too early.  Luckily, this time I had my mom around to fix me tons of snacks.  I wish I had taken a picture of the spread.  I had coffee in my to-go mug, pretzels in a reused container, peanut butter and gram crackers wrapped in tin foil, and raisins.  This kept me from buying any snacks all the way through the airports!  Thanks mom!  I took the train from SFO to within about an hour of my California home and, once again, D Lo and I were able to avoid the stressful airport traffic.  Basically, living in a city where the train is connected to the airport is amazing (…duh…).  We were way too tired to cook that night though, so we ordered in Indian food.

Travel Dos:
#5àMake ahead of time, and freeze, a homemade meal.  You will be too tired to go out or cook when you get home, and your delicious curry will come in a plastic Tupperware.  To the credit of this restaurant, my curry and two small condiments were the only things in plastic.  Pretty cool!

FINAL WORD:  Obviously, this isn’t a post about large scale travel choices (train vs. plane vs. automobile) because this little southern girl has got to get home, and flying is really the only practical way at this point.  Maybe that post will come later.  That said, the holidays are supposed to be fun!  I think that lots of things you can do to make your travel lower impact, also make the whole experience more fun and way less stressful.  Public transit and ridesharing are decidedly less stressful because you spend less and deal with traffic less, always a win.  Spending money on overpriced items *cough*airport snacks *cough* always stresses me out, and I loved not doing that on the way back to CA.  Think about your holiday routine, we’ll all be doing it again in a few weeks, and consider changes you can make. 

What do you think?  Do you have any great green travel tips?  Any tips for avoiding holiday stress?  Favorite on the go snacks?   

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reduce: Cook at home [Roasted Eggplant Pesto]

My week. Coffee shop, grade/write, rinse, repeat.

Things have been 100% crazy in my life as of late.  School is really kicking my butt, and I find myself doing something I very rarely do under pressure…shutting down.  For me, one of the top signs I’m really stressed out is poor eating.  I get “too stressed/busy” to cook, and, instead, clean the grout between my tiles after eating a ton of tater tots.  While cleaning that grout can be very rewarding, making meals at home from whole foods is one of the best things we can do for our bodies, and for the environment.

Here is the pitch (it might sound familiar).  When you prepare foods using simple ingredients it become a lot easier to know where those ingredients originate.  I also find it’s a lot easier to avoid unnecessary packaging when I’m cooking from whole foods and simple ingredients.  And, as I really needed someone to remind me this weekend, cooking for yourself really doesn't take that long and is so much more rewarding than ordering a pizza.  Also, it’s just better for you!  I don’t really want this to turn into a nutrition blog, but I am sort of obsessed with nutrition, and if you want to know some cool sites to refer to, let me know in the comments.

Long story short, I want to commemorate the last real meal I cooked before I let stress get the better of me.  This is a simple meal you could make without much effort during the pre-Thanksgiving week.  It also uses lots of ingredients that you can buy with little to no packaging, score!  This Roasted Eggplant Pesto comes from one of my favorite vegan cooking blogs.  For the non-vegans in the house, my boyfriend, a committed omnivore, generally loves things from Susan’s blog.  I doubled the garlic because…that’s what I do.  I also didn't take a picture of the finished product because it just didn't look very photogenic.  Refer to the picture on the original blog.  She really gets its good side.

You don’t like to cook you say?  Ah, dear friend, I was once like you.  Literally, my parents were worried about me when I moved away to college because they were “afraid I wouldn't feed myself.”  It took me years to get to the point where I thought roasting an eggplant was a step in a “simple” recipe.  My advice is to start slow.  Cut out some easy processed foods first.  For example, if you love making burritos, buy some bulk beans and cook those things up yourself (you only need a sauce pan and some water).  Love pasta night?  Skip the sauce in those plastic/glass containers, and buy a can of tomato sauce and spice it up yourself.   The key is to set yourself up for success in the beginning so you don’t get frustrated or discouraged.  And for those of you out there who love to cook, think of some ingredients you could sub or tell us a story about something you are already doing, I would love to hear it.

That being said, I now love to cook myself.  Check out these nummy ingredients!  We ate this on pasta twice, and I used it as a spread on many a piece of toast.  I loved it!

Look at this pretty basil!  And the only plastic it came with was that silly little
twist tie they up around it at the store. Totally kept that bit to reuse.
You can't win them all.  These were my plastic wrapped ingredients.  If you are comparing to
ordering out though, I used those sun dried tomatoes for 3 recipes and that pasta for two
recipes  with each recipe making about 4 servings.  I think cooking at home is still winning
in the coast-benefit analysis.  If you have more funds than I, you can totally avoid the
 plastic.  You can buy pasta in bulk at lots of natural food stores.  I almost bought dried
tomatoes at the farmer's market, but they were twice as expensive.  Remember you can
only do so much at the same time!

Look at this beauty!  Roasted eggplant from the farmer's market.  YUM!

Soaking almonds (also from the farmer's market) hanging out with the garlic.  Nuts in general
are expensive, but the guy at the market actually sells them for a super good price.  This is for
sure one of those ingredients where I cannot always afford to skip the packaging.  Garlic,
however, is always cheap at the store and the market without packaging.  Don't fall for that silly
plastic mesh they put three of them in.  You don't save that much money!

FINAL WORD:  I know not everyone loves to cook, but it’s a skill that will really serve you well in your journey to help the planet (and yourself) stay happy and healthy.  Remember, baby steps are the best way to make real, lasting changes in your life.  Give yourself a break!  Try upping your home cooked meals by one day (or even one meal) per week.  Keep track of the waste you create, and see the difference! 

What do you think?  Do you live near a farmer’s market where you can buy your produce?  Do you like to cook?  Any favorite cooking tips or websites to share with us?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Eco-Inspiration 1

The tip of South Africa, summer 2008.  
I know from experience, as I know many others do, that sometimes it can all seem like too much.  We have so many demands on our time.  Work, school, relationships.  When do I have time to make a difference?  Do I have the energy and means to make the lifestyle changes necessary to bring my actions in line with my values?  The answer a lot of the time, for me at least, is no.  I do not have time to do everything that I feel I should be doing.  I can’t do it all.  I’m not perfect.  And, as I so often try and remind myself, no one is really expecting me to be.  The best we can do for today, is our best.  And on days when I’m feeling like it’s all too much, like my small efforts will never amount to anything, I think of this quotation which was shared with me by my first mentor in ecology:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”  ~Edward Abbey*  

FINAL WORD:  Let this be your eco-inspiration as you reach the middle of your work/school week.  Eat your lunch outside today, or take a short walk on your break.  Marvel a little why don’t ya’.

Floating the Green River, KY.  Beauty in my own backyard.
What do you think?  Do you ever feel overwhelmed or burnt out when trying to do the right thing?  Do you take enough time to actually enjoy nature?  Do you love Edward Abbey? 

*Emphasis is mine.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why "Recycle" is the Least Important "R"

Let’s start off with the obvious.  Recycling is great!  I think that everyone should be doing it as often and for as many products as they can.  However, it’s not always that cut and dry an issue.  I will likely write in the future about specific types of recycling (ex: tech product recycling, plastics more specifically), but I want to take this time to talk about recycling in general.  I hope this post isn’t a huge bummer; I’m going to view it as a good dose of the realness.  You see, the efficiency of recycling really depends on what you are recycling and where you live.

View from the front yard of my childhood home.  I love this
place with all my being.
I'm going to start off with the latter, that where you live impacts how efficient a choice recycling is for you and your household.  As you probably know, not all recycling programs are created equal.  I have experienced both ends of the recycling support spectrum in my life.  I grew up on a farm in south central Kentucky, and, to this day, there is no infrastructure for recycling where my parents live.  Luckily, when I was growing up, my father’s 45 minute commute took him right past a recycling facility, and about once a month we loaded all our glass and aluminum (I don’t think they took plastics) into my Dad’s car.  While this worked for us, most of our neighbors had no means of getting their recyclables to the distant facility, and now that my father has moved to a much closer job (10 minute commute, he is so happy!) my parents are without a means to recycle.  On the other end of things, after moving to California, I’ve been lucky enough to live in two cities that take their recycling very seriously:  Long Beach and Davis.  Despite this, when I was researching this post I found that some things which I had been able to recycle in Long Beach (ex: Styrofoam, soymilk cartons) are not accepted here in Davis.  Oops, looks like all that washing out of my roommate’s fast food containers has been for not.    

Through my own life, you can see the two major ways that location impacts recycling.  First, infrastructure impacts recycling efficiency.  Lavee (2007) performed an analysis of a study from Israel showing that recycling of municipal solid wastes is most economically beneficially in areas with dense populations due to low start-up costs and the ease of consolidating the recyclable materials.  So, recycling is most economically viable in large, urban areas where waste doesn’t have to travel very far to get to the processing facilities*.    Second, depending on where you live, something things just will not be recyclable.  Take my example above with the Styrofoam, and apply it to your area.  This information is important, not just because it informs your decision on what to buy, but because improper recycling hurts us down the line.  The more time and person-power required to sort through our recycling, the less cost effective the system becomes.  Additionally, if you (or people at your apartment building) mix trash in with the recyclables, your items might end up just getting tossed due to health concerns for workers at recycling facilities.  Last, depending on the recycling facility, some items commonly thrown into recycling bins can really harm equipment.  For example, plastic sheeting (like what products come wrapped in) and thin plastic bags get wrapped around equipment in fully mechanized sorting facilities, causing losses of time and money (check this story for an example).  

Okay, so, maybe you are lucky enough to have access to one of the 9,000 (and rising!) curbside recycling programs in the USA (EPA, 2009).  That’s great!  You should be recycling stuff!  Same rules as above apply, so go and check out what is actually accepted by your recycling facility.  You can feel really good because you are helping to save tons of virgin materials and energy.  The nifty graph from Morris (2005) shows how much energy is required to make products from recycled versus virgin materials.  Looks pretty straight forward yes?  But let’s go through it together, because there are few things a simple graph like this really fails to convey.   

From Morris (2005)
Let’s start with aluminum.  We get the biggest bang for our recycling buck with this stuff.  I always try to buy canned products whenever possible for this reason.  This is one of the most profitable and energy efficient products to recycle.  With newsprint and cardboard, the returns are less, but still apparent.  This is probably due to the ease of access of virgin materials used here (tress…) as opposed to those used to make metals.  Despite this, making new paper from old paper is still 50% more energy savvy.  Steel and glass recycling are actually pretty energy intensive processes.  It’s still more energy efficient to recycle as opposed to landfill these items, but the benefits are noticeably less.  Last, let’s address those weird abbreviations on the x-axis.  These are two different types of plastic pellets.  As you can see, making plastic products from recycled plastic materials is pretty darn good at saving energy.  But here is the rub; plastic pellets are not made from old plastic pellets.  A plastic milk carton can never be a milk carton again.  Your soda bottle will never hold another soda.  With each step down the recycling chain, plastic gets closer and closer to an end product that is (in many cases) not itself recyclable.  Check out this website from the state of Maine for some examples of what recycled plastic products become.  Still recycling is better than land filling right?  Energy is saved at some point in all of these processes,  but isn’t there a better way? 

This beautiful basil was delicious,
 and I did not miss the plastic container so
many stores try to sell it in!
I would argue that there is a better way, a way saves energy by reducing the need for recycling and reduces waste.  We need to focus our energies on the first two of the “three r’s.”  First, we need to reduce the amount of packaging (of all kinds) we consume.  Eeps!  But what about Oreos, Rachel?  They are the best, and also wrapped in plastic.  Relax friends; remember, this is the Practical Ecologist.  I am not asking anyone to move mountains, or to make lifestyle changes they are not prepared for at this time.  Everyone is at a different place in their journey after all.  It’s often the small changes we make in our lives that actually stick, and the habits we stick with are the ones that have a chance to make a difference.  I’ll have tons of posts coming about how to reduce your use, and hopefully each of us will be able to apply a few of them!  I might even try to address this Oreo issue (it’s a real life struggle for me).  

My food/beverage containers
Second, we need to reuse the stuff that we buy.  Okay, no free lunch here.  The only thing you risk by reusing things is people thinking you are a little funny.  You get to be that gal/fella who uses old peanut butter jars as Tupperware.  Wash off your tinfoil and use it again!  Bring your reusable mugs and bags!  Patch your clothes!  I get giddy even thinking about it.  Bring to mind even one of those cheesy info-grams about how much plastic we would save is we all just brought our own bags to the store, and multiply this by your own creativity!  What can you reuse?  And then, after you have reduced your waste down to things you really want/need to buy and reused the stuff as much as possible, THEN you recycle it.  And then all the dolphins smile and the little hippie-babies at the farmer’s market all dance for you.  Really. 

FINAL WORD:  Recycling is way, way important, and I’m so glad to live in a world where the importance of accessible recycling is becoming a focus.  However, recycling is not a cure all for our waste issues.  It is up to us to change our behavior.  Vote with your dollars on products you need that match your values, and thank the good Lord for Pintrest because reusing is so in right now.  Whee!

What do you think?  Are you sold on my view of the “3 r’s.”  Have you read any cool articles that might apply to this issue?  Got any creative reduce/reuse tips?  How will this fit in with your lifestyle?

*The study found that recycling was economically beneficial in about 25% of small and regional municipalities.  We must take into consideration the general differences in infrastructure between the US and Israel, but I believe the general lesson still holds true.

-D. Lavee.  2007.  Is Municipal Solid Waste Recycling Economically Efficient?  Environmental Management 40:  926-943.  
-J. Morris.  2005.  Comparative LCAs for Curbside Recycling Verses Either Landfilling or Incineration with          Energy Recovery.  Int. Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 10 (4):  273-284.
-Environmental Protection Agency.  2009.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Reduce: Make your own eye make-up remover

When I started this blog, I had big plans of putting awesome peer reviewed, scientific literature into each and every post.  PhD school is too real ya’ll, and that’s not going to happen.  I will be writing solid scientific posts weekly or biweekly, depending on how things go.  I have some good topics planned, and I think you (and I!) will learn a lot.  In the interim between those posts, I’m going to post some content structured around one of the oldest green concepts:  reduce, reuse, recycle.  The focus will be on the first two because, for reasons I will explain in depth later, I think these are the most important.  Each of these posts will be about things I've done, and my reasoning for doing them.  
Back story.  I showed up to my new graduate program fresh off of three previous years of crazy (getting my Master’s Degree) and a 2 month long camping/road trip…so basically I looked a little busted and I didn't care.  There is a well documented relationship between time in graduate school and how much you worry about how you look (view the graph here), and all these fresh faced new graduate students looked SO nice.  What happened?  Did they not get the memo?  In any case, years of social conditioning dictated I step up my personal up-keep regime.  Jokes aside, it needed to happen anyway, and it has made me feel good to actually look in the mirror in the mornings (I literally hadn't looked in a mirror in weeks while writing my M.S. thesis).
My uniform for the summer.  Not pictured, my buddy's socks
and sandals combo (she is also a graduate student)

I’m still a make-up minimalist, but over the past month or so I have managed to throw a little moisturizer, blush, and mascara on in the mornings.  After about a week, I added “eye make-up remover” to the grocery list.  That Saturday, post farmer's market, I found the item in the grocery store and DANG.  I know I haven’t purchased this product in years but when did it get so expensive?  Then I looked at all the ingredients.  What the heck was some of this stuff?  I have really sensitive skin and a really thin pocket book, so I passed on the store bought stuff.  The older I get, the more I realize that a lot of my “green living” decisions also save me tons of money. 

So, what makes homemade a greener option?  Let’s look at what goes into this project, then revisit this question at the end.


Homemade Eye Make-up Remover (based on these original instructions)

Really, this is all you need!
2 T Witch Hazel        
2 T Olive Oil        
2 T H2O                  

Small bottle for storage

Instructions and Tips:
Literally, just put all the ingredients in the storage vessel of your choice, shake it up, dab a bit on a wash cloth, and go for it just like normal eye make-up remover.  The hardest part of all of this for me was cleaning out my old travel conditioner bottle.  I found I have to let it sit on my eye for a little while longer than store bought versions, but it leaves the skin around my eyes feeling soft as opposed to overly dry.  It passed the ultimate test of make-up remover in my book when I got out of the shower, dried my face, and did the obligatory “under the eye towel swipe,” there was no mascara residue.  Score.  I’ll mention two things that might go without saying.  First, oil separates from water, so you have to shake this up each time you use it.  Second, getting oil in your eyes can suck, so make sure and wash off your eye area with warm water to remove excess oil.

Note:  You can use any oil you want in this recipe (almond, jojoba, etc.) but I chose olive because it is cheap, and I can use the rest to sauté veggies and what not. 


So, why is making your own product greener than buying something in the store?  Number one in my mind is the fact that homemade products generally require less plastic.  You will see in this tutorial that my version of the eye make-up remover was not plastic free.  However, I needed olive oil anyway and I am lucky enough to be able to buy olive oil in bulk from my food co-op (next time I won’t forget my reusable glass container).  The witch hazel did come in a plastic bottle, but I will use this same plastic bottle to make countless batches of eye make-up remover (as opposed to having to buy a new bottle every time I run out), and then use the plastic bottle itself to hold other homemade goodies after the original contents are long gone.

Homemade solutions also allow you to purchase the basic ingredients for products and learn about where those ingredients come from and how they are manufactured.  For example, my olive oil comes from a local grower!  It’s a lot easier to find out the methods used to produce simple products with few ingredients (e.g.: olive oil!) as opposed to complex, chemically laden products where finding out where and how each ingredient is produced can be impossible and unduly stressful! 

Final Word:  I hope you guys like these lifestyle posts.  I’m going to use them to identify topics that I want to discuss in more depth.  In just this post, I see I need to talk about the importance of plastic reduction, why buy local matters, why reduction and reuse are more important (in my opinion) than recycling, and (maybe) graduate student fashion.  That last one could be more painful than it is really worth, and the ecological relevance is shaky at best.

What do you think?  Are there any opinions/claims I've expressed in this post that you would like to know the ecological/scientific basis for?  Will you be trying this DIY project?  Tell me how it works for you!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mission Statement: Humans in an Ecosystem Context

In Olympic NP about to bond with a Doug Fir

Well hello!  You are here, and I’m so glad.  I love reading blogs for two reasons.  First, I might literally be the nosiest person alive and I love to hear people’s stories.  I feel we can learn so much by looking at the experiences of others.  Second, I love the freedom of information that comes with blogs, but, as a lover of critical thinking (who isn’t really?) I also love reading an entry and thinking “that’s crazy talk.”  For this second reason, I’ve always been a little hesitant to start my own blog.  I do a whole lot of crazy talking.  But I think I have finally settled on a topic about which I can mad gab with some authority. 

The idea of viewing myself in an ecosystem context was born a few years ago when I was attempting to read Jim Merkel’s book Radical Simplicity.  He talks about equitable living and how much land space would be available to support each human life if the productive land on Earth was shared equally (spoiler alert, it isn’t).  That was about 4.5 acres*.  These 4.5 acres would have to produce everything to meet an individual’s needs:  food, shelter, clothing, transportation, etc.  At this point, I wasn’t too freaked out by the idea.  I like to share and I live a pretty simple life, so 4 acres should be more than enough for me!  Then Merkel points out the obvious flaw in this plan… that’s for 4 acres for each human.  Just people.  My mind was literally blown.  What about the orangutans (my faves), walruses, clown fish, fruit flies, and guava trees!  How many resources should we be leaving for them?  I literally couldn’t believe I had never thought about this.  Certainly, my personal choices have been influenced by social justice and environmental issues, but seeing the two paired in such an explicit way was shocking.  What was a little hippie-ecologist to do?!

Sea kayaking and viewing some human/wildlife interactions
What I did was put down Merkel’s book and stressed about it for around 3 months.  Then, I decided I needed to make some serious changes in my life.  I want to figure out how we can have enough World to support human populations and all the beautiful biodiversity that makes the Earth so truly special.  In my mind, the only way to do this is to view ourselves in the context of the ecosystem in which we live.  Humans have to stop trying to act outside of the constraints of the natural world and start acting with it to solve our increasingly extreme global challenges.  Dang Rachel, that’s heavy, right?  Yeah, it can be sometimes, but challenges can also be fun.  I love coming up with a new idea and thinking, “Why haven’t I always been doing it this way?”  We should never be afraid to challenge our preconceived notions about the world, because, in the process, we usually find some notions we long held about ourselves become outdated as well.   

Catching birds in the marsh 
At this point you are thinking:  Who is this crazy person?  Here are my vitals.  I’m a graduate student attempting to earn a PhD in ecology.  I study salt marshes ecosystems generally, but I like to focus on food webs and their impacts on ecology and conservation.  That’s a really snazzy way of saying I watch thing eat and look at a ton of bugs under a microscope.  I’m a vegetarian (sometimes vegan), and I’ve probably blocked your way down the grocery isle because I was engrossed in reading the ingredients to Raisin Bran (did you know that the second ingredient is sugar?  Seriously!  Raisin Bran.).  For years now I have been an obsessive traveler, and I can never see enough!  I love my cat and two turtle babies.  And I’m not perfect.  I’m just learning, like everybody else.  But I’m enthusiastic, which is always half the battle.

Garcia (aka: the best kitty eva')
So, what is this blog about exactly?  The answer is nothing and everything.  This will be a lifestyle blog detailing how and why I live my life the way I do.  The twist being, I will attempt to explain the ecological impacts (or my perception of said impacts) of these actions.  I’ll tell you what I’m struggling with, and I’ll let you know when I come up with solutions.  And I’ll probably post lots of pictures of my cat.  Let’s start that now. 

*Merkel’s book was published in 2003 when the global population was significantly lower.  This number has likely changed.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...