Here it comes – the biggest shopping day of the year in the USA – Black Friday. It’s the kick-off to the consumeristic feeding frenzy that Christmas has become, the holiday that fuels our economy. Humble Thanksgiving seems to have become almost an impediment to the shopping hounds. Some stores are even open on the day for bargain hunters to get a head start.
Few realize that the holiday shopping season contributes further to environmental degradation. Think about it…every gift and its wrapping is made up of materials extracted from the Earth. This would include plastic (oil), paper (trees), and metal (minerals). Then there are all the fossil fuels used to transport the raw materials to the appropriate factories, to their retail outlets, and then to their final destinations. Air and water quality are also affected by their production. For a 20 minute educational (& entertaining) video on the topic, watch The Story of Stuff. I used to show this film to my 6th-grade science students. It really gave them pause.
I’m not suggesting you trash all the Christmas fun but maybe its time to put a little more mindfulness in your holiday giving. Do people really need or even want all this stuff? Do we really need to upgrade to the latest device? Are their other ways to give without destroying the planet? Maybe a family discussion is due on the topic.
Here are a few tips for a more sustainable Christmas…
Challenge your family unit to find at least one awesome gift at a thrift shop (try to look for one that’s charitable) or an antique shop. You would be surprised at what you can find.
Think before you buy. Does this person really need/ want this?
Give photographs/memories in frames rather than purchasing uneeded stuff. Have your children write you a fond family memory rather than purchasing you a gift.
Handmake some gifts. My friends & I have a crafting party every holiday season. There are easy DIY gifts on Pinterest. Think you don’t have enough time? You’re too busy! Shut off your phone and turn off the TV and have some real fun.
Give the gift of experiences such as theater tickets.
Have your family unit sponsor a child through such organizations like World Vision or give the gift of livestock to a third world family through such organizations like Heifer Project.
Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.Mary Oliver
I was never much of a noticer until I took Glen Moffat’s Natural history class in my sophomore year of college. Until that time most birds other than gulls, jays, & hawks were all little brown things that flit about in the trees. Wildflowers were all pretty. Trees were either pines with needles or trees with leaves.
We wore hiking boots to that class. Armed with binoculars and magnifying glasses off we went on various field trips up into the Bay Area hills and beaches. Mr. Moffat was a short middle-aged guy with the exuberance of a young golden retriever. His enthusiasm was infectious. Suddenly all those little brown birds were visual wonders with names. Among the many were wrens, bluebirds, flycatchers, tanagers, warblers, and sparrows with all manner of coloring, beaks, and feet. Ducks were not ducks any more but dabblers and divers, shovelers, canvasbacks, and scoters. There were actually five types of gulls I could identify: Ring-billed, California, Herring, Glaucus, and Western. I began to recognize the calls of birds. The wildflowers took on identities of their own and I learned to tell them apart, asters, shooting stars, goldenrod. There were differences in the shrubs, gooseberry, goat’s beard, California buckeye. The pine trees became firs, hemlock, cedar, red, yellow, and white pines.
My fear of science dissipated to the point that when I transferred as a junior to a university I changed my major from Art to Natural History, an interdisciplinary study of botany, ecology, zoology, and geology. My studies of botany turned more intimate. I peered into dissecting scopes and marveled at the inner structures of flowers, algae, lichens, and fungi. Slime molds had designs that were worthy of a display in an art museum. I was introduced to the world of lichens, mosses, algae, & liverworts. I learned that most fungi were not mushrooms but rather molds and yeast. Mushrooms were merely the fruiting bodies of the spidery white webs of mycelia living underground or in rotting material. Latin names swam about in my psyche. Now everywhere I walked was a treasure hunt of natural wonders.
Eventually, I became so adept at plant ID that as a junior I was hired on a botanical study to map rare and endangered plant species in a potential wilderness area. The plants we found, among them, a sundew (a small insectivorous plant) eventually converted the land into a protected natural area. After graduation, I worked in Alaska for a forest fire ecologist, cataloged sea life with NOAA, and mapped vegetation types with the US Forest Service. I walked the sandy barrier island off the coast of Prudhoe Bay identifying sea birds on a study with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and counting the abandoned but ever warm downy nests of eiders.
Those years of scientific study are long behind me but I am still an observer always looking for acquaintances in the natural world around me. I know the name of the birds about my yard and their calls. I don’t have to worry about filling the hummingbird feeder so full as I noticed that their skinny tongues are over two inches long. I noticed that the little myotis bats that darted about on warm summer nights have all but vanished as with the
warblers, the tanagers, swallows, cedar waxwings and other seasonal migrants. This troubles me. Some years back after the neighbors sprayed the brambles on the fence line, the quail disappeared. The red wind blackbirds still pass through winter and springs filling the air with their songs. This year, the aphids did not show on my kale!
When I learned to notice nature, my life changed radically to the point I made a career out of it. Science became my friend rather than something to be afraid of. The environment became something to enjoy and protect. It is not necessary to go to the extremes I did but it is important to be aware of the natural world that surrounds us. It can form and direct us. We humans as the decades pass are losing our connection to the earth as we retreat further and further into technology. But it is important to remember that our so-called civilized lives are built on the back of nature from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the raw materials in our house, cars, devices, and the fuel in our vehicles. Without a connection to the earth, we continue to degrade the planet to the point it will be unable to sustain a quality of life for ourselves or its other inhabitants. It’s happening now with climate change, pollution, and degradation of the land and oceans.
One way to keep that connection is to learn the names of the birds, animals, and plants that inhabit your environment. Even in the city, there are species that have learned to cohabitate with humans. If you look closely, you may see there is more than one type of squirrel, & brown bird. Watch the crows going about their day. There are communities in the sky conducting business you are not savvy to.
By naming the plants and creatures we encounter, we offer them respect and become aware that the earth does not just belong to us. We become advocates for our environment rather than just exploiters. Give your children binoculars and magnifying glasses rather than devices to rob their minds. Give yourself some too. Look up and around you and learn to notice the magnificent gifts that this planet has to offer.
The world take note..we have a new spokesperson for the planet…
I had been ignorant of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl who has thundered on the world stage as a climate activist, that is until last week when I tuned into her Ted Talk. I was awestruck by her composure, her knowledge, and her willingness to cut to the truth of what is happening to our planet and then chastising our complacency to take real action in spite of the scientific facts. Greta’s intensity is riveting as she speaks.
Greta at age 8 heard about climate change, fell into a deep depression, and went mute. This resulted in her diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome (a high functioning form of autism), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and selective mutism. She started pulling out of her depression when she began to formulate an action plan for climate change. First she wrote essays. Then inspired by Parkland students, she decided to organize a school strike. Since no one else would join her she started striking from school alone sitting in front of the Swedish Parliament for three weeks handing out leaflets. Her demands were that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. Eventually, through social media and the press, her fame began to spread. Since then, she’s inspired school strikes around the world and has become the hero of thousands of school children as well as adults. Greta speaks globally about the importance of action to solve climate change. Time magazine featured her on the cover of their May 27th issue and she has made the list of the 100 most influential people of 2019
Usually I don’t read the monthly National Resources Defense Council newsletter “The Voice.” You know..the too busy thing, don’t want to be depressed. This time I read it and was shocked by their feature-length article “From Trees to toilet Paper: Canada’s Great Boreal Forest is Being Wiped Out.” Pardon me, I never thought I’d be blogging about toilet paper but this information I felt should be shared.
The gist of the article is that to fuel all our wiping and sneezing needs, the major suppliers of toilet paper, paper towels, and facial tissue suppliers are purchasing ALL their content from virgin timber in the from the N. Boreal forests of Canada, the “lungs of N. America” Essentially they are wiping out a major ecosystem and contributing to climate change rather than investing in recycled content or alternatives such as bamboo and wheat straw. About a million acres are logged a year for tissue and other disposable products. Proctor & Gamble, Kimberly –Clark & Georgia Pacific thus far use ZERO recycled content. Costco gets their tissue from the main suppliers.
This is one thing we can do to help climate change and the planet- change your toilettissuebrand and make your voice be heard. Yes, it is more expensive to buy 7th Generation or equivalent tissue, but investing in Mother Earth is worth it. I think if all the products we used had labels listed their carbon footprints, we would all be more conscious consumers.
To read the full feature-length report online including a more detailed buying guide than the one below go here. Contact COSTCO at Costco.com.To make your voice heard to Procter and Gamble (1 minute of your time) go here.
Here’s a copy of my letter to Costco you can use:
Recently I became aware that your Kirkland brand toilet tissue and paper towels received an F grade in sustainability. Kirkland facial tissues received a D. The production of your tissue products as with all major manufacturers is having devastating effects on the Northern Boreal Forest. I am switching to brands that are made mostly of recycled content. As a major supplier of tissue, you have an obligation to be more environmentally conscious, set an example, and give consumers the option to buy sustainable products. I am sharing this information with friends, acquaintances. Please read more about the devastation that toilet paper production is having at nrdc.org/tissues.
It used to be my favorite season until the last couple of summers. We here in Oregon have suffered unusually high sustained temperatures with our wildlands burning. It’s been tough on the psyche on many levels. Autumn is my new best friend.
Oregon Summer 2017
The summer left Oregon in haste
Like an old friend that paid a visit
Then had a falling out
The rains of autumn quickly came to take her place
Quenching the land’s thirst with violent downpours
The summer had betrayed us
Bringing unrelenting heat and drought
Thousands of acres of parched forests burned with such intensity
It filled the hot air for days with acrid smoke
Staining the sky, stinging our eyes, making us cough
We longed for the familiar temperate comfort of the season
In a gentle land
Safe from extremes, full of verdant beauty
But now our ramparts have been breached and we are unsure
As we wade through this occupation of climate extremes
The summer left in a hurry
Maybe to gather strength for next year?
Whatever the reason
As the leaves tinge with orange and yellow
Our relief is palpable as we wake with the morning’s new chill