Inspired by Alexander von Humboldt, 1769-1859
Voices of the Global Ecology Education Initiative (GEEI)
A program within the UMass/Boston School for the Environment
"W-earth the slow scroll, the read, the sharing..."
Many presidential/congressional candidates and media too often missing in action --
Ignoring insect loss, attacks on indigenous peoples, plastic addiction,
global deforestation, and biodiversity loss....
by Douglas Zook
Frustration resonates when one listens to or reads the policy platforms, speeches, sound bytes, town halls, and debates of the presidential and congressional candidates as well as the media questioning them. Not only has the word "nature" been completely avoided, but the most future-affecting prominent human behavior -- the continued war on Nature -- is ignored or in some cases not even realized.
As for the human-caused climate crisis, certainly a significant part of this War, I suspect that the mere 20 minutes focused on the crisis out of nearly 240 minutes in the first two "debates" is not simply due to the media debate moderators' blindness to the War and the short answer format that was utilized, but that the media and many candidates themselves lack the rudimentary nature/science knowledge about how the biosphere (environment) works for itself and ultimately for us. Except for Senator Sanders and his comprehensive published plan, basic homework is lacking, likely because they may think understanding science, even when "translated", is either out of reach for them or the citizenry or both.
Many presidential and congressional candidates, including in their own campaign speeches and old write-ups, continue the necessary and appropriate mantra of getting off fossil fuels and prioritizing alternative energy vigorously, and while it is a very essential call to government action, nevertheless profound related biosphere crises and solutions are ignored. The message comes off as 'if 'we can make this all-important historic energy change, our major environmental ills will be solved and we can get back to a safer future for the "American dream.' If we want a future that can sustain future generations, the vision and appropriate new behaviors and policies by all peoples must be comprehensive as well as avoid business-as-usual delusions. There's no consistently expressed awareness that deforestation
not only needs to be halted worldwide, but that the planting (as well as of course conservation of existing forests) of hundreds of billions of trees would significantly reduce excess carbon in the air (see recent study by Crowther et al, https://scienmag.com/the-global-tree-restoration-potential/), because trees and other plants take carbon dioxide into their leaves in photosynthesis for energy. Moreover, trees are an essential ingredient in the crucial land restoration recipes. Their roots with its partner fungi known as "mycorrhizae" hold water and nutrients in the soils which would otherwise run off in rains. And yes rural farmers with little formal school education in many countries know this word mycorrhizae and its survival relevance. It's more than okay for those professing to be leaders to practice one of the often forgotten mandates of effective leadership -- educating themselves and then whom they are addressing.
Another example. A recent report issued from the United Nations General Assembly (https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/press-release/new-un-decade-ecosystem-restoration-offers-unparalleled-opportunity ) indicates that 70% of the ice-free terrestrial areas of the biosphere have been altered, essentially removed from Nature's rules. Restoring this land without using excess fertilizers such as the NPK-mania (Nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) that dominates soil treatment and without dangerous glyphosate-containing "herbicides" (which more accurately and more often should be labelled "future-cides") is not simply do-able and advisable but essential. Key ecosystem and agricultural restoration includes re-introducing appropriate mycorrhizal fungi to soils; make planting trees as important as traffic lights and sewage treatment facilities; encourage/incentivize more personal, family and community organic gardening to lessen the damaging impacts of massive cash crops so prevalent in unsustainable large corporate-run/influenced agricultural approaches; restore, reintroduce diverse plants and crops and avoid monocultures; and, plant more plants which are particularly important for pollinators --bees, butterflies, bats -- which sustain healthy agriculture and natural ecosystems.
The pollinating insects -- those that by their behaviors foster the essential gene-mixing among plant individuals necessary for plant species to develop and thrive -- are along with other insects moving toward a catastrophic decline that if not turned around will lead to the demise of many natural ecosystems upon which we completely depend for survival. These findings and conclusions are based on an analysis of 73 recent scientific studies on insect populations and then presented as an comprehensive overarching review in the science journal Biological Conservation, April 2019....See:
Besides pollination, many insects: are involved with enhancing nutrient flow in soils; controlling and stabilizing populations of other insects as well as other life forms; are essential foods in the diet of many animals whose life cycles are important in overall food chains and ecosystems; and the insects themselves, like humans, are communities of life, featuring tens of thousands and even millions of microorganisms within their bodies. While the changing climate is partially to blame for the rapid insect loss and potential "unnatural" extinctions, an even greater influence is the excessive application of pesticides and herbicides to kill off insects, control so called "weeds" (which often are essentially "wildlflowers") and to create less diversity, indeed mono-cultures. The human practice for poisoning plants/land is not always but too-often for perceived aesthetic reasons, driven mainly by corporations marketing these products.
The argument that pesticide use must continue -- now at an estimated 350 million tons in the United States each year -- because the food supply and economy would suffer greatly is looking through too narrow a lens. The wider angle shows that the widespread use, advocacy and marketing of the various poisons not only has health ramifications for humans and pets but above all removes the vitality of ecosystems that support us. How can the demise of ecosystems, us and our children and their children and various animals and plants not be the most prominent economic consideration?
With many voices currently about racial injustice, and rightly so, we hear close to nothing from the candidates and media about indigenous peoples. Not only were native peoples here established as nearly 400 nations well prior to 1492, but today there are an estimated 5 million residing here in the united States and according to Cultural Survival (https://www.culturalsurvival.org) nearly 400 million living in 90 nations worldwide.
Many of these indigenous citizens continue to promulgate values and practices that actually are compatible with the rules/ways of the earth's biosphere. They are often leaders in the ultimate need to instill earth-centered ethics and behaviors in humanity globally. Those in the so-called "developed", modern realm such as here can learn a great deal from these indigenous peoples and their communities around the world. Indeed, school curricula even through university level is nearly devoid of any attention to the important knowledge and inspiration that can be gained from the long historical marriage of many indigenous nations to Nature. Their importance, often as natural protectors of the entire biomes such as the tropical rainforest of the Amazon, cannot be overestimated. And we see yet again today massive assaults on Nature and its indigenous protectors in globally significant regions such as Brazil. There, the recently elected President Jair Bolsonaro is simulating and even expanding Trump's assault on Nature and inappropriately-called "minorities" by instituting sweeping policies to cut down and burn Amazon forests and remove indigenous peoples who have been living in relative ecological harmony with those environments for centuries.
Since Bolsonaro took office just seven months ago, more than 1300 square miles of rainforest with all its astounding biodiversity have been destroyed and most recently new fires, many purposefully started, have added to a global crisis of unparalleled proportions. All the peoples of the world, including Brazil, are directly or indirectly dependent on the vast Amazon rainforests which total about 1.1 million square miles (total land of USA including Alaska and Hawaii is about 1.4 million square miles). Water flow upward via the trees' respiration contributes to clouds, some of which become part of storms near the equator, and these low pressure areas contribute essential rainwater periodically as they move around the globe. And, of course the biodiverse rainforests are a major contribution to lessening the climate crisis in that this biome draws down enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as well as contributes some of the essential oxygen that Brazilian citizens and all other humans need to breathe. Yet, attacks on the indigenous tribes who have been the caretakers of these crucial vast wild regions, are being increasingly reported.
For example, recently the indigenous peoples advocacy group Amazon Watch shared the news worldwide (along with the New York Times) of the murder in late July by illegal invading gold miners of Emyra Waiapi, Chief of the Waiapi peoples in the Amapa state of the Amazon in Brazil. As Amazon Watch points out "Bolsonaro’s repeated calls to legalize highly destructive wildcat mining on indigenous territories have empowered local mafias to invade protected areas with impunity, and with deadly consequences."
Can the candidates and media here in USA really speak about racial and ethnic injustice and yet not recognize what is happening to indigenous leaders? All these examples and others including ocean acidification and the spread of thousands of tonnes of plastics that passes through our hands and into the lands, lakes and oceans deserve thoughtful priority time from the candidates and media.
While candidates as well as the public do not need to know every nuance, there is real value in educating even in terms of getting votes. If a candidate(s) for office consistently shows knowledge that others may not have or thought of or even chose to ignore -- especially on issues which can be shown to connect to the well-being of each child and future children here and globally -- it can show to voters more competency. Democracy, as promising and even fulfilling as it often is, does not work well when convenient ignorance, sound-byte thinking, lazy minds, superficial conversations and human hubris dominates. Candidates at any level and the media whose job it is to showcase and question them need to step up, drop their fears of being educative, and vigorously walk the walk with an informed and essential earth (biosphere)-centered ethic.
Emyra, Chief of Waiapi peoples in the Amara state of Brazil was murdered recently likely by illegal invading goldminers. photo courtesy of Amazon Watch. Indigenous peoples, longtime protectors of the essential Amazon rainforests continue to be under consistent threat and attack.
Photo by D. Zook
A spectacular large moth rests on a fungal growth in the understory of the extremely biodiverse Tiputini/Yasuni region,
Ecuador in the NW Amazon.
Photo by D. Zook
Example of massive deforestation and biodiversity loss from fires such as the current catastrophic ones in the Amazon. Photo courtesy of BBC
GEEI EarthCare meets with hundreds of students at Boston area high schools
The Global Ecology Education Initiative EarthCare program visited six metro Boston high schools during late Spring, including Belmont High as part of its "Diversity Day" celebration; John D. O'Bryant High in Roxbury/Boston; Winthrop High, Cambridge Rindge and Latin; Lynn Classical; and, Lynn English. A focus of EarthCare visits is always to engage and inspire students to discover that there are hundreds of science-based grassroots leaders and movements around the world , including indigenous, peoples of color and women, who are actively practicing and prioritizing living and creating a healthier relationship between ourselves and the biosphere -- upon which we all completely depend. At its core is the concept of developing for oneself essential earth-centered ethics -- that by putting Nature in the center of our thinking and decision-making we can begin to follow the planet's ecological "rules" and foster a more livable, sustaining future.
The multi-media presentations in the six visits included 13 separate sessions involving at times combined classes and approximately 300 students and 6 teachers including Elizabeth Baker (Belmont), Laura Borrelli (Cambridge Rindge and Latin), Elizabeth Egan (John D. O'Bryant School, Roxbury), Erik Hellmer (Lynn English), Ellen Moriarty (Lynn Classical), and Heidi Baker (Winthrop). The class sessions varied from 50 to 90 minutes. Accompanying me (Doug) on some of the visits was Yamileth Zarate, an outstanding student and working professional from Nicaragua who took my Global Ecology course at UMass /Boston School for the Environment last Fall. She contributed key knowledge when we showed examples of leaders from various countries, and of course her presence and comments served as a role model of an environmentally active, committed and articulate young person to whom many of the high school students could aspire and with whom they could identify.
These EarthCare interactions with students were made possible in large part due to thoughtful generous donations made by special friends of the biosphere who value our important outreach to youth. Thank you...! and you know who you are: ES, JC, JM, LB, JL, GS, JM, AR, OH, MH, JF, NE Biolabs, and anonymous.
During the day-long visit to Cambridge Rindge and Latin, teacher Laura Borrelli, a former student of my Global Ecology course, avid biking advocate and a past contributor to "Calling Home," shared the living organism environment of her classroom with exhibits of hatching chickens, fish amphibians and others, each observed and cared for by the students. Particularly relevant to my EarthCare visit, Laura had also designed and implemented a climate crisis assignment weeks earlier for the students, which culminated in direct presentations by the students and which I was able to experience in follow up visits. For those involved or interested for potential curriculum use, see Laura's brief assignment summary in the adjacent box.
At the follow-up visits, the students were stationed at various parts of the room at their various project exhibits. I had the opportunity to go to many of the them and learn about each of their projects, including its significance. It was clear that the students had become very engaged in this crucial issue and spent valuable collaborative time working on being creative, reasonably well-informed, and organized. One that was particularly unique, timely and powerful was a video "This earth is on fire," now available on you tube. Please check it out with sound up, bookmark it and share:
On the visit to Lynn English High School , I (Doug) had the opportunity to meet with several students in the recently re-formed Environmental Club as well as their science teacher and Club faculty advisor, Erik Hellmer. Below, Erik shares the background, accomplishments and promise of the many Lynn students who like so many teenagers around the world are taking the lead on actions and thinking that respect earth's systems.
Sidrah Khan, Arien Amin, Lamisha Khan, students at Cambridge (MA) Rindge and Latin High were an integral part of an extraordinary video, "This earth is on fire," as part of a climate crisis project. See story to the left, click link to view, bookmark and share the group's important, educative, and creative video piece.
Summary of climate crisis project assignment from Laura Borrelli, science teacher, Cambridge Rindge and Latin
Climate crisis projects with 2 Advanced Placement (AP) Biology classes, each with 17 students.
Seniors had two weeks or 9 class periods and juniors had 4 weeks or 17 class periods). It was 35% of their quarter 4 grade (25% of their grade was a final exam and the rest was various other assignments). Quarter 4 always looks different than other quarters because they take their AP exam early on so we are free to be more creative for the remainder of the school year.
A description which I went over with them at the start...
They were told they can work alone, as partners, in groups, and on multiple projects if they want. I would not give many technical restrictions but they are expected to be immersed and engaged both in and out of school. I compared the project approach to home schooling and project-based learning.
A week in, I did a check-in on what they had accomplished and they were required to given written responses.
In addition, 1-2 students each day presented on a climate information resource as well as a Goldman Environmental Prize (https://www.goldmanprize.org/) winner every day. It was informal and usually took 5-10 minutes each.
Sometimes, I had students write their goals of the day on the board to help keep them on track.
Next year, I may make a daily check-in sheet or some sort of log to better track their progress, quality of effort and work, and attendance, etc.
City students take leadership and
initiate a green path
by Erik Hellmer, science teacher and Environmental Club advisor, Lynn English High
I can remember when I was young (longer ago than I am willing to admit) taking the garbage out to the curb with my father every Wednesday night. I come from a family of four, and we always had more trash barrels than humans. This was the norm. Up and down the street I would see barrels upon barrels lining the street. Every other week I would notice small rectangular blue or red bins alongside some of them, but we never had one. My aunt, who lived on the first floor of our house would bundle her newspapers separately from her waste, but we did not. This was how it was.
Fast forward to a recent Wednesday, and the picture is much different. What were once trash barrels lining the street are now numerous recycling barrels, and the single bins have been replaced with lonely trash barrels. The question that remains is how does a paradigm shift like this take place? For my town it was governmental intervention and regulation , but that is not the only way.
Six years ago I began my teaching career at Lynn English High School. Lynn is an urban district on the Northshore of Massachusetts, and like many urban districts we must prioritize our problems. The last thing on the school’s priority list was recycling during lunches. I would cringe every lunch period that I covered in the cafeteria as I saw recyclable bottles, cans, plastic ware, and compostable items being tossed in with the trash, destined for a landfill or incineration. Other teachers and students also expressed their concern, but there didn’t seem to be anywhere to turn to address the issue. The custodial staff was already overwhelmed with their duties, and district time and resources were limited.
At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year a group of students in my AP Environmental Science class led by Jaydon Keomanivong approached me with a proposal. Jaydon recalls now, “I wanted to start the Environmental Club because I noticed that we had nothing like it at our school, and I saw an opportunity to try and make a positive impact in both the school and the community.” These green-minded pioneering students had a mutual concern, and that was the impact that their community had on the environment. They wanted to restart a school club whose focus was on local and global environmental issues, but which had over the years dissolved. I was delighted to hear the group's interest, and the Environmental Club was reborn.
At our first meeting the students discussed their visions for the club and goals they wanted to achieve. They decided that the best path forward would be to start with a focus on a few achievable goals that would have a direct impact on our school and local environment, and on one global issue that we could do our part to help tackle. Therefore, the first task of the Environmental Club was to organize a cleanup of our school grounds. The students decided that this would be an effective way to improve the health of their immediate environment, but also to demonstrate to their peers what the club was capable of doing. At our first cleanup, we filled over 20 large trash bags and collected items that had been dumped on school grounds including a carpet, a discarded window, and a lamp(!) These items had become part of the landscape, and immediately people noticed. One guidance counselor was so excited about the Club’s efforts that he pledged to (and followed through) pay for a pizza party for the Club. During the cleanup many students, who were passing by, joined in the effort, motivated by the efforts and immediate results of the members of the Environmental Club. On that day, the size of our Club nearly doubled, a sign that the concerns of the Club echoed the concerns of the larger student body .
During the cleanup the students began to think about the source of all the plastic and other waste they were picking up, and at our next meeting decided that although we could keep picking it up, we could begin to reduce its use in the first place. Over the next few weeks the Club came up with a plan for an awareness campaign to inform the school community about the local and global impacts of plastic use and pollution.
The Club members worked together to create an infographic that could be shared online and throughout the community which would help people to make more informed decisions when it came to using and disposing of plastic items. To help spread the word, the group made a Facebook Page titled “Lynn Impact”, with the hopes of reaching the larger Lynn community with the ideas of the Club. Jaydon highlights his vision for the group, "One day as we continue to grow and expand that i think we will be able to have and run our own program within the City and be able to tackle much larger issues and make a big impact.”
Throughout the school year the Club organized 3 more cleanups at our school and two at Flax Pond, a local park and playground area frequented by the residents of Lynn. The patrons of the park have shown their appreciation by complimenting the students, sending
messages of appreciation to the school, and even helping during the cleanups. This has inspired the Environmental Club to organize, plan, and implement future actions over the
Lynn English students clean up carelessly discarded "stuff" pn the school grounds as part of new Environmental Club commitments.
summer and next school year, including cleanups which would involve local citizen/volunteers from the Lynn Community.
Grassroots efforts can lead to change. One of the largest accomplishments of the Environmental Club this year brings us back to the issue of recycling during school lunches. Midway through the School year the club members drafted a proposal to implement a student run recycling program and hand-delivered it to our school principal Tom Strangie. They were anxious because of the logistics needed to get the program off the ground, and the support they would need from the school administration and custodial staff for the program to be successful. Mr. Strangie asked the club to meet in his office, and the outcome could not have been any better. He gave the club his blessing to start the program and offered any help that he could give. Other school groups have also pledged to help with the program including the TV and Garden Club.
The club members started by collecting only bottles and cans, but in the future wish to collect other items such as foam food trays and utensils once they can figure out how to clean them and compost any food waste. The students purchased two recycling barrels from a local hardware store with school-provided funds and created large posters to hang in the cafeteria. The posters advertised the recycling program in both English and Spanish. Within the first week, both barrels had been filled, and the Club members sorted the redeemable items, and plan to use funds generated to buy more barrels in the future as well as biodegradable bags to use at future cleanups. The school community wanted/needed this change, and all it took was a group of dedicated students working together with shared vision of respect for the environment to make it a reality.
One of the Club's ongoing goals is to keep going and growing after the current students graduate. At a time when the threat of human-caused climate crisis and sixth global mass extinction are well established scientific realities, it is important to them to make sure that the coming generations of students stay organized and motivated. The Club has plans to educate peers and middle and elementary school students about the threats that they and future generations face as well as advocating that students and faculty calculate their carbon footprints and personal periodic energy use audits.
By spreading awareness and advocating for change, the Club intends to lead their community down a greener path toward a better future for all. As Jaydon emphasizes, “The Environmental Club is important to me because the problems and topics we deal with affect everyone on the planet, and it’s up to us to deal with them for a healthier future. Environmental problems are the biggest threat to humanity, and we need to work together to spread awareness and try to fix them.”
Slowly but surely, embracing Nature
by Olivia Hathaway
I’m 6 years old on a warm summer day, and my sister and I are exploring our backyard. We kneel in the "dirt" and "weeds" to flip over rocks, crane our necks to search the bark and branches of the huge old oak, and stoop low to investigate the shadows beneath the bushes. At the base of the house, I find a fat, shiny cicada – a perfect gem! I pick it up and we run to bring it to my mother at the kitchen door. She screams. My father laughs and tells us to put it back outside.
I’m 12 years old, with my family on our annual Memorial Day weekend visit to the
memories of who I was “back then.” For all of these impactful moments of my youth, who does that make me now? I have often felt resigned to the stresses, demands, and minutiae of modern life. I have been distracted and disoriented by the daunting realities of the climate crisis and the scale and variety of threats to the biosphere, by talking heads and snarky memes and inane online comments, , and, most strikingly, by the reality that those with the most power all too often choose poorly and selfishly what to do with it. I have been frozen by indecision, overwhelmed and afraid that nothing I can do is enough. I have sat back when I should have stood up.
Perhaps it’s the passage of time, or the increasingly dire stakes. Perhaps it is the emergence of incredible young leaders like Greta Thunberg in Sweden and the growing youth climate movement worldwide. Perhaps I, like many of my oft-maligned millennial generation, have finally, truly seen that so much of the status quowe were taught to uphold is an active contradiction to a livable and just future, and cannot accept it. I think back to these childhood experiences and the many others that have shaped my path. When it all feels too big, too scary, too much to bear, I will remind myself of those pivotal moments. I will remember the people, places, and experiences that have made me who I am. I will explore and cherish nature, and celebrate it with others. I will not let ignorance be bliss. I will challenge many of the norms we were taught to uphold as the “best” way of doing things. And, yes, I will continue to be a “treehugger”* We all have a voice; it’s about time that I trust mine
* Historically "treehugger" actually reflects great courage as well as great respect for nature (see previous Calling Homeissue: https://dpzook.wixsite.com/geeicalllinghome2018.
Alexander von Humboldt more than 200 years ago encouraged embracing nature through a merge of science and art. Here one of the great Hudson River painters of the late 19th century, Frederic Church, a follower of Humboldt, sought to epitomize this way of thinking in his famous "Heart of the Andes" painted in 1859 and now at the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Bronx Zoo. We visit the immersive Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit and gather with the crowd, all trying to get the best view of the star animals. As expected, someone in the sea of visitors eagerly waves at the large male gorilla sitting in the front of the exhibit. Less expected - he waves back, immediately and intentionally, like a casual acquaintance would. The crowd gasps. We laugh and coo and move on through the exhibit. Then we reach it - the wall of images showing destroyed forests, captive primate babies, severed head and hands in a basket. It is a multi-panel collage of the myriad threats to the very existence of this species, and the suffering that these threats cause.. It’s “that scary part,” as my sisters and I would say, but it’s different this time, despite no change to the exhibit in the many years I’d seen it. It’s real in a way that it wasn’t before. I say nothing and read every sign.
I’m 19, over halfway to getting my degree at Boston University, and freshly back from my Tropical Ecology program based at Tiputini/Yasuni in the northwest Amazon (eastern )
Ecuador). I’ve decided that I want to get a tattoo of Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, and “speak for the trees,” too. I laze on the couch in the living room and relish the comfort of home and lack of deadlines and responsibilities. My dad passes through, dressed for yard work. The weather’s good so he’s going out front to put down fertilizer and weed-killer. I frantically tell him about eutrophication and the dangers of monocultures, both the frequent results of the non-ecological “maintenance” of traditional lawn. I urge him to please think of the bees. He groans and calls me a "treehugger". I scoff and assure him I’m proud to be one.
I’ve since graduated, moved away, moved back, changed jobs, changed my mind, and have, under the traditional meaning of the phrase, “grown up.”
These are childhood stories, the formative years, the fond and funny
Olivia grew up on Long Island, New York before moving to Boston to pursue her undergraduate studies in Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University. While a BU student, she got her first taste of environmental and conservation education as a program assistant with Dr. Zook’s GEEI "Nature and Me" program with Boston Public Schools. She was hooked, and has since served as an AmeriCorps outdoor educator at the New Jersey School of Conservation and worked as an informal science educator in Boston area schools. She currently coordinates student programs at the New England Aquarium and is a Reflecting on Practice facilitator. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time in her nearby Jamaica Pond or Arnold Arboretum, and sharing nature appreciation and experiences with her friends and family. Contact: email@example.com
Confront the new form of child neglect prevalent in America with a personal green new deal
by Douglas Zook
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it made no sense to couch it in feel-good circuitous phrases. The reality is we need to own up to the imperative that all of us who realize the human-caused climate crisis and our relentless war on our provider, Nature, must without delays make major personal green new deals happen. Year after year, even the now vast majority, who recognize our complete dependence on a healthy biosphere (environment), still avoid doing the right thing(s), namely making major, consistent, and in some cases life-changing alterations to their habits, behaviors, indeed to one’s core thinking. If we are really serious about providing for and caring for our children, grandchildren and children borne in future generations, we must stop the delusions and get out of this unconscionable modern-day form of child neglect.
Is there no greater contradiction? Here tens of thousands of scientists worldwide have made it repeatedly clear that there are grave unprecedented dangers to our children and future generations, as well as to hundreds of thousands of other organisms and these scientists emphasize this danger can definitely be reduced. Yet we continue to refuse or ignore being a part of the solutions that would significantly reduce the pains and trauma that they will surely face, and in some cases here and around the world, are already facing.
"The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty" - Greta Thunberg, 16 year old from Sweden who leads not only be her words, but by the choices she makes and actions she takes..
Here she arrives in New York City to attend the United Nations climate meetings and to support climate crisis nonviolent actions, including youth strikes demanding climate action. But what is profound is her commitment to earth-centered ethics, for here instead of flying from England via a heavy fossil fuel emitting air travel, she opted for a two week journey via a rapid sailing vessel powered primarily by solar panels and sails. She has formulated and is acting upon a powerful personal new green deal.
While the necessary "green new deal", appropriately initiated by Senator Markey and Representative Ocasio-Cortez and now built upon impressively by Senator Sanders, is surely a societal priority and now being touted as central to reducing the climate crisis, there is one glaring omission. The people -- you, me...the masses if you will -- are not being asked, or better still required, to do anything, other than perhaps indirectly only through voting. It has come to a point in that often even quality elected leaders and much of the public are on the same page in that they subscribe to the view that all the changes needed must come from top-down new policies, i.e. from the government and corporations. No doubt it is absolutely crucial, but the revolutionary changes in the climate crisis and assault on Nature, such as we see now horrifically in Amazon and Arctic, equally need the participation, courage and sacrifice as well of tens of millions of individual citizens.
As I often remind my students in my Global Ecology class, one of the only things that you have some significant control over is your very self, and this should not be conveniently ignored. The self-inventory that must be taken and subsequent new personal actions implemented has hardly begun, and the time to do so is today.
I realize that some may object to the labeling of our collective complacency or delusion as a form of child neglect, but open-minded thinking can reveal that such terms are not only eye-opening and disturbing but appropriate. For example, common in many definitions and statutes such as from the National Center for Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Child neglect are "acts of omission" wherein parents, guardians, or generally adults "fail to provide for a child's basic physical, emotional, or educational needs or to protect a child or children from harm or potential harm..." (emphasis mine). It is the act or condition of disregarding necessities for a child's well-being and welfare. Of course it need not be willful or intentional but in this case, the realization by the vast majority of citizens of the climate crisis and its current very costly and potentially catastrophic effects makes claims of ignorance without merit.
"Adults keep saying:.....
'We owe it to the young people to give them hope.' But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is."
“There comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness . . . that time is now.” - Wangari Maathai, the late Nobel Prize Winner and inspirational founder of the Green Belt Movement, Kenya
Without doubt most of the excellent child/youth protection and support organizations in the Nation would not subscribe to the view that parental or adult apathy, complacency, and or ignorance even in the face of a human-caused climate crisis and the dire warnings of tens of thousands of scientists globally is a form of child neglect. Yet, most adults, even those without children want to see children prepared for the future such that what they must face in life including major highly detrimental dangers is greatly lessened.
This theme is the cornerstone of today's growing youth movement calling for prioritizing of a healthier relationship between people and the biosphere (environment) around the world. Children, teenagers and to a lesser extent university age youth, through organizations such as the Sunrise Movement, the international Youth Climate Coalition, Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and others are actively in the forefront of confronting parents and other adults about finally becoming a necessarily bold part of science-based cultural solutions to environmental/biosphere problems which parents and older generations caused.
This important brave leadership by masses of youth needs to further embrace the major personal/individual ethical and behavior changes essential to any green new deal success, as exemplified by the practices and examples of Greta Thunberg. Indeed, the argument that major even revolutionary change starts with one's own self is still not fully embraced even by those in the know. Courage, being scientifically aware and knowledgeable, speaking out are all requirements, but the substance -- the actual personal changes and yes even sacrifices -- that must be enacted, are ultimately the driving force, the "tipping point" to success.
Another common objection to a personal or individual personal green new deal is how can one person and what they do make a real difference? My tendency is often to see this as erroneous convenience-thinking, that is if you make yourself believe this, then you would not have to change or do anything differently.
But, the reality is what individuals do, their ethics and behaviors, really do matter. Societies are the result of the sum total of individuals -- what each person values, believes, chooses, behaves, enacts. Thus, the society(s) here in America, like other countries, see children as important, even a priority. So, we are half way there. However, most individuals in the society find it more appealing or convenient to see themselves and what they do as basically inconsequential and are thereby putting their own fears, own comfort zone ahead of their or other children. After all being a contributing part of making the future for our children more palatable, indeed livable would/does require major changes that include big steps away from materialistic, luxury and unhealthy nature disrespecting habits that dominate America.
This is only more of a challenge when technology reigns supreme with relentless heavy duty marketing and commercials, all a cornerstone of our economic system and when politicians keep up the folly of "American Dream" rhetoric and even promises. Indeed, it is a system which does not have a functional moral compass...and completely lacks an earth or nature ethic. Such a priority ethic would recognize that ultimately all that we depend upon for survival comes from the degree of health, vitality, and biodiversity of the biosphere's ecosystems.
Moreover, those who question or refute that individuals can make a difference such as in something so overwhelming as human caused climate change, are missing the history of change in human cultures. For example, the passing of strong civil rights legislation in the 1960s was a top-down, governmental edict, much like the proposed green new deal would be if enacted in hopefully the near future. And, while it is accurate that a Congress who enacted such laws was elected by individual citizens, and that those Laws came about through courageous public demonstrations and non-violent civil disobedience, the actual implementation and its success is dependent consistently and ultimately on individuals in the society obeying, indeed living those laws, those values. Without the masses "buying in" and making key changes in their personal lives, the civil rights laws weaken and become mere documents of a time past and of a contentious future.
For those who are already seriously practicing an earth-centeredness and thus are prioritizing a healthy future that is essential for our children and following generations, we must keep adding personalized lifestyle changes to be a part of the solution. For those doing little or nothing, despite being aware, the contradiction is profound and visible. Caring for your children or grandchildren, showing them your love and guidance must also mean placing yourself in the midst of big personal changes which help contribute to that child's future. Continuing this severe contradiction or hypocrisy exposes this new and prevalent child neglect. Bottom line: Avoid being only half in for your child, for the future.... It's time to get serious for the children and for the future -- time for the personal green new deal.
Let's look at some important examples of what many of us in the United States need to be doing as part of our personal new green deal for our childrens', grandchildrens', future generations' sakes, and for the sake of the million animals, plants, algae, fungi who continue to needlessly and unnaturally die due to humans
Numbers are 1....20 below are only there for reference and NOT in any order or importance. ALL and many not specifically listed are important enough to be on each of our personal green new deal lists, practices.
1. Avoid cruise ships.
Nearly 15 million people in North America took cruise ship vacations last year. Even those cruise ship lines who allege that they are “green,” actually use massive amounts of fossil fuels. Conservative estimates range from 120-180 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted by a cruise ship per each passenger per day(!) Given that we are in a human-caused climate crisis that severely threatens the well-being of our children’s lives and their children, each one of us must be making sure that we do not participate in activities/vacations with such damaging levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
If this isn’t enough, know too that cruise ships are notorious for emitting through their energy use other pollutants, which also originate through fossil fuel burning, such as sulfur dioxide. An extensive study by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union based in Germany concluded through their research involving over seventy cruise chips that standing on the deck of a cruise ship is similar to being within the most polluted-air cities of the world. A single very large cruise ship can depending on distance and conditions emit in one cruise as much toxic pollution as 700 diesel-gas trucks and nearly a million cars do in a week.
Massive amounts of water are used on cruise chips, such as for laundry, cleaning, food preparation, showers….and mixed within the ship water-waste stream on board are oil residues, detergent remnants, and food waste. This is known in the industry as “gray water” and a study a few years back by the USA Environmental Protection Agency showed that some cruise ships produce well over 100,000 gallons of such water in less than 48 hours. Another water stream is the sewage accumulated on board, which can number an average of 15,000-25,000 gallons of human sewage a day. Both gray water and sewage is released into the oceans, often without proper treatment or technology that can "cleanse" somewhat the discharges. Such emissions into the seas greatly disrupt food chains and are contributing to the loss of many organisms and some species. Of course, cruise ships too are far more susceptible to illnesses, but that’s another albeit related reason to avoid.
And yes, going on an airplane trip uses masses amounts of fuel….about a gallon a second or 18,000 gallons in a five hour journey. What makes fossil fuel-using cruise ships even worse is that they are operating (therefore emitting) pretty much continuously through the whole tourist vacation week periods and simultaneously negatively interacting with our life-giving mass, the oceans, that make up 71% of the surface regions of the biosphere. Moreover, airplanes do not release its dirty water, sewage, or trash into the air. That said, airplane travel is also a major contributor to a potential grim future for our children and each of us with the means to travel by air needs to seriously reconsider, cut down significantly or stop.
2. Avoid or get rid of "sport utility vehicles" (SUVs) as well as other energy-guzzling, luxury vehicles such a pick-up trucks, so-called crossovers and other expensive autos. And, if you drive any car, set a goal with your (or others) children and grandchildren in mind to permanently cut use to at least one half. Bike, walk, and/or take public transportation as much as possible.
It is a dark irony that many who justify purchasing these vehicles claim to do so for the safety and well-being of their children while the overarching reality is that its purchase and use by favoring a 2000-4000 pound fossil fuel-guzzling luxury vehicle, many a kind of techno mini-living room on wheels, is a major negative to the well-being of their children's future.
The EPA reports transportation accounts now for over 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, with cars and trucks making up the biggest share. Moreover, beside the high fossil fuel demands and consequent high carbon emissions of such vehicles for movement from place to place, the actual manufacture of such cars uses far more energy and releases carbon dioxide at levels well in excess of the manufacture of small, less luxurious vehicles.
Something apparent as well to anyone driving on highways and cities around the nation --- there are far more traffic slowdowns and backups than ever before. This is not just due to there being more cars and more people owning them, but also because there are so many large vehicles such as SUVs, crossovers and pick-up trucks that more space is taken up on the roadways to accommodate them. When multiplied by thousands of large cars and trucks in a given area, traffic jams, waits, lines extend now much farther and longer than when smaller cars dominated, and of course all are emitting still additional carbon in the long periods of time within these stalled space-occupying conditions
3. Avoid, get rid of, refuse or at least greatly minimize air conditioners. Use fans instead.
Air conditioning is simply an energy hog -- it is a consistent windy slap at our children and grandchildren. A window unit AC uses 500 to 1440 watts, while a 2.5-ton central system uses about 3500 watts. That is a lot of mostly fossil fuel-generated and nature exploiting power. Most fans use only 100 to 150 watts on the highest speed, and ceiling fans usually use only 15 to 100 watts depending on speed and size.
Air conditioning also pumps out heat straight into the atmosphere. Like a fridge, it takes heat from the inside of a building or car, then transfers it to add to the warm outside. That extra heat makes cities hotter, raising night-time temperatures by up to 2 degrees C, which then encourages people to turn up their air conditioning even higher. Air conditioning systems also use powerful greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. These gases leak out into the atmosphere, especially from vehicles, and global emissions of HFCs rose by more than half between 2007 and 2012, adding to the burden of climate change even more. Air conditioning is in the vast majority of situations a luxury that sits as another contradiction to the notion that we care about and prioritize our children and future generations. We must face the fact that it actually makes the climate crisis worse.
Fans are targeted to certain areas of a residence office. People are not sitting and standing up near ceilings and yet in many locales in buildings, much of air conditioning energy are cooling those areas. Fans are far more transportable than air conditioners and can be used in multiple locations in the home, office or apartment. They are also easily stored after use. And, of course, fans not only cost far less to operate than an air conditioner but they are also far less expensive to buy and maintain.
Minimally, air conditioning must be temperature-rationed. There is no need -- except in nursing homes and certain other health facilities -- for temperatures to set below 78 degrees F. Nearly all humans in America can live and function at this temperature. Cooling below this with an AC is an irresponsible luxury. For those who say, "No way can you shut off or strongly restrict my AC...That's off limits!" To them (you?), I say then you must face the reality that your comfort needs are worth the price of your children and grandchildren having much more discomfort and even trauma in the future. Indeed, the self-focus we often have today means far less healthy options for future generations.
4. Quickly wean off paper coffee cups and all plastics, especially cups, lids, straws, utensils, packaging, bags, most of which are not recyclable. Make it a habit to carry a re-usable mug, water bottle, and a re-usable utensil(s) with you. Put it in your backpack or pocket book. Hand the mug, for example to the vendor before they pull out the array of plastics they would use. When going out shopping, bring a re-usable canvas shopping bag(s).
World plastic production accounts for over 350 million tons, more than half of which is single use and ends up in oceanic ecosystems and landfills. Americans buy an estimated 50 billion water bottles a year. Hard to even estimate, but consensus is that Americans use and throw in the trash over a billion plastic bags each year, with less than 1% recycled. Millions of plastic straws are used worldwide when of course straws should be refused. Americans throw "away" (there of course is no "away") over 25 billion styrofoam (a synthetic that cannot be recycled) cups each year. Studies indicate that nearly 80 million tons of plastic in the world that are used in food, and other packaging is not or cannot be recycled and ends up in our oceans. This is roughly equivalent to 1 garbage truck load of plastic being dumped into the ocean or riverways every minute throughout the year. Research now -see for example the recent in-the-field reporting from Arwa Damon and Brice Laine, https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/19/world/microplastics-sargasso-sea-north-atlantic-intl/index.html shows as well that micro-particles of plastic material from plastic bottle use and other sources are commonly found in water systems, including drinking water. This intake can potentially have dangerous health effects on us and other life forms upon which we and biomes depend.
All of these categories of plastic consumption and use are a human creation that originated in the late 19th century but did not become prevalent until just after World War II. The material, while thought to be useful especially as a vehicle for more capitalist growth, consumption and profit, actually is more like a deadly virus that had never existed previously in the 3.6 billion year life history of the planet. It is yet another example of industrial age humans producing enticing materials that ultimately make for a toxic Home and a calamitous and potentially un-survivable future. The more we all get off of plastic use, including our plastic clothes (nylon, polyesters and other synthetics), the healthier both we, our children, and the earth will be.
5. Work to be palm oil free. Easier said than done, but nevertheless any effort to use products that do not contain palm oil, palmate and its components is not trivial. Tropical rainforests, especially those in Indonesia continue to be exploited and destroyed and then replaced by mega-corporate-owned monoculture palm tree plantations.
In Indonesia forests, an estimated 50,000 orangutans, close relatives of Homo sapiens have died over the past 25 years through this palm oil industry ecosystem destruction.
Palm oil now often gets hidden in the ingredient listings with names such as PKO or palm kernel oil, PHPHO or partially hydrogenated palm oil, palmate, palmitate, FPKO or fractionated palm oil, glycerol stearate and many others. Palm oil is found in over 50% of the products sold in the shelves in markets, including cookies, cereals or these first, lipsticks, body lotions, hair shampoos and conditioners, butter, laundry detergents, soaps. Indeed, a good identifiable start is with the latter -- buy quality hand and body soap that will not be a contributor to rainforest and bodiversity demise. Costs a bit more, but balances out because it lasts longerr.... Check out and order on line or better still avoid the energy use and packaging of on-line shopping and demand that it be directly available at Whole Foods or other stores.. Buy palm oil free quality soap at https://www.handinhandsoap.com/pages/sustainnable-suds-new
6. Get 100% renewable energy such as wind for your apartment's electricity at very minimal additional cost above your electric bill through the non-profit, State-recommended Green Energy Consumers Alliance: https://www.greenenergyconsumers.org/greenpowered.
Renewable energy can be transferred from various New England sites to the grid system that serves your area such as Eversource or National Grid. Honestly, this is a no-excuse, no-brainer for you, and certainly for your children, grandchildren, future generations, in that you get off of fossil fuel-based electricity now in your residence. If you own your own property, you can of course also obtain solar panel installation for heat (and not just electricity) as well, currently at great savings.
7. Develop a new ongoing “face-to-face” friendship – with Nature…even if it means going outside of your neighborhood and even if it means less hours on iphones and laptops. Support and even lead efforts to establish city "pocket parks", community healthy-soil gardens, as well as locally-produced and therefore less fossil fuel emitting "farmer's markets". See for example article by Irene Ploczak further along in this Calling Home issue
8. Shut off lights, appliances, computers when not in use. Turn down thermostats to 68 degrees F or lower. Regularly implemented energy conservation habits by each person could reduce energy use in America by more than 10%, equal to hundreds of thousands of solar panels.
9. Reduce or eliminate meat consumption, especially red meats.
Much science research shows for that eating beef has major negative impacts on the environment and adds further to the climate crisis. This is due to the amount of land and grain needed for animal growth especially in the large corporate-owned ranches. The Amazon even prior to the current devastating fires had grazing land with over 85 million cattle. Hooves, poor land practices, excessive methane release, along with the actual physical replacement of forests with cattle contributes to the climate and sixth extinction crisis.
10. Develop an earth-centered ethic that often replaces our "human-centric" one with Nature and especially placing the earth's biosphere at the apex of our thinking and behaviors.
Access, use and share the Goldman Prize site https://www.goldmanprize.org/prize-recipients/current-recipients/ and others such as our Global Ecology Education Initiative https://dpzook.wixsite.com/geeicalllinghome2018 to learn about and be inspired by the thousands grassroots citizens and movements around the world, many of them leaders who are of indigenous tribes/nations, women, peoples of color. Learning about what so many others in nations globally are doing will inspire and inform you in ways you never imagined.
11. Stop mass extinction of insects....Stop en masse purchase and use of pesticides and herbicides, including on lawns, gardens.
Recent comprehensive studies, such as from the Journal of Biological Conservation, warn that the current rate of insect species loss is so extreme that 40% of this most common animal group may be extinct in the coming decades. This includes of course many pollinators which are essential for agriculture as well as ecosystem health. The loss of insects, scientists emphasize, would be catastrophic for the well-being of Homo sapiens and life forms .This assault on insects ultimately is suicidal for our species.
Part of the current human-caused sixth extinction on our planet, insect demise is due to millions of citizens and businesses using pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals, promulgated by mega-corporations investing in short term profits with little interest in fundamental global ecology and the future health of ecosystems, are often used indiscriminately, wiping out all insects in the area in which they are used. Many of the harshest pesticides frequently contain compounds implicated in cancer. These include those herbicides with glyophosate. Remember, even herbicides are often indirectly insect killers in that they are used to kill off so called "weeds," which often have prolific flowers and therefore are important sources of nectar for pollinating bees. Bees of all species around the world are dieing off at an alarming rate. Without them and other pollinators, the nutrition we need at mealtime would be substantially at risk to put mildly.
12. Use travel carbon offsets. That is, when having to travel by airplane or even long distance by car, tally the estimated amount of carbon that is being given off into the atmosphere using a site such as http://carbonfund.org/individuals. And then purchase support for tree planting or other earth friendly activities that help to “offset” or more accurately somewhat make up for your greenhouse gas excess.
13. Practice active democracy. Don't be a sideliner, a watcher.
This cannot be emphasized enough. Voting for sure, as well as letters and petitions and actively participating in local government committees such as zoning boards and town/city councils are all key ways to get involved. But, there is no greater ongoing impact than through non-violent but vocal physical expressions such as responsible protests and rallies in support of a healthier planet and future for our children and future generations. Bottom-up youth and adult voices responsibly protesting as Martin Luther King and others emphasized are essential to fostering needed change and are central to getting us out of our currently weak democracy.
14. Respect, act and fight for the non-offenders.
Give serious recognition that the many other life forms who are now in such low population numbers with some heading toward extinction are due to known biosphere-damaging activities by us, humans. Write letters to the editor, organize appropriate protests, meet with Congress-people on State and National levels, get involved in making your own community/neighborhood more supportive and reflective of biodiversity preservation. While the earth and many life forms – mostly microbial -- will continue on without humans some day, this “sixth extinction” event that we now perpetuate is an assault on animals, plants, fungi, and protists who were embedded in Nature’s ecological rules, and who, if I may be anthropocentric language-wise briefly, were in effect "obeying" those biosphere rules. Even if you are disgusted with human behavior and hubris and have given up unfortunately on humans -- polar bears, pollinators, trees, wolves, songbirds, wildflowers, elephants, and so many others should not be the victims of our folly. We Homo sapiens who are the primary cause should be the ones responsible to rectify or diligently become dedicated to minimizing the damage.
15. Initiate a new mindset of giving back to the earth, to Nature, what one would call reciprocity. Nearly everything that we in modern, “developed” societies do from almost day one of our birth is spent taking from the earth or again more specifically the biosphere, but seldom if ever reciprocating. To put it simply, you come home and there's a fridge of some sort there. We take it for granted. So much so, that now we are faced with the only viable solution being to do far more reciprocating – giving back to the biosphere – than taking. Again, look around from wherever you are…everything around you and the energy systems that humans used to construct or grow or kill came from the earth. Indeed, through our human-centered rather than nature/earth-centered ethics, we actually began thinking that having lots of material stuff and luxuries was central to happy living on the planet and indeed carried it further with the myth of striving for the “American Dream” which was more of a misleading capitalist concept than a dream. Many indigenous peoples for hundreds and even thousands of years have understood the concept of reciprocity, meaning not taking more than what you need, not disturbing the ecosystems that sustain us and others, and indeed being more like the frog by not drinking up the water upon which it depends. The consequences of ignoring and indeed often attacking indigenous thinking and ways are now in front of us, and cannot be rescued by technology-emphasis but rather new ethical realization that we must be giving back to our provider, the biosphere...the earth.
16. Divest from fossil fuels if you have retirement or other investment accounts. And if you like most youth and adult citizens don't, still join others in urging individual, family, and business abandonment of fossil fuel support. Instead, urge investment and vocal support for renewable energy such as solar and wind.
17. Create new future-friendly daily/weekly habits There are dozens you can think of such as more cold water laundry vs hot; less running water into sinks; get recycled toilet paper even if more costly (use less): buy less stuff -- ask yourself do i really need this? is this really a fit for a healthier planet/future?; get biodegradable trash bags; work/live with less or permanent down-sizing and fill in any material cravings and such gaps with simple experiences in and with Nature. There's no way you won't feel good about being on the side of nature preservation and future well-being.
18. Become a native tree/forest advocate, much like trees were your brothers and sisters, the way many indigenous peoples have felt.
This would mean supporting and even leading calls for the planting of more trees in urban neighborhoods; the expansion of park and forest lands; planting trees on your own if you own or have permission on properties, especially by working through groups like the Arbor Day Foundation (https://www.arborday.org), which will actually provide you seedlings and how and where to plant them. Recent studies including a major one from ETH University in Zurich, led by scientist Tom Crowther indicated that the equivalent square miles of the United States and China is actually available worldwide for tree planting, indeed even hundreds of billions of trees. The comprehensive analysis concluded that land restoration based on massive tree planting would greatly reduce the major negative impacts of the rapidly growing climate disruption in that such a number of new trees would, as they mature, remove and sequester large amounts of carbon for photosynthesis and then store carbon for long periods in the tree structure, roots, soils around the roots (rhizosphere), and the symbiotically associated mycorrhizal fungi. You as citizens can grasp the deep potential of such re-foresting and ecosystem recovery and become not only an advocate on the grand scale but be a tree-planter and advocate on a local/community scale.
19. Calculate and then respond appropriately to your carbon footprint.
One of the better more practical ones is from the Environmental Protection Agency, https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/ It is from a couple years back and may have been altered during the current anti-science regime, but worth checking out, and if not there are several others to pick from on-line. The idea is to get a ballpark of how much your daily and monthly deleterious contribution to the climate crisis is so the you can make bold new commitments such as many of those mentioned above and others.
20. Actively foster essential green-minded school curriculum and facilities changes -- whether you are a student, parent, teacher, administrator, or simply a community citizen of any age.
The current and growing youth movement worldwide involving leaving school on certain days ("strikes for the future, strikes for the climate") is leading the way and very signifiant. But, in a sense we also need such a focus directly in the schools. What happens education-wise in public schools, for example, should prioritize knowledge, ideas, solutions, evidence and actions that recognize the War on Nature and the climate crisis. Schools as learning places, as essential institutions must quickly evolve and implement its green new deal and allow students, parents and teachers to lead the way. Major societal changes are always much more difficult when schools and school systems keep divorced from evidence-based issues that are threatening the surrounding communities and beyond. A personalized green new deal must include a kind of "reverse strike" mentality wherein issues and voices out in the streets/the public should be reflected responsibly in the school learning environment and curricula.
"River sisters" engage in creative 3-week river journey through Poland to promote ecosystems protection and educate about government-planned destructive development
by Monika Łabędzka
One of Poland’s exceptional natural treasures are rivers, some of which are still preserved in its wild, unregulated state. Yet, the awareness about its value as one of nature's lifelines to species' health, including ours, is not so prevalent. Protecting rivers and its ecosystems everywhere needs to be a priority. Spreading this realization to a wider audience is a main objective of Siostry Rzeki ("The River Sisters"), a growing female collective based in Kraków.
It was initiated by a group of artists, environmental advocates and nature lovers in the summer of 2018, when together with Koalicja Ratujmy Rzeki (the "Save the Rivers Coalition") several artistic public happenings were organized in Polish cities. This coming together of citizens was in response to the government plans of building a dam in Siarzewo on the Vistula (Wisla) river, which is the longest river in Poland. Coupled to this plan is a government project to build a major water access road known as "E-40", designed to connect the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea. If allowed to go forward both of the investments will have major negative consequences on the environment and the future well-being of many organisms, including us.
Inspired by the beauty of wild nature and longing to be in touch with it on a daily basis, a “Fashion for Rivers” campaign was initiated early this summer. After all, we love our rivers. We want to be able to swim in them, spend our leisure time with our families by them - and the planned investments would make it impossible.
In our campaign we had to face up to the fact that swimwear presents a challenge when it comes to practicing sustainability. Why? Plastic. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon are perfectly suited for swimwear - stretch across the body and wick moisture, and they are inexpensive to make, as well as versatile… But they are not biodegradable and shed tiny pieces of plastic called "microfibers" when you wash them. These particles end up in the waters, where they can be swallowed by animals, before ending up in our food chain. An estimated 65 million tons of these plastic-based materials are generated every year around the world (https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution) and fashion trends when mass-marketed encourage us to buy new suits and clothes every season. Why not use and re-use the ones already made? This was a key question and challenge for the River Sisters and the rivers educational campaign.
In Kraków, a collection of 1,047 second-hand swimsuits in river-like colours is being collected. The 1,047 represents the number of kilometers (651 miles) that the Vistula river meanders north to the Baltic, often through biodiverse and important ecosystems. The swimsuits, whether found in a second-hand store or at the bottom of a personal wardrobe collection, are then decorated with beads and sequins or embroidered during daily workshops at the Siostry Rzeki (River Sisters) headquarters. This preparation is open to everybody in the communities who would like to participate and/or contribute to the project.
Sustainable, "up-cycling" (creative reuse of unwanted products into new ones) fashion combined with a love for nature attracted many to join, and a community of passionate handicrafters was formed. Once a swimsuit is ready, a special River Sister label and educational leaflet are attached to it. Several Polish artists and fashion designers were also invited to participate and prepared unique river-inspired dresses. But preparation of these items was not the endgame. Rather, the next stage was to show the results to the public as part of bringing important awareness of our obligation to keep rivers flowing and healthy. The primary way we chose as part of our "Fashion for Rivers" campaign was an educational swimsuit fashion show!
Our first fashion show took place on the 23rd of June, during the yearly Vistula River festival in Kraków, called Wodna Masa Krytyczna (Critical Mass on Water). A river-shaped stage and fitting rooms were set up on a river bank and everybody could join us on the runway, as long as they found a suit of their size. There was also a River Education point where citizens of Kraków could receive leaflets and some of the undecorated swimsuits. The show was accompanied by a group performance of a River Sister song, and hula dance tribute to rivers. Then, many of the participants joined the Wodna Masa Krytyczna (Crtiical mass on water) and sailed down the Vistula river on non-motorized boats, handmade rafts and kayaks.
The next river education fashion show followed in July, in Warszawa (Warsaw) and Toruń, well-known cities that were among our many stops in our River Sister Vistula River journey!! Starting in Kraków on the 3rd of July and going all across Poland northerly up to Gdańsk and the Baltic Sea. On our way, we showed our collection of already decorated suits, taught about the importance of rivers and invited people to spend time appreciating rivers and the surrounding natural environment. Our journey and some of daily adventures were live -streamed and documented on our Facebook and Instagram pages. We had a chance to not only experience the wonder and closeness to the River, observe undisturbed nature and wild-forming islands, but also witness destructive impacts and abuse by local factories and witness first hand how ridiculous and damaging government investment/development plans would be, for sometimes there was not enough water for our boat with actual immersion at around 10 inches!
We struggled with low water levels stopping us from proceeding, sometimes for hours at a time, as well as heavy rains and other difficult weather conditions on our roofless river-friendly boat. There were several water gates on our way and, in some cases, we were refused passage, and it was necessary to hire a crane to transport our boat to the other side of the obstacle. In Warszawa, we made a visit to the Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation to hand in our postulate about the condition of rivers in Poland. After 3 weeks we successfully and spectacularly reached the harbor of Gdańsk and the Baltic Sea in the evening of July 24th. Our campaign has already reached several magazines, including Polish edition of Vogue, and national TV. And hopefully, creative public education is only the beginning.
Raising awareness about key environmental issues and educating people that their daily choices and actions do matter, might be as difficult as in decorating and preparing 1047 swim suits! But our community keeps growing and even in other Polish cities women are beginning to arrange River Sister meetings. Together we have started a wave, one that with persistence, science, and the well-being of our future on our side will stop dams and destructive development and bring essential earth-respecting river protections. For more information and to hear of your support:) contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monika has been an active contributor to GEEI and "Calling Home" . See for example her piece on the fight to protect Bialowieza forest,
She studied at Jagiellonian University in Kraków with concentration in Biology. She recently ventured to Spain for field botany research. As part of the River Sisters, she is a committed advocate for river/nature protections
From top to bottom: River Sisters Collective prepare used swimsuits with designs and respect-river messages; River Sster members in front of the Wisla River in Kraków with 13th century Wawel Castle in background; River Sisters sailing raft on their journey through communities and cities to help educate and unite citizens to protect Poland's rivers and ecosystems, photo by Bartollemeo Koczenasz; Several "raftees" including leader Cecylia Malik and her son with signs stating the names of several Polish rivers, photo by Stan Baranski ; Several River Sisters take a break along a lovely stretch of the Wisla, photo by Thomasz Gotfryd; painting of a Polish river in autumn by early 20th century Polish landscape artist Stanislaw Filipkiewicz.
Embracing green -- Chronicle of a community "rogue" garden
by Irene Plonczak
Almost 3 years ago, when I moved to the Roslindale community in Boston, I noticed an abandoned parcel of land right on Washington Street next to an ice cream shop. This land was being used as a dump.
How could we claim this for the community as a useful area connecting us all to Nature? My quest had begun and included meetings with local officials (Dan Murphy always helpful, supportive) and meetings at Boston City Hall. Result? The City of Boston says the land belongs to the State of Massachusetts and after checking further the State of Massachusetts says it belongs to the City! Well, while that exchange spins nowhere, we're using it as a garden space for the community! Indeed, we thought "rogue" was a perfect added characterization in that it showed its unofficial status by belonging to no institution and thus appropriate that the community could seize upon it!
The first official event was the May 19th 2018 cleanup sponsored by the City of
Boston's "Love your block" initiative. Once the parcel was cleaned up by community residents, we then needed to do something with it. Through social media, we connected with the Facebook group "Roslindale Garden Exchange", and we held a first meeting: a planting and plant exchange event wherein we planted eggplants, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, strong beans, herbs (basil, cilantro, regano, chives, mint) and used red wiggler worms ate aid in composting. We also found 3 large planters on Craig's list, packed them on the roof of our car and brought them to the rogue community garden.
Next came the search for healthy soil, and we found City Soil in the Mattapan community of Boston. We got soil and compost from them. Another issue to be solved was the need for consistent water supply, because there was no water to directly access in our parcel. But the car wash in front of the parcel came to the rescue by generously offering to regularly fill a big water container!! The employees of the car wash even helped clean out the big tree branches and offered valuable advice. They have their own "conuco" now in the back of the car wash!
On the right: Irene has a Ph.D from Sherbrooke University in Quebec and currently teaches science education at Boston University. In her homeland country of Venezuela, she taught elementary through high school grades. Often in her career she has led the transformation of empty lots/dumps into teaching and learning vegetable gardens. Fluent in four languages, she has given workshops for teachers in China, Qatar, Bahrain, Mexico, Columbia, Canada and Venezuela. Irene can be reached at: email@example.com.
To the left: Rogue garden community member Michael Larson includes his striking sculptures, merging art and nature in the the green space.
Next, came the idea of having our own website, and Annie Won, one of the Roslindale neighbors and member of the Roslindale Garden Exchange designed one for us (see Facebook@Roslindale Rogue Garden) .
An overarching principle that we kept in mind was to set an example of our ecological responsibility towards the environment. We thought of multiple ways to do this. For starters, we wanted to recover an abandoned city space which was used as a dump and was an eyesore and transform it into something useful, nature-friendly and beautifying for our community. We also wanted to set an example of how to grow healthy vegetables in alternative spaces and ways. And finally, we wanted to highlight the importance of native plants for any garden to attract pollinators, help save bees
An area of the community garden featuring plants native to southern New England. Native plants are mostly missing in urban areas like Boston, but all of us can help bring them back. A good place to start planning this kind of "giving back" is by visiting preferably in person or on line, the Native Plant Trust, https://www.nativeplanttrust.org
which are being decimated by pesticides, herbicides and sprawling development, and to make sure vegetable flowers turn into a harvest. I guess I learned on this important goal how to make it work here in Roslindale, for in one of my past similar initiatives recovering abandoned plots and transforming them to vegetable gardens, I discovered a cement loading dock that had never had any plants. With good sunlight and water, I decided to try raised-bed gardening which helps reduce so-called "weeds" and prevent water run-off and soil compaction. After a first year of growing squash and other veggies, I noticed I hardly had any harvest. Well, of course, there had been no pollinators visiting the area. So next Spring, after we planted a butterfly bush (Buddleya sp), bee blam (Mnarda sp) and other pollinator-attracting flowers,we finally had a successful harvest! Wonderful to see this story now play out successfully here!
We continue to meet Saturday mornings for planting, watering, gardening tips, and plant exchange!
The Roslindale Rogue Community Garden
is at 3900 Washington Street.
Check it out!
Sixth Graders at Amherst (MA) elementary school host
eye-opening earth-centered event and launch green campaigns
by Timothy Austin, Grade 6 teacher, Amherst
Sixth grade student activists, their coalition partners, and other youth activists gathered outside Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, MA in late May. Throughout the spring, each sixth grade class at the School has spent time organizing a campaign around an issue they chose. The campaigns they featured included the Green New Deal, changing the Massachusetts State flag, reducing deforestation in Massachusetts, and supporting the United Nation's Trillion Tree Initiative. In addition to these campaigns, students from the Sunrise Movement at Amherst Regional High School (ARHS) and Northampton High school, plus a group of students working to encourage the use of reusable water bottles at Amherst Regional Middle School, all hosted booths at the festival. The event also featured several guests throughout the afternoon, including: State Representative Lindsey Sabadosa, Monte Belmonte from WRSI, Seo-Ho Lee of the Amherst Sunrise Movement, plus a performance by Tem Blessed, hip-hop musician and activist. “We only have 11 years left before climate change causes irreversible damage to our ecosystems and safety,” said ARHS student and Sunrise Movement activist Naomi Laine Johnson. “It's our job - as young people, as inhabitants of the earth, and as a representative for future generations - to fight for the planet before it's too late.”
Above: Students prepare spruce seedlings for distribution to visitors at the Youth Activism event. This effort is part of the campaign to support the United Nations goal of one trillion trees planted toward reforestation around the world.
Upper right: Students, parents and members of the community gather at the Youth Activism Festival event wherein that directly learned about the important student campaigns and be encouraged to take action.
United Nations: trilliontreecampaign.org
Timothy is a highly regarded, longtime 6th grade teacher at Fort River Elementary School, Amherst, MA
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As part of Youth Activis festival, 6th grade students distributed free tree seedlings that were donated by generous sponsors including Hadley Garden Center, Amherst Nurseries, Hadley Home Depot, and the Amherst Tree Warden. "By giving away trees to people, we will help ensure that there are more trees in our area, remarked 6th grader Tre Bowman, who had coordinated the outreach to the sponsoring businesses. In advance of the event, nearly 70 people had signed up to receive seedlings, but thanks to their sponsors the 6th graders gave away a total of 160 tree seedlings for planting. All seedling recipients received a brochure created by the students with detailed planting instructions, and a request that a picture of the planted seedling be posted on social media with the hashtag #trilliontrees. The United Nations' Trillion Tree Initiative is a worldwide effort to plant a trillion trees, an amount of global reforestation that could capture 25% of global annual carbon emissions. see http://www.trilliontreecampaign.org/
Another class focused on the Green New Deal, a far-reaching resolution being spearheaded by the newly-elected Congressional Representative from New York City, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey. It proposes comprehensive, urgent action to strongly reduce the damaging effects of the intensifying climate crisis, as well as related economic reforms. The Green New Deal is quickly gaining support from politicians and citizens all over the country. The students at Fort River are proposing several local initiatives in the spirit of the Green New Deal, such as the "No Cars Day" for downtown Amherst modeled on "Ciclovia" which is a weekly car-less event in Bogota, Colombia. "It's a great way for people to get out and exercise without cars," emphasized 6th grader Micah Bruner. The students hope that between local initiatives such as this one, and the push for change at the Federal level, we are able to reach the lofty goals that are needed to combat climate change.
A thid class is working on a campaign to change the Massachusetts State flag. The current state flag and seal contain images that many view as deeply problematic and denigrating to Native Americans, such as a sword in the upper portion of the flag being wielded above the head of a Native American figure with bow and arrow down as in a peaceful posture. "The white supremacy built into the flag doesn''t accurately represent the people and policies of the Commonwealth," states 6th grader Elannah Brennan. She added, "This needs to change so that Naive American people in the State can feel welcomed, as they should be."
The class has hosted special guests at a Youth Activism Panel, spoken with other supporters, and divided their workload into groups to ensure their campaign is successful. This has allowed them to recruit students in other schools to join their cause, create video testimonials to be sent to members of the State legislature, and gather postcards urging the bill's passage that are being sent to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka. "This flag needs to be changed," urged 6th grader Jordan Rose, "and since it hasn't happened in the 30 years people have been pushing it, it's time now for us to try." More information on the campaign can be found at changethemassflag.com. (SEE ASO THE EXPLANATIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS OF THE MASSACHUSETTS STATE FLAG JUST BELOW THIS EXCELLENT ARTICLE FROM TIM)
The work of the various classes even inspired Fort River Paraprofessional Aaron Jensen to come up with a potential flag design of his own. More than anything, Aaron's design featuring the three traditional life-giving corn, beans, and squash is meant as a start to the conversation about what values a new Massachusetts flag could represent. According to Aaron, "using a reference to the Native American agriculture is a great way to connect the State's seal to the story of "Thanksgiving" without misrepresenting history. Finally, a motto such as "Seed well, harvest better" ties into Massachusetts being the start of so many things, but also encourages us to keep improving." This design gained traction among the students, many of whom were seen wearing it on bright gold t-shirts at the Youth Activist Fair.
State Representative Mindy Domb was not able to attend but previously had sent this message, "I am so proud to represent these young activists and I am impressed with their commitment to learn about the issues that they care about, ask insightful and terrific questions as they pursue strategies to act on their beliefs, to take action and do it ind ays that inspire all of us. I want to thank the supportive adults in their lives who helped to nurture these commitments -- their teachers, their parents and guardians, their siblings, and extended family members.....Some of you may know of Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish girl who is leading the global climate strike movement, who has said, "The one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere." I am so grateful and appreciative of the actions these students have taken and the hope that they nurtured. I am so looking forward to continuing to work with them and the opportunities to support their continued activism."
Lastly, the Civic Literacy Unit at Fort River has been bolstered by a Diverse Democracy Grant from Teaching Tolerance. Teaching Tolerance is a magazine for educators published by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The grant has made it possible for the students and teachers to work with two "Organizers in Residence," namely Lindsey Peterson and Stehanie Jo Kent, who have provided support around the scents' campaign selection process, campaign development, and effective tactics as well as other commitments.
Below courtesy of Mass Peace Action: https://masspeaceaction.org/event/change-the-massachusetts-flag-and-seal/
Thursday, September 5th, Global Day of Action in Support of the Amazon: Protest at 3 p.m.with Extinction Rebellion and others at BlackRock corporate offices 60 State Street, Boston..
BlackRock is one of the largest institutional investors in product (soy, beef, palm il, pulp and paper, rubber, timber) sector companies that are destroying the Amazon and other rainforests.
Friday September 20th, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Global Strike for Climate Action, Boston City Hall...and additional strikes during Fall
Friday, September 27, "Flood the Seaport", Dewey Square near South Station, 3:30 p.m. Non violent protests to stop business as usual and call for declaring emergency climate action.
Tuesday, September 24, 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the Arnold Arboretum main building off the Arborway, Jamaica Plain: "A Global Ecology Journey: Prioritizing Earth-Centered Ethics", a multi media presentation with Dr. Douglas Zook, Global Ecology Education Initiative. FREE but register and see more information at:
Global Ecology Education Initiative
a program within UMass/Boston
School for the Environment
To contribute to GEEI efforts, send a tax deductible check made out to UMass/Boston and write "For GEEI in SforEnv" on the check and send to Dr Douglas Zook, Global Ecology Education Initiative, UMass Boston School for the Environment, 100 Morrissey Blvd, Boston, MA 02125. Thank you.