New Newsy

Recently I decided to channel my environmental despair into a weekly newsletter that tries to inspire engagement and moderate action in our everyday lives. It’s called Five Minutes for the Planet, and it presents info and action prompts for one topic each week, from water pollution to smartphones. Of course I’m not deluded: the climate crisis will not be averted in five minutes a week. But I did want to find a way to connect with people who are concerned about the future but don’t know where to start. We need more people starting, continuing, picking up where they left off. We need political change and culture change.

I’ll still be writing here, but probably less. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll subscribe and join my band of everyday revolutionaries.

Opportunity Abounds

Reading books and articles about the environment is not for the faint of heart. Most times it’s a terrible cocktail of panic, anger, shame, despair, and depression, the kind of toxic mixture that could topple a moose. I think it’s important, yes, but it comes at a psychological cost. So imagine how happy (and surprised) I was to discover that Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken, left me feeling a bit optimistic.

Drawdown is the work of an international panel of scientists, policy makers, researchers, and other professionals to assess, practically and scientifically, solutions for drawing down carbon reversing climate change. Yes, not just delaying, but reversing. Each of the 100 solutions presented (and ranked) in the book is assessed by conservative implementation rates by 2050, and then assessed for amount of carbon drawdown (removing carbon from the atmosphere), cost to implement, and ongoing costs or savings. And guess what? For most of these strategies, we end up with savings. Millions or billions of dollars of savings.

As conservative provincial governments in Canada fight the national carbon tax, and go on and on about protecting oil jobs for the benefit of the economy, it’s incredibly important to realize that we don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy. We’re not looking at an even playing field anyway: according to an International Monetary Fund estimate, in 2015 alone the fossil fuel industry received more that $5.3 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies. That’s a staggering $10 million dollars per minute. No wonder alternative energy seems expensive by comparison. But even setting that aside, right now in the U.S., more people are employed by the solar industry than by oil, gas, and coal combined. (And, spoiler: solar isn’t even Drawdown‘s top energy intervention. According to them, the future is wind, baby!) In fact, the book points out that we’re now at the point where “the expense of the problems in the world now outweighs the cost of the solutions.” Doing the right thing doesn’t have to cost more. In fact, it’s a bargain.

As I read this very readable, reasonable book, I was struck by an abundance of opportunity. Not just in the 100 solutions, but in the way the solutions often had incredible ancillary benefits. For example, if cattle farmers were to graze their cows on forested land (rather than razing trees for pasture), rotating grazing areas regularly, we’d maintain biodiversity, keep more carbon in the soil, have healthier cows, reduce deforestation of vital old forests, and the farmers make more money. Benefits of one intervention become exponential.

There are exponential opportunities in my own life too: deciding to cycle commute means I produce no carbon, I’m more fit, I save money, I’m more in touch with my city, I’m more punctual, and I’m happier. Or take my garden. I learned from Drawdown that “home gardens hold higher carbon sequestration potential compared to monocrop production systems, with sequestration rates comparable to those of mature forest stands” (emphasis mine). But I also reduce carbon produced with my partner and I eating hyper-local, package-free organic food. I get light exercise and healthy food. I support pollinators. I make my own compost, which prevents methane release, requires no fossil fuels, and maintains the soil. I give seeds and plants to other people, making more gardens. I save money most years. It has connected me to nature and my environment, and given me endless opportunities to learn and grow. Oh and there’s the small matter that it’s become what my partner accurately called my “life force.” It’s a daily source of joy and renewal.

I love thinking about changes that create little beneficial ecosystems. Drawdown reminded me that our planet’s story doesn’t have to be one of perpetual degradation. There are so many people around the globe coming up with smart, feasible solutions that make our world better.

Drawdown also brought me back to personal choice and the opportunities it presents. While big, systemic and technological change is absolutely necessary, #3 and #4 on their top 100 were wasting less food and eating less meat. Those are things all of us can do. And while my #zerowaste Instagram feed can sometimes be daunting, reminding me of my failures, the voice of reason eventually prevails. What if everyone cut their meat eating by 50%? What if everyone grew a garden or cycled to work or bought more things secondhand? What if everyone simply reused a jar once before recycling it? Again, exponential results. As the Zero-Waste Chef Anne Marie Bonneau reminds us, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” (I’ll keep quoting this forever, and I’m not sorry.) She reminds us that if just 10,000 people reduced their waste by 10% for a year, 1.6 million pounds of trash would be avoided.

The upside of our environment being in a shambles and our regular habits being so damaging is that there is so much room to improve. Low-hanging fruit abounds. So while I still need to write a letter to our provincial forestry minister about cancelling a tree-planting program, this week I also arranged a couple trades, picked up bulk coffee for a girls trip so people won’t be tempted by disposables, and I’m focusing on regularly eating my radish greens rather than composting them. Opportunity abounds, and with each good thing I do, benefits ripple out. There are benefits for my own tiny ecosystem (my life), and faraway ones I’ll never see or know. And at the end of the day, I’m also conserving another precious resource we need to survive: optimism.

Just Add Women

At the public pool where I swim, there are two lanes for fast swimmers. I choose which one to use by number of swimmers, but this is often pretty equal. So the tiebreaker? Choose the one with fewer men in it. Surprisingly, it was only recently I figured out that men were the ones more likely to be inconsiderate lanemates (read: pushing off right in front of you when they’re slower, tailgating, not leaving room at the wall, and, much more often than women, being in a lane that’s too fast for them). A recent column in the Guardian exposed just this problem in U.K. swimming pools. It applies to the other lane I use on the regular too: the bike lane. Guess who is running lights, blowing by you without signalling, etc.? Nine out of ten times, not a woman.*

Both these situations are annoyances and inconveniences, but of course it brings to mind other spaces that could use some more women—say, governments (especially those currently voting on women’s bodily autonomy), or the boardrooms of corporations (only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women). This lack of representation is bothering me even more than usual lately, because of  some reading I’ve been doing about—surprise!—the environment.

In the last week, both the Zero-Waste Chef and Minimum Viable Planet wrote about gender and the environment, pointing out an important fact about low-waste/zero-waste spaces online: 90% of the discussion comes from women. Women are the ones darning socks and taking their jars to the bulk store, hunting for biodegradable package-free dental floss and making their own toilet cleaner. Bonus domestic labour, which, I’m sure you know, women still do more of anyway. Why is the green movement so pink? This Vox article has a couple theories, among them that women control what they can (family purchasing, the domestic sphere). We may lose control of our reproductive organs and thus entire futures, but boy is our recycling clean and sorted! But here’s the bigger thing: women are more sensitive to the needs of our planet and other people. A U.K. study found 71% try to live more ethically, compared to 59% of men. (Apparently eco behaviour isn’t manly enough. Plus, in the Apocalypse, all that Crossfit will really pay off.)

But wait, there’s more. Yesterday, I was reading the excellent Drawdown, which ranks educating girls as the #6 most effective climate intervention, and access to family planning as #7. That’s more effective than solar power, more than electric vehicles, composting, and mass transit (in fact, more than all those interventions combined). One of the interventions was equal rights for women as small-holder farmers (#62), and it presented some staggering statistics: “If women small-holders get equal rights to land and resources, they will grow more food, feed their families better throughout the year, and gain more household income. When women earn more, they reinvest 90% of the money they make into education, health, and nutrition for their families and communities, compared to 30 to 40% for men.” Also, if those women the same access to resources as men, their yields will rise 20 to 30% (to surpass men’s by 7 to 23%). 150 million hungry people will get fed, and with more productive land, there will be less deforestation, which is also accelerating the climate crisis. And of course, let’s not forget that climate change is also more devastating to women and to racialized people.

Tl;dr: a great way to make a space, governing body, or organization more considerate of other people and the planet? Put women in it, and get out of their way.**

Feminism is an environmental position. Equality isn’t just something that will make the world more pleasant, more fair, our swim lanes more civilized. Equality just might save us all. 


* Now before anyone gets all #notallmen, duh. But the ones most likely to cause problems? Men. And of course this is reductive and doesn’t acknowledge the nuances of gender identification, but we’re talking about sweeping patterns.

** We’ll also need to give them what they need to succeed (e.g., fair pay, maternity leave, flexible hours, freedom from workplace harassment) and address gendered double standards so that they don’t have to act like men just to keep those positions. And let’s not forget men picking up the slack at home, like partners in more than just name.