Alexandria, VA – The subject of climate change and what we can possibly do to stop, or at least slow it down, has been on my list of subjects to write about for many months. I hadn’t started because even small things — like the CPU on my cell phone crashing — make me want to crawl into a place I call my hobbit hole (1) and hibernate until spring.
Climate Change is not a small thing. It is such a big thing that I sometimes find myself thinking there is nothing I can do to make a difference, so why try? Maybe you feel that way too. But then I recall the words of Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909, American author, historian, and Unitarian clergyman):
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
Variations of that notion have been written by others, including Richard Stearns, U.S. District Court Judge, District of Massachusetts, and President William J. Clinton, who nominated Stearns in 1993.
I asked my friend and sister member of Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, Beck, for ideas for this column. She wrote, “Having a vision is so important. I was recently mapping out the features of my ideal kitchen of the future. Not one where my fridge does my shopping and I cook my meals with my cell phone, but a kitchen designed for composting, plant-based diets, and growing our own food. What would that look like? I would love to see people’s visions for that future.”
Beck continued, “It may seem odd, but the first thing we need to do is recognize that we are not just individuals. We are part of a community that is part of numerous other communities and systems. Any of the actions I am about to share with you need to be sparked by an individual, but with a commitment to reach beyond yourself to your family, community, church, scouting troop, softball team, etc. We need to start operating at a more connected level if we will create a livable future.
“My second recommendation is to use Project Drawdown.(2) These 100 solutions to global warming include carbon reductions and financial costs and savings. These calculations show us that our actions matter and can add up. And the numbers show, time and time again, that we can save money by acting now.
“Without further ado, the top actions you can start with now:
1) Plant Rich Diet. People need to understand that this does not mean you have to give up all meat. But you should be aware that rainforests are being cut down for cattle grazing and to grow soybeans to feed animals. Project Drawdown estimates that if we just ate less meat we could save 66 gigatons of carbon by 2050 and be healthier.
2) Reduce Food Waste. Astonishingly over a third of food is thrown out by consumers! My personal challenge with food waste is the packaging. Everything comes pre-packaged. I need four ingredients for a meal, and they all come in packages for four people. I can’t eat that much before it goes bad, especially fresh fruits and veggies. Possible solutions: share a shopping trip with another single person. Be disciplined and eat all the kale before I buy more waffles. Learn to cook with “waste” parts of food.
“There could be a whole other column on eating out — if we ever get to eat out again. I find that many meals come with sides that I know I am not going to eat. Make sure to get just what you can eat on your plate. If the meal comes with two sides, it’s okay to order just one. Keep a reusable container in the car for leftovers. Think twice about leftovers. Do you really eat them – or just keep them a couple of days and then throw them out?
3) Compost. ‘From the earth to the earth you return,’ is the little prayer I use for composting (reminiscent of Ash Wednesday from my Catholic youth). Composting connects you to the cycles of the earth in ways similar to gardening. Our waste becomes food. Instead of humans being a virus or cancer on the earth, we reclaim our place as healthy participants in the cycles of life. Besides, it makes a big difference in greenhouse gasses (see Drawdown). Your options are home compost, community compost like the church, or a commercial compost company that will pick up compost at your office or apartment building.
4) Imagine and Plan. Fire is said to have been the gift of the gods to primitive man that brought us to where we are now. But our future demands that we use our advanced understanding of energy to create a society that does not rely on burning things. That post-carbon future is only a decade or so away. Is your household preparing for that future? When your furnace goes, look at a heat pump or solar replacement. Investigate mini-splits (ductless heat pumps installed room by room to help cool an area without using refrigerants). Replace your roof with solar tiles or light-colored shingles to reduce heat islands. Learn to love cooking on conduction plates instead of gas. Test drive some electric vehicles and add one to your dream list for the time when you need a new car. Enjoy the stream of cool new technology coming our way.
“These are the most obvious, but there is much more. Get involved with local political action. Alexandria and Fairfax County have green initiatives and opportunities for public comment.”
Beck closed with a suggestion I hope you will act on:
“Faith communities – do you know what your faith’s principles are concerning earth stewardship and climate change? Almost every major religion has recognized some responsibility for action on these issues.”
Please share this column with members of your faith community. Discover what programs may be already in place, such as the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, and what programs you might initiate. Enlist a local Boy Scout troop in building compost bins for your church. And then please get back to me. I would be so grateful to know that I have done something even though I am only one. Imagine what we might do together!
Contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like Beck to speak to your organization and I’ll put her in touch with you.
(1) The protagonists of J. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, lived in a luxurious smial or hobbit-burrow, dug into The Hill. (2) www.drawdown.org.
Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.