Earth Day 2016

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I shared this “dandelion”* photo on Facebook a few years back as part of an impromptu Earth Day post. Soon after, a friend questioned its appropriateness.

“Really?!!! A dandelion on Earth Day? Think about all the chemicals people pump onto their lawns trying to get rid of these things…”

This reaction caught me off guard. I’d chosen the image because I felt it portrayed a certain beauty and fragility emblematic of our natural world; and under the working title “Make a Wish…” I thought of it as a symbol of hope for a more sustainable future. I honestly hadn’t considered the extensive environmental damage caused by efforts to control what so many people consider a noxious weed. In my friends defense he wasn’t advocating these practices, but instead reminding me of this attitude and what results. And he had a point. Each year the mere sight of dandelions contributes to millions of gallons of herbicide being unleashed on the environment.

I’ve thought of this often in the years since, and have come to the conclusion that this actually IS a really good Earth Day image. Not just for the reasons I stated above, but for what my friend alluded to as well. Dandelions are actually extremely beneficial plants. They are edible and contain high nutritional value, and also contribute to soil health through nitrogen fixation. Yet most people fail to see this. Instead, they’ve been told that these are wretched weeds- something that cannot be allowed in a responsible homeowners lawn. Thus we must take any and all measures to eradicate them.

Why?

Because somebody said so? As children most of us loved dandelions. They emerged on those warm spring days when after a long winter we could finally run outside to play without need for jacket, hat and gloves. We smeared the yellow flowers on our faces, blew the seeds and watched with innocent wonder as they drifted off on the wind. But as we grew old, our attitudes were expected to change. Nature became something to be marginalized and controlled. Flowers were for window boxes and designated gardens, but shouldn’t dare emerge in our well-manicured lawns. Reasoning and truth and childhood sentiment didn’t matter. That’s just the way it was.

So much of what we do, so many social norms, come as a result of following blindly. An appliance quits working we send it to the landfill. That’s just the way things work. The same fate comes for clothes we no longer wear or toys our kids no longer play with. It’s just the way things are handled. We need a gallon of milk we drive two blocks to the grocery store, that’s just how things are done. Our work places are left to sit vacant overnight but still suck power for security lights, printers, microwaves and coffee makers on the ready. That’s just the way it goes. We get thirsty we buy a bottle of water. That’s just the way it is.

The way it is has got to change. Acknowledge it or not the way it is, the way we are living, has got us into a heap of trouble and it’s going to take a drastic and immediate shift in attitude to get ourselves out. It’s not about saving the Earth. The Earth will be just fine. This is a matter of respect and appreciating the opportunity we have to live here; and giving our children and grandchildren so much as a fighting chance to do the same.

This Earth Day, please take a moment and think about the world you wish to leave for future generations, reflect on your own daily choices and make the necessary changes to bring about a better end.

 

Iowa-based writer Catherine Haustein recently wrote an excellent piece celebrating the value of dandelions, and used this photo on her blog. Check that out here.

*I try to make it a point to acknowledge that this photo is not of a true dandelion. It’s actually a plant called goats beard, which looks almost identical only a bit larger. Sometimes the impression a photo gives and the emotion it stirs is all that really matters, so I call this one “Make a Wish…” and leave it at that.

World Water Day

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 Kootenai River, Montana

March 22-

Happy World Water Day! Today as we recognize and celebrate the vitality of water and the importance it plays in every facet of life, we also must face the grim reality that over 660 MILLION people worldwide lack healthy access to this most precious resource. That’s something easily overlooked in developed nations where we fight wars over oil, waste millions of gallons of water on carefully manicured lawns and give little thought to countless other practices that reflect how badly our priorities are askew. A change of course is imperative. Our practices are unsustainable, and a wholesale social refocusing needs to occur on several fronts.

First of all, we need to support both government and philanthropic efforts to address the issues of water access- at home and abroad. This includes well construction and sanitation projects in developing nations, where often people must forego schooling and other productive daily pursuits because of the inordinate amount of time devoted to gathering clean water. We also need to consider our aging infrastructure in developed nations. Crumbling, out-dated methods of conveyance not only leak (wasting freshwater and the energy used to pump it) but contaminates such as lead can also create public health emergencies as we’ve recently seen in Flint, Michigan. It’s very easy for us here in the United States to take clean water for granted, but without a concerted effort and investment in maintaining the systems that allow us access, Flint will merely be the writing on the wall.

Along those same lines of not taking water for granted, we must alter our consumption habits. Of course I’m not talking about drinking less water. The average American uses 80-100 gallons of water for household purposes each day, most of which is not ingested. Instead we take long showers, excessively flush toilets, and leave the faucets flowing while brushing our teeth. We’re obsessed with green grass and shiny dust free cars to the point of judgement toward anyone who dares deviate from this social standard. In these examples, it’s easy to come up with home remedy type solutions for how we can cut water usage; and in fact, we absolutely should! But in addition, people need to be more conscientious of other practices that are extremely water intensive, such as industry and agriculture, and alter consumption habits with this in mind as well. Consider all the plastics that we use. Massive amounts of water is needed to produce it. Think about how much food we throw out and the water that was irrigated to grow it. This is yet another case of how we can lessen our environmental impact by not being so damn wasteful.

Finally we need to do everything within our power to protect our natural water sources. We need to be mindful of chemical disposal, yard care applications, and what we allow to wash down storm drains. We need to support organic food production and responsible agricultural practices in order to limit the amount of nitrates and pesticides entering our waterways. We need to protect our aquifers, rivers, lakes and streams from contamination by mining and energy production. And we need to do away with corrupt politicians who are clearly in the pockets of big ag and big industry, working to invalidate safeguards such as the Clean Water Act.

Freshwater is not an infinite resource, but it is infinitely necessary. It’s time we act accordingly.

 

 

Gratitude and Vision…

Haw Creek, Arkansas

 

Greetings all… Just a quick post tonight as I’ve returned from a two week visit to Texas that included at long last the opportunity to spend an afternoon on the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas during my return home. I’ll have plenty more on that just as soon as I can find time to process the photos. In the meantime, I wanted to share this link to a blog post I wrote for a local cause…

“Gratitude and Vision…”

Backyard Abundance is a nonprofit based in Iowa City that works to promote sustainable lifestyles, focusing a great deal on gardening, agroforestry and edible landscaping. After working with the organizations director, Fred Meyer, on some projects this past year, he’s asked me to come on board as an event planner and to help with some public relations work.

I realize that many of you reading this aren’t from Iowa and have little direct connection to the happenings here (aside from the ever present high fructose corn syrup that is a staple in many American diets) but personally I enjoy hearing and learning of these types of projects and ways people are working for the environment and public health in different areas; so maybe some of you will too. And who knows, perhaps some of the things we’re working on can ignite a spark that will inspire such ideas to spread.

This post in particular comes in advance of an event we’re holding this weekend, to gather community input on a new project coming to town. The Wetherby Park edible forest is going to be the first of its kind in Iowa, and will create a public orchard in one of our local parks. It’s really a cool concept and something I’m pretty excited to be involved with. If you’re interested, you can learn more about it by clicking HERE. (And if this sort of thing is up your alley, you might enjoy following the Backyard Abundance Facebook page where we post on tons of great sustainability based topics. Click HERE for that.)

I’ll continue to share updates on some of these projects and my experiences working with Backyard Abundance here on this blog also, so I hope that it’s of some interest to those reading, and let me know if it garners any questions.