creativity

I can’t stop thinking about Yellowstone

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

On Sunday night, I sat down to work on my novel-in-progress. All I could think about was the devastation in Yellowstone that could take years to restore and cost billions of dollars. You’ve got to write what’s in your heart and on your mind. This is what poured out of me:

Many of us are watching the recent flooding in Yellowstone National Park with horror, and rightly so. To see whole structures carried away as if they were weightless is terrifying. What struck me is how quickly the devastation came and went from the top headlines. Did any of us change anything about the way we live after seeing the footage? Very few, if any. The reason, unfortunately, is science. 

Though scientists across the globe have largely rallied around data that supports the impacts of climate change on our planet and the rapidly closing window of time left to truly stave off the worst consequences, scientists have also been reluctant to draw direct connections between catastrophic events like Yellowstone’s flooding and climate change. Their reluctance is so common that media articles and reports often reference it in environmental coverage. 

For example, in a recent New York Times article, the reporters say this in the opening: “It is difficult to directly connect the damage in Yellowstone to a rapidly warming climate — rivers have flooded for millenniums …”

With sweeping statements like that, the well-intentioned reporters have given climate deniers all the fuel they need to shrug their shoulders and go about their day exactly as they have every other day. Or worse—this is a simple explanation they use to convince others that scientists have no idea what they’re talking about and that everything is just fine. This behavior is destroying the planet and will ultimately destroy us.

Our hand-wringing about “direct connections” is going to cost us our lives and livelihoods. It’s time for us to get off the sidelines and stop taking the role of being our own worst enemies. Climate scientists can look to other areas of science to see how to inspire action, namely medicine. 

Very little in the field of medicine is certain. A lot of medicine is educated guessing. Standards of care often read something akin to “given your situation and what we have observed with those who we believe are similar to you, we believe this course of treatment may help.” I know this first-hand because I’m currently taking a medication after beating early-stage breast cancer that is still experimental with some studies showing that it has a possible chance of reducing the risk of recurrence for someone like me. 

There are caveats all over that statement, but you know what? If it can’t hurt, might help, and my insurance covers it, I’m taking it. I want to live a long, healthy life. Most of us do. For that singular reason we exercise, eat healthy food, try to manage our stress level, don’t smoke, limit (or eliminate) alcohol, go to the doctor for check-ups and exams, and take medications that could help us. Is any of that advice perfect? No. Are we guaranteed a specific outcome if we do all those things? No. But why not give ourselves every possible advantage we can, right?

Climate scientists could model their approach on medicine. Even if they can’t make a perfect case for cause and effect between climate change and a single catastrophe like Yellowstone flooding, does it seem likely that the two are related? Yes. Could an increase in wildfires, droughts, and more severe storms be related to a warming planet? Yes. Could an acceleration of species extinction be driven by deforestation and the pollution of our air, oceans, and water ways? Yes. Could the continuous and increasing supply of greenhouse gases being pumped into the air be destabilizing our atmosphere? Yes. Then why not do everything possible to mitigate the impacts that could have such dire consequences on the life of every living being on the planet?

We want to live long, healthy lives so we do everything we can to try to make that possible. Why not do the same for the planet that we all need? Even if you and I do everything right when it comes to the health of our bodies and minds, if the health of the planet as a whole suffers, what we do for our own individual health will be for naught. 

The planet needs a standard of care—limit or eliminate pollution in all its forms; reduce, reuse, and recycle; replace fossil fuel consumption with clean, renewable sources of energy; stop food waste; stop deforestation and replenish the forests we’ve lost. 

None of these changes will be simple nor pain-free. We have to reinvent how we live and the systems that make our lives and economies function. The transition will be difficult, expensive, and, for a while, inconvenient. But you know what’s more difficult, expensive, and inconvenient? Having a planet that’s in such poor health that it can no longer sustain life—ours or anyone else’s. Why take that risk when there is another way? Why not give ourselves and all those who (hopefully) come after us the best chance to live and live well?

We don’t need certainty and one-to-one causations for climate action. If a high probability and correlation is good enough for the science we use to sustain our bodies, then it’s good enough for the science to sustain our planet. By the time we have inarguable certainty, it will be too late for all of us. That’s a risk none of us should willingly take. 

creativity

The Great Green Wall of Africa

The Great Green Wall plan. Image by NASA.

A lot of my writing life revolves around science, environmental sustainability, and biomimicry. This Fall, I’m starting a graduate program in Sustainability Leadership at University of Cambridge. As I prepare for that program, I’m researching different programs around the world that are restoring land and protecting species from the effects of climate change.

I recently learned about a project called the Great Green Wall. From their website:

Growing a World Wonder
The Great Green Wall is an African-led movement with an epic ambition to grow an 8,000km natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa. Once complete, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, 3 times the size of the Great Barrier Reef.

A decade in and roughly 15% underway, the initiative is already bringing life back to Africa’s degraded landscapes at an unprecedented scale, providing food security, jobs and a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path. 

The Wall promises to be a compelling solution to the many urgent threats not only facing the African Continent, but the global community as a whole–notably climate change, drought, famine, conflict, and migration. 

Improving Millions of Lives
The Great Green Wall is taking root in Africa’s Sahel region, at the southern edge of the Sahara desert – one of the poorest places on the planet.

More than anywhere else on Earth, the Sahel is on the frontline of climate change and millions of locals are already facing its devastating impact. Persistent droughts, lack of food, conflicts over dwindling natural resources, and mass migration to Europe are just some of the many consequences.

Yet, communities from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East are fighting back. 

Since the birth of the initiative in 2007, life has started coming back to the land, bringing improved food security, jobs and stability to people’s lives.

A Global Symbol
The Great Green Wall isn’t just for the Sahel. It is a global symbol for humanity overcoming its biggest threat – our rapidly degrading environment.

It shows that if we can work with nature, even in challenging places like the Sahel, we can overcome adversity, and build a better world for generations to come.

Growing More Than Trees
More than just growing trees and plants, the Great Green Wall is transforming
the lives of millions of people in the Sahel region.    

The Great Green Wall makes a vital contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (known as the SDGs)—a global agenda which aims to achieve a more equitable and sustainable world by 2030. It’s rare to find a project that impacts all of the SDGs and the Great Green Wall does just that.

We can all be involved in this effort. Visit https://www.greatgreenwall.org/ to learn more.

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Growing a new world wonder across the entire width of Africa.
Growing fertile land, one of humanity’s most precious natural assets. 
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Growing a wall of hope against abject poverty.
Growing food security, for the millions that go hungry every day. 
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Growing health and wellbeing for the world’s poorest communities. 
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Growing improved water security, so women and girls don’t have to spend hours everyday fetching water. 
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Growing gender equity, empowering women with new opportunities.
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Growing sustainable energy, powering communities towards a brighter future. 
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Growing green jobs, giving real incomes to families across the Sahel. 
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Growing a reason to stay
to help break the cycle of migration.
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Growing sustainable consumption patterns,
to protect the natural capital of the Sahel. 
Growing resilience to climate change in a region where temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth. 
Growing a symbol of peace in countries where conflict continues to displace communities. 
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Growing a symbol of interfaith harmony across Africa.
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Growing strategic partnerships to  accelerate rural development across Africa

creativity

My sustainability interview series for InnoLead is live for Earth Day

Photo by Photo Boards on Unsplash

Happy Earth Day!

For the next two months, a sustainability series I’m writing for the site InnoLead will be published and we’re kicking it off today with an interview I did with Shannon Carroll, Assistant Vice President of Global Environmental Sustainability, for AT&T. We talked about how to structure a sustainability team within a large company, stretch goals, and building for resiliency in an ever-changing world. I’d love to know what you think!

Here’s the link: https://www.innovationleader.com/strategy-and-governance/how-atandt-is-setting-sustainability-stretch-goals-and-driving-progress/1933.article

creativity

Joy today: One step closer to a fatberg free NYC

This is what a failed product development experiment looks like. I’m sharing this because I think it’s important to talk more about failure, especially in science.

I spoke to Michael DeLoach & NYC Water about the #FatbergFreeNYCinitiative. As a grad student at The Biomimicry Center I’m learning to use biomimicry principles and my experience in product development to invent a flushable wipe to eliminate fatbergs.
http://fatbergfree.nyc

This was my green chemistry solution and my finished product. My dachshund, Phineas, is my lab assistant. He’s a bit like Beaker so I guess that makes me Bunsen Honeydew. We listened to the podcasts Harry Potter and the Sacred TextOlogies Podcast, and The Story Collider to stay inspired as we did our research.

This was only the 1st attempt. It failed. And that’s okay. I stand by the green chemistry solution. I just need to find a sturdier delivery material that quickly biodegrades. Trial #2 is already underway.

And given that it’s May Day, a day when we celebrate those who work, toil, tinker, and invent, here’s 3 cheers for all of you working to solve our world’s toughest challenges and make this a better planet for all beings.

creativity

Joy today: Earth Day, Pete Seeger, and the New-York Historical Society

To celebrate Earth Day, I highly recommend a trip to NYC’s first museum, the New-York Historical Society, to see Hudson Rising, their gorgeous exhibit about the Hudson River. Inside you’ll meet a family friend of mine, folk singer Pete Seeger. We were introduced to him by another family friend, Faith Emerson Ward, my father’s childhood neighor. His boat, the Clearwater (a model of it is in the museum’s exhibit and is pictured here), was a common and prominent fixture in the Hudson Valley when I was a kid. At our annual Clearwater Festival, I ate stone soup, boarded the boat, and learned about environmental conservation. There, I first learned that not everyone loved and cared for the planet as we did so we had to show people why it mattered so much. I remember Pete as a kind, gentle, and unrelenting soul. This Earth Day, I’m thinking of him and his message. I’m sure he’d be proud to know how many of us are carrying on his legacy and working hard to help all people live in a way that supports life.

creativity

A Year of Yes: I switched my electricity to 100% renewable wind and solar

I want to talk to you about something that I’m very passionate about. I grew up on a farm in the Hudson Valley and spent the majority of my childhood outside. That experience gave me a healthy respect and passion for our planet. It also instilled in me a deep love for science, animals, and our role in the ecosystem.

When I was in high school, I had a summer internship at our local power planet, Central Hudson, as a part of winning the Rensselaer Medal. There I learned so much about energy production and consumption, and it’s remained a supreme area of interest for me.

This week’s climate change report and the news of Hurricane Michael hit me like a ton of bricks so I did some digging about what I could personally do. 90% of NYC’s electricity is generated by coal. Today, I switched to 100% renewable wind and solar energy. The switch took 1 minute online. My service and provider stay the same. Con Ed will just source all my electricity from wind and solar.

I might pay a little more or less than I do now. Rates are variable no matter what their source; they’re based on how many people are using how much power at any given time. Here’s a link to learn more. This is a national program and can be used by anyone in the country with any electricity provider.

Thanks for listening and caring.

creativity

In the pause: Philly’s Rooster Soup Co. is doing everything right in the food world

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Check out Rooster Soup Co at http://www.roostersoupcompany.com/

I have to give a big shout out to Philly’s Rooster Soup Co. Recognized today as one of the best restaurants in the U.S. by Food & Wine Magazine, this tasty place produces zero waste and donates 100% of its profits to charity to help vulnerable Philadelphians live a better life. This is the kind of business we need to celebrate – good product and service, good for the planet, and good for the community. This is a triple bottom line we can all believe in and support.