Climate Crisis at Home

In early November, my husband and I attended an amazing talk. Mary Christina Wood, an environmental legal scholar, spoke about exciting new ways the law is being used to combat climate change. One is called “atmospheric trust litigation.” Since young people are the ones who have the most to lose, they are the plaintiffs and they have launched legal campaigns in all 50 states and have already had some success. To see more about it, go to Our Children’s Trust. You can click on different states to see where things stand thus far.Map Cherry Point

In the Pacific Northwest, where I live, a company called SSA Marine wants to build the biggest coal terminal (named GPT) in the world at Cherry Point, which is adjacent to my lovely town. This also happens to be the traditional fishing area of the Lummi Nation. The Lummis secured treaty rights from the U.S. government in 1855 and Article 5 of the Treaty of Point Elliot guarantees that “The right of taking fish from usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory. . .” This area includes Cherry Point, or Xwe’chi’eXen, as the Lummis have always calleLummiNation NoCoalExportd it. There isn’t much doubt that a coal terminal of this size would have a negative effect on the Lummis’ fishing rights. And SSA Marine’s attempts to convince the Lummis that GPT would benefit them have been unsuccessful.

It is encouraging that Obama has taken the Keystone XL Pipeline off of the table. But that is not sufficient. As Wood pointed out in her talk, the Pacific Northwest is ground zero for halting climate change. There are something like 16 proposed projects along the coast to serve as shipping terminals for either oil or gas. It is so much more than “Not In My BackYard.” It is about keeping those products in the ground and changing how much energy we use and what kind of energy it is.

It is, perhaps, ironic that our best hope at changing the path we are on rests on youth and North American Indians. Both are groups that are largely dis-enfranchised.

By the most recent science, we must decrease our carbon emissions by 7% each year if we start this year. If we wait a couple of years, it will have to be 15% per year! It is like compound interest except that it is not working in our favor. However, Wood encourages us to think of it as a down payment on our children’s future. It may be difficult now, but we will reap the benefits in the future.

So. What can we do? Support the children and native people in their fight. Demand action from our legislators. Tell candidates for office that you will not vote for them unless they promise to actively fight climate change—and then follow through. In fact, pick up your phone right now and call the White House (202) 456-1111 .  Demand that the President accomplish something meaningful in Paris at the Climate Talks.  Pledge that you, yourself, will reduce your energy use by 7% per year (we actually need it at the global level, but if we reduce demand we send a very clear message). We are trying to do some of the things listed below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. What are some of the things you are doing?  I’d be interested in hearing ideas.

Live in a smaller home (the average amount of space per person has doubled in the past 40 years. It takes a lot of energy to maintain that size of a home. And do you really want to spend all your free time cleaning your home?)

Take out your lawn and put in something that does not require fertilizing, watering etc. Install drip irrigation systems for what has to be watered.

Make your home more energy efficient (eg insulate, reduce drafts, replace incandescent lights with CFLs or LEDs, use Energy Star appliances, unplug devices when not in use, use low-flow plumbing fixtures). Install low-flow fixtures. Often, cities have programs that help pay for this so take advantage of it!

Ever heard “If it is yellow, it’s mellow. If it is brown, flush it down.” In other words, only flush the toilet if you’ve gone #2. This may not be particularly pleasant, but have you seen what’s happening in California recently?

Install a programmable thermostat. We do not have one, but we try to remember to turn the heat off at least 30 minutes before we leave the house.

Wash clothes less often. It wears out the clothes and unless they are smelly or stained they don’t need it. Take shorter showers and try showering less often. I’ll admit, I still shower once a day. However, I now only wash my hair and shave every other day so I can take very short showers half the time.

Reduce or eliminate meat from your diet and do not waste food (Americans throw away a deplorable amount of food). Stop buying/eating junk food. Your body doesn’t need it and it takes an enormous amount of energy to produce it.

Reuse or recycle whenever you can. Buy in bulk so you don’t have all that nasty packaging to deal with. Be a detective and find out what can be recycled. I go to the website of my city’s recycling company and look things up.

Buy less stuff! Our closets have gotten bigger, our garages have gotten bigger. We even have storage lockers for all our extra “stuff.” Is any of this making anyone happier? I buy most of my clothes used (did you know it requires 2,900 gallons of water just to make one pair of jeans?!).

Reduce transportation carbon footprint (e.g., drive as little as possible-walk, bike, take the bus, carpool instead; drive an energy efficient vehicle; restrict recreational flights). When I walk or bicycle somewhere I think to myself “free exercise.”

Consolidate driving trips. This saves time too!

If you are taking vacations, try to take ones that are close to home. For instance, this summer we went to a small town that had a water park, amusement park, and lake with a beach that was only 45 miles away. The previous two summers we had driven 230 miles to a different lake with a water park. The water park that was closer was more expensive and didn’t have quite as many slides that were appropriate for our child, but there were enough and it was a helluva lot closer! We have friends who have moved to the south of France whom we would love to visit, but for us to fly there would put out over 1 ton of carbon. Instead we’ve started skyping. Ditto with relatives in London, Vienna, and Mexico City.

Apparently, taking one less flight per year is the equivalent of doing all of the other things above.  Justin Gillis outlines some of this here.

Take pride in what you are doing to reduce your family’s carbon footprint and do not be afraid to tell others. Ask them what they are doing so you can get other ideas. This is the biggest “group project” ever. We all have to be in on it.


The Cost of Climate Change

After politicians and other talking heads who have denied Climate Change finally admit that there might be a problem, their response, typically, is “we can’t afford to make changes.” I could not disagree more. On the contrary, we can’t afford NOT to make changes.

While we can’t point our fingers and say with certainty which natural disasters are caused by climate change, there have been more of them than previously occurred and many of them have been much worse than in the past. Not only have countless numbers of people lost their homes, their communities, and their lives, but the financial losses have become staggering.

Here is a list of the top ten costliest natural disasters in the United States:

Katrina Flood Victim
Katrina Flood Victim

Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and especially New Orleans in 2005
Damage: $145,000,000,000 (that’s $145 billion, but I think it is helpful to see all those zeros)
Deaths: 1,833

Drought & Heat Wave in the Midwest and Southeast in 1988
Damage: $76,400,000,000
Deaths: 5,000-10,000

Northridge Earthquake in Southern California in 1994
Damage: $67,000,000,000
Deaths: 60

Hurricane Sandy along the Eastern Coast, but especially in New York and New Jersey in 2012
Damage: $65,000,000,000 (does not include the Caribbean and Canada)
Deaths: 156

Drought & Heat Wave in the Midwest and Southern Plain States in 1980
Damage: $54,800,000,000
Deaths: 10,000

Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Louisiana in 1992
Damage: $43,500,000,000
Deaths: 61

Midwest Floods along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in 1993
Damage: $32,800,000,000
Deaths: 48

Drought & Heat Wave 2012: Usually, this is a pond where cattle drink
Drought & Heat Wave 2012: Usually, this is a pond where cattle drink

Drought & Heat Wave starting in the West and progressing across the U.S. to the East Coast in 2012
Damage: $30,300,000,000
Deaths: 123

Hurricane Ike 2008 mostly in Texas and Louisiana, but also inland
Damage: $28,400,000,000
Deaths: 112

Hurricane Rita & Wilma in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas in 2005
Damage: $18,600,000,000
Deaths: 35

Where did I get these numbers? Why from an insurance company of course (and The Christian Science Monitor—a pretty conservative publication). If you live in a place that is prone to hurricanes your insurance will be higher than if you don’t. If they happen more often, you will pay higher premiums. Insurance companies are very pragmatic. They are not political or partisan. They just want to make money and the greater the risk you present, the more you must pay. Other organizations that take climate change seriously include the Pentagon and the CIA (when people’s lives and homes are threatened, they tend to get testy) and Pension Funds (again, it’s about money).

If the above numbers seem modest to you (which I take to mean your earnings do not place you in the top one tenth of the 1%), consider that the list only includes disasters in the United States. Here are the other, recent, “big ones” that have occurred world-wide.

Indian Ocean Tsunami
Indian Ocean Tsunami

Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami, 2011
Damage: $210,000,000,000
Deaths: 15,840

Sichuan Earthquake 2008
Damage: $148,000,000,000
Deaths: 69,197

Thailand Floods 2011
Damage: $45,700,000,000
Deaths: 815

Yangtze River Flood 1998
Damage: $26,000,000,000
Deaths: 4,159

Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami 2004
Damage: $15,000,000,000
Deaths: 227,898

Some might dismiss earthquakes as not caused by climate change, but scientists are increasingly finding a link between the two. It seems that if we can send a man to the moon, we can affect plate tectonics. I am not sure if I am more amazed by our hubris or by the scope by which we are changing our planet.

And do I need to say it again—it’s expensive.

Changes are happening, literally, right before our eyes. If I wasn’t so terrified of the future, I could become sucked into the theatre of it all (catastrophes caught on film that look like Hollywood-generated movies, politicians denying that it is happening). If the stakes weren’t so high, it could be pretty entertaining.

Like most people, I have a hard time keeping my focus on the crisis we are headed towards. I get pretty exorcised about other things going on. And they are pretty noteworthy, but, as a mother, most of it doesn’t matter if my child is going to be living in a world more akin to the one portrayed in the Mad Max movie of 1979 than the one I grew up in. I am unsure what skills my son really needs to thrive and survive in the world he is inheriting. Should I emphasize computer science (sounds practical) or survival skills à la MacGyver (yay duct tape and Swiss Army knives!)

Recently, I began reading Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything. She takes climate change very seriously. Which is to say she understands Rome is burning and we’re all fiddling like our lives depended upon it. However, she does see a silver lining: this is an opportunity. If we actually want to survive what we have wrought in some semblance of what we have known (ie not tearing each other apart like mad dogs as everything falls apart), we have to change things from the ground up, and now! Therefore, we have an opportunity to make everything better. This means improving our democracy, our financial system, and reducing widespread inequalities. In effect, if we act decisively, we could not only pull ourselves back from the brink, but improve the quality of all our lives as well.

So, we have a choice.  Pay through the nose for the collateral damage of climate change and suffer through the extreme weather or pay perhaps less and not have as much extreme weather.  It seems pretty simple to me.

The news regarding climate change is pretty grim out there, so we have to take our inspiration where we can find it. I hope all of you will join me in fighting for something good—not just against something bad. I want something better than delivering my son from a nightmare, I want to give him a joyful, hopeful future.

Experiencing Climate Change

If you’ve being following my blog, you may have thought I’d fallen off a cliff. Luckily, that has not occurred! Instead, I spent a week in Duluth, MN, then returned home to host two sets of lovely house-guests, and I am only now catching up on “life.”

You might wonder why anyone would go to Duluth at the end of April. Good question. However, I wasn’t there for the weather. I was helping my mom post-shoulder surgery. Normally, I would visit during the summer. Spring is always iffy, but this year that was especially true because the Midwest has endured a winter from hell. NOAA declared it one of the coldest winters on record going back to 1895.

It is way past time for climate deniers to pull their heads out of their collective butts and confront reality. Climate change is not some far-flung theory about what might happen in the future; it’s a lot more serious than simply bringing everyone warmer weather (I wish). It is already happening in the here and now with devastating results. More regions of the U.S. are experiencing severe winters. In California, right now, heat waves and drought. have resulted in raging wildfires.  This is likely to be seen across the Southwest.  Florida is witnessing massive floods from too much rain (more than 2 feet in 24 hrs!) falling at one time. In the Northeast, more torrential rains and repeats of the flooding seen during Hurricane Sandy are anticipated.

Deniers claim we can’t afford to adopt reforms. Hello? I’d say it is already too expensive not to drastically change our behavior. More fires, more flooding, more snow, more cold, more heat waves cost us money, big money. And who is footing the bill? Taxpayers – and we all know that corporations are rarely good taxpayers.

When insurance companies are taking the threat of climate change seriously, it’s time for us to pay attention and demand that our politicians deal with this problem.  Even Jon Huntsman, a 2008 GOP presidential contender, gets it now and urges Republicans to become involved in addressing the problem.

So, what can regular citizens do?  There are a host of ways we can effect change.  College students are demanding that their schools divest from the fossil fuel industry: support them!  As voters, we can choose to vote only for candidates who take climate change seriously. Write politicians demanding that they address this problem. When they call you up or email you asking for money or your vote, ask what they are doing to slow down climate change. Contact companies that are especially bad polluters and/or deny climate change and demand that they change their ways or you won’t patronize them anymore (even if you no longer do or never did! They’re not going to check up on you.) Change some of your own habits and mention it to friends and family (buy fewer things like clothes that use lots of energy to produce, travel less, eat less meat, switch to energy efficient products). You don’t have to be preachy about it, just matter-of-fact.

I care about a lot of issues: GMO food, who we’re warring against, Women’s rights, etc. But climate change tops the heap. It would be futile to eat healthy foods, enjoy peace, and equality if our planet has become unlivable. It’s all happening so freakin’ fast. I have a child and I want to know that he will come of age on a planet worth living on. Surely you must feel the same way.

U.S. Climate Change


Rising Temperatures

1991-2012 average temperature compared with 1901-1960 average


The Joys of Hang-Drying Laundry

Today we had a beautiful sunny day which made me think: time to do laundry! Isn’t that what everyone thinks when there are blue skies outside? For about 8 years I’ve been hang-drying almost all of our laundry. The exceptions I make are sheets and towels (because sheets are too big and I like my towels soft). Otherwise, on the drying racks they go! I started partly because my husband already owned a drying rack or two as his home lacked a dryer (but had a washing machine). Additionally, my son, who was a toddler at the time, thought it was great fun to “help” me. Also, because dryers are the appliance that most suck electricity, it seemed a great way to reduce our energy consumption.

Although we do not live in a climate that is warm all-year round, we are able to hang-dry our clothes all year. This is because we use drying racks instead of a clothes-line. The clothes take a little longer to dry in the winter, but I place them over heat vents and that speeds up the process. Also, I like to think that I enjoy the bonus of adding moisture to the air this way (forced air heat really dries out the air and my skin starts to resemble a crocodile’s). Then, in the summer, I can put the racks out on the deck and the clothes end up smelling great from all that fresh air.  2014_0407Laundry

I also like to think that the sun’s UV rays can kill some germs, but I haven’t seen any evidence that really backs this up. But hey, it’s 64°F today which is pretty toasty for the Pacific Northwest in April. And it is not raining, thank you very much, so I’m not complaining!

Another bonus is that clothes that otherwise might require ironing, often don’t: score! We hang button down shirts and the like on clothes hangers and hang them wherever it suits us and they dry with fewer wrinkles. Ditto with our cloth napkins and placemats. I actually like ironing, but I am usually short on time so I’m willing to give it up (aren’t I the martyr?).

So, I suggest that you start doing the same. You don’t have to commit to hang-drying every load, just do what you can! We all need to do what we can to reduce our energy consumption so we don’t have so many mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, monsoons, earthquakes, etc. You know what I’m talking about here.

On a cheerier note, today I made my short-cut Mexican Soup. I love the real thing, but I don’t always have time to make it. Also, I often have a jar of half-eaten salsa in the fridge and I have learned that it doesn’t keep forever, like many other condiments, and I hate to waste food. So, here is my cheater’s recipe.

Short-Cut Mexican Soup
Salsa (at least one cup to make one serving)
Vegie broth
Assorted add-ins like:
Black beans
Frozen corn
Cheese, shredded or just sliced thinly
Avocado, diced
Cilantro, stemmed and chopped if you care
Broken tortilla chips from the bottom of a bag
Scallion, sliced

Heat the salsa, broth, beans, and corn (if using) until it reaches the temperature you want. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients on top and eat.