Trees: Nature’s Cure-All

I recently went for a hike with a friend of mine in woods local to where I live. We got lost, sort of, which was quite a feat since the woods are only about three square miles. The trails are fairly well maintained, but the map I was using on All Trails, was a little off. But regardless of our fumbling around the swampy woods, I was still in a fairly upbeat mood.

This is normally a situation that would lead to frustration. But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and I was enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been doing some reading on how trees and forests affect our moods, and it may not only have been the company and quality of the weather that was altering my mood.

There have been many studies that suggest that spending time in and around forests and trees are excellent for our physical and mental wellbeing. The flora in our cities and neighborhoods is equally as important as well, for filtering the pollutants that are being emitted by the buildings and vehicles we use daily.

In the following I’ll be going over some of the benefits that trees provide us with, and why they are so important to maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Most of the information from this article was taken from four articles I read and will be listing them at the end of this piece.

Trees and Our Mental Health

There has been mounting research that suggests that walking in nature, specifically around trees may improve our moods by lowering levels of anxiety, depression and overall stress levels. Trees have also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as well. This is quite the feat for these gentle giants.

The reason for these benefit still isn’t entirely clear to scientists, but the results continue to point towards spending time in nature leads to overall healthier mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t take long for the effects to settle in. All the more reason to take a hike in some local woods or go to a local park to enjoy the greenery.

Physical Health

Being surrounded by trees also brings with it a healthier physical being as well as emotional. The leaves from trees filter out pollution particles that affect our lungs and breathing. Mostly, they filter the particles that are emitted from vehicles emissions, or the burning of fossil fuels.

This is especially important in cities. Not only is this where a fair amount of the concentration of vehicles are located, but also the trees best scrub the air that is within 100 feet of where they stand. Trees scrubbing our air works by way of the leaves and needles, and the thousands of tiny pores on each leaf and needle. These pores take in the pollutants that would otherwise affect our lungs and breathing, holding them harmlessly in the body of their leaves.

So the more trees that are located in neighborhoods where more vulnerable populations live, the greater the health benefits could be. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in a lower socioeconomic status are most devoid of the much needed greenery. A catch 22 for sure.

Walking around trees has also shown to improve heart health. In this article by Greater Good, They talk about how walking in nature, specifically around trees as opposed to walking in cities, lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. According to the article, all of these are markers of greater cardiovascular health. And an overall healthier heart.

It isn’t clear as to why time spent around trees helps to improve health, but the data all points to spending time with trees makes a difference for the positive. There is also evidence that shows that being around trees also leads to better birth outcomes and a reduced risk of diabetes. The health benefits seem to be all encompassing. All the more reason to spend some more time in your favorite park or forest.

The health benefits of being in forests has made such an impact, that countries such as Japan and Korea have been championing forest bathing therapy. This practice is much as it sounds. The person will mindfully spend time in the forest, taking in the sensory experiences that the forest has to offer and receiving all the health benefits as well.

And if all of these benefits weren’t enough, taking in the company of trees also has been shown to improve immune system function as well as prolong life expectancy. And again, the reasons for this aren’t quite clear. There’s a theory that it may be related to aromatic compounds that trees release, but further research still needs to be done to provide an answer with some certainty.

Carbon Sequestering

It’s no surprise that trees help to sequester CO2, one of the major greenhouse gasses leading to the current climate crisis, but the rate at which they do is compelling. First, how they sequester carbon is worth understanding, so we understand why destroying trees, or even why only planting new trees without conserving the ones we have is dangerous.

Trees work to sequester carbon by taking it in from the atmosphere and using sunlight and water to turn it into wood, where the carbon is sequestered for the life of the tree. When the tree dies, is cut, burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. This is why planting new trees isn’t the only solution to the carbon dioxide problem.

It takes decades for a young tree to meet the carbon sequestering power of older trees. One tree mentioned in an article by BUR, says that it has sequestered 22,049 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to 1,100 gallons of gasoline. This is something that modern science is still having issues reproducing and why pressurving the trees we already have is so important.

Getting Involved: How to Help

So with all these health benefits that trees are providing for us, the question remains, what can we be doing to help save the forests and trees that are so healing to us? There are plenty of organizations that are out there doing good work in this area. Volunteering time, or donating money to these organizations are a few ways to help preserve them. I’ll be listing a few of the organizations below, so hopefully you can find something that matches your lifestyle and personal taste.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that advocates for not only the environment, but also social justice movements. One of their initiatives is to conserve 30% of public lands in the United states by 2030. Currently, only 12% of public lands are protected from being developed from drilling for oil or monocultures like soy or wheat.

Conserving these lands will help to keep the old growth forests that have already done so much in sequestering tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing these lands would most definitely be a major blow to climate change for the worse.

And on a positive note, if these lands are protected, then there’s a chance that these public lands could be transformed into public parks, to be enjoyed by generations of people and woodland animals to come. Sequestering carbon dioxide and building new places to enjoy the outdoors seems like a win win. The Sierra Club has a lot of projects that they are working on. So if this one sparks your interest, head on over to their site and check out what they are working on.

The Nature Conservancy

This organization is dedicated to protecting our lands and waters from being developed. One of the ways they are doing this is by carbon markets. Essentially, carbon markets work by paying a landowner who may have had plans to clear cut a section of their land for a use that would be detrimental to the environment, to keep the trees on the land intact. This way, the land is protected against being developed and the carbon remains sequestered.

They are also engaged in helping to keep the biodiversity of our planet from collapsing by way of species extinction. By protecting the habitats that these species live in, they are working towards keeping the safety of these species ensured. So saving the land and habitats of plants and animals will help to ensure their survival and hopefully they will thrive far into the future.

Rainforest Action Network

This organization also helps to conserve land but by focusing on the companies that are profiting off of the destruction of the environment. One of their initiatives is to call for a stop to the burning of the rainforest to grow food crops to be sold at market.

Farmers in the Amazonian Rainforest have been burning large parcels of land to produce foods for the Agricultural industry for a long time. The downside to this, asides from the carbon being released into the atmosphere, is that the land is not very fertile, and the destruction of the forest is taking away what has been called the lungs of the planet from scrubbing the air we breathe. If companies like this aren’t stopped, the consequences could be dire.

It’s Not too Late

You can still get involved and help to do your part. These organizations have places on their sites where you can lend a hand. Maybe donating money is more your speed, or maybe you want to march in the next protest that aligns with your worldview. Whatever your motivation or prefered method, make sure you get out there and make a difference. There’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s no better time like the present to help. The planet needs our help. Be the change you want to see in the world. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Greater Good Magazine

US News

WBUR

The Nature Conservancy

Healing Forest

Image Credits: “Forest” by CECAR – Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Environmental Self-Audit: Assessing How Green Your Habits Are

I’ve been posting a lot about emotional topics lately so I thought this one would be a little less heavy. I’ve been wanting to do a home audit, something that’s been in that back of my mind for a while, so I thought I’d check them out and let you guys know what I came up with.

The first thing I realized is, there is not a lot of people in this field, doing this work. The first search yielded results mostly from Canada, and a company from Illinois. This makes me a little sad, knowing there aren’t more people out there doing this type of work. With environmental concerns only getting more acute, it seems as though there should be a glut of these types of companies and places to get this type of work done.

Though this just isn’t the case. The sites I had looked at mostly focused on the energy that is being used in the “house envelope”. This basically means that any system that is working in your house, the plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems, that are all working in conjunction with one another and in a closed space. Like an envelope. So an audit basically adds up to an assessment of how efficiently these systems are working.

I’m not sure how well a self audit would work for assessing the workings of more technical systems, like HVAC, but for habits you keep in your day to day household upkeep, you can easily see if things could use a change for the greener. So in this post I’ll be looking at some ways and habits we can keep to make our lives a little greener.

Some Green Habits

When it comes to thinking and acting a little greener, there are a few areas we can focus on. Anything from systems in the home to personal perspectives we hold that we can shift. These are among a few things we can all be doing to help keep things running a little more environmentally friendly. I’ll go through some ideas and habits I’ve been keeping in this post, and maybe help r inspire you to keep your home as green as possible : )

Composting

Composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills or incinerators and in the food cycle. Even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still an option. Even if you’re living in a city, or a place without land. Let me go over the ways to compost, and how you can get involved.

One way to compost, if you have the space and a garden to use it is, a bin composting system. With this system, you can purchase a bin, or convert a container such as an old plastic garbage bin, into a composter. In these systems, there needs to be air circulation, water and an absence of light to let the bacteria grow and convert food waste into useable soil. You can also use a three bin system, where you place the beginnings of your compost in the first bin and move it to the second halfway to promote quicker growth. Finally the third bin is for the finished compost, to be used in your garden.

If you don’t have land or use for compost, there are companies out there picking up people’s food waste to compost it for commercial uses. The company that’s local to my area is Black Earth Composting. They pick up your food waste in a small container they give to you, much like a tiny garbage can, for a small fee. You can then get a voucher for compost from a local nursery, or donate it to one of the projects they are working with.

Where’s the Meat?

Go vegan! Or maybe eat less meat? This graph from “Climate Central” shows not only how many more resources are used by the production of livestock for consumption, but also the amount of greenhouse gasses that are produced by them. Eating less meat is one way to make a dent in your personal carbon footprint.

If you’re not ready to make the plunge into going completely meatless, maybe think about eating less meat during the course of your week. Try adding a meatless Monday to your week. Every little bit helps, and if you are looking for some inspiration, head over to my Community page where you’ll find a link to The Minimalist Baker’s website. There, Dana has loads of tasty, mostly meat free recipes where you will surely find something suited to your taste.

Be a Man by Challenging Tradition

In this article, The Good Trade explains the link between our traditional views of what it means to be a man, and how they run counter to the ideas of what it means to be an activist for the planet. They explain how certain types of socially created norms can seem unrelated to the current climate crisis, but may share a connection. This is called intersectional environmentalism, and one of the examples is toxic masculinity.

The idea is, at its most basic level, that caring for the environment is seen as feminine, and therefore rejected by those who value the tenets of toxic masculinity. Among them being dominance and competitiveness. Caring for the environment and “environmental stewardship is nurturing and cooperative. It’s inherently at odds with internalized, problematic perceptions of masculinity and feminine” writes Zach Thomas of The Good Trade.

This makes a lot of sense to me. As a product of the 80’s, My young mind was molded to the shape of, real men take what they want, use violence to get it, and anything that was seen as feminine in a man was considered “gay”. It took me a long time to come to terms with these harmful lessons that were handed down to me. And it wasn’t my caregivers fault, they were trapped in the same type of narrow thinking that had been perpetuated by society at large.

And though I recognize that it wasn’t their faults entirely, I will say that they could have come to terms with how they felt about the type of violence they were perpetuating. Forming their own ideas and opinions of what was happening around them, based on the information they were receiving. But instead they chose to take the path more traveled and pigeon hole people into certain categories, creating a great deal of suffering along the way.

This takes a whole lot of willpower, to break the binds of what we’ve been taught that may be harmful to ourselves, others and the environment. But it’s possible. Never give up hope and always question whether what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling may have been shaped by those around you growing up.

Carry a Water Bottle

This one is especially pointed. I’m not sure where the need to keep bottled water on hand came from. This article from The World Counts suggests that it comes from a fear of drinking contaminated tap water. I’m not sure where this fear first took root, but another concerning fact in the article says that, “An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second”.

This was a shock to learn for sure. But all the more reason to take action. If you drink water, or plan on doing so (which you def should, it’s great for your health in so many ways), carry a water bottle. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a place or situation, where I was in civilization, where it was unsafe to drink the tap water.

There are also chemicals that can leach into the water you’re drinking, from disposable plastic bottles, that can be hazardous to your health. If you’re looking for an alternative, I like Hydro Flask for their design and ability to keep their contents hot or cold for a longer time than conventional bottles. They’re also made of metal, steele. So you’re bypassing most plastic when you’re filling up your bottle.

Take Public Transportation or Walk/Ride a Bike

With so many cars on the road, this one should be a no brainer. I’m not suggesting that you sell your car. Only to take a closer look at your driving patterns. Where are you going? What are the nature of the trips you’re taking? Is there another way to get to where you need to be?

For me this is an easy one. I work at a place that is a nine minute walk from where I live. It’s also on a public transportation route. So if I needed to, I could take the bus instead. Where are your destinations? Do you work or go to school in an area that has a robust transit system? Maybe instead of taking your own vehicle, you could share a ride with thousands of others, and do your part to lower the creation of the greenhouse gasses that come with burning fossil fuels.

These commutes can be ideal times to catch up on your favorite podcasts or reading. Writing if that’s something you’re in the habit of, or meditating, as I did on my way into work when I worked in the city. Also, this isn’t a call to get rid of your car, only to utilize it with more care.

For example, if you have children you may need to drop them off at school in the mornings, or pick them up in the afternoon. Also, grocery shopping can be difficult if you don’t have a way to bring your groceries home at the end of your shopping trip. You’ll need to rely on your car for certain things, just not for everything.

I don’t have a car, and still manage to get all the things done on my list. I walk to work or when I worked further away, I took public transit which was very reliable. When I go grocery shopping, I take public transit to the store, and take a Lyft home. Of course, I only need to take care of myself. If I had a family that relied on me, I would most likely find another way to provide for them. This is where a car would come in handy. But what I’m suggesting is, to think of different ways to get your needs met when it comes to transportation.

If you live close to a commuter rail station, or subway or bus stop, consider taking them to your workplace instead of driving. Or maybe carpooling with a co-worker who lives close to you. This will help you to save on gas, while using a service that is already running or share a ride with someone who is going your way. Reducing your carbon footprint even further. Do you live close enough to walk or ride a bike? Consider these carbon neutral ways of greening your commute time.

Donate Time or Resources

Are you an avid hiker? Do you use the beach frequently? These are great hobbies to cultivate and ways to relax and destress. But there won’t be many places that are left pristine for our enjoyment the way things are headed now. What to do about it? Find a place to volunteer or donate to that are in line with your interests.

If you enjoy going to the beach, why not join an organization that is cleaning the surf at your favorite place. Can’t find one? Start one. Organize your friends and family, maybe some coworkers. Throw a party on the beach you’re cleaning, but spend some time first cleaning the beach. Then you can all enjoy the the fruits of your labor while cooking out together.

The same idea can work for a particular park or reservation you enjoy hiking. In both cases, it may be best to get intouch with those who are incharge of the maintenance of the place you plan on cleaning. There may be efforts already taken in that direction. Then you could invite people and go instead of organizing something new.

And if you’re short on time but have resources to donate, try finding an organization or charity that is in line with the type of activities and activism you enjoy doing. I’ve donated to 4Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountain Club in the past. If you’re looking for ideas on where to donate time or resources, this post from The Good Trade has a bunch of ideas on where to get started. Also, check your local community. Maybe on social media, or your city or town’s website. There could be something happening already, locally that you can get involved with, taking some of the pressure off of you to organize.

Get Involved

As an old co-worker of mine used to say, “it’s no easy”, and as another co-worker used to say,”that’s how it be sometimes.” I quote these people, not to make light of the situation we’ve found ourselves in, but to bring a shared sense of struggle and hope. We’re not in this alone. It’s good to remember those who have helped us along the way. The people who have lifted our spirits when we felt totally overwhelmed by a situation. Or those who have given us the wisdom to help get us through to the next project or path when we feel depleted. But there’s still work to be done.

I’ll be looking into green, house assessments in the future and if you have any insights I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. But for right now, there is loads of work that needs to be done. Find something that sparks your interest and get involved in some way. Even if it’s something small to start, at least it’s a start. You’ll feel better about being part of the solution, but also connect with like minded people along the way, maybe making some new friends to boot. So get out there and lend a hand. You’ll be glad you did. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A poem behind my green living room…!!! Un poème derrière mon salon vert…!!!” by Denis Collette…!!! is licensed under

      CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Feeling Lost: What to Do When You’re Feeling a Little Homeless

This is something I’ve recently come to terms with and something that has deep roots in my personal history. I don’t need to go over the details of how I came to this realization, but my life experiences and my personal history paved the way for my realization, and I know I’m not alone. Here I’ll be sharing my experiences in hopes that it will help to light the way back for anyone who feels the same.

This began for me at an early age. I wrote about it some in my post on “Why am I Pushing Myself so Hard“, about the trauma I experienced and the sense of loss and feeling Lost. I was eight when things began to fall apart for me. My family had turned their backs on me collectively, leaving me to fend for myself at very early an age.

This is where feeling lost, without a home began to take shape for me. I didn’t feel welcomed or loved by anyone close to me from that day on. Without a place where you feel welcome, a sense of belonging, then you can feel as though you really don’t have a place to call home. I didn’t have the words for it at such an early age, but this was how I felt. Homeless and without a sense of belonging.

Okay, so bad things happen, I’ve come to terms with that. Once you’ve made the decision to accept the difficult things that have happened to you, then you can start to find ways to not only make up for the ways you’ve reacted to those situation or experiences, but also to heal from and move forward in your life.

The Buddha said it best when talking about anger and resentment, “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. This is so true from my experience. I was holding onto a lot of anger and resentment, as well as blame and pain also. But all it did for me was helped me to cultivate a great sense of self-righteousness and unhealthy habits. These were not the best tools to go through life with.

One of my mantras in my early twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. As you’ve probably guessed, things did not go well for me with this mentality. I found myself alone, with few friends and no real connections to anyone. There were reasons for it beyond my understanding, but as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. And I definitely did not know. The journey was almost always trying, and difficult to say the least. But there are other ways of being and different tools we can use, to navigate life with.

Feeling More at Home

The tools I’m referring to are much like resources, in that they help to bring a sense of comfort and ease, direction to a chaotic life. I’ll share with you some of the tools I’ve cultivated, to help bring me a sense of direction and a feeling of being at home.

Yoga

I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for maybe five years. Yoga has helped to bring me back into my body, after dissociating from it for such a long time due to the abuse and neglect. I could comfortably be in my body while feeling difficult sensations that brought dis-ease. And there were a lot of difficult, uneasy moments for sure. But the longer you stay, the better you become at being comfortable in the sensation.

I was dissociated for a long time, so it took a lot of staying in order to feel as though I were comfortable just taking up space. If you have difficulty staying in and cultivating ease in the moment, yoga may be the key to helping you be more present.

Meditation

This one was helpful in many ways. First, it helped me to listen inwardly. There was a whole world happening inside of me that I was completely oblivious to. Tara Brach makes reference to a saying in the meditation community that’s rung a bell with me. The saying goes, “sit, stay, heal”. I like this saying because, as with yoga, the longer you stay with the difficult thoughts and emotions that arise, the easier it becomes to navigate them.

And as a friend of mine Jon said, when talking about a mutual friend who feels like they’re in a cycle of ups and downs, “what they don’t understand is, that feelings become easier to manage the more you allow yourself to feel them”. For me, I don’t think it would have been possible to separate the voice that was beating me up, from the voice of reason and better judgement. This was also difficult, and took time, but it’s doable.

Cooking

Cooking has been a source of grounding for me. The smells while the onion and garlic are frying, the steam that rises from the pots of boiling liquid. It all comes together to make a house feel more like a home. I batch cook, but also have one night a week where I cook a self-care dinner. Here is where I take my time and enjoy the process of watching it all come together. Sure it’s nice to order out every once and awhile, but the process of everything coming together holds a real sense of feeling connected to the act of nourishing yourself.

Friends and Family

Friends and family are important too. If it’s only you doing these things, it can feel lonely, and the point of these tools is to feel a greater sense of belonging and connection. Sure, first to yourself, but then to others as well. I’ve recently begun cooking with my family one night a week. This is a chance for us to connect, get to know each other a little better each time, and brings a sense of collaboration, of working on something together. Also, food tastes better when you have people to share it with.

But the bonds are what is most important when we get together for our family night. For me, I never had the bonding that I should have received when I was younger. So building something new, even though it’s a little late, has helped to fill some of that void that had been left inside of me from an early age. It also has a similar feeling as to when we gather for holidays and special occasions. It’s nice to have something special to look forward to.

We share bits of wisdom we’ve collected along the way, stories from our past, and in the process, we build that sense of belonging. That sense of being a family. And this is where feeling at home really begins to take shape. The stores and the shared sense of experience is where feeling those bonds lie. These are the moments we take with us into our lives and help to bring us a feeling of homecoming.

Writing

Writing for me has been a way to explore the ideas, thoughts and feelings I’ve had about my past, present and future. This blog has helped me to go through some of the parts of my life that I had been too scared to look at before.

Journaling as well has been an incredible resource. It has been a place where I can plan what my future looks like by writing down plans I have and things I want to accomplish. It’s a place to visit the past in a safe way by writing down my thoughts and feels about what I’ve experienced. And also a way to stay in the present. By writing down my budget, todo list, and other day to day things that need my attention while I’m living my life. I’ve written about it before in this blog, but if you haven’t yet, check out bullet journalling. This is a unique way to bring the various threads of your life together in one place.

Finding Time to Relax

This is an important one. For me, I have so many things, responsibilities and people to catch up with, that finding time for myself is in short supply. I usually find some time in the evenings. Before I go to bed, to relax a little I burn some candles, listen to some music, read a book and sip a cup of herbal tea to help unwind from the day. Feeling at ease, or like you have some time where you can feel relaxed is so important to our general health and mental well-being. Yet it’s something that we overlook or it’s the first thing to get tossed out when we have loads of responsibility to manage.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here is a perfect time to order something out, watch something mindless and just be with yourself or another and just be. We put so much weight on ourselves to accomplish so much, that we never really stop to ask ourselves, “why”? Taking the time you need to feel your best also shows you that you respect yourself and your time but also brings a sense of self-worth to it as well. And a little bit of care goes a long way.

Make a plan to relax a little everyday. Maybe there’s a park you enjoy that you can go to when you take a lunch break. Or do as I do and take an hour or so before you go to bed and set up a calming routine to help decompress from the day. Tailor it to your own needs and likes and make it a place you enjoy coming home to.

It’s Your Life, Go Live It

And I feel like this gets overlooked so often that it’s kind of amazing to me. We get so wrapped up in wanting to do as much as we’re able to, for others and what we think we need in life, that we forget to take the time to slow down and find out not only what we need, but what we want and how to best feel comfortable in our own bodies and minds.

What are some of your long term goals? Things that you want for yourself that will bring you a sense of joy and happiness. Is traveling a passion of yours? Write down a plan to visit some place you’ve wanted to go to. Even if you never make it, the act of planning can really bring a sense of curiosity and excitement, of finding new places to explore. As Adrienne says, from Yoga With Adrienne, “find what feels good”, and do that. Because life becomes a chore when it is filled with a bunch of checkboxes of things we need to accomplish. There’s more to life than what’s on your todo list.

And when you begin to tend to these areas of your life that may have been neglected for a long time, here is where the sense of direction comes together. You now have a sense of what your working towards, not just working yourself to the death. So find the things that bring you peace. They will help to make you feel more at home with yourself and with others. What are your resources, your go tos for taking care of yourself? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “lost (perdu)” by PATRICE OUELLET is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Green New Deal: What Are We Planning to do With Our Resources?

The Green New Deal is something that’s been in the works and the news for a while now. So I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I don’t really know what the proposal is all about. Seeing how part of the mission of my blog is based on environmental advocacy, I feel I should at least be abreast on some of the major talking points. I’ve heard it being spoken about in brief news clips, but haven’t done any real digging to find out what it’s all about. So for the past week I’ve been looking for news articles to get a feel for what it entails, and maybe find ways I’m able to support it on an individual level.

What I’ve found is, that the plan itself is pretty ambitious. The scope of which the Green New Deal (GND) may cover, according to this article from The Intercept, may be anywhere from, agriculture, plans for relocating coastal populations from flood zones, ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain, a universal basic income, wildfire management, transportation upgrades and trade policy. And this is only a portion of what it may contain.

Also, according to this article from Vox, the GND is a take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal from the 1930’s. The GND also covers going carbon neutral in the time frame of ten years, to providing careers and livable wages and pensions to families in the lower income bracket, closing some of the gap in the entrenched wealth divide between social classes in the states.

This was something that was a bit confusing to me at first, but as I continued to read about the GND, I realized that most likely the people who would be most incapable of switching to renewable sources of energy would be those who are having trouble finding these resources to begin with; i.e. lower income and vulnerable populations.

If you’re having trouble paying for the electric bill already, then there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to find alternative sources of energy. Such as installing solar panels on your existing house or apartment building. If you already have the means, then switching to a renewable source shouldn’t be an issue.

And furthermore, the GND isn’t a set of laws or legislation. It’s a large scale plan to invest in renewable energy sources and decarbonizing our economy and infrastructure, while making society a more fair and just one. The plan makes a lot of sense, but like I said above, it’s ambitious. It can be a little overwhelming for a person on the individual level to feel as though they are having an impact.

If you don’t have the time to write congress, protest or knock on doors to gain support, what can an individual do to help the goals of the GND? So in the face of the scope of this expansive proposal, in an attempt to help the average person feel as though they can be doing their part to help further the movement, I’ll be listing some ideas on how we can make a difference on an individual level that are still somewhat in line with the goals of the GND.

The first, and probably most pertinent one is our current energy consumption. One way of changing this is to ask your current electric company to switch your current power supplier to a company that provides energy from a renewable source.

For example, I live in Massachusetts, so I would need to call my energy provider, who purchases power from different sources throughout the state, and ask to purchase my power from a renewable company like wind or solar. The energy all travels through the same grid, so there’s no need to upgrade anything in your delivery system.

This also has the effect of increasing demand for energy that is provided from renewable sources. And since we live in a capitalist economy, we are voting for cleaner energy with our dollars when we switch to sources such as wind or solar.

Buying local is another option. As is growing your own food if you have a green thumb. Some of the focus of the GND is around trade policy. This may include aspects such as shipping packaged produce from remote parts of the world. While most companies have their logistics down to a science, i.e. filling their shipping containers to maximum capacity for best fuel optimization, buying local produce supports local farms, with most likely fair wages for workers and ethically grown produce. You’ll also be investing money into your own community by supporting local farms in your, or neighboring city or town.

And you can’t get much more local than growing your own! Whether it’s in your backyard, a community plot or in containers scattered around your apartment, growing your own veggies is most definitely a satisfying and tasty endeavour. You’ll also be eating your produce when it’s at peak ripeness. This means that you will be getting most all of the nutrients your veggies have to offer. So not only will it be better for the environment on food miles, but you’ll also be eating healthier as well.

Unfortunately there isn’t much we’re able to do when it comes to liveable wages. But there are some things we can do when it comes to how we choose to spend our dollars. There are credit cards that are marketing themselves as environmentally friendly by offsetting the carbon footprint your purchase has when you swipe your card.

While this is a step in a greener direction, and any attempt to help reduce the carbon being released into the atmosphere is a positive, it’s not as clean as it sounds. As Sara Rathner from “The Nerd Wallet” put it, most banks that are issuing these cards are more than likely investing heavily in fossil fuels. Our safest bet when deciding to make a purchase is, deciding if we really need to make the purchase.

This makes a lot of sense, but the reality is, we will sometimes need to make a purchase using a credit card, and in my opinion, it’s better to do so with a company that is actively trying to offset the carbon footprint by making a donation to an organization that is doing green works. And if we look to shop as locally as possible, we may develop healthier purchasing habits along the way, while we’re waning ourselves off of instant shipping that has become so commonplace.

Speaking of shipping, transportation is another place where we can make an impact. One of the aspects of the GND is updating and expanding high-speed light rail for travel needs. This can be approached from a few directions.

First, from a recreational perspective. I live just outside of Boston Mass.. We have a light rail system that is reliable, but we also have trains and buses that connect Boston to other parts of New England and the East Coast. So if you’d like to leave Boston for the weekend you have options other than packing yourself and stuff into your car.

For example, I don’t own a car but I’d like to take a long weekend in Portland Maine. To go to some of my favorite places and just enjoy coastal Maine for a few days. There’s a tea house, Dobra Tea that has a few locations up and down the eastern seaboard. The one in Portland Maine and Burlington Vermont are a few of my favorite places to visit and a must on my trip.

Luckily there is a train line that runs from Boston North, that ends in Brunswick ME that has Portland as a stop and it’s called the Downeastern. So if I’m feeling like taking a weekend trip, I can hop on a train and be there in a few hours.

Also, if I want to head south of Boston I can equally as easily head to South Station which has trains and buses which will bring me to all points south. I believe they go as far as Maryland, New York City and D.C.. So If you’re looking to get out of your city for a few days, it’d be worth it to check to see what your local travel options are first. That way you won’t have to deal with weekend traffic or other roadtrip hastles.

Second, if you live in a city that has reliable public transit, commuting via commuter rail, train or bus are all great options to help reduce some of your carbon footprint. I take the commuter rail and bus/train to get to work now. Sure the commute may be a little longer, but it gives me a chance to ease into my day, check emails, do some research for articles I’m writing and just to relax for the first portion of my morning.

Also it costs less to take public transit that it would to drive into work everyday. You save on gas as well as wear and tear on your vehicle. And if you go carless and take a Lyft or Uber when you need a ride, your transportation budget becomes exponentially cheaper, as you don’t have a car payment or insurance payment to figure in.

Of course these options are mostly only available to people living in a city with established public transportation. But it’s worth your time to look into if you’re thinking of making a switch to something a little greener.

There are also other small shifts you can make in your daily routine that will help you to do your part that are in line with the GND. As we all know, planting trees is still one of the best ways to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state rep. and a major spokeswoman for the GND is planting a rooftop garden filled with greens to help promote her cause. But if you don’t have a rooftop to turn into a garden for greens, there are other options available to you.

For example, there are websites like Ecosia. Ecosia is a search engine that uses its profits to plant trees in parts of the world that need them most. They boast, everytime you search, Ecosia generates income from ad revenue, that they then use to plant trees. This is a great way to take something you do every day and turn it into something helpful for the environment.

Alternatively, you can also donate directly to projects and organizations that are doing the type of work that aligns with your personal preferences. This list from Green Dreamer has 34 different types of groups and organizations that are doing sustainable work. They range anywhere from ocean conservation, to social justice. Green Dreamer is community supported, which means they independently cover green topics, without special interests from large agricultural or oil companies.

Are there organizations that you’ve heard of and always wanted to donate to, or find out more about the work they do? For me, I’ve historically been drawn to groups that take care of our resources such as our oceans and mountains. A few of the organizations I donate to are, 4 Oceans, The Sierra Club and Oxfam.

Well, I don’t actually donate to 4 Oceans, they are a certified B corporation that prides themselves on pulling a pound of trash from the ocean for every purchase made. So everytime you buy something from them, you donate to their trash collection cause. They have single use plastic alternatives which is in line with their cause and something we can all get behind, but what I’ve gotten in the past are bracelets made from recycled plastic pulled from the ocean. I usually buy them as gifts for people who may be difficult to buy for. This way you and the person receiving the gift can feel good about doing something to help keep our oceans a little cleaner.

The Sierra Club is an organization that focuses on protecting our environment from pollution and maintains trails and green spaces. Be it from helping to make the switch from coal power plants, to protecting national parks, The Sierra Club is doing work to help us continue to enjoy the great outdoors. They are also a place where environmental protection meets social justice. By advocating for groups that work with vulnerable populations.

Oxfam international is an organization that aims to help bring an end to world poverty. They do this by advocating for communities that are experiencing conditions that are near or at poverty levels. They help to train, bring in necessary technologies as well as help communities grow nutritious foods, gain access to clean water and land and access to fair wages. They do a lot to look after the welfare of the communities they work with by also helping to provide care for communities experiencing disasters and conflicts.

These three, and the list of causes above are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to organizations that are out there making a difference that you can support. There are sure to be plenty of people doing the work you would like to be a part of. All you need to do is get out there and search around. Who knows what you’ll come up with. It can be overwhelming, to think of all the areas that needs our attention. Just remember to take it slow, one step at a time.

Also it’s helpful to realize that it took us a while to get into this mess, it may take a while to get ourselves out. So instead of beating ourselves up for not being as green as humanly possible, let’s take an honest look at where we are, what we’ve gotten ourselves into, and make steps, however small, to get ourselves out from where we are. And don’t give up! It won’t be easy, that’s for sure, but it’s possible. We only need to be diligent in our efforts and work faithfully towards our collective goals. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Normandy Pasture” by Bold Frontiers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sustainable Clothing: Is it Better to Buy Cotton, or Recycled Polyester?

I was looking for a new hooded sweatshirt a few days ago when I realized I only have two that aren’t exercise clothing. One being two sizes too large for me and the other getting used almost every day. It’ll only be a matter of time before the one I wear everyday becomes threadbare while the other is comically large on me and only wear it around the house. So I went to the website of a company I’ve bought from in the past and was shuffling through their products in search of a new sweatshirt.

I liked some of their clothing, the style and simplicity, so the next step was to look at the materials label. The company prides itself on being sustainable, so I figured I’d have nothing to worry about. But when I checked the labels, it said that they were made with recycled materials. I knew this meant polyester to some degree and I was wondering what the ramifications are of using plastic, even if it’s from recycled sources, as the main material component.

My instinct is that using plastics to any degree, including clothing, perpetuates the cycle and need to rely on petrochemical materials. The idea of having more plastic floating around in one form or another is unsettling to me. I’m not saying that all plastic use is inherently bad. I appreciate that plastics have been used to change many people’s lives for the better. But it seems to me that we first need to get our collective plastic consumption under control before we think about expanding its use into more aspects of our day to day lives.

As far as my clothing goes, I’d like to lean towards more natural fibers, such as cotton and wool. I know that at least with cotton, the material will eventually decompose, and more than likely in my lifetime. And a quick Google search tells me that wool will decompose in six months under ideal conditions. But plastic however will stay around for quite some time and breakdown further into smaller pieces, causing all sorts of environmental hazards.

Both small and large aquatic animals mistake plastics for food. Certain whales for instance have been found with many pounds of plastic waste in their stomach. But one of the reasons that plastic clothing in particular is such an environmental threat is that when washed, the fabric degrades, releasing hundreds of thousands of microfibers into the aquatic environment. There they are consumed by marine life, fresh and saltwater animals alike, as it makes its way up the food chain. As Lisa Messinger from The Guardian put it in her article, “How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply“, when a professor cut open a fish from the great lakes, they found thousands of microfibers weaving their way in and around the gastrointestinal tract of the freshwater dweller.

This is concerning to say the least. According to Greenpeace, 30% of plastic pollution could be caused from microfibers. In their article, “what are microfibers and why are our clothes polluting the oceans?“, “Europe and Central Asia alone dump the equivalent of 54 plastic bags worth of microplastics per person per week into the oceans.” More disheartening news. And the older the garment is, the more fibers it releases, according to a study paid for by Patagonia.

The more I continued to read about the effects of microfibers on the environment, the more I realized that there wasn’t really an option. If I want to live a more sustainable life style, I need to stop buying clothing made from synthetic materials and switch to a natural option.

With all this new information swimming around in my mind, I was left with my new plan, to buy more sustainable clothing, but without much direction. The brand I was originally looking to for my new sweatshirt purchase, had a bullet point under the specs of their hoodie that it was made from, “bluesign approved materials”. This caught my eye, and could possibly be some of the direction I was looking for. So I headed over to their website to see what they are all about.

From what I was able to gather, the Swiss company is an independent resource, with the focus of advocating for better working conditions for employees and a more sustainable way of producing goods during every aspect of their production. A noble cause indeed, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is 100% sustainable. After all, the sweatshirt I was looking at was made with 60% recycled polyester.

That’s not to say that the company isn’t doing important work. Just because I’ve set my standard at wanting to purchase natural materials for clothing, doesn’t mean it’s the most important one by any means. They also focus on working with companies to reduce the amounts and toxicity of the chemicals they use. As well as focusing on the human element of the industry with fair wages and safe working conditions for employees. All important aspects to investigate and consider when purchasing from a company.

The next group of businesses I stumbled across in my search for sustainable clothing was Certified B Corporations. Another company focused on the ethical production of goods and their effects on workers rights, consumers rights and the environmental impact of the products each company produces.

At first glance, the company looks good. Some of the companies that are certified provide services such as opening jobs to people who have been incarcerated in the past. I used to work at a local bakery with a friend of mine. She was looking for help, and we had worked together at a bakery previously so she asked if I wanted to come help out. I agreed, and while I was working there I meet a bunch of great and interesting new friends. One of them happened to be just in the position I mentioned above. He was recently released from prison and was looking for work.

From what I could gather, when you are released from jail, your hireability gets reduced to zero. He told me how difficult it was for him to find a job in his previous industry and that most people wouldn’t even give his application a second glance. This was sad because he was one of the most endearing people I’ve met. He made some bad decisions for sure, but we all do at some point. That shouldn’t mean that the person’s life should be scrutinized from then on, blocking opportunities for the rest of their life.

This reminds me of another business that I used to go to who soly employed homeless persons. I’ve often heard in the past that all the homeless really need to do is to get a job. Though I imagine it would be difficult for a number of reasons for a homeless person to complete an interview successfully, let alone maintain a job! From finding clean clothes and a place to shower, to printing out a resume and not having a stable mailing address or reliable transportation, the homeless person has a mountain of obstacles to overcome!

So from the perspective of protecting employee rights, I can understand and appreciate the work that is being done from B certified corporations who fit this bill. They also have a blog where in one post they explore a few companies in the fashion industry, and how they are making a difference. One of the companies, Bombas, is mentioned as donating a pair of socks to homeless shelters for every pair sold. This is a stellar way to give back to the community. One of the most requested items at homeless shelters are socks, so they’re definitely helping a lot of people.

The one area that wasn’t clear was the research they did, and the numbers they used to score each company. There was general information about what the practices they are evaluating were, but they did not go into detail on the information they used to evaluate the practices. Upon further reading, the information explained that these evaluations were taken by the corporations themselves.

Does this mean that a company is giving itself a self assessment of how they perform in these categories, or is there a disinterested third party that is evaluating the company and its results? I’d like to believe that these companies are honest and accountable for their actions, but with so much ambiguity, it would be nice to know for sure they are being held accountable.

A Wikipedia article explains that B Lab is the company that gives out certifications to companies that meet a certain standard of “transparency, accountability, sustainability and performance”. But again, how B Lab comes up with the standards by which they grade these companies is not totally clear from my research.

From what I understand of the B certification, it is something that a willing company takes as a self assessment, evaluating their performance using B Lab’s standards, and creates a plan around where they find weaknesses in their company. This is definitely better than nothing, and it’s at least comforting knowing that there are corporations out there that are willing to take a look at their practices and willing to make a change for the better. I only wish that B Lab was more transparent with their evaluation methods.

There are few places that I could find that gave ethical reviews on companies, let alone clothing companies. There was however one website that showed some promise. The Green Stars Project. This is a project that empowers people to write reviews of and rate different companies using a system based on a series of criteria that covers topics from fair working wages to the environmental impact the company has on our resources, to the ethical treatment of animals to how a company impacts a community. The list is only limited to the knowledge that individuals feel is important to their ethical standards.

The only downside to this is that it relies on individuals to write these reviews in the review section of a particular item. It’s decentralized, which is nice because it’s coming directly from the consumer and their knowledge base, but from what I understand of the system, there is no way to search for products by their Green Star rating. So if I was looking for an ethically sourced piece of clothing, I would have to do the research to find the company and product, then write a review or hope that there was one already written. There is no database of products that have Green Star ratings available to browse that I’m aware of.

The Green Stars Project does however have a resources page where they list a few sites that do have lists of companies that have done some research on ethical businesses. One of the sites is Better World Shopper, where you are able to search companies by category and grade. Here I found some clothing companies that are listed by grade. So I could easily tell which companies are more ethically focused than others.

Even with the grading system, if you are looking to replace synthetics with natural fibers as I am, you still need to read the labels. But it’s nice knowing that there are people out there doing the work and looking for ethically and socially responsible companies. And that we have a place to at least start our search for better buying choices.

Some of the companies that I’ve come across in my search for ethically sound businesses are very specific in what they offer. For example there are many companies that focus on socks and underwear. So when I stumbled across this post by Whole Body Diary, on sustainable clothing lines, I was excited that there are more people out there searching for more ethical ways to purchase different types of clothing.

Kezia from Whole Body Diary brings up a good point, and one that I am struggling with a little. Many of the companies she lists on her blog are not 100% sustainable. This brings me back to my original question, is it better to buy cotton or recycled plastic. But as Kezia says, not every company is going to hit every sustainable mark. Some may focus on organic cotton, like Nudies Jean company. While others help the larger community, such as Bombas, who I’ve mentioned above as donating a pair of socks for every pair sold.

So our search for sustainable isn’t going to be a perfect one. But if we choose to search for companies that are trying to make a difference on some level, at least we’re supporting the larger whole of the mission, to buy from and support more sustainable businesses.

And there are some companies that do hit a lot of the marks as far as making sustainable clothing goes. One company, and the one I’m probably going to buy my sweatshirt from, is Pact. This company provides a wide variety of organic cotton, sustainable clothing. They are environmentally conscious of the production of their clothing by using sustainable materials as well as organic fabrics, as well as focusing on the well-being of their employees and work closely with the Fairtrade certified organization.

The Fairtrade certification means that the business is working to sustain the safe working conditions of the employee, that the company is protecting the environment, helping to pay sustainable wages for workers, as well as community development funding, according to their website. This is a huge step forward in helping to reduce not only the environmental impact of a company, but also the fair treatment of the employees and workers rights, while building healthier communities.

With this knowledge, finding clothing companies with a focus on reducing the overall harm they could be causing became much easier. I also had to accept that all companies aren’t going to reach the unachievable standard of being 100% sustainable. So the search for companies that are causing the least amount of harm became my new goal.

In this article published by The Good Trade, they cover 35 different companies that have ethical and sustainable practices! This is an exciting find. To think that there are so many companies that are willing to put the effort into making sustainable products and work towards the betterment of workers and the environment. Knowing there are more options when looking for sustainable ways to fill your wardrobe, feels like there is less of a burden knowing we are helping to lessen our impact on workers well-fare and the environmental costs.

I will add that some of these clothing lines can get pretty pricey. One of the clothing companies I mentioned above, Nudies Jean Co, has jeans that range from $185 to $400. That’s a lot of money for a pair of jeans no matter how you look at it. But according to The Food Diary, they last longer than other brands of jeans. Kezia said that her husband’s pair of jeans have lasted four years now and they are still going strong. The website also has a repair service. So if there’s been some damage done to your jeans, you can fix them up instead of throwing them away. So the lifespan of the garment is something to consider when looking at the price tag as well as the production methods.

Something that has helped me along the way, with purchasing clothing on a budget, is to establish a sinking fund for new clothing purchases. I don’t buy clothing often, so when I need something it’s usually small, like a package of socks or underwear. But if you need to replace a winter coat, or a pair of boots, this can get pricey.

A sinking fund is a good way to have a certain amount of cash on hand in case you need to replace items in your wardrobe. If you’re not familiar with the term, a sinking fund is where you set up a savings for a specific item, in this case it would be clothing, and contribute a set amount of money each week or pay period. This way you have what you need, when you need it and don’t have to scramble to find $300 dollars to purchase a new winter jacket that you may have lost on the slopes.

I contribute $25 dollars a pay period to mine, and I’ve decided to cap my fund at $400. This way I won’t look at my fund one day and realize I’ve amassed thousands of dollars into something that doesn’t require that much money! This way I can replace the most expensive article of clothing in my wardrobe while still feeling confident that I can take care of the basics when I need them.

So in the end, some companies that use microfibers that are polluting our oceans, are still leading the way in other areas of sustainability. It may come down to what your personal preference is for buying and supporting sustainable clothing. For me it’s buying organic cotton or wool when I have a choice, and recycled fibers if it’s something that requires them, like a raincoat or winter boots.

And for me, knowing that I’m supporting workers rights, and lessening the environmental impact my clothes are having is something that I can feel good about supporting. Knowing that I’m not just pushing off the problems of today onto the next generation is something that helps me to rest a little easier. And with projects like The Green Star Project, it’s exciting to think that there could be an independent source of a knowledge base, coming together to create a more ethical way to purchase clothing.

And it nice knowing that companies such as B Certified Corporations, Bluesign and Fairtrade out there, putting the work in to help lead the way in helping companies produce their goods in a more sustainable way. And while helping consumers know which companies are doing the work, is also comforting to know. I’ll be linking some of these companies in my community page for those who are looking to make their wardrobe a little greener. And I’d love to hear about the companies you’ve found that are doing good work as well. This is where I leave you good reader, and as always, peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Nature’s Coatrack” by m01229 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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