Welcome to Sustainability Journal, where I document what I’m reading, learning, thinking, and doing in the sustainability space.
September has felt weird. There hasn’t been a distinct transition from summer to fall, since we didn’t take any time off this year. Images from California look apocalyptical, and Massachusetts is in a drought, so…there is that. Back-to-school season is also different; we don’t have kids, but the city always has a different vibe this time of the year with all the colleges returning. On a personal level, September is when I get my annual haircut from a Chinese salon in our old neighborhood ($29 after tips baby) AND when my partner and I go the big E, an agricultural fair in Western Mass. (Yes these two activities must happen on the same weekend in September, and yes we return home from the fair each year with an unreasonable amount of kettle corn from the New Hampshire House. Don’t ask questions.) Because of covid, I’m kettlecorn-less and able to rock a bun on the top of my head for the first time in a while. What a strange time to be alive.
An individual action I’m focusing on at the moment: cultivating a (more) sustainable backyard. We are lawn people now? I guess? To be fair, we did have a small patch of grass shared with our neighbor in our last place, and my strategy (or lack thereof) was basically…out of sight, out of mind. I hated the idea of a lawn, and I couldn’t wrap my head around why anybody would ever want to waste the land, time, water, and resources on these ecological dead zones. As a result, this led to an actual wasted space, where weeds grew to my thighs, and turkeys, raccoons, squirrels, and birds ran amok…and happily snacked on my porch garden.
Now that we have moved, I’m slowly coming around to the idea of putting in some efforts to take care of the lawn while slowly transitioning to more native and low-maintenance perennial plants. In practice, this means actually taking the time to mow (by my partner) and pulling weeds (not using weed killers), being diligent about checking the weather and turning on the sprinklers only when absolutely necessary, composting the clippings, and fixing the bare patches this fall so the seeds have time to establish.
If you are in a similar boat or are ever in need of yard or gardening information for your area, I highly recommend your local or regional land-grant universities. They are in all states, and many, if not all of these institutions have long had expertise in agriculture. For me, the UMass Home Lawn and Garden Resources have been so helpful!
Books I’m reading:
Naomi Klein | On fire: the (burning) case for a green new deal. A well-researched and passionate plea for why we desperately need massive and urgent action on the climate crisis. Reading this book right now feels extra visceral because of all that is happening on the West coast. (But is the book “too inspiring?” Robert Jensen poses an interesting question in his review of the book here.)
Ibram Kendi | How to be an antiracist. Kendi needs no introduction, and this is a valuable read for anyone who wants to dig deeper into the definition and evolving history of racism and its manifestations in our daily lives. On a tangentially related note, if you are interested in hearing a different take on “woke culture”, including a critique of Kendi’s book and some of the shortfalls of how we talk about race these days, check out Matt Yglesias’s interview with linguist and academic John McWhorter.
Where I sent my dollars: Frugal Bookstore and Boston Cyclist Union.
Frugal Bookstore is a black-owned bookshop in Boston. I ordered Kendi’s book along with a few others from them. They are completely swamped so it took a while for my copy to arrive, but it’s exciting to see local businesses thriving! September is Bay State Bike Month, and I celebrated by joining the BCU membership program. This will help support BCU’s advocacy activities and get you some discounts from local bike shops. Previously the BCU membership was $50/year and $25/year for folks with limited resources, but they’ve recently changed it to a pay-what-you-can-model, which is just *chef’s kiss*
A thing I’m enamored with: a pair of linen pants from Etsy, which you can kinda see from the photo above. Leave it to me to order a pair of pants from Latvia in the middle of a global pandemic…these pants took 3 months to arrive; slow fashion is sloooowwww alright. Etsy does purchase offsets for shipping, which is nice. Tbh I probably could have found what I’m looking for secondhand if I looked long and hard enough, but getting exactly what I want is nice every once in a while. These were made to order so they fit my (short) legs perfectly, and I’ve practically lived in them since August.
Something I’m daydreaming about: a culturally appropriate dishwasher. Chinese people use a lot of bowls for serving food, and most dishwashers I’ve seen are designed for plates. I’ve been slowly mastering the technique to fit as many bowls in a dishwasher as possible, while making sure they get cleaned and don’t flip over – but – can there be an aesthetically pleasing, efficient, and bowl-friendly dishwasher? A girl can dream.
More stuff you should check out:
- This Freakonomics episode about the economic case for saving the Amazon. The discussion on sovereignty is important and often underplayed in environmental movements.
- Ezra Klein’s recent interview with Bryan Stevenson (ED of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy) is sooooo powerful, moving, and inspiring. Tune in asap.
- This mini carbon footprint quiz from the NYTimes. (I did terribly!)
- Speaking of fun internet tools, https://youchangeearth.org/ is a new handy site that shows you personalized climate action recommendations.
- This Guardian article outlining all the ways that SUVs are terrible for public safety and the environment.
- For local friends who have an interest in renewable energy, I learned a lot from this Green Energy Consumers Alliance Report on green municipal aggregation programs in Massachusetts.
(Header image: if you aren’t eating tomatoes every single day, is it even summer?)