Sustainability Journal | Nov + Dec 2020

Welcome to Sustainability Journal, where I document what I’m reading, learning, thinking, and doing in the sustainability space.

The cats are practically living on the heater, and I wake up with a runny nose every morning: I guess that means winter is here…? Like many parts of the country, covid cases and hospitalizations are rising here in Massachusetts, and field hospitals are re-opening after being closed in the summer. I’m clinging to the good news coming out of the vaccine trials, but my heart aches so much for the health care providers who have not had a day of rest since March.

As it gets dark earlier and the number of infections surging, I find myself leaving the house less and less 😦 Some days I end up working all day in the clothes I had slept in the night before, taking no more than a few hundred steps in the whole day (walk to kitchen from my desk for a snack and walk back*), and I’m determined to change that. Two things that have helped me get outside so far are to 1) go on walking meetings if video isn’t needed and 2) check out physical books from the library for curbside pickup (instead of my usual rental on Kindle). I always feel infinitely better after a walk, even if it’s freezing outside. So if you take one action item away from this blog entry: get outside! (and wear a mask! It even keeps your face warm!)

An individual action I’m focusing on at the moment: Learning to use a sewing machine.

I’ve been looking for a secondhand sewing machine on the cheap for what feels like forever, and finally – the stars have aligned, and I found the perfect sewing machine…from the trash, literally. Well, more precisely, it was a thoughtful friend who knew I was looking that spotted it on top of the trash bin outside of her apartment. Besides missing a foot pedal, it was in excellent condition. I still can’t believe it: who on earth tosses a barely used sewing machine – still in its original packaging – in the trash?! This person could have easily made 100 bucks! (Side note: do you have a friend that finds literal treasure from the trash and hand delivers it to you while proclaiming she is happy to be the “trash santa”? Get yourself a friend like that, mkay?)

A community action I’ve taken: emailing businesses about sustainable practices. For example, I recently learned about the website Climate Friendly Supermarkets, and have been emailing a few grocery store chains urging them to adopt HFC-free cooling technology. (HFCs, or hydrofluorocarbons, are commonly used as refrigerants. They are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide and are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in the world.) If you are on Instagram, I posted some tips here on how to write a short and sweet email to your favorite business, with example letters saved in story highlights.

Where I sent my dollars: Green Energy Consumer Alliance, The Greater Boston Food Bank, Boston Area Gleaners, Violence in Boston.

Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (#reparations #landback), and I donated to several local orgs that are doing work that has gotten even more important during covid. (Fact: one in four American households reported being food insecure during the pandemic, which is absolutely unacceptable, especially in one of the richest countries on this planet.)

December is also when I make other year-end contributions to resources I often use for free, and this list usually starts with: Wikipedia, Internet Archive (also known as the “Wayback Machine”, it’s a researcher’s dream) and NPR (I look up which local stations produce the podcasts I always listen to and make donations to each station).

A note for folks who are able to only donate a small dollar amount: it’s your participation that really matters. Even $3 is helpful because 1) they add up and 2) more importantly, institutions can use your donation to leverage larger donors. (e.g., a school can go to a wealthy alumni and say “look how much our students loved our programs! 60% donated! Please send $$ to help us fund it”.) Many US workplaces also offer matching donations, so be sure to ask if your employer can match your donations.

Books I’m reading:

Long Litt Woon | The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning. After the sudden death of her husband, Long finds hope and healing through the woods of Norway, foraging, and the mysterious world of fungi. The writing is so beautiful and intimate – I’m hooked!

Tom Philpott | Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It. Philpott is the food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones, and I’ve been reading his work for as long as I’ve been interested in the topic. This book ties many of the issues he’s long been covering together – with a particular focus on the US’s produce aisle (California) and bread basket (the midwest) – and the future of agriculture doesn’t look rosy. If you are interested in a preview of what this book is all about, check out his interview with Civil Eats. It’s one of the best books I’ve read on food systems in recent memory!

A thing I’m enamored with: the Allston community fridge (check out that seriously amazing artwork!). Community fridges are fridges in public places that allow neighbors to give what they have and take what they need. Much like the Little Free Pantries sprouting up everywhere, community fridges fill a much-needed void at a time when so many folks are in a difficult financial spot. If you are in the Boston area, check out this article to find a community fridge near you for donation and volunteer opportunities.

More stuff you should check out:

  • Bloomberg News predicts 2020 US carbon emissions will be 9.2% lower than 2019 due to the pandemic, the biggest drop on record. (BUT! Remember that covid virtually did not change greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – CO2 sticks around for a looooong time especially in the ocean.)
  • This Freaknomics podcast on noise pollution and its cost on our mental health and productivity.
  • Angela from Tread Lightly Retire Early on how to support local restaurants during covid.
  • This industry article on why deadstock fabric is not as sustainable as you think. I’ve been learning about the fabric industry because even though I’m learning to sew with old clothes and bedsheets right now, I know I’ll eventually need to order some fabric. This came as a surprise!
  • The third season of the Future Perfect podcast, which is all about modern meat production. While you may be familiar with some well-known problems associated with “big meat” (environment, public health, market concentration, worker safety, etc), this series adds a pandemic angle (duh) and has some nice reporting on regulatory changes (of lack thereof) during the Trump years.
  • New study out of King’s College in London on how cars are making us depressed (even if we don’t drive).
  • I loved this opinion piece from the Commonwealth Magazine on how our antiquated system of municipal and state boundaries ties our hands in dealing with a virus that doesn’t respect man-made “borders”. It’s written by a geography scholar and doesn’t mention sustainability specifically, but of course – climate change is something that doesn’t respect borders either!