Welcome to Sustainability Journal, where I document what I’m reading, learning, thinking, and doing in the sustainability space.
I’m typing these words with the window open as it is a toasty 45°F today! The cats have each occupied a window sill, and Rillette has been particularly chatty with the birds. (I know buddy, I miss having the window open too.)
I missed traveling and going out to eat this month than I ever had before, but even as our state is slowly reopening (again), we plan on hunkering down as much as possible. This weekend one year ago was when the first COVID death was announced in King County, and here we are, surpassing 500K deaths in the US. This number is so unfathomable that I really can’t quite wrap my ahead around it.
In happier news, we ordered raised beds this week! I was originally going to buy them from The Gardeners Supply Company in Vermont, but I kept putting it off because I didn’t want them to arrive only to sit in puddles of melting snow. Next thing I knew, they were getting so many orders that everything is back-ordered until August! Luckily, my partner found a local craftsman through Facebook, who is going to custom-make and deliver these for us! (You most certainly can make your own raised beds – most people I know do – but my partner and I aren’t the handiest people and don’t want to deal with the hassle of renting a car to lug home large pieces of wood. Plus, this local guy’s price on cedar was really unbelievable, so we decided to take him up on it.)
The plan is to start really small, with just two 3′ x 8′ beds this year. We moved here late last summer, so I wanted to have a chance to observe the existing landscaping for one full season before we blindly rip everything up (even though I’m really tempted!). The seeds I’ve been swapping with folks have also slowly started to arrive in the mail, and I’m sooooo looking forward to spring.
An individual action I’m focusing on at the moment: eating down the pantry and fridge.
A pantry/fridge audit is something I do regularly, so February was all about finishing what we already have! Some creative meals always come out of these audits, and I revel in throwing together dishes that use multiple leftover ingredients at once – it’s weird, I know, but it’s just so satisfying!
A community action I’ve taken: attending a city meeting on building emissions.
The city of Boston is in the process of updating its building emission standards known as BERDO (The Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance). It’s a big deal because Boston’s buildings account for 71% of the total community carbon emissions, and more than half of the city’s greenhouse emissions come from less then 3% of existing buildings (!). Last week, the mayor’s office hosted an open house for people to weigh in on the proposed policies, and I attended via Zoom. If you are local, the meeting deck is here, and you can continue to submit feedback here.
No matter where you live, I encourage you to attend some municipal meetings where you are because I always learn so much from people’s thoughtful questions and comments. These types of events often take place during the work day, but since the pandemic, many have moved to a streaming format so in an odd way – they have gotten more accessible nowadays. Remember you don’t have to speak! I would participate in the discussion or submit questions/comments only when I feel comfortable to do so. It’s perfectly normal and ok to feel like you don’t have anything meaningful to contribute, but you just want to learn and be engaged through the process.
Something I’m daydreaming about: a future of fast, reliable, and affordable public transit, and readily available rental cars – for when you need it. I took the bus for the first time recently since going remote, and it got me all emotional and nostalgic. It was quite empty, which was comforting from the perspective of social distancing, but I’m worried about the transit landscape in a post pandemic world.
Books I’m reading:
Michael Lewis | The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy. An Instagram follower recommended to me, and I’m passing on the recommendation! In the Fifth Risk, Lewis illustrates the myriad of ways the US federal government manages its vast portfolio of risks: nuclear weapons, food safety, natural disasters, etc and what happens when the country elects Donald Trump to be its de facto chief risk manager. Even though this book wasn’t specifically about the energy sector, it was especially relevant and timely to be reading this during the Texas storm/power crisis.
Cathy Park Hong | Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. February was Black History Month, so I spent much of the month thinking about what it means to show and act in solidarity with the Black community, as well as how to challenge the model minority myth so ingrained in Asian American culture. Hong’s book was part memoir and part social commentary, and many of the passages stayed long with me after I’ve read them, such as this one: “The takeaway from the crowd-pleasing opening scene in the novel and film Crazy Rich Asians is the following: if you discriminate against us, we’ll make more money than you and buy your fancy hotel that wouldn’t let us in. Capitalism as retribution for racism. But isn’t that how whiteness recruits us? Whether it’s through retribution or indebtedness, who are we when we become better than them in a system that destroyed us?”
More stuff you should check out:
- Laura from The Waste Free PhD wrote about balancing zero waste and hoarding; I really resonated with this!
- There has been a lot of media coverage about Rush Limbaugh’s death. The Heated newsletter had an interview with John K. Wilson (who wrote a book about Limbaugh) that focused on his legacy as a climate denier.
- This long-form piece in the Drift Magazine about Trump, Biden, the environment, and public land policy is so interesting.
- I enjoyed this Fresh Air interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, who recently published Under a White Sky: the Nature of the Future. It is all about the ways humans have tried to defy nature, the consequences, and what lessons we could draw from them.
- Bill Gates is in the news a lot these days with the release of his new book, so I want to flag a report that didn’t quite get as much attention back in January: Bill and Melinda Gates are now the largest farmland owners in the US, with a whopping 242,000 acres spanning across 18 states. Look – I’m glad he is using his wealth to work on climate issues rather than something else, but philanthrocapitalism is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- “If you are good, say you are good” – adrienne maree brown on giving yourself the space for joy.
Good point about the first scene in Crazy Rich Asians 🙂
Also, you prompted me to perhaps start getting involved a bit more in community forums and politics. There’s certainly plenty of it to choose from, here in the Bay Area! Maybe the reason why I didn’t get involved so much so far is that Berkeley tends to make pretty good decisions already. However, the last thing I tried to do was to get the University of California to change the retirement plan shuffle that they pulled off with Fidelity – the plan changes actually moved employees’ money into funds that were heavy in stocks with poor track records in social responsibility, such as Exxon, Nestle, Unilever, etc. Sadly, the UC Chancellor sent a patronizing email in response. Lesson learned: pointing out a problem too quietly (via email, with no public spotlight) makes it a whole lot easier to ignore.
Wow I’m so glad to hear that you are getting more involved! But yikes (re. chancellor) – is there a wider divestment effort at UC that you can join? I too have been looking into this for my alma mater (I went to Tufts for graduate school); the administration is also slow and reluctant!
Yue, I too love to reinvent leftovers. Growing up on government food stamps gave me some real life skills for “whipping something up”.
Thanks Leslie! The benefits are so low one really has to get creative! (When I was in grad school, some friends did a challenge to eat on a SNAP budget for a month!)