Environment

Overcoming Fear

girl_sea

Threatening hurricanes like Joaquin churn up waves of speculation. When a doozy of a storm is eminent — dumping boatloads of rain and destruction — I fearfully follow a steady stream of hurricane alerts on social media. Normally, the wild weather choir would swallow me up — especially, since family members literally lost the house in Hurricane Sandy. But lately, my perspective has had a slight shift.

Still squarely aligned with the scientific community, I look to the experts who tell us carbon pollution is the main reason our planet is getting hotter, thus increasing our chances for severe weather.

Having recently spent time outside my little corner of the world at a series of conferences, I’m using a moral rudder to sail beyond fear. Mashable’s Social Good Summit, the Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action at the United Nations and the Omega Institute’s Women and Power conference focused heavily on women and climate change.

Gender and Climate Change

“It is terribly unjust that the people paying the most brutal price for climate impact are the ones least responsible.” Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN)

Locally and globally, climate change is not gender neutral. This injustice takes aim at women because women encompass a disproportionately large share of the poor — in the U.S. and the rest of the world. Women are the caregivers for children, and those tiny lungs bear the brunt of pollution.

I was shocked to learn, women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters.” And according to the World Economic Forum, women perceive climate change risks more than men.

Yet, the policies of extreme weather are governed mostly by men. This is our political reality. In fact, leading up to Hurricane Joaquin, my newsfeed in the New York metropolitan area focused solely on two decision-making governors tracking the hurricane — Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie.

As Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, noted in her keynote speech at Omega:

“I meet amazing women who want to do amazing things, but are not doing it. They are not because of fear.”

Empathy, Education and Ethics

There was an overarching theme I heard over and over at these conferences to counteract the powerless fear women feel about climate change — we employ empathy, education and ethics.

To overcome fear, we need to use these weapons and get active. When we started Moms Clean Air Force, we didn’t ask people to donate, we asked them to care – to care about air pollution, to care about how toxic chemicals affect their families, to care about the climate that will impact their children’s future. We discovered once people cared about the issues, they became empowered to activate in their community.

But as Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State of the U.S., said at the Social Good Summit,

“America is a generous country but we aren’t doing enough…given the scale and our own capabilities.”

In the U.S. we call for strong environmental regulations and get pushback every step of the way from polluters who defend their right to pollute and the politicians that protect them. Compromised, we inch forward.

Storm Warning

Globally, the situation is even worse because nature doesn’t regulate. For instance, in the Maldives, the islands off the coast of India, “could become the first state in history to be completely erased by the sea.”

Thilmeeza Hussain, from the Maldives and founder of Voice of Women spoke at the WECAN event about a location that can’t wait for politics:

“We are thinking about our survival, our existence. There’s nothing to negotiate when it comes to global warming.”

Living in a sacrifice zone is no way to live. Many of us care about our relationship to climate change — now we need to reach beyond and help women across the globe move from fear to caring about solutions.

The scientific evidence is settled; global warming is real and climate change is a women’s rights issue. Now it’s time to weather the storm together.

Life Before Air Conditioning

vintage_air_condition

I’ve run the Mothership” around here for years, and have lived through a litany of complaints from my kids about the rising heat and the need for air conditioning.

“Why don’t we put in a pool like Rebecca’s family?” Not.
“It’s too hot to go out, we’ll just watch TV all day.” 
Not.
“We can’t sleep upstairs, the walls are melting. We’re sleeping downstairs on the couch.” 
OK.

And like all parents, I pull the generational “before you were born” -thing with my kids:

“When we were young, we ran through the sprinkler…A little sweat didn’t kill us…Have you ever heard of a fan?” 

Then came my final stand, “Do you know Americans use twice as much energy air-conditioning our homes than we did 20 years ago…and more than the rest of the world’s nations combined?” 

Although I live in what is considered to be a cooler Northeast climate, the rising temperature in my neck of the woods has left me sweltering.

I threw eco-caution to the wind and started my own whiny campaign to bring air conditioning into my home. Come hell or high water, and both seemed to be happening, I needed cool air to think straight. I tried rationalizing my case to my ultra-conservationist husband.

Me: “Do you know how much extra laundry I’m doing cleaning sweat-soaked sheets, tee-shirts and towels? Running the dryer day and night will kill the environment. An air conditioner could help!”

Husband: “You’re exaggerating, my dear. And the electricity generated to power air conditioning carries a larger environmental consequence. In burning fossil fuels such as coal and gas to supply electricity to homes and workplaces, power plants discharge clouds of soot and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Among these are mercury and carbon dioxide. Did you know air conditioner use in the U.S. results in an average of about 100 million tons of CO2 emissions from power plants every year ? Also, you emailed me this blog post, 10 Design Tips To Help You Live Without (Or Use Less) Air Conditioning

Me: “Pleeeze, don’t throw posts back at me, I’m a blogger. Bloggers can make anything sound sexy. I can’t work. My keyboard is damp…sticky. I’m sure the Apple manual clearly states, moisture on the keyboard will not be covered under warranty.”

Husband: “Air conditioning is a twisted way to stay cool. If you want to stop warming the planet why would you want artificial cooling? There’s nothing natural about that.”

At this point, guilt got the better of me and I gave up, realizing it was just too damn hot to bicker.

Then it happened. After hours of pushing a hand mower (4 acres of grass and no riding mower…of course) in the latest brutal heat wave, my sweet husband’s defensive brain fried, and he ran to the hardware store and bought one of those portable air conditioners.

Kidding aside, in the age of climate change, can we possibly put air conditioners into the deep freeze? Probably not. My family held out as long as we could, but bucking a culture that is not making the connection that what we’re sending up into our atmosphere is reigning down on us in the form of hot and hazardous weather, is a daunting prospect. But if we adjust our ethos, and take serious measures to power our homes (and air conditioners), using clean renewable energy – wind and solar, and stand with President Obama’s ambitious climate action plan to stop global warming, we have a fighting chance.

Will our leaders compromise and put an end to the warming trend? Or will our kids have to sweat it out hugging air conditioners instead of trees?

Helpfulness, Heroism and Hope

Helpfulness, Heroism and Hope

Lately, does it feel like we are on a treadmill running from disaster to tragedy, while reacting to situations unimaginable? The news of the devastating category 4 tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma came via Facebook in a Monday evening panic. A blogger I work with, Lisa Sharp, provided a blow by blow heartbreaking account of friends missing, lost relatives, worry about pets and charged cell phones…all as she moved from a watchful perch on her porch to packing a bag and heading underground. Her last post for a while just stated, “Yes hug everyone…When Okies freak out about tornadoes, it’s bad…” Riveting and horrifying.

As the night dragged on, the death toll rose…but in days to come, stories of helpfulness, heroism and hope emerged. In the wake of such tragedy, there were two stories that reminded me just how powerful humanity is.

1. The New York Times reported about a parent’s worst nightmare. Just as the storm raged, Sarah Johnson rushed from her home in Moore to the hospital because her 4-year-old daughter, Shellbie, was having an asthma attack. Johnson told the Times that she put a hard hat on her daughter and raced to the emergency room, while hail poured down. By the time they got to the hospital, all of the nurses were down to the ground. Johnson shoved her daughter next to a wall and threw a mattress on top of her. The two survived the storm.

2. Just moments after the tornado swirled through Moore, leveling houses, schools, and leaving behind death and debris, a brilliant rainbow spread across the Oklahoma sky. Nature’s prismatic moment illustrated that there’s a spectrum ahead of us that will be decisively noxious and deceptively hopeful.

Photo: Levont’e D. Douglas

8 Reasons To Love Earth Day

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Here are a few reasons to love Earth Day and stay committed to protecting the environment:

  1. According to the Earth Day Network, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries celebrate Earth Day.
  2. Climate Central created an interactive graphic that shows a state-by-state analysis of temperature trends since the first Earth Day took place in 1970.
  3. Dominique Browning’s New York Times interview with Brazilian photographer Sebastio Salgado, tells how falling in love with our planet can show us what we stand to lose.
  4. Earth Day inspired Google to create a fun interactive, animated environmental scene.
  5. Joe Romm from Climate Progress says this about Earth Day: “Affection for our planet is misdirected and unrequited. We need to focus on saving ourselves.”
  6. Antiwar activists in the late 1960s rallied across the country to raise environmental consciousness. It led to the creation of the EPA and passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Watch the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.
  7. Eco-Activist, Beth Terry, author of My Plastic Life and Plastic Freewalks the walk on Earth Day.
  8. Nature is cheaper than therapy.

Image via Tumblr

Downhill Race To Save Winter

vintage-ski

During a recent conversation with a fellow skier, I mentioned my dire concern that climate change has derailed winter. Last year, my internal snow globe geared up as the temps dropped — skis tuned, fluffed up the down and kept the backpack ready to go at the first dusting.

No snow.

Same routine this year.

Snow!

But in my neck of the woods, the Catskill Mountains saw ski conditions that were just horrible. The mountain terrain for much of the season was mostly man-made snow cover on a thin natural base. This equates to dangerous ski conditions. The mountains were dotted with ice chunks the size of small cars. Bare spots with exposed rocks were interspersed among grassy craters. In February, local ski areas started closing during the week.

My friend said, “What’s a few degrees here and there? I’m not retiring the skis yet. You’ll see, winter will come back with a vengeance next year.”

Save Winter

Skiers, snowboarders and the ski industry depend on powdery frozen water, but snow sport enthusiasts all over the world can no longer expect a long “freestyle” winter’s ride.

According to a survey taken by the National Ski Areas Association, last year’s warm weather and low snowfall dropped visitors to ski resorts by almost 16%, the sharpest decline in more than 30 years. At least 11 of the nation’s 486 resorts went out of business. The survey concluded that “long-term  climate change” was a factor.

Protect Our Winter was formed to save winter:

“Protect Our Winters mission is “to engage and mobilize the winter sports community to lead the fight against climate change. Our focus is on educational initiatives, activism and the support of community-based projects.”

I asked Protect Our Winter Executive Director, Chris Steinkamp what’s up with the weather, and why it is so urgent to curb climate change now:

“I always say that what’s outside our window is weather, not climate. To accurately assess climate change, you need to look at the long term trends. The last decade was the warmest on record for example, and 2012 was the warmest on record in the US. Experts also say that with climate change will come some extreme weather in form of floods, tornados and snowstorms. As the weather warms  though, that snow will be rain. Be glad that its snowing today, but take a long look at the problem.”

Are winter sports headed for a chilly crash landing? Please read my interview with Chris HERE and find out what you can do to help protect winter.

Photo: Vintage ski poster