To my niece, sheltering with her cat in Queens,
I am thinking of you in your little apartment in the epicenter of a global pandemic. I am wishing you good health and safety, and am offering some thoughts on the future and personal empowerment as we look to celebrate Earth Day, April 22, 2020, in the time of Covid.
I was a little younger than you are now on the first Earth Day, 1970. A college freshman then, I was hopeful that a national day would galvanize world collective action to honor our earth: to protect it; to stop polluting it; to bring us all together — my day-to-day life held news reports of the increasing count of body bags coming home from Viet Nam. We had reached an awful peak by then, 54,000 dead, the vast majority my age, 20 and 21. After graduation I moved to New York at a time when my generation faced a recession, high inflation, high unemployment.
So I feel for you, living in this uncertain time, with an uncertain future, marking Earth Day. We are living a different kind of disaster now, fifty years later, one of health. Our nation, and the world, is in shock over a deadly pandemic, and it’s dawning on us that we are all in this together.
The numbers we hear today in the news, as horrible as they are, link directly to our actions. Infections are going down, our Governor Cuomo tells us, because we brought them down. We are all in this together, and we will get through it together.
To me that is hopeful and empowering. I’ve seen wonderful acts of kindness, generosity, our community coming together here on the North Fork, which you know is a virus “hot spot.” Local chefs are making dinners for nurses and doctors, farmers are delivering fresh greens to community food banks, neighbors are calling neighbors to see if they are ok. Thankfully we are all heeding the medical experts and scientists. The infection numbers are down because we are bringing them down.
If you look for it, there are some good news reports: dolphins and swans returning to the canals of Venice, the snowy Himalayas again visible as pollution drops, white-tailed eagles appearing in England after two centuries. This month in Orient we have witnessed a wealth of young bald eagles.
In honor of Earth Day, I would like to share some hopeful things I’ve learned from Project Drawdown. Both a book and an ongoing climate solutions project, its roadmap for a livable future inspired a group of us to launch Drawdown East End to implement local solutions to reverse the climate crisis. Our first rally last May, at the Southampton Town green attracted about 75 interested people, which has mushroomed into 2,000 wanting to know “what can I do?”
A lot, it turns out. Project Drawdown has identified 80 top “solutions” — opportunities for lifestyle changes that are less polluting, less wasteful, healthier, more economical, that achieve “drawdown” — the point when levels of greenhouse gases stop climbing and begin to come down. The Drawdown book outlines a path for this achievable goal. Actions that can get our lives and economy humming with innovation. Drawdown’s cost benefit analysis shows that starting now to address climate change could save the world $145 trillion.
So, in honor of “we’re all in this together” this Earth Day I’ve pledged to change my life — to align my personal actions with my top 20 Drawdown solutions.* Taking them one by one, making forever changes. Because what I do matters. Because carbon emissions can come down if I (and we, together) bring them down.
I call it my Drawdown lifestyle.
I’m starting with food: Drawdown Solution #3 Reducing Food Waste. It will save me money, it is extremely consequential — avoiding tons and tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s something I can measure, it’s something I can do, it’s empowering. We Americans waste 40% of our food, worldwide it’s over 30%. Cutting that in half would reach Drawdown’s goal for food-emissions reductions. I’m pledging to do better than 50% — to get as close as I can to zero food waste.
“This in an invitation to innovate and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity,” says Drawdown editor Paul Hawken.
So, right now, our freezer is stuffed, as usual, because I live with a packrat. Mysterious packages from last year, or even before, sit unlabeled. Unlike previous years, my push to “let’s eat from the freezer” has not been met with resistance. Rather, “OK. Good idea.”
Let’s do food the Drawdown way.
Pull out that unmarked package. Get creative. What can we make from this?
Veggie scraps go into freezer bags to later make stock. All leftovers get eaten — for lunch or given new life as a dinner dish. All bones, fish or meat, become stock, or reduced to glaze, to add depth to another creation. The final destination for bones or eggshells is: to the compost (my March birthday present); ultimate destination: enriching the garden.
We are hoping our nearby farmstand will open in May. In the meantime, I’ve joined a local CSA for greens, another one for quail, and have bookmarked this updated list of East End farms open for business. Some send out weekly offerings, which you can order and pay ahead, and pick up curbside. Fresh, local and keeps food-mile emissions down too.
How to reach zero? Use everything. No scraps to the landfill, where they just turn into polluting methane.
Instead, all food is honored, never wasted, any tidbits that remain are tossed into our compost [you can even bury bones (deeply) in your garden.] Composting — Drawdown Solution #60 — is a super solution to me. It’s a win for soil, for farmers, for the climate. Rich carbon soil is created from organic waste, safely sequestering carbon. Spread on farmland, compost increases the capacity of soil to retain carbon (plus aiding water retention and lowering the need for irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides.)
Two more reasons I want to reduce my food waste: 1) rain forests — avoiding their deforestation for additional farmland; 2) methane — avoiding methane-release from landfills, 34 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Why pollute? Why not consume our food? Why not compost our scraps? Why let any food waste go to a landfill? All this waste.
The U.N. has adopted a planet-wide goal of reducing food waste by 50% by the year 2030. A good article in TIME outlines 4 concrete steps: 1) shop smart, 2) ignore expiration dates—unregulated, set by companies to get you to buy more, 3) divert away from landfills (where 60% ends up) — San Francisco has diverted nearly all its waste from the landfill transforming food waste into compost and selling it back to farmers, 4) transportation spoilage — spoiled while moving food from farm to market, a waste of food, resources, money, which can be corrected.
We now know that we’re all in this together.
And we have an achievable goal: drawdown. Carbon emissions can come down, because we can bring them down, individually, as families, as neighbors, as communities. Want to do something significant for Earth Day? Why not reduce your food waste by 50%?
Next time I’ll write about another top 20.
*P.S. If I piqued your interest: my top 20 solutions are lifestyle changes I can personally make around food, materials, transportation, and energy, as well as community regenerative best practices I can support regarding land and ocean use.