Note: This commentary is the latest in Green Briefs, a series of regular contributions from local environmental leaders with useful information to help islanders respond to the climate crisis and heal the Earth. Green Briefs are coordinated by The Whole Vashon Project.
We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed,” said 18-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. “Everything needs to change — and it has to start today.”
What are the new rules we must commit to live by and pass on to our kids?
“Sustainability” defines the new vision, but it’s a rather abstract term. What we really need is some concrete guidance, a “to do” list.
That list exists and the answers all begin with the letter “R.” They are:
Repair. Recycle. Reuse/Resell. And Reduce (our rampant consumption, for example). Then, there is “Refuse (such as single-use plastic), Repurpose and Rot (such as composting). Details about this list and others can easily be found online with a search for “The 7 Rs of Sustainability.”
Easy to remember, easy to post on the fridge, easy to turn into family rules.
About that first rule, Repair. We can begin by setting the example of taking responsibility for damage already inflicted. We become healers when we clean up our beaches, put filters on our washing machines and dryers to stop polluting the air and water with microfibers from our clothing, eliminate support of industrial agriculture by supporting small farms and growing gardens, ban all poisonous chemicals from our lives (especially Roundup), cultivate microbially-active, water-retaining soils without artificial fertilizers, restore ecosystems with native plantings. And so much more.
Michel Laurie, of Watershed LLC on Vashon, recommends two books to help: “How to prepare for climate change” by David Pogue and “Drawdown” edited by Paul Hawken. The book’s title refers to ways to reduce and draw down CO2 emissions—and the website (drawdown.org) is constantly updating with the latest research.
Those book recommendations were made to the Whole Vashon Project Facebook group (Facebook.com/groups/wholevashonproject), where important discussions often occur. The thread was initiated by a Vashon resident who bemoaned the cost of purchasing solar and an electric vehicle, saying that “…it won’t do the environment or the climate any good if only the wealthy go green.”
Since concerns over CO2 emissions dominate the majority of climate discussions, it may be difficult not to feel that the most important step to take is indeed to “go solar” plus buy an electric vehicle. But is it really most important, in comparison with living by the 7 Rs? Perhaps not, if we consider which will better prepare our children for the future. The former will reduce carbon emissions, but it will not create a comprehensive shift in behaviors and priorities.
For those who feel that the learning curve for change is overwhelming, know that there are many free resources for islanders seeking guidance. For example, the ZeroWaste Vashon website (ZeroWasteVashon.org) is a helpful resource, as is the Resource section in the Whole Vashon Catalog (WholeVashonProject.com/Catalog). Any of the environmental organizations listed there include generous individuals, happy to share their expertise. Our energy provider, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), also has information on their website about how to weatherize your home.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, and you have the means to hire help, there may be times when it makes sense to invest in a consultation such as through the Northwest Ecobuilding Guild website (ecobuilding.org/green-pages) which lists sustainability professionals who specialize in issues like energy and water efficiency, green building and landscaping. There are also resources for learning how to deal with Plastic Overwhelm, offering free advice, as well as workshops and private consultations.
In Japan, if you come to a street corner where there is zero traffic and the lights are against you, you stay put anyway until the light changes. Absolutely no question of jaywalking. Why? Because, the Japanese say, a child might be watching you and mimic your behavior.
It’s an anecdote that has numerous applications for dealing with the climate crisis, from the small things like plastic straws to more impactful choices like the use of herbicides, or burning brush. How are we doing with this challenge? What choices are we making, and what examples are we setting, for one another and our children?
— Rondi Lightmark is a writer/photographer and initiator of The Whole Vashon Project.