Five Things You Can Do Today To Fight Climate Change

This post deviates a bit from the typical subject matter on my blog, but has been weighing on my mind heavily. Aside from riding my bike, I have a full-time job as an Environmental Manager. I spend my days managing the sustainability program for a Fortune 500 company- everything from the recycling program to our carbon footprint to shipping efficiency. I get asked every day what we can do to mitigate our impact on the planet and if what we're doing is actually making a difference. In the big scheme of things, I'm not entirely sure that it is. But, I go to work every day with the optimism and hope that it is. We got ourselves into this situation, and now we need to work to get ourselves out of it.


From crazy strong hurricanes to raging wildfires to 80 degree days in October, the scale and scope of our changing weather patterns feels overwhelming. From being a far-off concept that our grandchildren would need to deal with, we’re now faced with the reality of a changing climate.

Three hurricanes churn in the Atlantic Ocean in an image released by NOAA on September 6, 2017 (image via ABCnews.com)

Three hurricanes churn in the Atlantic Ocean in an image released by NOAA on September 6, 2017 (image via ABCnews.com)

And often when we talk about the solutions to global warming, we hear about solutions that require massive investment or government scale action to implement such as solar farms or offshore wind farms. It’s easy to feel helpless as an individual.

There are many innovative solutions, however, that are incredibly impactful and are easy to do as just one person.

All 5 of the ideas I’m going to present below are from Project Drawdown. The book is an absolute eye-opener, presenting a down-to-earth, approachable solution to global warming. In less than 250 pages it presents 80 tangible solutions that if implemented could reverse global warming. If you’re looking for an optimistic view on climate change with tangible solutions, check out this project.

They have meticulously researched a bunch of solutions that are already in practice around the globe and ranked the CO2 and monetary savings, and if all of the solutions they put forth are implemented, we can reach a point where we are taking more CO2 from the atmosphere than we are putting in (i.e. the Drawdown point.)

 So, back to these 5 solutions. Can you really make a difference as an individual? Yes. We are a global community made up of individuals and to start to make a difference we all must start making changes in our everyday behavior. Here are a few ideas for changes that I think we can work towards:

1.       Eat a plant rich diet

Not vegan, not even vegetarian (though that’s great if you want to go that far), but eat a lot more plants and less meat.  If cows were their own nation, they would emit the third largest greenhouse gases, behind China and USA.  There are all sorts of added benefits to consuming less meat including health benefits, less deforestation, and water savings (cows drink a lot of water, growing grains for feed takes water, etc.).

Veggies from my CSA box last fall

Veggies from my CSA box last fall

If this was adopted at a reasonable, but vigorous rate, in 2020-2050, we could save 66.11 gigatons of CO2e.*

2.       Reducing Food Waste

This one seems like a no-brainer. Nobody likes to waste food, as it’s just throwing money in the trash (or in Seattle, in the compost bin.) The food we waste is also responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.

                In low-income countries, food waste is generally due to challenges in distribution, food storage, or other challenges along the point of distribution. Only 3% of food waste in low-income countries comes at the point of consumption.

In high income countries, such as the US, it’s a different story however. Nearly 20% of food is wasted at the point of consumption. Think about the last time you saw a crooked carrot, or ugly apple. We’ve selectively eliminated this produce from our stores, but it still grows. This imperfect produce that is willfully wasted is still perfectly nutritious and could be eaten by any of the hungry people in our country.

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In your own home, you can make a difference on this front by buying only the food that you will eat, and if you live on the West Coast there is now a service that sells Imperfect Produce. Other ideas include doing a food waste audit, sharing meals when you go out (to reduce left overs), and learning what the “Sell-By”, “Best-By”, and “Use-By” dates mean (hint-nothing, the USDA doesn’t regulate them.)

3.       Buy from farms that practice regenerative agriculture

First a quick primer on Regenerative Agriculture : A farming practice that enhances and sustains the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves productivity—just the opposite of conventional agriculture. Farms that practice this will do such things as:

  • no tillage,
  • diverse cover crops,
  • in-farm fertility (no external nutrients),
  • no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and
  • multiple crop rotations.

Why does this matter? It’s estimated that 50% of the world’s carbon in the earth’s soils has been released into the atmosphere in the past centuries. Restoring this through regenerative agriculture will allow the soil to act once again as a carbon sink and help restore the balance. It’s estimated that by 2050, we could see a reduction of 23.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide, from both sequestration and reduced emissions.

 

So how do I know if a farm is practicing this?  Look on the label, or ask at the farmers market!! Shop local! A quick google search turned up 3 CSAs in Seattle that practice regenerative farming!

4.       Recycle your Refrigerator & Air Conditioner Responsibly

At this point you’re probably saying “Ok, Marley…these are cool, but what about recycling? When are you going to tell me to recycle and ride my bike?” Well, here you go! Recycle your refrigerator! Before reading Drawdown, I have to admit to not really thinking about refrigerants as a contributor to global warming. At all. But, we should all be thinking about fridges and air conditioners a lot more, as they’re the #1 opportunity to reverse global warming.

Air Conditioners line the windows of Hong Kong (photo from my trip in February)

Air Conditioners line the windows of Hong Kong (photo from my trip in February)

A quick lesson on these bad boys that make life a whole lot more comfortable. All ACs and fridges use a chemical concoction to cool things. Prior to 1987 they primarily used CFCs and HCFCs to work their magic. Those caused the hole in the ozone layer that any 90s kid could tell you all about. The 1987 Montreal Protocol phased those out, but their replacement HFCs are actually worse (1000 to 9000 times more warming power than carbon dioxide!!!!)

So what to do in a rapidly warming & developing world? Air conditioning definitely makes things more comfortable, especially with increasing heat waves. Well, a new agreement was reached in 2016 that will start to phase out the HFCs starting in 2019 (for high income countries) and 2024 for low income countries. The crux of the issue is that 90% of emissions from refrigerants come at the end of life, so it’s essential that proper disposal happens. Don’t dump these appliances- get them to your local recycling center, where the refrigerants can be disposed of properly!

5.       Advocate for Education for Girls & Women

This is perhaps my favorite action that you can take because it’s relevant to each and every one of us. Research shows time and again that women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health. This helps contribute to overall population growth and fewer emissions.  I’m going to quote this next part directly from Drawdown because it’s just so damn powerful:

Educated girls realize higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Their rates of maternal mortality drop, as do mortality rates of their babies. They are less likely to marry as children or against their will. They have lower incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Their agricultural plots are more productive and their families better nourished.
Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.
Today, there are economic, cultural, and safety-related barriers that impede 62 million girls around the world from realizing their right to education. Key strategies to change that include:
    make school affordable;
  help girls overcome health barriers;
  reduce the time and distance to get to school; and
 make schools more girl-friendly.

So, what can you, as a relatively well-to-do person do to help education women and girls? Well, first, get educated on the situation. Even though our reproductive rights are being threatened by the current administration, we are compartively incredibly priveldged. Learn about what is happening around the globe to women and children. Then, pick a cause to help. 

Read up on these campaigns from the UN and get involved in one that speaks to you: http://www.unwomen.org/en/get-involved#campaigns

Here's a great way to get involved online: https://www.empowerwomen.org/en

Or, you can always donate money directly to the UN:  https://donate.unwomen.org/

So, there you have it! 5 relatively simple things you can start doing today to combat climate change. And yes, you should still reduce your single occupant vehicle trips, recycle, compost, ride your bike, consume less, use less electicity, all of those things.

I’d love to hear other ideas you’re doing and how you’re staying optimistic in this time of global stress.

 

*A note on gigatons and CO2e. A gigaton is really hard to imagine, because it’s really really really big. As The Washington Post wrote in 2015, “In the International System of Units, the prefix “giga” means 109, or one billion (1,000,000,000). Hence terms like “gigawatt” or “gigahertz.” Thus, a gigaton is equivalent to a billion metric tons. A male African elephant might weigh, at most, 6.8 metric tons, according to the San Diego Zoo. So a gigaton is well over a hundred million African elephants. As for sea life, the blue whale can weigh as much as 146 metric tons, according to NOAA. So a gigaton is more than 6 million blue whales.” (from this article https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/07/01/meet-the-gigaton-the-huge-unit-that-scientists-use-to-track-planetary-change/ )

As for CO2e, it’s an abbreviation for CO2 equivalent.  It’s the internationally recognized way of talking about greenhouse gases, so when we talk about CO2e, we’re talking about more than just CO2 – it’s all greenhouse gases.

My 5 Must-Have Camping Gear Items

I was catching up the other day with a friend who I hadn’t seen since April and we got to talking about our summers. He asked me what my favorite trip was and I had a hard time choosing. For some reason it feels like I haven’t gone anywhere, which is frankly not true at all. I’ve gone around the globe.

From the Dalles to Sweden to the San Juans to Montana, summer of 2017 has been one for the record books for me. I slept outside more than I have other summers, did more multi-night camping trips, and pushed myself further.

Rolling into our dream spot on the Deschutes River in May

Rolling into our dream spot on the Deschutes River in May

All of this camping gave me a great opportunity to get really really familiar with a few pieces of gear that are now in my pack every time I go camping.

There are some pieces of gear that rotate depending on whom I’m going with, the weather, and how I’m getting there. These include my stove, sleeping system, and tent. If it’s super nice out with no rain in the forecast, I might forego a tent and sleep on a ground cloth. If I’m with my boyfriend, we’ll take the bigger tent and big stove. If it’s going to be cold and I’m going solo, I’ll take the insulated pad, warmer sleeping bag, and tiny stove. All sorts of variables going into picking these things.

But there are a few specific pieces of essential gear that absolutely must come with me EVERY SINGLE TIME. This is regardless of weather, destination, or company:

1.       Fozzils Folding bowl/cutting board combination

This bowl/cutting board combo is exactly what it sounds like. Folds up into a bowl, lays flat for a cutting board. I *think* it comes in a 2 pack, which is perfect for prepping on one, and then eating in the other. For any weight weinies reading this, each bowl is 1.4oz (40grams), so pretty damn light for a cutting board & bowl!

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2.       GSI Drip coffee maker

This is another folding contraption, and while there are fancier ones out there, this GSI Collapsible coffee maker does the job perfectly. Collapses super small, never retains odors/colors/stains, easy to use with a variety of filter sizes when I inevitably forget one and have to borrow from somebody.

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3.       Black Diamond Headlamp

Just like the coffee maker, there are fancier versions of this out there, but I arbitrarily picked the $20 headlamp a few years ago at REI and have been happy with it ever since. The battery lasts forever, it’s easy to operate, dims when I want it to, goes to red light for reading/not blinding people. Overall, just a functional headlamp.

4.       Paradox baselayer

Underwear are particular for every person. Wool underwear are like underwear, just longer, and more people see them, at least if you go camping with me. So, take this recommendation with a grain of salt. I absolutely LOVE my Paradox baselayer from Paradox that I got at Costco four years ago. They’ve got a few holes in them from embers around the fire and have been on countless trips. But goddamn do I love them. Perfectly soft (even from the first wear) and just the right weight that they’re great as a single layer on warm nights, or as a base layer on cold nights.

5.       Ditty bags (Waterproof and non. I have both.)

The secret to enjoying camping is staying organized. Knowing where my snacks are when I get hungry, socks are when my feet are cold, and Tylenol is to beat the hangover before it starts is the magic that keeps me coming back. Staying organized also makes packing and unpacking a breeze. The only way I’m able to do this is with ditty bags. I use these for everything – food, clothes, underwear, toiletries, bike tools. Everything.

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So what are your go-to pieces of gear? (Also, sorry for the ads/affiliate links. I’m trying it out- let me know any feedback. Also, you should buy from a local shop and not Amazon, but if your'e gonna buy from them anyway, use these links and I'll get a very very very tiny %.)

To Take the Lane or Not – Rural Road Conundrums

I’m lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest, where great rural roads are a quick ferry ride away from downtown Seattle. Depending on the ferry, I can go from my doorstep to relatively quiet rural roads in under an hour. Not bad for the fastest growing city in the US with a metropolitan population of more than 3.5 million people.

Riding these roads is usually pretty uneventful, if not downright serene. Many of my favorite routes to close campsites (see this post for a quick rundown) have great shoulders for riding bikes on, and some even have dedicated bike lanes.

I get bored with the same destination over and over, however, and often find myself exploring new roads and route. These routes come to me from a variety of places – creeping on randonneuring maps, zooming in on Strava friends’ routes, and crowdsourcing. I’ll often fall back on the Washington State Gazeteer I invested in last year, which is always the most helpful in figuring out actual routes.

The challenge with these rural and suburban roads is that often they lack critical infrastructure that makes the kind of riding I like to do safe and comfortable. Sure, it’s legal for me to ride my bike there, but is it actually safe?

Bike train climbing up and out of Seabeck

Bike train climbing up and out of Seabeck

I’ll give you an example- the route to Scenic Beach State Park. This park is 18 miles from the Bremerton ferry terminal, which for many people (especially weekend warriors and bike camping beginners), makes for a pretty good distance bike camping destination. The route even looks pretty benign on Ride with GPS and Google Maps- a few decent hills, and only one road named “highway.”  (Caveat- there is an actual highway option on route 3, which actually does have shoulders, but I don’t recommend it.)

Google Maps suggested route to Scenic Beach

Google Maps suggested route to Scenic Beach

The actual ride to get out there though is a frightening mix of blind uphill corners, long climbs, and narrow shoulders. (Another caveat, it starts out with these signs through Bremerton, which quickly transition into “Watch out for Cyclists, in Memory of XXXX”)

These signs are the best

These signs are the best

I have Scenic Beach as a recommended spot on my list of spots within an hour-ish of Seattle, but might need to edit the description a bit. The last time I rode out there this summer I was white knuckled with fear the entire time I climbed up Northlake Way, a long, slow, twisting climb with no shoulders. As cars came up behind us, I could hear them swerving around us, as they didn’t know we’d be in front of them going so slow, nor was there a safe space for us to ride off to the side.

Notice the speed limit and shoulder conditions. Where would you ride?

Notice the speed limit and shoulder conditions. Where would you ride?

So on rides like this, what do you do? Obviously, safety is paramount, as there are already far too many bike/car collisions. Also, I think it’s important to recognize our vulnerability on the road as cyclists, as we are by far the softest thing out there.

With those in mind, here is how I handle situations where I don’t have a bike lane, limited shoulder to ride on, or poor road quality:

I am as assertive, yet empathetic to road users as possible, while still taking up as much space as is possible and safe for myself. Often, this means riding just to left side of the white line (in the car lane), or sometimes, even taking the full lane. I try and wave to drivers who slow down for me, pull over when climbing in a pullout to let cars who are going slow behind me to pass, and in general, be a cooperative road user. As somebody who drives (occasionally) it can be very frustrating to see what appears to be a selfish person on a bike. I try and avoid that situation, smile at drivers, and yet still take the lane.

I also recognize my position of privilege in making this statement. I am a white woman in the USA. I do not look threatening while on a bicycle. I go slow. I am fat. Most car drivers look happy and encouraged to see me on a bicycle and more often than not, I get encouraging remarks from them. (Another post on that on another day.)

I’ve ridden with men before who get honked at, yelled at, and things thrown at them. Their experiences touring/traveling in a rural area is way different than mine, so I can’t really offer any advice for that.

CitiBike NYC - Catcalls and Close Calls

I'm in New York City this week for a few days for work meetings. NYC makes me feel so alive and is probably my favorite city. The diversity of food, people, languages- it's always so alive and happening!

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Yesterday for my meeting in SoHo, I biked from Williamsburg and while it was fun and exhilarating and lovely, it was also a bit infuriating. And scary. I'll tell you why in just a minute. But first,  I'm going to digress briefly into a personal history of New York, and then I'll get back to yesterday's bike ride.

I lived here for a short in 2007 when I had an internship in Flatbush, Brooklyn. That summer was actually one of the worst summers of my life. I was newly 21, kind of figuring out that I might be bisexual, didn't really have a good handle on my finances, and was working a really crappy internship. I didn't have a good idea of the hobbies I liked to do, wasn't confident in who I was as a person, and definitely didn't take advantage of all that New York had to do. I spent most of that summer going on awkward JDates trying to meet people, taking the Q line to Coney Island and Brighton Beach, and exploring some of New York (all by train.)

I've subsequently come back to New York a number of times since 2007 and the bike culture has exploded since then. This wasn't by mistake or happen-stance either. Janette Sadik-Khan (the bike tzar) was appointed NYC Transportation Commissioner in 2007 and served until 2013. During her tenure, she implemented tons of bike-friendly policies in NYC, including building over 400 miles of bike lanes and 60 pedestrian plazas. She also led the creation of , which now has over 56,000 bikes all across New York. 

Seriously, the work she did is nothing short of transforming New York from an auto-centric city to a pedestrian and bike friendly city. You can now eat lunch in the middle of Penn Plaza (I just did today) and play ping pong, see art in the middle of Times Square, and ride your bike through dedicated bike lanes in Uptown. None of this was in place 10 years ago and it has totally transformed how people interact with the city.

 

Ok, so yesterday's bike ride. I'm staying at a great AirBNB in Bushwick, and it turns out, CitiBike hasn't quite made it out that far yet. The hipsters are there, but the bikes aren't yet. So I walked the half mile to the nearest station, installed the app, paid the $24 for a 3 day pass, and was off. CitiBikes are damn sturdy bikes and riding them feels good. No issues there.

I loaded up the route to Manhattan on Google Maps and had one headphone in, feeding me turn by turn directions. The ride was pretty uneventful, until I got close to the Williamsburg bridge. Here, bike traffic started to increase. I'm fairly used to Seattle super commuters passing closely and without warning, but this was on a whole different level.

Admittedly, I was going pretty slow, even by my standards. My foot is still technically broken and I wasn't super confident in where I was going, but I wasn't in people's way. I was riding to the far right of the bike lane, leaving plenty of space for folks to pass. And pass they did. Holy shit. So many people brushed by me with seemingly no concern that I was there. 

Eventually we made it through the narrow construction zone (oh hey signs in the middle of the bike lane) and onto the bridge, where there was a decent climb up the span. Morning rush hour was crawling along side us and I kid you not, I got cat called 3 times during my ride across the bridge. When I got off the bridge and riding through Manhattan, I got hollered at 4 more times. I don't know if things are just different, or I looked really good yesterday, or what was going on, but I have never felt so objectified in my life as I did yesterday.

The afternoon commute wasn't much different. 5 men hollered at me on the way home, with 2 explicitly commenting on my ass. I also almost got rear ended once on Bowery Street. 

So, while I was initially really excited about the prospect of biking in the city and how small it made this huge city feel, I'm not so sure how I feel anymore. I'll probably give it another go tomorrow, but I might stay on the Brooklyn side.

 

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