A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of attending CSU Chico’s annual This Way to Sustainability Conference - two days of practical conversations about planning our sustainable future. And there are so many things I’m excited to share with the Revibe Tribe and the green community in general. First of all, talk about mixed emotions! The stats are seriously depressing about the point we’ve pushed our planet to. At the same time, there’s so much optimism about the technologies and solutions that are out there, just waiting for us to use them on a wide scale. And finally, there was a lot of fierce determination. Because it’s going to take a huge, unified effort to get our economy and our society where it needs to be to avoid catastrophic consequences. SO MUCH to talk through. I can’t pour it all into one blog post, it’d probably turn into a book. So I’ll give you the highlights - some impactful take-aways from my favorite sessions - and what this all means for you as a conscious consumer and some one who gives a crap about our planet.
Conference Sessions Attended:
(not counting keynotes)
- Earth with Ice is Twice as Nice: Our Perilous Slide Toward a Runaway Greenhouse
- Recycling in the 21st Century
- Sustainability, Basic Needs, and Student Success
- Failing Forward: Sustaining Your Drive
- Building “Inner-Resilience” for Emotional and Spiritual Strength During Turbulent Times
- Refills Not Landfills
- Why Putting a Price on Carbon is Essential to Effective Climate Action
Like I said, there are a lot of diverse topics going on here. If you have an interest in any particular one of these topics, feel free to send me an email or comment on the post.
Biochar Could be the Key to Storing Carbon
Between every session, we spent a long time reviewing the state of carbon emissions today and where we’re headed. To put it plainly, it’s bad news bears. Fortunately, I got to learn about some of the proposed solutions floating out in the world to help sequester (capture and store) carbon emissions. Everything from releasing heat reflective particles into the atmosphere to putting giant filters on a boat and sending them out into the ocean to capture CO2. There are a lot of potential solutions with a lot of potentially bad unintended consequences.
But then there’s biochar. I had never heard of Biochar until 9:00 this fine Thursday morning but let me tell you, it’s cool stuff! The basic concept is to take biomass (agricultural and forestry waste like rice stalks or dead trees) and rather than just burning them as we do now, put them through a process called pyrolysis. This produces a nutrient-rich substance called biochar that can be put back into the agricultural system as a fertilizer. Much of the carbon is retained in the biochar, so it releases 40% less carbon than burning the biomass or throwing it “away”. It makes a great home for microbes and helps retain moisture in the soil. The implications of using biochar could be amazing for agricultural production throughout the globe, especially in drought prone areas. If you’re feeling curious, here’s a great overview of biochar, it’s production, and uses.
A Solution May Exist for US Emissions
This is probably not what you’re thinking. We’re not talking about a cool technology like ocean filters or coral reef growing here. We’re talking economics and taxes. Rather than taxing carbon users, as previous carbon tax proposals have done, we could be taxing carbon at the source. Over 3,000 economists have agreed that the policy proposed in HR 763 is the way to move our economy away from fossil fuels.
The idea is to tax producers and importers of coal and oil. Will costs ripple out all the way to the consumer? Yes. But part of the bill proposes returning that tax revenue through a monthly stipend for everyone with a social security number. This is exciting because it would make renewable energy cost competitive without ultimately damaging your pocketbook.
You can play a big role in this. Get familiar with HR-763 and let your representatives know you’re behind it!
What China’s National Sword Policy Means for Us
I was very excited to see one of my former colleagues, Becky, leading a conference session about the state of recycling. If there’s one person I know who’s a true expert on waste diversion and disposal, it’s this gal!
If you’ve been keeping up with the environmental news you may have heard about China’s national sword policy. Maybe not? For years, about 40% of US recycling has been shipped off on boats (an emissions intense process on its own) to China for recycling. And now, we’re being cut off. This year they’ve implemented heavier restrictions on what materials they’ll take, reducing their import of plastics by 99%. And by 2020, they’ll stop importing recycling materials altogether.
This means we’ve got to come up with better recycling solutions quickly. Especially because in some places in the US, excess material meant for recycling is being burned. More importantly, it means we’ve got to break up with single-use plastics. Water bottles, coffee cups, take out containers, shampoo bottles, etc. We’ve got to stop using plastic for any of it.
The take-away: Refuse plastic where you can and seek out aluminum or glass alternatives. I’ll be doing a whole piece on this in the next week or two. So if you’re curiosity about recycling isn’t satisfied, don’t worry. We’ll come back to it. But this is why it’s so important to Revibe that we make it easy for you to move away from plastic packaging.
Grief and Acceptance are Part of Climate Change
Have you ever been tempted to tune out the news about climate change, species loss, and pollution overload because it’s just too much to handle? I certainly have. One too many Facebook videos of starving polar bears and birds will plastic-filled bellies can send me into a morose state of hopelessness. That’s why when I saw a conference session on inner resilience in turbulent times, I was immediately game.
My first impression of this session is that they needed a bigger room. It was packed. And I was a bit shocked to see how many people felt the same anxiety, overwhelm, other emotions of despair. Peter, our wonderful session leader had us get our hands dirty in accepting the fact that we are here. The way he put it, we have to grieve for the planet we once knew. We have to feel those emotions of denial, bargaining, anger, etc. before we can arrive at acceptance. We have to accept where we are and accept the part we have to play if we want to make some use out of the devastating information we know.
The take-away: dive deep internally. Take some time to explore your emotions about the state of our planet until you’re ready to arrive on the other side, whatever that means for you. For me, that means lacing up my boots and doing what I can every day to help us move away from plastic pollution. For you, that might mean implementing one new practice in your daily life such as renouncing bottled water or biking to social outings. It’s all valid. It’s all important.
The Bad News
In every conference session I attended, we started off with the humbling truth. I won’t get you down with a bunch of statistics like how the US is already 3X more likely to experience climate-related disasters such as major wildfires and flash floods or how 90.5% of plastic is never recycled or how we need a 90% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 to stabilize climate change. See what I did there? But really, each workshop was incredibly humbling, gut-wrenching, and potentially anxiety inducing. All of this to remind you that it’s more important than ever that you’re reading about sustainability, practicing it where you can in your personal life, and telling your friends all about how green is the new black. Your effort is critical to our success as a species.
The Awesome News:
This is the stuff we all want to know. What can we do about it? Turns out, there’s a lot. And even that can be overwhelming. “Where do I even start”? Well if you’re not in charge of a large agricultural operation or in charge of government policy on climate change, that brings the options down to some fairly simple steps. Here’s where you get to start feeling the optimistic part of the emotional roller coaster.
Educate yourself - get familiar with the biggest issues impacting our environment today such as human food production, manufacturing waste, and deforestation. Read one article a day. Heck, read one a week, and your knowledge will grow. Remember, knowledge is power.
Start altering your habits. Maybe your habit is to buy a coffee before going into the office each morning. Turn that into filling your reusable coffee cup at your favorite coffee shop each morning. Keep shaving, just do it with a safety razor and ditch your can of cream for a quality bar of shaving soap.
Thoughts? Feelings? Emotional outbursts? Share what you think in the comments. This was kind of a monster post so I’d love to hear what your favorite part was, what you’re excited about when it comes to sustainability, if you’ve experienced anxiety about climate change, etc.
Thanks for reading!