Browngirl Going Green

Historic Day for Our Nation’s Health
March 23, 2010, 4:24 pm
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Michelle Obama and friends breaking ground in the White House Garden

Okay, so this isn’t an obviously ‘green’ post topic, per se, but I can’t NOT mention this—and health care (just like our food consumption and the food industry) could and should be a site of great ecological progress and waste reduction, if it were done right. Not to mention that nature is an amazing resource for healing and should be utilized with more respect and care than it currently is. It’s interesting that during this time of heated debate about health care reform, First Lady Michelle Obama has been everywhere talking about how we need to tacklechildhood obesity problem, and has been very vocal about promoting gardening as a way for children to be both in touch with where their food comes from as well as to eat more healthfully.

To me, these are very practical, everyday, accessible steps that many of us can and should take to being more empowered in our health choices—no matter what the state of our health care system is.

I’ve been slowly reading Why Our Health Matters by Dr. Andrew Weil, which is a great treatise on how we need to change the way we think about our health—I love that Dr. Weil calls our current system a ‘disease management’, not ‘health management’ system—and how we all need to take responsibility for our health as individuals, but also how as a society we need to put policies in place that more fully allow people to do so. Dr. Weil also posits that our highly technology-dependent Western medical system is a huge part of the problem, since it drives prices up while also making people over-reliant on pharmaceutical drugs and expensive procedures that are not only not making them well, but may be making them more sick.

As imperfect as the health care reform legislation is, it’s a step in the right direction towards universal coverage and hopefully someday, less of a private monopoly over the health care system. I, for one, am glad to be alive on this historic day, as President Obama signed this unprecedented legislation. But I also know that the real fight for true reform is still ahead—this is just the first big step. We need to make sure that we don’t stop here.


BrownFolks on the Trail
March 7, 2010, 6:08 pm
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POC Hiking Group

One of the POC Hikes of 2009, in Marin

About a year or so ago, I started a Facebook group called, unsexily but accurately, ‘Bay Area People of Color Hiking Group’. My partner, Henry, and I do a fair amount of hiking in the beautiful and numerous public parks in the East Bay, and I wanted to hike with more folks, as well as increase the number of people of color I’d see on the trails. Sadly enough, even for a place as diverse as Oakland, I could usually count the number of people of color I would see on the trails around here on one hand on any given day. I knew that some of my POC friends were a little intimidated by hiking—usually they were interested but hadn’t done much of it and thus it was just an unfamiliar thing—or they didn’t have cars to get out to the hills, or they didn’t have anyone else to hike with. I figured with this group we’d knock all those things out of the picture and make it easy, fun and social at the same time.

Since then, the group—a fairly loose network of about 40 people, only about 15 of whom have actually come on one or more hikes—has stomped out on the trails about once per month, with a winter hiatus starting in November. I’m looking forward to starting up the group again once the rains taper off though.

Hiking is not only a fabulous way to get in touch with nature—I’ve learned how to identify some of the native trees in this area, have seen wild animals such as jackrabbits, and love the scent of the bay laurel leaves that are common in our canyons—but also a good way to get exercise, get to know folks and to reclaim or rediscover the lovely public spaces that are all around us.

I was also happy to find online—and to later discover that many of my African-American Facebook friends were already fans of—the EcoSoul Nature Stroll group, another crew of POC who are making an intentional effort to get out into nature via hiking. I’m hoping to join one of their strolls soon and / or to do a joint hike with the BA POC hiking group. Possibilities abound!

POC Hike - Wind

A windy day on the trail in Las Trampas Regional Park

The Big Question
February 5, 2010, 10:07 pm
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To me, the biggest question in our efforts to ‘go green’, to save the planet from utter destruction, to salvage as much as possible of our home as we can from the slow juggernaut of climate change, is whether modern human civilization can become truly sustainable. In other words, is our very existence on this planet a giant contradiction, a humongous, neon-red, flashing exclamation point on the long timeline of Earth’s history? Are WE the ones that need to get out of our own way?

Most people who say they care about the environment would say that, Yes, we as humans are  largely responsible for all the crap that the planet is going through right now. The laundry list is familiar and long, and includes everything from our fossil fuel-based economy to over-mining for minerals and metals to overpopulation and industrialized agriculture that depletes the soil and pollutes our waters.

So the real dilemma is, What do we have to change about our modern lives to stave off worldwide destruction of the very planet that’s birthed, fed and sheltered us our whole lives? I’m not convinced that composting, recycling, hybrid cars, carbon offsets, or even passing federal or international policies are enough. These are all pieces of a much larger paradigm shift that needs to happen, which is that our entire modern lifestyle needs to change, especially in the Global North, where we consume many times more resources (and create that much more waste and toxic pollution) than people in the Global South do.

This ‘big change’ will mean giving up a lot of things that most Americans take for granted as basic needs. We will have to learn how to share nearly everything we currently have with more than just one person (e.g. husband/wife, partner, lover, etc.) or our nuclear families. We’ll have to share our homes, land, food and water, as well as things like child-rearing duties, work, decision-making powers, cultures and ideas. Sharing MUST become the basis of any new civilization that we build. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about Shareable, an online publication that highlights some of the sharing projects happening in the United States and other places.

For many Americans—especially those that are wealthier or have grown accustomed to living a very individualized lifestyle (I include myself in the latter group)—this will be difficult. We’re used to having things that are ‘mine’ or ‘ours’ in the exclusive sense, not ‘ours’ in the broader collective sense. We don’t really know how to negotiate well when things don’t go our way, judging from the various wars of colonization, exploitation and genocide our country has either waged directly or tacitly condoned. We’re not very familiar as a nation with the concept of the ‘Commons’, which my friend and mentor Kim Klein blogs about, but we will need to in order to create a more shareable society. And we’re not that great about living and sharing with different kinds of people, although we’re getting better I think.

We will also need to get our hands dirty (literally) and learn how to live in a more natural way. This doesn’t just mean composting or planting vegetables. It will making do with less clean water for luxurious purposes like taking showers several times a day or washing our clothes frequently. It will mean having less antiseptics for cleansing our hands after we’ve ridden on public transit, which will in turn mean that our immune systems will have to start functioning better and not be so reliant on chemical protection. Not eating as much, probably, and not eating anything we want at any time of the day, night or season. The list goes on and on.

In the next post, I’ll write about the positive side of this sustainability sacrifice. But in the meantime, what are you willing to give up—or not give up—to help make life on this planet more sustainable?