In times of stress, many of our wounds come to the forefront. The best solutions to stress are to take action and to take care of yourself and your neighbors – all of them.
Action – Lets do whatever we can to:
- confront our racial inequities, xenophobia, and other institutional and personal oppressions.
- support our health professionals and follow their advice.
- keep moving forward on reducing fossil fuel emissions and creating a more stable climate.
Please take actions today on each of these fronts. We all need to act, each and every day.
Mental Health – And make sure you are taking time out for your own mental health by going outside.
Here are some of my favorite walking location suggestions in Howard County that may be of value to you.
Here are some great places to visit.
Here are some of my favorite walking locations in Maryland.
Here are my favorite kid-friendly camping grounds.
It’s a balance between helping others and keeping strong and in touch with the Earth.
The most important step you can take for the climate is to exercise your vote. We get the opportunity to do this at a local, state and national level during primary, special, and general elections. We all need to decide for ourselves how important the climate issue will be in our future and how important it is that we take the right actions now. We need to elect people at all levels who understand this and who are willing to work together to meet this challenge. They will need crisis management and strategic planning skills and not just respond with too little, too late.
Climate, like Covid-19, has a huge impact on our economic health, public health, and national security. One of the biggest impacts will be on our agricultural sector which will impact us all on a daily and seasonal basis. Agriculture also offers a key opportunity to manage/slow down climate warming by sequestering carbon. We need to be doing this and many other things now. So it is key to have our politician’s support and leadership on climate issues at all levels at all times. They need to be looking at all the decisions they make through a climate lens.
At the recent World Economic Forum, the 750 delegates from all around the world said that not controlling the warming of the planet is the greatest danger we face as a civilization. This is clearly not just a Democrat or Republican issue. Everyone needs to be part of the solution and not just continue kicking the ball down the field until it is too late and future generations have few choices except to suffer.
So I ask you to start looking at everything you do through a climate lens as well. Vote for those leaders with the strongest climate commitments. Support them during the race and then stay with them as closely as you can, celebrating the wins and encouraging continuous attention. Always clap and send letters of support when they mention the climate challenges and solutions. We’ve got to keep this issue front and center. The climate crisis can only be solved by electing the right people and implementing the right plan. It is complicated because as our climate moves out of the Goldilocks zone that we have all evolved within, the changes will impact everything we do.
Make sure you and your friends are registered and then make sure you vote.
I could not believe my eyes. Traffic has increased – already! I was just out for an essential errand – food – and the empty roads are no more. There were also 20 cars at the roadside market that we support. The beauty of having the road and the stores to myself is gone. And I was just getting to like a slower pace to my life.
I was surprised that people are in that much of a hurry to be flooding the highways so quickly. Thank you, Governor Hogan for lighting up the highway signs “Stay home. Stay safe. Essential jobs only.”
No, the traffic was nothing like the old days, but it was bad enough to bring back awful memories of fighting traffic every day between 7 and 9 am and 4 and 7pm. It was more like nightmares – that is as clear as I can be. How could we accept putting ourselves at that level of risk and anxiety on every work day. I’ve been wondering about that and whether all of us will go right back to that sort of chaos and risk. It seems like we will. I hope that we all will consider the following questions before we do.
- What are our options?
- Why don’t we live closer to where we work?
- Why don’t more of us work from home?
- Why don’t we take mass transit?
- Why don’t we work on flex hours to avoid the traffic?
- Why do we put ourselves and others at risk – every day?
- Why do we spend all that money on cars, insurance, and fuel, and all that time on the roads?
Of course, the answers to these questions vary a lot – and I get it. But they are questions we should be asking ourselves and our county, state, and regional planners. We could re-engineer how we live and work in light of the virus and the looming challenges of climate change. After all, the transportation sector is the one area that contributes the most Greenhouse Gasses to the atmosphere and an area where we can dramatically lower those emissions if we do one or more of the items above.
So, take a moment and reflect on whether you want to go back to the way things were. Let’s change these bad habits and spend our time and money on making the future better for all of us.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve on the Horizon Foundation Board. It is a health philanthropy that evaluates the main health concerns facing our county and helps drive better health outcomes based on the best data available and the latest research. It was a humbling and very informative process that opened my eyes to the complexity and challenges of trying to improve our general health and to prepare for health emergencies such as pandemics and even the impacts of a changing climate as best as we can.
Working with Horizon was also pivotal in my understanding of social justice. The data strongly show that people of lower economical means suffer the most and do not have equal access to quality health services. I’ve learned through my research that this is equally true when it comes to the health impacts of a changing climate. People with less means often live in the more threatened parts of our community… along areas that might flood, downstream from waste disposal areas and fossil fuel power plants, and in densely populated areas that may suffer the most from the infestation, breeding, and spread of insects, diseases, and viruses. They often don’t have the means to control, move, or escape these conditions.
If you have further interest in learning more about the potential health challenges of our changing climate, I recommend that you read the Lancet Commission Report on Health and Climate Change. It has two main conclusions that I found invaluable and would like to share with you:
Anthropogenic climate change threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health. I find this quite sobering realizing the major advances we have made as a society during my lifetime. It is hard to picture the magnitude of the impacts that would send us back 50 years. I find the following corollary to this conclusion promising and a clear call to action that we all should be able to follow.
A comprehensive response to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century”.
I hope we can all take the time to consider these conclusions in light of the pandemic and redouble our efforts to work together to make a future where fewer people suffer because of our actions and not one where more people suffer because of our lack of action.
I spent a lot of time over the past two weeks on Earth Day events – most of it virtual. It was so different than any of the previous ones that I had been involved with. There was a lot of online activity, a great amount of learning, and a lot of strategizing for what needs to be done this year while fighting the corona virus. I hope it all proves to be as effective as the first Earth Day 50 years ago.
In looking at these two events, I realized that there are many cultural differences between 1970 and now, and between the youth of the seventies and the youth today. I thought it might be interesting to create a short list that might get you thinking on how our culture is so different today and what that might mean for meeting the challenges ahead.
The First Earth Day occurred in a very different environment. Sure there are a lot of similarities between 1970 and 2020, such as political and economic turmoil across the country and colleges shutting down. I remember being quite concerned for the future of our country at that time as I am today. But let’s stop for a moment and consider how different life was back then relative to today.
Our everyday behaviors in 1970
- we wrote letters (in cursive), it cost money to send them, and they took 3-5 days to arrive
- long distance phone calls were the exception since they cost so much
- we typed school papers on a manual typewriter with a real carbon copy
- I had never flown on an airplane or taken a train until my twenties
- I had no need for a car living on a college campus
- I had only a handful of friends and none of them were “online friends”
- I used a Slide Rule – there were no individual computers
- I had to resort to an encyclopedia to find answers I could trust
- shopping required a trip to lots of little specialty stores – but less packaging and shipping
- We grew and canned a lot of our food
- I never had a carry-out dinner except for steamed crabs
- our news came from a limited number of sources – TV, radio, a daily newspaper, and weekly magazines
- being drafted for an controversial war was a real issue for many young men
Our environmental impacts in 1970
- no curbside recycling in my area except for milk bottles – stores would pay for glass beer or soda bottle returns
- we burned trash in our backyard – there was no trash pickup
- we got rid of waste oil and extra pesticides by dumping them in the ground
- we repaired most items when they broke
- we planted natural fences of multi-flora rose – a big mistake
- we rotated crops, planted cover crops, and built our own bio-retention facilities
- people smoked everywhere: restaurants, in cars, on planes, and at conferences, etc.
- we did not have AC in our homes, or cars, or my dorm – we opened windows
- we rarely did long trips
- we planted 30,000 trees and cut our own wood to heat our house
You may have a different list, but the point here is that along with technology and consumption, people and their behaviors have also changed. In Saving the Places We Love, I discuss how our American culture has changed continuously over the past 150 years. It’s a fascinating story. There is hope.
So take a look at your life right now and picture what you can do to help change our behaviors and our culture going forward. We need to change our culture to one that is more protective of our environment and the health of future generations. Maybe you could become a climate champion. We all need to act locally and globally. I hope some of these blogs will help you find opportunities where you can contribute in a meaningful way. I wish you the best.
Like most of you, I’ve been trying to get my hands around how humans should respond to a crisis and what roles each of us plays in the process both as individuals and collectively. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 affair, I have asked my partner and my friends almost on a daily basis, “What should we be doing?” To answer that question, we have used a mix of information, risk assessment strategies, and experience from past stressful situations.
My first action has been to find sources I can trust. In this case doctors and nurses who understand infectious diseases and national experts from Hopkins, Harvard, CDC, etc. I have also referred to economic and business professionals (Morgan Stanley, Bloomberg and Forbes) and my own business networks for assessing a broad range of factors on how and when businesses should open again. These sources have relied heavily on lessons learned from previous pandemics and from other countries who are ahead of us and who have been more successful in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus.
I have also looked back at other tumultuous periods of time to gain some perspective of how we came through previous desperate situations in my lifetime: Polio, Flu pandemics in the 1950s , oil embargoes and the social disruption of the 1970s, and more recently HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and the changing climate impacts. These were/are all quite scary events.
I have tried to filter out blatant ideological or political messages. Fortunately, there are political leaders from both parties on the state level (governors of MD, NY, OH, and CA) who share the data and the range of possible strategies and outcomes with the public so we all can see the impacts of different approaches. Once hearing of the risks of other approaches, e.g., going back to work too soon or too late, their strategies of relying on the data for each state make sense to me. It will be a challenge to get it right in all cases. The bottom line is that we all want to get the economy to rebound, but we sure done want to make it worse – the risks are too great.
There are lots of different perspectives for assessing when to go back to work and this is true in all decisions that will affect a wide number of people. I tried to explore the reality of dealing with different perspectives in The Big Melt, a climate novel set in Anytown, USA. In this book I created a typical small town in the US and populated it with a variety of people with a broad range of perspectives. A series of climate catastrophes hits the town and the reader watches as these disparate characters struggle with what to do. Everyone, of course, has their own opinion.
The protagonists, Marley and Brianne, have just graduated from high school and are looking forward to getting on with their lives. Then all hell breaks loose. They struggle with what they can do to save their town. They seek out mentors to discuss the options and then end up in a town meeting, debating what the local government should or should not do. The debate shows how messy the democratic process can be and reveals the challenges of getting community-wide buy in.
During their struggle to save their town, the teen-aged protagonists discover opportunities to help their neighbors and they organize to be more effective – much like we are doing today by helping each other with essential groceries, medicines, etc. As they learn how to help their community, they become role models showing us what can be done by individuals when governments don’t step up to the plate in time.
During the current pandemic, I have been thinking of the characters in this book, especially when I hear how some people are not following the recommendations of our leading experts: staying at least 6 ft apart, wearing masks, and staying home. I don’t get this response and yet the opinions of the more reactionary characters in the book are understandable in the context of their experiences. Their perspectives seem real in the story because they are shaped by their past history with neighbors and local governments.
So I try to accept different perspectives. But our country is asking us to go through a lot of pain right now to flatten the curve for the greater good. Shouldn’t we all be helping support that strategy? It’s success is dependent on all of us doing our part and it would be much more effective if we did. I have chosen to be more like Marley and Brianne and seek ways to work with others to solve this crisis in as scientific and logical a way as possible. I guess I do this because I feel deeply vested in my community. I know people who are compromised and who are at great risk. Like the protagonists in the book, I am part of my community and want to do whatever I can to protect as much of it as possible. So I wear my mask and I keep more than 6 feet apart and I stay at home and I try to support local businesses and people living from paycheck to paycheck.
I hope we come out of this pandemic with the realization that we are all better off working together. And I hope that the lessons we are learning right now will help us bring back a more sustainable economy – one that will help us be better prepared for managing future pandemics as well as the looming climate crisis. The best way to deal with a crisis is to prevent it whenever possible. When that is not possible, the next best strategy is to be prepared for it.
April 26, 2020 – Off on my morning walk today, I was just crossing the power line right-a-way when I saw a flash 30 yards in front of me. A large animal flew across the road effortlessly, as if in a single leap. It was much larger than a fox and had dark patches on its otherwise tan and gray fur. It looked like a cross between a fox and a German Shepard, but was clearly neither. It’s size, coloring and motion all fit the description of an Eastern Coyote – a genetic mix between a more traditional coyote and a wolf.
My fellow early morning forager disappeared, as quickly as it appeared, into the overgrown meadow of brown and green grasses and wineberry bushes. I found its path through the tall wet grasses and pondered whether I should try to track this beautiful creature. I chose not to harass it. As much as I loved seeing a coyote up close, there was no need to get any closer. I like to leave the meadows, forest hubs, and green stream corridors to all the creatures that need this rare wildlife habitat here in the middle of suburbia to thrive.
I’ve had encounters with coyotes in the west – but this was different. My first exposure to Eastern coyotes was in 1972 on Flagstaff Lake, an isolated lake in Maine. At that time the lake was only accessible via rudimentary forest service roads. Tom and I were mapping the geology of the area and we had brought our partners out for a weekend wilderness camping trip. We were the only ones there, canoeing and portaging for several hours to get to what we later called Blueberry Island. That night the loons and the coyotes serenaded us with their calls echoing off a vertical rock ledge on shore. It was romantic and eerie at the same time. We were immersed in nature and felt close to the stars and all the creatures on Earth.
In 2006 Kathy and I had a little farm in Howard County. One spring we lost two sheep to a local pack of coyotes. They struck at dawn, taking down 100 pound ewes. Our neighbors had similar problems with their farm animals. We lost a cat to the coyotes as well when one morning all we found left of her was blood on the front porch steps. I’ve heard other stories of missing cats and dogs, who were left off leash and disappeared. Coyotes may also help keep down the deer population which has gotten out of hand without a top predator.
A few years back we downsized and moved to live within Columbia. I started my morning walks to try to keep in touch with nature and to seek out a little bit of local wilderness. One morning when I was up before dawn, there was a full moon, making the landscape beautiful and magical at the same time. As I walked across the right-of-way I heard coyotes calling. I had not heard them sing here in Maryland before, and it took me back to the camping trip many years ago. I love that even in suburbia, coyotes can live here too, so close to all of us, without many of us ever realizing it. It’s a balance we need to maintain with nature – we need our natural support systems to be healthy to fight all the challenges we may face in the future.