A View From A High School Senior April 2020

accomplishment ceremony education graduation

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I’ve had the pleasure this past fall, winter, and now spring of working as a mentor with Sophia D’Alonzo, a graduating senior here in Howard County, on her Internship Project. We have been brainstorming and implementing a series of marketing activities since this is her focus for college. In listening to her, I thought it might be interesting for you to hear how she is viewing the chaos in the world from her perspective of being “On Pause” during her last few months of her senior year. The coronavirus clearly has the potential to really complicate her work and academic plans.


Ned – What are your plans for the Fall?


Sophia – I plan to attend University of Maryland in the fall. I’ll be living on-campus in the CIVICUS program, which is centered around community service and civic engagement. My major is Communications, which I hope to pair with a minor in Marketing.


Ned – That sounds pretty exciting. What are you doing during this “pause” in your senior year while we are waiting for the coronavirus to flow through our society?


Sophia – While my school system is working to implement a distance learning program, I have mostly been relaxing at home and talking to friends. I’ve taken the opportunity to get caught up on Netflix shows and movies that I’ve been too busy to watch. My friends and I have been keeping in touch by using Facetime, playing multiplayer games together, and using Netflix Party, which is an extension that allows us to have movie nights while watching on our separate devices.


Ned – Well, I’m glad that you have been keeping up with the goals of your internship program through our Zoom meetings each week. I also sense that you, like all of us, are concerned about family and friends. How do you feel about what is going on, with the dual threats of coronavirus and global warming?


Sophia – In both cases, it’s extremely frustrating to watch others not take the issue seriously. In the case of the virus, I have been staying home and social distancing. However, I see many people on the news and social media that are downplaying the issue and not doing their part to flatten the curve. With global warming, despite years of scientific studies and data, there are still a number of people who either don’t believe in the crisis or disregard it. While it can be disheartening at times, I feel motivated to continue spreading information in the hopes that I can bring more light to the issue.


Ned – Are your peers taking either of these threats seriously? What are they most concerned about right now?


Sophia – Most of my friends and their families have been staying home and limiting contact with other people to reduce potential exposure to the virus. With climate change, I’ve noticed that nearly everyone takes it seriously, but not enough that they are advocating publicly. Right now, everyone’s attention is focused on the coronavirus and its current and future impacts.


Ned – I remember my teenage years when we were scared about the Cuban missile crisis, a crooked president, political assassinations, and the Vietnam War. I think those events changed our generations in different ways – some for the better and some for the worse. How do you think the dual crises are affecting you and your generation?


Sophia – It’s difficult to predict how exactly this will change the way we live in the future. I’ve found it easier to approach things on a day by day mindset and focus on what personal tasks I have because it’s easy to become overwhelmed when thinking about the pandemic. I hope our situation now brings light to necessary change, especially in the United States healthcare system. There are many shortcomings in our healthcare that have been highlighted by inadequate response to the virus. Additionally, I anticipate that there will be more of a global focus on sanitation and public health. What I’ve noticed most, however, is how much technology is able to connect us. While it isn’t ideal, I’ve been able to connect with friends and family from miles away using texting, video chat, social media, and multiplayer games. This technology is something I’ve taken for granted, but I have found a new appreciation for it. I predict that there will be more innovation in tech that is designed to bring people together in these situations.


Ned – What will you do if UMCP does not open in the fall, or if all instruction is online?


Sophia – I guess I’ll have to take my classes online. It would be disappointing because I’ve been looking forward to living on campus for a long time, but we’ll have to adapt.


Ned – I know things are very uncertain right now, but I understand HCPSS will be offering online instruction beginning April 24. But after that, do you have plans for the summer?


Sophia – I hope to be able to see my friends and spend time with family. I have a trip planned to Deep Creek lake with friends at the end of June. Things are up in the air right now, but we’ve been looking forward to it for months and now we’re really hoping we’ll be able to go. Of course, I’ll (hopefully) be planning for college move-in and getting everything ready for my first semester. 


img_8461-1Ned – Well thank you for the comments Sophia – it’s a lot to process. I realize that these  are the types of challenges that would be helpful to discuss with others. I hope you are able to maintain your relationship with your friends via technology. I enjoyed working with you this year and I wish you the best in the future.



man walking on pathway between trees

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I lead quite a few walks through the woods. I do this for a wide range of purposes – but mostly to engage more people in the love and care of the natural environment. I have realized over the years that there is a meditative aspect to walks that can be of value to people going through challenging times. I thought I would share with you a few suggestions for centering yourself while walking alone in the woods.

The suggestions below come from a collaboration with John Caughey, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and American Studies at the University of Maryland. He, too, is an avid walker and, as a student of Sufism and Taoism, has had a meditative practice for decades. We have enjoyed walking in the woods and meditating together as well as creating these suggestions for you. We wish you the best in your walking and meditation.


INTRODUCTION: We know that sitting in meditation in the morning helps with whatever we do later including taking a walk. But directly bringing meditation into our walking enhances the experience.

  1. Meditate First: Instead of just setting out on a walk, do a short sitting or standing meditation at home or at the trailhead before starting out. This provides a transition, helps clear our minds of thoughts and concerns, so we can experience the walk more deeply. Pick a path less frequented by others.
  2. Pause and Center: At a good spot near the beginning of the walk, pause, close your eyes, breathe, and tune into the gestalt of the day seeing and registering all of nature. Feel the sun and wind on your face, breathe in all the essential vapors from the trees and plants that surround you.
  3. Set Walking Pace: Instead of hurrying or looking at the path, try walking at a leisurely pace. Look around, near and far, continuing to open all senses to oneness with nature. Try walking in inner silence, for a few minutes or for ten meditative breaths.


  1. Meditation and Seeing: When something catches your eye, don’t just glance and walk on, stop, close your eyes, take a meditative breath. Then open your eyes and try to see the bird, or tree without thought, try – in Zen terms – to see its mysterious “suchnesss’ and to sense your oneness with it, then let associations that arise flow up…
  2. Meditation and Listening: Identify the background hum of car or air traffic, then set it aside, close your eyes and listen to all the sounds of nature. After ascending a hill, close your eyes and listen to the blood course through the veins in your ears. Listen to it subside.
  3. Meditation and Smelling: Close your eyes, center, and smell whatever is in bloom, a twig from a Spice Bush, the animals and trees around you, smell the living soil being transformed under your feet.
  4. Meditation and the Landscape: Notice the shape of land forms all around you, feel the flow of the watershed, how it runs, how it has shaped this area, how it has changed over the millennia.
  5. Meditation and History: If you come upon the ruins of houses, mills, dams, abandoned roads, piles of rock, fence lines, gardens, Native American names or artifacts, center and reflect on those who have been here before, your ancestors, and the gifts and lessons they have left for you.
  6. Meditation and Reflection: As you return towards home, after a period of walking in meditative silence and natural world connection – while still walking at a leisurely pace – it can be productive to center and gently concentrate on issues of current concern. This can enhance good thinking and intuition such as insight into current projects (like a writing project) and it can also help in the processing of difficult emotions including anxiety and grief in these strange times.
  7. Bringing it all Home: Consider what you can bring back from this walk: a refreshed, and perhaps even healed state of mind, good memories to return to later, insights about your projects, questions about the natural world we might explore in books or online, thoughts about how to save and take care of the places you walk, perhaps the basis of a poem or a story, something you may have learned about meditation and walking – and also the trash we pick up.


Take a time out to look for Praying Mantis egg sacs

praying-matis-sacLast week while sauntering (Thoreau style) along a reforested part of Howard County, my eye was attracted to a very small tan blob attached to a small branch of a tree. It took me a few moments to realize this stiff, foamy mass was an egg sac. In fact is was a praying mantis egg sac and could contain up to 300 eggs. I tried to remember when they are created and when do they hatch. I wasn’t sure. I placed the sac in my jacket pocket planning on giving it to my grandchildren later that day (pre-lockdown). Might be fun I thought.

Sure enough we all took a walk later in the day and at one point I put my hand into my pocket and remembered my plan. The 5 year old certainly knew what a mantis was from last summer – but was fuzzy about how the two related. But she was excited and promised to take it home and watch it hatch – assuming it was still viable. Several days later my daughter say the sac and put it into a pint jar with a fine mesh lid.

IMG_8303The very next morning everything changed. The jar was full of mini mantises. She had put it in a jar just in the nick of time, they were streaming out of the egg sac, and just kept coming. I quickly got a call and via FaceTime got to enjoy the excitement. “What do they eat grandpa? We’ve got to feed them now.” We guessed that we needed to capture some of the bugs that were starting to swarm on the porch. It quickly turned into a neighborhood quest – plenty of babies to go around even with turning dozens lose for keeping the gardens free of more harmful pests throughout the summer.

Turned out this was a blessing for all the neighbors – a little excitement during a period of corona lockdown. Great opportunity for community and solo research without leaving one’s own backyard.

Looking for signs of life on a cool March day

IMG_8768January 4, 2020

Yes, we were some of the few people out and about today looking for signs of life in mid-winter. We saw squirrels, we heard red-shouldered hawks and kingfishers, and we found all sorts of bright pistachio green mosses among the leaves covering the brown and gray forest floor.

We also planted acorns, shouted through a long culvert, and examined a freshly built beaver lodge. It is amazing how much mud beavers move to pack in the spaces between all the branches they cut, dragged, and piled up along side of the lake. There is always much to see on a walk through the woods if one is not distracted by stuff happening in the greater world.

IMG_8780[1]March 28, 2020

What a lifetime has transpired since my last entry. Not the least of which is Covid-19, a species-jumping virus probably resulting from loss of habitat and overcrowding on a finite Earth. My life has turned upside down and I have struggled, trying to keep being purposeful in all that I do. I still try to inspire people to act on slowing down the warming of our climate, but most people I encounter are really numb from all the virus data and opinions that they see. They struggle to find sources that will tell them the truth about the pandemic. This is another crisis, much like the climate crisis, where we really want to know the scientific facts and how to adjust our individual behaviors to improve the outcome.

But at the same time, I need to keep centered, productive, and healthy, and that means I crave my daily walk outdoors for my mental, physical, and biological health.

IMG_8759[1]As I wander in nature, I see that there are still a lot of grays and browns in the forest. The beeches spread throughout the woods still wear their light tan, markescent leaves – the last vestiges of winter.  The meadows wave their russet grasses in the light breeze, and the kingfisher calls as it darts along the edges of the lake. Yet now that the season has changed there are many incipient stages of spring everywhere I look. Snowdrops and crocus flowers have given way to pink spring beauties, Virginia bluebells, white bloodroot, and yellow woodland poppies. The understory shrubs are trying to get the jump on the taller canopy species. Yellow spicebush, redbud, and white shadblow are all sprouting their flowers, and even the maples are flowering and the poplars are leafing out. Solitary bees are churning up the soil, and small brown snakes and snapping turtles are lying in wait, looking for a chance to wriggle across the path.

IMG_8784[2]Yes, the seasons change and the challenges persist, but so do the plants and animals. It does my heart good to see these changes, and I am so glad not to miss out on them by being distracted with all the worries people share. My hope for you is that you can find a place in nature and take the time to attune yourself once again with the rest of life on the planet. Maybe then we can each rededicate ourselves to change our behaviors and to take the steps needed to fight the virus and preserve our climate.

How will we change through the crisis?

flag of america

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This coronavirus crisis represents a critical time in the evolution of our society, or at least changes in our behaviors and our culture. We need to change in many ways to continue living in balance with the planet and this challenge provides us with a great opportunity to do just that. However, we could also slide in the wrong way. Please join me in identifying both the good and the bad that could happen over the next year to 18 months.



  1. We might realize that we are all in this together and pull together to combat this virus. We could then apply that realization to other critical challenges, e.g., climate change, other pandemics, income inequality, racial inequality, and gender inequality.
  2. On the other side of the coin, we might not learn how to work together and our democracy might fail.
  3. We might realize that commuting to an office is expensive, inefficient, and dangerous to our health and to the planet. We all might switch to working from our homes, saving us time, costs, and energy. As a result, we would dramatically reduce our dependency on and misuse of fossil fuels. Our greenhouse gas emissions would drop, and the related health impacts and premature deaths would decrease as well.
  4. We might all make the switch to having our groceries delivered to our homes – a big time and cost saving step. Just think of how much more time you will have if you didn’t have to commute or shop.
  5. We might find different ways to educate ourselves and break down the barriers and costs to online learning.
  6. We might find a way through the cumbersome medical arena that works for all the people.
  7. We might all learn how to take care of each other (especially single people and the elderly), learn how to check in more often, and use video-conferencing for all sorts of things.
  8. We might have fallen in love with the great outdoors by the end of this crisis, and we might all be heathier and have adopted heathier outdoor activities as a result of this period of time.
  9. The international community, and especially the public health systems, should be stronger and better interconnected as a result of this experience and hopefully will be able to respond and work much better together on a full range of challenges that are global in nature.


This is just a start. So after you have taken all the actions you can do to slow the spread of the virus please send me your ideas of how things might change. Send to ned@sustainable.us. We have to make the most of a bad situation. So let’s think of where we want to be 6 months or 18 months from now and make sure our actions help us get there.


Ned Tillman is a climate and health advocate, a blogger, and an award-winning author. His latest book, The Big Melt, describes how a community can come together to help everyone fight a threat to their community.

The Global Virus vs Global Warming – What can we learn?


IMG_2440Both the current pandemic and on-going global warming threaten hundreds of thousands if not millions of people all around the world. Numbers so large that we tend to get immobilized and numb to the statistics that change everyday. But there is a lot we can do and need to be doing everyday to fight both of these tragedies.

Trying to get some perspective on these challenges, I have noticed that there are many parallels between these two crises. One appears to be more urgent in the short term (months), and the other more significant in the longer term (years), but both require immediate responses right now- in developing and implementing a plan of attack. So what can we learn from each of these crises to help us fight both of these global challenges at the same time?


  1. Our federal government dismissed both crises initially.
  2. They came late to the novel coronavirus crisis, putting many people at risk. They are still ignoring the climate crisis and are pursuing strategies that will make it worse – putting many more people at risk.
  3. The federal government is struggling to figure out what strategies to pursue against the pandemic. They are still delaying action for fighting global warming except for a promise to plant trees.
  4. Both crises require real leadership at the local, state, federal, and global levels and extensive professional cooperation and collaboration between all countries is critical.
  5. Both crises require significant actions by each and every one of us. Many of us are taking both of these crises seriously and taking steps that will help. Some of us don’t think either crisis is real.
  6. Both crises offer us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and create a more successful future – one more in balance with the realities of the limits on our natural resources and our impacts on the Earth.
  7. The solutions to these crises are complicated and will require the best science and scientists to solve.
  8. They both will require us all to take action.
  9. The sooner we act, the lesser the damage and the greater the chance that we can recover.

As we continue to learn more about the pandemic, let’s keep in mind lessons learned from fighting both crises. Let’s put solutions into effect that will benefit both fights. In any stimulus package, let’s incentivize the practices (working from home, less travel, etc) and the businesses (clean energy, flexible manufacturing) which we need to solve both crises. Let’s act as effectively and timely as we can. This is the time to shift our society to a more sustainable one. These are big problems that will affect the entire human race. It’s time for us all to come together to solve them both.

Carbon Sequestration


brown and green mountain view photo

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Farmers all across the country can play a big role in sequestering carbon in their soils and in their trees. It is a great way to get the carbon out of the air and back into the Earth. Many farmers are taking steps to do this already – they are building up the organic matter in their soils by planting cover crops and following no-till farming practices. These steps make their soils richer and more productive, reduce stormwater, chemical, and silt runoff, and lock up carbon for years.


It would be great to encourage all farmers to adopt these practices. Many counties across the country are already encouraging these practices via education and incentives. We should be encouraging these practices – ask your local officials what they are doing about  working with farmers on this issue. The Agricultural sector has a major role to play in reducing carbon in the atmosphere and we can help incentivize farmers to implement these practices while increasing the quality of our food supplies.


Of course we can also sequester carbon in our own backyards and front yards as well. We need to move beyond grass! Lawns currently dominate our landscapes. Today, more land is tied up in grass-covered yards than land used for any other crop in the eastern US -what a waste. Lawns are basically ecological desserts. Check in with your local Master Gardeners or Master Naturalists to learn about the best practices in your area. You will be pleased to find out how you can move away from the ecological grass deserts to healthy yards full of native flowers, shrubs, and trees. You will be helping to save the birds and butterflies in the process. We have lost so much habitat as a result of suburbanization that most species are in decline. We can save the birds at the same time as we save our “goldilocks climate” by sequestering carbon.


Waste, sustainable practices, business, and you


photo of plastic bottles

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I encountered 1000s of plastic bottles on a canoe trip once and swore that I would never buy another drink in a plastic bottle

That is very hard to do, but I remember that image in the river every time my hand reaches for a drink in a bottle that’s destined to end up in the trash in about 10 minutes. As a result I have cut down on about 90 percent of my plastic bottle purchases. I have been able to do this by using water fountains and taking a reusable water container wherever I go. 

But that is only one small part of the waste stream we are all responsible for. We have a real waste problem in this country and it all contributes heavily to our climate crisis. It costs us a great deal of money and carbon emissions to ship all the waste to landfills and landfills create a lot of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) as the waste degrades. We need to move beyond that concept of waste disposal to one of waste prevention.

Consumers have a big role to play in reducing our wastes as do businesses. Never forget, consumer demand drives business – we have the power to direct which businesses succeed. We therefore need to send clear messages with each of our purchases. 

  • Don’t buy things unless you need them – this sounds so simple, but… Don’t let the marketing trick you into impulse buying of stuff you really don’t want or need.
  • Consider buying things that are easily reused or recycled – This represents a great opportunity for new or more enlightened businesses.
  • Always ask if there is a more sustainable option – More business opportunities.
  • Don’t support businesses who are not committed to a sustainability business plan.
  • Wean yourself off of fossil fuels, plastics, wasteful packaging.
  • Compost your food wastes – makes great fertilizer.
  • Reduce meat consumption – I cut back about 60% – it isn’t hard and is healthier.
  • Reorder your investment strategy based on environmental and climate goals. This is also easy to do – ask your financial advisor.

The efforts now going into reducing single-use plastics is just one example of the positive energy of people who are responding and trying to deal with these problems. We need to support their efforts, help to expand them, and get more businesses on board..


Failure of Our Trade Deals



planet earth

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The biggest failure of the trade deals of the past 30 years (e.g., NAFTA) is that we have not required nor successfully monitored/enforced environmental regulations on the countries we are trading with. As a result, “clean” manufacturing here in the US has been put at a disadvantage to “dirty” manufacturing in other countries. Whereas this has helped us to dramatically clean up our local air, rivers, and soils, it has not been as effective as these agreements could have been for reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases. This was a major opportunity lost for curbing greenhouse gases on an international basis. 
You would think we would have learned our lesson – trade and the health of our climate are one and the same thing. And yet we are signing new trade pacts (e.g., Mexico-Canada and China) that could have been a big step forward on curbing GHG emissions but they do not. If we allow this to happen it will be another major opportunity lost. It makes me sick to think how short-sighted we are. We need to have a loud outcry from labor, environmental groups, health organizations, farmers, manufacturers, and the general public that this is not acceptable. Call your representatives now to fix these major trade deal catastrophes before they go into effect.

Complete Interview discussing The Big Melt

Screen Shot 2020-02-25 at 3.15.31 PMI was recently interviewed by Sophia D’Alonzo and the interview was filmed by Fin Stein.  Even though parts of the interview were posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The whole 10-minute interview was not. So for those of you who would like to see the whole interview, please click here.

The interview touches on literary questions about The Big Melt as well as the importance of climate fiction in facing the challenges of today and tomorrow. We hope you will read this book and be inspired to take actions that will preserve our “goldilocks” climate that is the basis for our modern civilization.

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