Today is what people are calling “Earth Day,” and on this day I happen to be in San Jose, California – also known as the heart of Silicon Valley. This is the place where I grew up, and it also happens to be the kind of place where nearly everybody drives a car in order to do anything. Well, in spite of this I’ve been walking, biking, and taking the bus during this visit to my hometown.
For various reasons, this is not always an easy thing. First, there are the long waits for a bus that maybe comes once every hour around these parts, then there is the traffic buzzing furiously past when you can’t find a quiet bike route, and finally, when you’re walking as I did much of yesterday, there comes a feeling that somehow walking is wrong here. To clarify, in this valley – which has changed dramatically in the years since I was a child – unless you have exercise clothes on, or are walking a dog, people tend to look very strangely at you for walking through the typical suburban neighborhood!
They stop their cars and although they mean well, they ask things like “do you need a ride?” and “did your car break down?”
“Oh no” I reply with a smile. “I just enjoy the feeling of walking!”
For me, having lived in recent years in various places where it’s normal to walk or bike just about everywhere, it’s easy enough to smile and laugh when someone mistakes my intentions. But coming back to this fast-paced, high-pressure valley also reminds me of how difficult it is to start enacting the kinds of habits we know are right and just, because in doing so we are often made to feel like a ‘bad’ person, a ‘low’ person, or a ‘crazy’ person, even when we know the opposite is true! Walking is good for my mind, good for my body, good for earth. Bringing my own cup and utensils with me saves the waste of disposable cups and utensils. We know things like this inside, but somehow all of it can be outweighed by a social judgment, or by the time or effort apparently ‘lost’ in choosing a more ecological way. Whether it is cycling, buying local produce, or even starting your own natural farm, ignoring these strong social judgments takes strength.
This Earth Day, let us try to build that strength inside ourselves which will naturally reverberate out to those around us, to allow our own moral voice to propel us into beautiful actions, to be brave, to be courageous in our protection of this earth, and even, as our friend Pancho reminds us below, to be a rebel.
Be a Rebel, Be Kind
Nipun Mehta reports for Parabola on one of our favorite “rebel” peace activists. Now, we normally think of a rebel as someone who forcefully acts out against a government or establishment. The lesson from Pancho however, it that all we need to do to be a rebel is to be kind. The article, which takes us through a beautiful whirlwind story of Pancho’s life since moving from Mexico to the United States, reminds us that “the most effective weapon against a system based on greed and violence is kindness.”
More Children Learning From the Forest
In a few decades’ time, who will be at the front lines to ensure the survival of humanity on this earth? Our children, of course. With the term nature deficit coming into widespread use these days, teachers are more fully coming to understand the importance of more intimately connecting our young people to this earth. Luckily, there are thousands of organizations around the world working to make childhood and early adolescent environmental education easier and more mainstream. Mainstream press is recently reporting more about forest schools, which have for decades championed was of learning that “expose children to nature while having fun and helping them develop physically, socially and emotionally.” No nature schools in your area of the world yet? Just taking children into nature is a place to start, or, when you’re really stuck at home, there are plenty of young people’s environmental books for our future activists, ranging from Dr. Seuss to Jane Goodall.
Olso’s Progress in Becoming Car Free
A short film from the crew at Street Films recently told the story of Olso’s ongoing transformation to be a people-first transportation. According to the city’s mayor, the new hierarchy of importance puts walking as a first priority, then bicycling, then public transportation, and last are cars. The city is tightly integrating public transportation with cycling and walking routes, and amazingly, requiring that all new development in the downtown core be car free. Setting a good example for my hometown, aren’t they?
The Power of People and Polls in Our Neighborhoods
A recent article in YES Magazine give us three community-based examples of the transition from domination and resource extraction to regeneration and interdependence: 1) A community in Brooklyn rebuilds their disaster-struck neighborhood while turning dirty industrial jobs into environmentally friendly jobs that people actually enjoy, 2) In upstate New York, a neighborhood upends the power of Wall Street speculation, making sure that green housing is not just for the wealthy, and finally 3) The oil-processing town of Richmond, California organized community-wide workshops and educational meetings, and then began electing themselves to local political positions, pulling the red carpet from underneath the oil company that was previously controlling the city’s political landscape. The lesson here, says Miya Yoshitani, is that “we need to invest in organizing the power of the people and the polls in all our neighborhoods.”
Thank you for reading this issue of Environment in Review. From our heart to yours, know that the Earth is calling upon such rebels as us now, more than ever, to keep changing the world with our own small actions, each and every day. If you haven’t yet, sign up to get Environment in Review to your inbox every two weeks, and feel free to send your tips to firstname.lastname@example.org on what’s happening in your area of the world so we can feature them in the next issue!
Yours in Nature,
Patrick M. Lydon and Suhee Kang