I would like to share with you a joy that was given me by a friend and one of the men in our Men’s Group recently. I was hosting this particular week and got to choose what our topic for discussion would be (our meetings are comprised of checking-in during the first hour (no crosstalk) followed by a short break, then whoever is hosting can pose a question for the group). I asked the question “What methods do you use to turn off your monkey mind when meditating?” This gentleman was kind enough to send me an email later in the week recommending a book by one of the premier Hindu writers of our time, one Eknath Easwaran, entitled “Conquest of Mind”. In this book (he has written many, drawing from all major religions and sages), this famous Hindu spiritual leader asks his readers to adopt a special prayer to help them with their meditations. The prayer he most commonly recommends is, surprisingly, from St. Francis of Assisi. I’d like to share this short prayer with you. Please note Mr. Easwaran's comments that follow the prayer as he explains to whom this prayer is addressed:
"Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
In memorizing the prayer, it may be helpful to remind yourself that you are not addressing some extraterrestrial being outside you. The kingdom of heaven is within us, and the Lord is enshrined in the depths of our own consciousness. In this prayer we are calling deep into ourselves, appealing to the spark of the divine that is our real nature.”
"Christian mystics call this center of personality 'the Christ within.' In Sanskrit it is called simply Atman, 'Self'. Mr. Easwaran suggests that the Buddha would not even go this far in trying to identify the nature of nirvana, to use the Buddha's term. "This is the great paradox of mysticism: until you enter nirvana... you will not be able to understand what nirvana is."
1. Eknath Easwaran (2018). Conquest of Mind: Take Charge of Your Thoughts & Reshape Your Life Through Meditation. Nilgiri Press.
2. Ibid, From “An Eight=Point Program”, section 1 – “Meditation on a Passage”.
3. Ibid, From Chapter 5 “Learning to Swim”.
This is the follow-up to “One for the Money”, “Two for the Show”, “Three to get Ready”, and, as this saying goes, “And Four to Go”. I thought I had already posted this but couldn’t find it on the website and it begs to be read:
“All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis was written by no less than dozens of diverse women leading on climate in the United States – scientists, journalists, farmers, lawyers, teachers, activists, innovators, wonks, and designers, across generations, geographies, and race – and aims to advance a more representative, nuanced, and solution-oriented public conversation on the climate crisis.”
“…Intermixing essays with poetry and art, this book is both a balm and guide for knowing and holding what has been done to the world, while bolstering our resolve never to give up on one another or our collective future. We must summon truth, courage, and solutions to turn away from the brink and toward life-giving possibility. Curated by two climate leaders, the book is a collection and celebration of visionaries who are leading us on a path toward all we can save.”
 Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson, “All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis”, Random House, LLC, New York, 2020. From Information Foreword in Kindle edition.
On Monday, June 20, Canada banned six common single-use plastics! Canada is now one of the only countries in the world to ban a list of single-use plastics, including plastic bags, cutlery, stir sticks, six-pack rings, straws, and takeout containers made from problematic plastics, and is the second country ever to ban exporting these items. This announcement marks a victory for our oceans and the marine life that call them home, and positions Canada as a global leader in efforts to reduce single-use plastics. This victory would not have been possible without the support of ocean advocates like you. Check out the Oceana Canada blog to learn more about the national plastic ban and what comes next!
My readings have turned up some books that I simply have to share with you because they’re that good:
Under the Sky We Make by Kimberly Nicholas, PHD, Putnam, 2021.
The Story of More by Hope Jahren, Vintage, 2020.
Draw Down by Paul Hawken, Penguin Books, 2017.
Regeneration by Paul Hawken, Penguin Books, 2021.
Each of these authors, especially the first two, bring so much more than ugly data to the conversation on environmental issues. We CAN make a difference. They spell out in a VERY readable manner, the ways we can help. What we do and don’t do in the next decade have such far reaching impact on this planet as to make it difficult to fully comprehend. These authors put it into perspective for us in easy-to-understand analogies and anecdotes.
Perhaps most important is to not let our circumstances overwhelm us. Yes, we need to wake up and do our part! But we can only do what we can and encourage/be kind to ourselves and each other along the way.
This article appeared in Elephant Journal in 2019. Guess what? It’s still relevant and even more critical today! https://www.elephantjournal.com/2019/07/planet-over-plastic-challenge-2019/ (1). There’s plenty in this article for ALL of us. When I read this article, I realize there’s so much more that I can be doing with very little effort on my part. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget about H.R. 5389, the “Reduce Act” presently sitting in Congress today (link)! If you haven’t already done so, let your U.S. Congress Representative know you support taxing the production of virgin plastics. Cheers!
(1) elephant journal | daily blog, videos, e-newsletter & magazine on yoga + organics + green living + non-new agey spirituality + ecofashion + conscious consumerism=it’s about the mindful life. 2022. Planet Over Plastic 31-Day Challenge: Elephant’s Favorite Personal Weird Little Avoid-Plastic Tips. | elephant journal. [online] Available at: <https://www.elephantjournal.com/2019/07/planet-over-plastic-challenge-2019/> [Accessed 4 January 2022].
By now, many of you may already be familiar with Hope Jahren’s book, “The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here.”It was first published in March of 2020. If you’re not yet familiar with this work, I highly recommend it to you. It is staggering in its scope and the quality of the research employed. It is both a seminal and transformative look at where we are today, as we come to grips with the enormity of the challenges we face in the urgent work needed to save our fragile planet. While the data and doomsday documentaries are legion in number, few offer the pragmatic and critical steps we each need to take to start the healing process AND manage to present these steps in such a logical and easy-to-understand manner.
Hope begins her chapter, “The Action You Take”, with the question “Do you want to live in a more equitable world with a brighter future?” If you answer in the affirmative, she prescribes 5 steps that will help:
Examine your values. There are lots of issues involved in our planet’s plight. Pick ones that resonate with you and rank them. Identify the one issue that you are willing to sacrifice for.
Gather information. “Go through your habits and possessions in order to take stock of how, as with most of us, your personal life is working against your values.” E.g. How much of the food that goes into your garbage is still edible?
Can you make your personal activities consistent with your values? Pick a change you can make and keep a journal of how it goes recording the numbers and the outcomes.
Can you make your personal investments consistent with your values? Every time you make a purchase you are investing in something.
Can you move your institutions toward consistency with your values? You are now armed with the “magic criterion to advocate for change: personal experience. Go to your children’s school, your house of worship, your place of employment, and start a dialogue with those in charge. Share your values, your struggles, and your experience. Listen to them talk about their restrictions and concerns. Thank them for their time. Write a follow-up letter emphasizing your values, your struggles, and your experience, and ask for another appointment…. Keep going back, keep advocating for the things that you believe in. It takes time and perseverance, but people (even politicians) and their institutions can change.”
Hope closes this section as follows: “Regardless of your mission, start in your own home and expand from there. I promise you’ll be surprised at how far abroad it takes you.
“The above may seem like an impossible task, but so did curing tuberculosis or putting a man on the moon or building the Great Wall across China… If we can refrain from overestimating our likelihood of failure, then neither must we underestimate our capacity for success.”
 Jahren, H.. 2020. “The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here.” Random House LLC, New York. Kindle edition.
Worthy visions are all well and good, but without planning and doing, that vision has little chance of materializing. In the Men’s Group I attend weekly, our organizer posed this question to us as a topic teaser: “What has to happen before…?” In the case of plastics, MANY things need to happen before we can even begin to see a light at the end of the plastics tunnel. Here’s just a few:
It goes without saying that we need to find and purchase food that is packaged to minimize the use of plastics. The following chart from the above link to weforum.org underscores this big time:
The above pie chart of estimated plastic waste by industrial sector was prepared by Ed Cook, Emma Burlow, Edward Kosior, Bernie Thomas, Brian Riise and John Gysbers in article “Eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042: a use-based approach to decision and policy making.” and presented by “Resourcing the Future Partnership Steering Group”. The article was published in collaboration with Reuters 27 Oct 2021 by Adrian PortugalJournalist, Reuters.
My wife and I do a lot of our shopping at our local Safeway grocery stores. They’ve been working hard, as do many grocers these days, in trying to provide products that are sustainable and organic. That said, they recently took a WRONG TURN in the plastic packaging of many of their O Organics product line and it’s up to us to remind them.
Please note the following statement from O Organics, one of Safeway’s premier product lines:
“Why O Organics® ?
With O Organics®, you know that what you feed your family is actually good for them. Because all O Organics® products are USDA Certified Organic. They are made responsibly, sustainably and safely(my highlighting). They are always non-GMO, and grown without synthetic pesticides.
Dear fellow consumers: feeding your family microplastics is NOT good for them and pumping MORE plastics into our environment is NOT helpful. https://www.safeway.com/shop/lp/o-organics-organic.html is the home of O Organics. Please write to them and express your disdain for switching from paper containers to PLASTIC containers in many of their dairy products, e.g. Half and Half, Heavy Whipping Cream, etc. This switch happened just this year (2021)! They also have countless other products that are being sold in plastic that could be packaged in a more sustainable manner. We, as consumers, need to fight back or we will truly be even more awash in plastic.
Safeway is trying to do the right thing by going to a product line like O Organics. We LAUD their efforts to bring us higher quality products. Unfortunately, they’ve become distracted from their mission and it’s up to us to remind them that we DO care about our environment and the products we consume. Please go to https://www.safeway.com/shop/lp/o-organics-organic.html and at the bottom of the page, under Quick Links, click on “Contact Us”. Scroll down to the lower part of the next screen to the header ‘Contact Us’ and the right most of three boxes is a box “Other Ways To Contact Us“. Click on “Comments and Questions” and explain to them that their sustainable practices are going BACKWARDS instead of forwards in their packaging. This page also has addresses for Customer Support Center and Media Inquiries. ANYTHING you can do to help mitigate this senseless INCREASE in plastics will help. Your planet and your body THANK YOU!!!
OCEANA.ORG sent me a bone chilling email that I just found in my Inbox. Here’s an excerpt from that email:
“Every year, an estimated 33 billion pounds of plastic enter our oceans. That’s roughly the equivalent of dumping two garbage trucks full of plastic into the oceans every minute. It’s polluting our oceans, choking marine life, and breaking up into smaller microplastics that we’re all drinking, eating, and breathing.
Change is needed, and there’s no time to waste. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Rep. Tom Suozzi (N.Y.) recently introduced a bill in Congress that would put a fee on plastic polluters. The REDUCE Act would set a per pound fee on the sale of new, or virgin, plastic used for single-use products.
It’s time for Congress to hold plastic polluters accountable — but we need your help!
The plastic pollution crisis will only get worse if we don’t take action now to stop it at the source, Brian.
The plastics industry expects annual production will more than triple by 2050. The United States is an enormous contributor to this crisis — in fact, a 2020 study found that the U.S. generated more plastic waste than any other country. As plastic production continues to increase, so will the amount of plastic entering the ocean.
The REDUCE Act, if passed, will hold the plastics industry accountable for its pollution and help level the playing field between recycled plastic and new plastic. We need to seize this opportunity!
This “Reduce Act” is H.R. 5389 currently sitting in the House of Representatives.
OCEANA is right; we need to tell our members of Congress to ensure this bill moves forward. When the oceans go, we’re toast! If you were worried about the Amazon forest disappearing, be aware that even MORE oxygen is produced by phytoplankton than the Amazon forest. (According to https://www.allayer.net › amazon-rainforests-vs-phytoplankton, Phytoplankton produces anywhere from 50% – 85% of the world’s oxygen.)
Here’s a list of the organizations to whom I sent my brief article about Safeway packaging below. All of them are working hard to reduce plastics:
Now you understand why a simple thing like Safeway’s changing their packaging this year from paper to plastic for many of their dairy products can have such a significant impact. It’s moving in the WRONG direction. Please let Safeway know this is NOT acceptable (see the links in the blog entry “Consumer Alert!“). I want to believe they care about the future of this planet and the people living on it, and, as responsible members of our community, will work to preserve and protect both.
Globally, about 40% of plastics are used as packaging. Usually, packaging is meant for a single use, so there’s a quick turnaround to disposal. This packaging can be processed in three different ways: landfill, incineration, or recycling.
Waste incineration has the largest climate impact of the three options. According to the CIEL report, U.S. emissions from plastics incineration in 2015 were 5.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Based on projections from the World Energy Council, if plastics production and incineration increase as expected, greenhouse gas emissions will increase to 49 million metric tons by 2030 and 91 million metric tons by 2050.
The climate impact isn’t the only concern. Incineration facilities are disproportionately built near communities of color and low-income populations.
“Incineration is a massive environmental injustice – not just in the United States, but all over the world,” Arkin said. “The people who are subjected to the pollution from these incinerators often are the ones who are least responsible for the waste in the first place and have to bear the brunt of the impacts.”
Burning waste can release thousands of pollutants. Incinerator workers and people living near facilities are particularly at risk to exposures.
Landfilling has a much lower climate impact than incineration. But the placement of landfills can be associated with similar environmental injustices.
Recycling is a different beast with an entirely different set of problems. Compared to the low costs of virgin materials, recycled plastics are high cost with low commercial value. This makes recycling profitable only rarely, so it requires considerable government subsidies.
Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that only 2% of plastics are recycled into products with the same function. Another 8% are “downcycled” to something of lower quality. The rest is landfilled, leaked into the environment, or incinerated.
Recycling facilities also commonly receive low-quality materials. Wishful recycling makes people recycle items that they think should be recyclable but are actually not. This puts a huge responsibility on the recycling facilities to process and sort the waste.
For many years, the United States and many other Western countries sent a lot of their contaminated waste to China, transferring the responsibility of waste management. In 2018, China closed its doors to the West’s contaminated recycling. Rather than increasing domestic recycling capacity, the United States now sends the waste to other countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. But some of these countries have started to turn down Western recycling, too.
Recycling could be an important bridge on the way to waste reduction, but Arkin said the Western world needs to address its plastics addiction at the source. “We can’t recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis,” Arkin said. “There’s simply too much plastic – single-use plastic – being produced and consumed.”
When plastics enter the environment, they don’t stop polluting
After plastics have been used, people may dump them into the environment, sometimes purposefully and other times accidentally. Even if plastics go to a landfill, some are light enough to blow in the wind and enter waterways.
Plastics can break down into smaller pieces, called microplastics, through biodegradation or exposure to the sun, heat, or water. These microplastics scatter across the globe, even to the depths of the ocean. Toxic chemicals can bind to microplastics and create poison pills that aquatic animals eat. Plastics also harm animals through entanglement and ingestion at all levels of the food chain.
Sarah-Jeanne Royer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found that low-density polyethylene – one of the most common types of plastics found in the ocean – releases greenhouse gases as it breaks down in the environment.
But beyond the direct emissions from plastics in the environment, there’s another issue with microplastics. Historically, the ocean has sequestered 30-50% of carbon dioxide emissions from human-related activities. However, evidence suggests that plankton are ingesting ever-greater quantities of microplastics.
Researchers at the Ocean University of China found that microplastics reduced the growth of microalgae and the efficiency of photosynthesis. So producing more microplastics could degrade plankton’s ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
What is the solution?
For every phase of the plastics life cycle, there are ways to reduce emissions. But it may take systemic shifts to slow the growth of plastics production. For example, some advocate for using bio-based feedstocks to reduce emissions in the refining stage. According to 2018 analysis by Material Economics – a sustainability management consulting firm – using only zero-carbon energy sources, such as wind and solar, in the manufacturing phase would decrease overall emissions by 50%. That may not be enough to offset emissions associated with the rapid rise of plastics production.
When developing solutions, it’s important to think critically about the materials that will replace plastics. Authors of a 2011 study from the Environment Agency in the United Kingdom assessed the life cycle environmental impacts of different bags – such as paper, plastic, and cotton – used in U.K. grocery stores. Their study found that the key to reducing global warming impact is to reuse the bags as many times as possible. But the number of times the bag must be reused depends on the material it’s made from. The paper and cotton bags need to be reused three and 131 times respectively to ensure their global warming potential is lower than a typical plastic grocery bag.
Ultimately, cutting emissions associated with plastics may require an all-of-the-above strategy: reducing waste, retaining materials by refurbishing or remanufacturing, and recycling. Under this type of circular business model, authors of the CIEL report say carbon dioxide emissions would decrease by 62 million metric tons per year.
Brooke Bauman is an intern at YCC and a student at UNC-Chapel Hill studying environmental science, geography, and journalism.