The year is winding down, and so am I. When I started this project, I wasn’t sure how many topics I’d have or how long I could keep up with the hours of research and writing every week. I figured I’d aim for a year (I love a goal) and see what happens. So here we are, one issue short of a year, and it’s time to take stock. I’ve got another dispatch for you next week, and then I’ll be taking the rest of the year to reset and reassess.
This isn’t necessarily goodbye; I’d like help figuring out what’s been useful and what hasn’t, how this newsletter might change or evolve, and if typing words into this internet machine makes a difference. So I’ve created a wee anonymous survey I’d really, really appreciate if you took the time to fill out. It should only take five minutes (or at worst five newsletter minutes, which tend to run a bit long — you may have noticed). The survey is here, and I’ll keep it open for the next couple of weeks.
Since you’ll have some time without me in your inbox, I thought I’d round up some extra learning resources so you can keep up your eco information and motivation. If you have favourites that didn’t make it onto this list, please let me know about them by leaving a comment or clicking reply.
I read a lot of books about the environment and building a better world — 18 this year alone — so you can rest assured that I’m only giving you the greatest hits. To add to your positive impact, buy these from your local indie bookseller or do the greenest thing and take them out of the library. (True confession: with four of these I started with library copies, then bought my own because they were THAT good.) Some of these would also make a great gift.
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, ed. Paul Hawken: This was the first eco book that made me feel hopeful about the future, and that’s no small thing. I rely on it often for the newsletter, because it’s the collective effort of scientists and policymakers and efficiently distills the 100 most useful climate interventions, how much carbon they could remove from the atmosphere, and how much they would cost (or, more commonly, save). It’s very practical and science-minded, and reading it gave me a sense of tremendous possibility. There are so many reasonable, economic ways forward, so much potential for progress.
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, eds. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson: Another book that makes me feel hopeful as hell. Johnson and Wilkinson have curated an amazing collection of essays and poems from over 50 women at the forefront of the climate movement — and we know women are vital to a sustainable future. This is a diverse group of scientists, journalists, farmers, lawyers, teachers, activists, innovators, policy wonks, and designers who are making shit happen, and it’s full of amazing reminders that society can change. These women are changing it already.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer: My favourite book of the year. Kimmerer is a botanist and also a member of Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and here she gracefully blends science and Indigenous teachings in a way that illuminates the workings of the natural world with a focus on reciprocity, responsibility, and relationship. It’s gorgeously written, often playful, and tremendously wise. (Btw, I listened to this in audio and it’s narrated by the author and first-rate.)
We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, by Jonathan Safran Foer: Animal agriculture is something we have to face if we’re going to keep the planet liveable, and I haven’t come across a more persuasive and practical argument for reducing our food footprint. After listening to this book, my partner and I reduced our (already reduced) consumption of animal products by about 70%. And you know what? It was a lot easier than we anticipated and we feel really good about the decision.
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit: This slim volume is one of my all-time favourites, and I think after the spin cycle that was 2020, it’s more essential than ever. I swallow a lot of grim material, and a book like this is the perfect antidote. Solnit elegantly argues for the possibility in uncertainty and points back to transformative victories — some well-known, some often overlooked — as a reminder of how change happens. My copy is filled with underlined passages, and I turn to the stars in the margins for wayfaring when I’m feeling lost.
How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community, by Mia Birdsong: Another book not about the environment, per se, but I think it holds one of the keys to how we create a more just, resilient world. Birdsong asks us to question the individualism of the American Dream, the seduction of independence, and offers other models for interdependence that lead to happier lives and stronger communities. She blends real-life stories (drawing heavily from Black and/or queer communities) with research in a way that’s warm, human, and compelling. Climate change and environmental degradation are collective problems, and we’ll have the best chance at tackling them if we’re not going it alone.
I listened to a couple of these as audiobooks — I did this for free through the public library Libby app, which I highly recommend. (It also allows you to read ebooks on your devices.) Audiobooks don’t have to mean Audible and giving money to Scamazon.
There are so many depressing nature documentaries out there you don’t need my help finding them. But what about the ones that don’t require a Zoloft chaser? Here are a few of my favourites that are guaranteed not to drive you to sobbing inside a blanket fort. They should even make you feel good.
The Biggest Little Farm (Netflix): This inspiring documentary is like wrapping yourself in a warm duvet. It’s the story of one couple trying to turn dusty, depleted California soil into a diversified, regenerative farm. If you’re new to the possibilities of regenerative agriculture, this doc brings them to light beautifully as they look to nature to solve some of their farming dilemmas. It is just one family’s story, and quite white and privileged, but this kind of long, in-depth case study is still valuable. It’s also a little twee now and again, but push through the animation and you’ll get to see some ducks save the day.
2040: The climate movement is frequently (and justly) accused of being a Debbie Downer. Psychologists say we need positive visioning — examples of how we could succeed. That’s what this doc does well, taking us on a whirlwind tour of some of the more prominent Drawdown interventions. There’s some unnecessary and hokey blue screen stuff (whyyyy?) but I’ll tolerate it because this doc has potential to do good.
Inhabit: For the broader picture on regenerative agriculture, this permaculture doc is a wonderful survey that shows you how the key principles can be put to work in a number of different environments, from suburban yards to city rooftops to working farms. It’s also just a nice reminder of all the creative, engaged people working to make this world better.
Climate change has really taken hold in the podcasting space in the last year, and I’m so here for it. Both of my recommendations are very young, but I think they may be the best.
How to Save a Planet, with Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Alex Blumberg: This is my #1 climate podcast, and if you just want to try one, pick this. It brings together marine biologist Johnson’s wealth of climate knowledge and veteran podcaster Blumberg’s nose for a good story and a tightly edited episode. They have a good dynamic, and the episodes are lively and feel fresh. For a sample episode, I’d recommend “Black Lives Matter and the Climate.”
A Matter of Degrees, with Katharine K. Wilkinson and Leah Stokes: Bringing together lead Drawdown writer Wilkinson and policy professor Stokes, this is a solutions-oriented run at some of the major issues of the day. Both women are well-connected and they bring in some great guests. Sample episode: “Give Up Your Climate Guilt.”
Climate newsletters have proliferated like feral kittens, and there are many good ones out there. But I want to shout out two that are a nice complement to Five Minutes for the Planet.
The Climate Crisis, by Bill McKibben: If you’re looking for big picture reflections on the movement and some key climate news, look no further. McKibben is one of the granddaddies of the modern climate movement; his organization 350.org is a force to be reckoned with. He also uses his platform to interview other activists, which means you get a glimpse of people doing great work all over.
Minimum Viable Planet, by Sarah Lazarovic: Lazarovic brings humour and whimsical illustrations to the human side of the climate crisis. She’s particularly influenced by behavioural psychology and often has great big-picture insights about the way we engage with the environment (or don’t). MVP is a little ray of light in my inbox, and it’s always a genuine pleasure to read, which isn’t something you can say for most climate communications.
Wins of the Week
“If we see our unwanted things as a gateway to connecting us to our community, to empowering one another to avoid buying new stuff and influencing manufacturers to produce only what is truly needed, we’re doing something good for ourselves, others nearby, and the environment too.” — Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller, The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan (a book that is somehow both practical and inspiring)
Three cheers for three FMFP readers who are taking care of business this week:
Ashley has started making soup from fridge and cupboard bits and bobs. She says, “My new habit has resulted in a noticeable reduction in food waste, money saved, and some very tasty creations that you can’t find in a cookbook!”
Sam is aboard the laundry-stripping train! “I have been stripping EVERYTHING in the house; we don’t have to buy new sheets/pillows, I have fresher gear and (most importantly to me) I was able to salvage a FILTHY apron that my grandma made in the ’40s, so now my kids can use it too.”
Sarah Joy, part of the old breezy house club, is sewing door snakes/draught excluders out of scrap fabric and hung a quilt on the wall, which warmed her daughter’s room right up.
One of my favourite things is celebrating your success, so hit reply or leave a comment to share your recent triumphs.
And don’t forget the survey! I want FMFP to make the world a little better, and your feedback is vital to making that happen.
P.S. Today is Giving Tuesday, so donate to a worthy cause or causes if you can. As long as you can pay your bills, I’d suggest giving enough that makes you a little uncomfortable. (If money really is tight, think about a way you could donate a bit of time, or even a single item for your pantry. You can even register to have pantry items picked up on December 5th through Toronto Miracle.) Even as a lifelong cheapskate, I managed to increase my annual giving from just over 1% of my after-tax income to 5%, then 10%, and I know that money makes more difference than my fanatical recycling ever could. (I wrote all about that journey over on Medium: for the short version, read the first and last posts.) If you want to make an eco impact and empower girls and women, may I suggest a donation to Living Goods, Population Services International, or The One-Acre Fund?