Looking back, moving forward
Plus: Five principles of eco living
For the audio version, listen here:
As we crossed the threshold into a new year, this newsletter crossed a threshold too. Two full years of content, 78 issues, and over 125,000 words, which as a book would be well over 500 pages. We’ve explored issues big and small. We faced some fears, some despair, and carried on. We protested and wrote letters; we gave money and time; we repaired, cooked, shared, planted. We had tough conversations. We made better choices as often as we could. We forgave ourselves, but not those in power. We imagined brighter futures. We made do with less and worked with what we had. When we could, we mended what was broken. We made the world a little better, sometimes in ways we’ll never know or understand.
I am so grateful for all that you’ve done, even if it was just to give me your attention over these past two years. Most of this newsletter’s life overlapped with the coronavirus epidemic, and still many of you found the strength to also face the bigger, snowballing climate catastrophe.
A new year is a time for reflection and assessment, and for me that means acknowledging that I’m out of topics that are both significant and actionable. I think this newsletter has completed its mission. And so, though I’ve loved writing for you, learning for you and from you, getting to know you, I’m pausing to consider what my big green energy will power going forward.
This edition has two parts, reviewing what we’ve learned and helping you (and me) figure out what might come next. I hope both can help fuel your future eco efforts.
Before we carry on, I want to thank everyone who contributed to our Ecojustice fundraiser: we exceeded our goal! Thank you for helping fund environmental justice.
At the end of 2020, I distilled some of the key FMFP first principles, which I’m reposting here, in order of impact. (Remember: flying is orders of magnitude beyond anything else.) If you apply these rules even part of the time, you’ll be doing better than most North Americans and you’ll have a positive impact on the future of humanity and the rest of the biosphere.
What you’re eating has a bigger eco impact than where it comes from, how it’s grown, or how it’s packaged. So . . .
Eat more plants, less meat and dairy. Avoiding beef, lamb, and shrimp is key if you’d like to remain a carnivore but slash your food footprint significantly.
Choose secondhand first: the greenest item is the one that already exists.
Reduce, reuse, redistribute. Recycling is a last resort.
Some things may seem small, but wise action, applied systematically, is how progress happens.
If you want a reminder of the changes we need on a social level, a pep talk, or my grand unified theory of changemaking, revisit “The trying is what defines us,” a post I’m still proud of.
I also wanted to distill some of the themes that come up again and again. So, I present Five Principles of Sustainable Living:
1. Challenge consumption, embrace enough.
If I were some badass hacker, I’d create a virus so that every time someone (including me) opened a shopping site, a message would appear that said, “This will not make you happy.” We are, all of us, just puffing away on the hedonic treadmill. We work until we’re depleted, then, seeking a high, turn our paycheques into stuff that gives us only a brief boost. We’re trapped in a cycle of consumption, and though time and again we’ve found stuff to be seductive but not satisfying, we keep at it. This is not only killing the planet and exploiting humans, it’s robbing us of another non-renewable resource: time. There will always be nicer things. Let’s glamorize the pursuit of enough instead of more. Enough might just set us free.
2. Push for policy change.
One of my frequent pandemic tantrums, when stress and moral fatigue had fried my circuitry, was about the unfairness of foisting potentially life-and-death decisions onto everyday people who all have different challenges and experiences. I didn’t want to have to decide if it was immoral to run to the store, or to buy something inessential, or to visit family. I wanted the government to provide clear rules and moral guidance that made the decisions for us.
I feel this keenly about climate change too: we need moral leadership that makes tough decisions and makes them a rule, not a choice that depends on us to implement individually when we have so many conflicting priorities. A long-term threat like climate change will almost always take a backseat to more urgent issues like paying the bills or the toddler who refuses to go to bed at night. Policy is also the fastest possible way to change the culture. It’ll give us the feeling that we are, truly, all in this together, because we will be.
Don’t forget policy isn’t solely for governments: your workplace, your gym, your faith institution, your golf club all have policies that I’ll bet could be greener. In places like that, there’s far less bureaucracy between you and meaningful change.
3. Centre justice.
Climate change is a justice issue and will only become more so as the years roll by. Environmental degradation and the consequences of climate change are not distributed evenly, domestically or globally. Follow the lead of those most impacted. And if you’re designing a campaign, action, or community program, make sure that it’s inclusive.
Centring justice also means supporting justice movements that don’t intrinsically seem environmental, whether it’s Black Lives Matter or Indigenous sovereignty or abortion rights or subsidized childcare. Forces like colonialism and patriarchy that are oppressing and exploiting humans also are destroying the planet. And a pristine world is no good if the people in it are suffering.
4. Look for stacked benefits.
The nice thing about many eco choices is they deliver so many additional benefits. Riding my bike is ecologically sound, but it also saves money and often time, gives me exercise, and makes me happy. When I garden I don’t just get vegetables, I sequester CO2, support pollinators, reduce the footprint of my food, connect with nature, and am radiantly happy. Eating more plant-centred meals means not harming animals, cleaner air and water, less forest converted to agriculture, a cheaper meal, and a healthier diet. Too often environmental choices are positioned as drudgery, but many of mine have had positive ripple effects throughout my life.
Sometimes you can consciously stack benefits for yourself: for example, I can buy local, organic milk at my co-op, in a returnable jar, and I can walk to get it. When you notice these lovely layers in your actions, pat yourself on the back.
5. Connect with community.
Of the toxic myths we have to unlearn, individualism is near the top. We think we have to do all, be all, compete and climb. Bootstraps, etc. Families become city states unto themselves. And this is not only making us unhappy, burned out, and perpetually overwhelmed, it’s divorcing us from a rich network of relationships that make us happy and give life meaning. Our unhappiness leads us to consumerism, as does our need to have one of everything because every house is an island. (For more on the toxicity of individualism and the American Dream, I’d highly recommend Mia Birdsong’s How We Show Up.)
But climate change is the biggest collective problem humanity has ever faced: we need each other to solve it. It’s a heavy burden to bear, psychologically and practically. The solutions we’ll find are in sharing, collaboration, mutual aid, and collective action. This might look like protests or volunteering for activist groups, but it can be things like planting pollinator pathways in your neighbourhood or being part of a Buy Nothing group.
Our greatest threat might be the thing that reconnects us with each other, our purpose, and our sense of satisfaction.
Now that we’ve looked at where we’ve been, it’s time to figure out where we go from here. But first: start with celebrating your successes from last year. Write them down! Maybe even send them to me. Sarah Lazarovic’s last newsletter was a good reminder that we need to assertively correct for our brain’s negativity bias.
Next, maybe you want to work on making more changes to your everyday life. If so, go forth and remember the FMFP archives are here with advice and information.
If you’re looking for bigger projects, involvements, or changes, choose your own adventure:
If you’re into introspection, analysis, and have 20 to 30 minutes to sit undisturbed, I made an intention exploration worksheet for you. If you’d like to add a dash of ritual, inspiration, and accountability and do this with a group, I can host a Zoom gathering and we can work through it together.
If you want to cut to the chase, consider this excellent Venn diagram from the good people at How to Save a Planet.
Can you guess what was in the centre of my diagram? This very newsletter. So now I need a new centre — if you need help with any exciting urban agriculture projects or a want an eco presenter or facilitator, call on me.
I’d LOVE to know your goals, see your Venn diagrams, or just talk ideas, inspirations, and opportunities. We can achieve more together.
To finish off, a few of my hopes.
I hope you’ll carry forward what you learned here and implement what you can in ways that are sustainable for you.
I hope your efforts give you satisfaction, contentment, and even joy.
I hope you give yourself and others grace and compassion when falling short.
I hope you’ll find renewal and solace in nature.
I hope you’ll use your privilege and influence however, wherever you can.
I hope you’ll dance. (Just kidding. But hey, it couldn’t hurt.)
While you won’t have a regular email in your inbox from me, at least for a while, please don’t be a stranger. I still want to cheerlead your efforts and support your projects in any way I can. I still want to be your climate pen pal.
There is no one path forward, no GPS instructions. We all must navigate by instinct and by compass, finding our own routes while making sure our north is true. See you out in the wilderness, my friends.
This week I want you to focus on listing your own wins for the year, so I leave you with the words of others for inspiration.
“Let them not say: we did not see it.
Let them not say: we did not hear it.
Let them not say: they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.
Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
we witnessed with voices and hands.
Let them not say: they did nothing.
We did not-enough.
Let them say, as they must say something:
A kerosene beauty.
Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.”
— Jane Hirschfield, “Let Them Not Say” (Listen to the poet read it here)
“Maximize meaning, minimize carbon is one measure of a life well-lived.” — Kimberly Nicholas, Under the Sky We Make
“Hope is not about what we expect. It is an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world, of the breaks with the present, the surprises. Or perhaps studying the record more carefully leads us to expect miracles — not when and where we expect them, but to expect to be astonished, to expect that we don’t know. And this is grounds to act. I believe in hope as an act of defiance, or rather as the foundation for an ongoing series of acts of defiance, those acts necessary to bring about some of what we hope for while we live by principle in the meantime. There is no alternative, except surrender. And surrender not only abandons the future, it abandons the soul.” — Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
“What lies ahead? Reimagining the world. Only that.” — Arundhati Roy, Azadi
Bye from me, with thanks from the bottom of my heart. You’re all welcome in my inbox anytime.
Five Minutes for Planet is written by me, Jen Knoch, and edited by Crissy Calhoun. Endless thanks, C, for your two years of support and labour. There’s no one I’d rather fight dragons with. Audio edited by my wonderful partner in life and audio, Jordan Venn, at Albany Garden Studios. Opening photo by Ferdinand Stöhr on Unsplash.
Jen, I'll miss your well-crafted, thought-provoking newsletters. Your passion for the planet is inspiring. I'm confident that you'll find your new centre sooner than later and I'll look forward to hearing what it turns out to be. Coincidentally, immediately below your e-mail in my inbox is my daily message from Chatelaine with the subject Why I Love My Buy Nothing Group. There is hope! :-)