Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Recycling Report

I get a lot of e-mails for local events, and many of them, are cleverly marketed to look rather interesting. But when I realized I was available mid-Saturday to attend the Recycling Panel to update Albuquerque on the state of recycling... I wrote it in all my calendars, and convinced a friend to come with me.
It is totally indicative of my interest in learning that I neglected to notice that the panel was part of a larger event-- the 9th annual Recycle Festival!
So last Saturday, I dragged my young friend along, fueled by some delicious chiliquiles, into a room of about 30 people facing a panel of 5 people, two of whom I knew (one used to live in my house, another I know through his waste management job).
While waiting for the final panelist, the facilitator was probing the audience for what we were curious about.
I admitted, "I have always been a recycling Nazi/ambassador (depending on which side you're on). When I moved here, I had the opportunity to tour the recycling sorting center, which provided great insight into the behind-the-scenes world of recycling. I'm the kind of person that pulls bottles out of trash cans and makes quips at people for not walking the 3 feet to the recycle bin. So I feel like I should be equipped with the best information."
At the Friedman Recycling Center, I saw how they used magnets to pull out metals, and wind to sort the paper. They used employees to further sort, and then baled everything up and sent it away. It was there that I learned the 5% rule-- that whatever gets sorted only has to be 95% of that substance. This was illustrated as we walked around a big bale of papers, complete with pipe cleaners from some child's art project poking out.
Part of the discussion on Saturday was centered around a big change to that rule. China has vowed to no longer accept the world's "Garbage". Recycling plants (predominately in China) have started sending back anything with more than .5 percent contamination.
What does this mean for recycling?
"We should think of quality over quantity" said one of the panelists, as a take-away. This directly contradicts my previous method, which the panel shamefully referred to as "aspirational recycling."
Since seeing the recycling center, and their publications about everything that can be recycled, I was definitely the kind of person who would toss anything that wasn't plastic film or food waste and think, "they'll figure it out".
But with the new recycling standards, people like me need to get in check. Quality over quantity means thinking about the energy that goes into processing the things we put into our green bins, and imagining what it's going to be on the other side.
(We talked briefly about greenwaste, which unlike material recyclings is usually recycled locally, saving another precious resource).
I walked away from the talk feeling excited, and a little ashamed. One of the questions to the panel was how we can justify, living in a severe drought state, the water necessary to rinse out our recycling. No one had a conclusive answer to the same question that I was asked by a family member when I was home for Christmas, so I did some research. I read 8 articles from California, Australia and in between (if you're looking at a Mercator map), and this one tells the fullest story, which can be summarized saying: use gray water to rinse the food out of your plastics, metals and glass so you're not wasting water.

If you're new to recycling, or you don't have the time or opportunity to visit your local plant and attend panels of recycling agents-- you can download the Recycle Coach App, which has a search option for all your queries.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The State of our State and the World it's within

If you were to read every blog I've written (not counting those angsty livejournal pages from High school), you would note a clear shift from environmentalist to doomsdayer. It's becoming increasingly difficult to put down my "Oh-shit, we're fucked" mindset and focus on the joys of nagging people to recycle one bottle at a time...especially in our current world. If you don't know what I'm taking about, pick up any newspaper.

The EPA being sued for violating clean air policy 
Massive Oil Spill in Indonesia

These are just a couple headlines in the last few weeks.

I am fortunate in some ways to get to spend the Spring away from technology and news, hiking in remote public and private lands of Northwestern New Mexico with local students, sharing with them an appreciation for the Earth beneath their feet, and trying with all my might to instill a sense of wonder at this wholly-connected world we live in.
Despite my very full-time job leading and organizing camping trips, I have had some unique opportunities so far this year, to travel beyond those trips and gather beta on the depressing (my opinion) state of our future generations.

Some students on an adventure-focused trek 
REI's latest ad campaign states that Americans spend an average of 95% of their lives INDOORS. Despite constant evidence that, as animals, we are designed to be in and connect with nature, we seem to be increasingly ignoring this connection, and even causing harm to it. This is both promising and discouraging-- even heart-wrenching. Working in a field that promotes environmental literacy, there is a sort of capitalistic promise in that we are making positions like mine, and the knowledge I possess more scarce. But it won't matter how marketable my skills are when our mono-crops have failed, we've destroyed 25% of the Earth's diversity, and billions of people are fighting over privately owned water sources. See-- sustainability and politics/the hope of our future freedoms are more hand in hand that most of America believes, it seems.

Outside Magazine's most recent issue has an article explaining the pollution and mismanagement of Mt Everest. I think this is a beautifully horrifying metaphor for our use of the outdoors. Mt Everest is a microcosm of our use of nature. Find the biggest/baddest and conquer it, giving little thought to the impact of you doing so.  In the same magazine as the REI ad and the Mt. Everest article, there's a review of the movie Mountain. With our decreasing understanding of the Earth and how it's working, and the slow stripping away of our public lands, romantic places to relax and unwind will so soon be full of people and pollution.

This weekend I led a presentation for the Association of Experiential Education conference here in Albuqeurque. My topic was how to engrain Environmental Education into Outdoor Education because it came to my attention at the international conference in November, that they aren't the same thing. There are currently people earning degrees in Outdoor Leadership and Adventure Learning that don't have biology, ecology or environmental studies as a required course. They take students into the wilderness for days or weeks at a time, and don't know of the incredible contentedness of the ecology they're existing in. This is a huge problem.

I attended two education conferences this winter. At SXSW EDU in Austin last month, I stood in a room full of ways to connect students to new technologies, to teach circuit building and robotics. One company teaches through holograms-- allowing kids to "experience" new things. We are clearly on the verge of a futuristic world that I honestly don't want to live in. I was one of three organizations there that offered travel experiences, and the only one that does so unplugged. We are so obsessed with ensuring kids have the abilities to be 'connected' we have forgotten to connect them first with the earth beneath their feet.

My booth at SXSW
At the Montessori Conference in Denver, I was a little more enlightened. Inspired by the Rachel Carson quote,
 "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adults who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in."
I was reminded that Montessori educators value nature, above most things, and students lucky enough to receive a Montessori education have greater environmental literacy than most. The conference was concurrent with the rallies for stricter gun control, which was inspiring to see. It is my understanding that most of what they are asking for is already in play in our legal system...but it was encouraging to see the turnout of families and adults and children of all ages.

Every day, I am grateful that I followed my heart toward a degree in Environmental Studies. And every day I am enraged that the people who make political decisions, educate our youth, and affect our daily lives did not obtain the same simple education. I am working HARD to ensure that everyone, at least in New Mexico, has some environmental awareness. But this fight is taking too long. At this rate, there will be little of our Mother Earth to fight for by the time we win. I am honestly afraid of what is to come. All I can do in the meantime is smell the flowers and wonder for how many years they will be able to bloom.

Want to test your "Environmental Literacy"? Here's a quiz with some basic questions EVERYONE should know.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Thirty! 30! thirty.

19 year old Cass
Today I turn 30 years old. Other than going through several boyfriends/fiances and living in 5 states and moving 18 times or so, it was a pretty chill decade of slowly easing out of my comfort zones. 
I decided that for my thirties I need to drink more coffee and do more drugs. 

I decided that to keep me focused on blogging this year, I'm going to post a monthly list of 30 things, starting with

30 unique things I have done in my life. 

21-year-old Cass

  1. Was told that having Controller of the Universe on my resume was too intimidating, so I changed the title of my planetarium job to Controller of the Solar System. 
  2. Sent nude photos to my fam and friends with my college graduation announcements. 
  3. Got a phone number from a guy on a bus by filling out a "reason's why you're awesome" notepad sheet and putting it in his hand as he walked by. 
  4. Dated a man I met on the internet (before it was cool).
  5. Shared a room with two different bosses, to save money on hotels. 
  6. Was paid to Mime on 6th street (when I was a teenager). 
  7. Took drum lessons with my favorite band's drummer just to ask him out. But I learned a bit, too. 
  8. Been in the president's room at the Kennedy Center.
  9. Spent at least a week away from home for 45 of the last 48 months. 
  10. Vomited on an OU fan at a Texas bowl game. 
  11. Lived in Four of the US Time Zones. 
  12. Auditioned for my dream role as Peter Pan, but didn't get it. 
  13. Spent three weeks in Germany-- ate gelato every day, but only had one beer, and no meat. 
  14. Dated four different guys in a three-day weekend. 
  15. Driven at least 10,000 miles in a 15 passenger van.
  16. I am an illustrated character in a kids book. 
  17. Paid to "lose my head' as a magician's assistant (best paying gig I've ever had). 
  18. I have watched the sunrise on the East coast and set on the west coast (but not in the same day). 
  19. Bought a new car.
  20. Shaved my head 5+ times. 
  21. $19/hour is the most I've ever been paid (other than Mime and magician gigs).
  22. Been engaged twice, never married. 
  23. I can do half a handstand push-up. 
  24. Paid off my student loans (Thanks Grandma!)
  25. Got paid to do voiceover for a kid's program.
  26. I used to have three black lights and a disco ball and strobe light in my room, where I would dance to 311 and Metallica, and Disco music and the Night at the Roxbury soundtrack. A lot. 
  27. I've given $2000 to a friend in need (on more than one occasion) and received a $1000 plane ticket from a friend when I was in need. 
  28. Did 9 days of the 10-day Master Cleanse
  29. Hiked 26 miles in a day (from my front door, up San Gorgonio and back to bed) in Merrel's paceglove. 
  30. Slept in a homeless shelter, a park, a teepee, a hogan, a Wigwam and a variety of tents, several vans, and a couple hatchbacks as well a dozens of nights on the ground under the stars.
I would LOVE to hear if anyone else has done more than one of these. :)

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Case (for/of) Children...Part 1

I know it's pretty early in the year to anger people, but I have a story to tell you.

This is the story of a little girl and a little boy. The only reason they exist is because their mommy decided not to tell their daddy that she would stop taking birth control, surprising their dad with their existence, and ensuring he would be connected to the mommy forever. Their mere existence required the dad to quit school, the family to move, Wal-Mart to become their primary shopping experience, and a decade of emotional neglect, and deception to dominate the children's lives.
Sadly, I have met an increasing number of the people of these stories. Parents who tell me their children are little blessings, albeit expensive ones that they don't have the emotional capacity to care for.

This morning I listened to a pediatric neuroscientist explain the basic need of physical touch to all mammals. He expressed that the growing trend of raising isolated families without the existence of the extended-family or village community that has been present in 99% of our evolution, young adults are entering the world with the emotional capability of a 4 year old. I thought that this perhaps explains my reluctance to have children. I explain to others that I still very much feel like a child, developing my beliefs and decision making processes such that I would feel unprepared to bring a new human into my world, under my care.

Image result for children cost as much asI'm at the phase in my life where friends are starting to have children. Technically that started when I was 18 or so, with some friend's kids looking exactly like they did when I met them in 4th or 5th grade. I have struggled to speak heartache at seeing all these children, because it seems so taboo. Babies are supposed to be blessings, bundles of Joy. As animals, we are genetically wired to want to procreate. But as intelligent animals, I don't understand how this urge overwhelms our senses, especially in the midst of overwhelming population growth, resource over-consumption and a growing body of children needing physical touch and community that seems to be ignored.

I have met, entertained, taught, played with and educated over 1000 kids in under a decade. Through this experience I have learned that every kid's most basic needs beyond food and shelter, are attention and love, and the freedom to act as children. In the ten years I have been teaching, the trend of children not having these basic necessities seems to be growing.
When I am not working to teach children the joys of nature and the importance of our environment, I am helping my friend's children learn to tie their shoes and use manners, or I am trying to teach life skills to a young woman with a complicated family life who knows the foster system all too well. Meanwhile, Facebook shows me more and more photos of perfect little white babies born to happy moms and dads with the means to support them. And although those families have the best of any intention to raise their babes into component, intelligent inspiring adults-- I see every new baby born as a crime against the millions of children in foster care systems wishing they had a family to love them. I see it as an injustice to an Earth that has given us everything from it's soil to it's sunlight to sustain our insatiable demands. If I imagine the world the way I want to live in it-- parents would have to prove themselves financially stable and emotionally intelligent enough to have children. Ideally, they would be required to foster before having their own children-- to share their love and resources with those in need before bringing to this world another mouth to feed.  I just don't understand why it's adopting dogs is so common but children is not.

I know that most of the people reading this have children, (my mom included) or strongly desire children. I don't mean to judge or shame you. I just want you to know that for every ounce of love you have for your current or soon to be baby-- I have for the mountains we blow up to mine the metals for your smart phone, the wildflower covered fields that were paved over with your new subdivision, and at least some of the hundreds of children I know that need far more attention than I can give them.


Monday, January 1, 2018

I don't do extreme sports because my life IS an extreme sport (aka obligatory 2017 reflections)

Perhaps the most significant and summarizing event to happen to me this entire year occurred just yesterday, on a long drive.
A Harvard scientist who is the director of a 75 year study that has studied 700 men over the course of their lives was giving a talk about what they found. There were two main groups-- Harvard students, a low-income men working in Boston all about the same age. They tested heart rates, body fat, income, happiness, etc. The result? Having positive relationships makes you happier, live longer and be healthier.

That dropped the mic for me.
I have spent all of my year giving to one relationship, and two little people by association. I have neglected my letter writing, my community, occasionally my job, and often myself. I think I did what I needed to do this year, while being honest and aware of what I was doing...but it's time to strive for balance. 2018 will be about strengthening relationships. My life depends on it, according to Harvard.

Well-- that was easy. Now let's look back-- What did 2017 do for me?
Let's see..

Put another 23,000 miles on my car, driving mostly to Detroit and back and Colorado and back. And once to Texas and back.

Found several dinosaur bones, poops, and fossils from the late Triassic.

Finally hiked to the Sandia Crest. 

Didn't make it to any new states but I finally visited Canada, so I've now visited 4 countries and lived in 1.

I don't think I finished a single damn book. Except Waiting for Godot, if that counts. 

I think I saw some movies but none were really memorable. 

I presented a workshop at two different conferences. 

We often wait for the big accomplishments to celebrate our achievements, but this year I worked on acknowledging the little things. In my busiest 228 days of work (March-October), I 
Learned 795 names
Forgot 760 names
Worked 76 Field Days with kiddos (and some adults)
Worked 36 office/admin days to organize all our tripsWorked 47 days at our Base CampWorked 37 days at the park or on some field project not on trekSpent 69 days/nights with my lover/partner.Had 34 days "off" to recuperate/relax/refresh.Visited Chaco Canyon 4 times (+ once in Winter '16)Organized outdoor experiences for 26 different schoolsCoordinated getting 1304 people to spend over 3000 days outdoors.Aided in awarding $18,000 of grant money to New Mexico schools for field trips.

I think the best way to summarize my year, however, is with PHOTOS. 

I got really sick traveling from Chicago to St Louis to Indianapolis and back to Chicago. But I went to this cute museum in Indy with a bunch of Southwest paintings. 

Flew to San Diego to meet my partner's parents and see his old stomping grounds

My lover made me my favorite food and it was perfect. 

I slept outside, a lot. 

Had an unexpected May snow, one of the times I was sleeping outside. 

Spent Memorial day battling crowds with foster kids. (White Sands)
Set up a lot of tents. 

Visited/Fell in love with Rio Grande Del Norte with 10 boys from Bernalillo.
Chased a lot of sunsets.
Spent two weeks making memories with these goofballs. 

Caught this one on Solstice.
Watched this cloud for 30 minutes.

Slept inside, for once, cause it was freezing.
Went hiking outside of work!

Took this new favorite photo of mine when my folks came to visit <3

But really-- live for these moments of sunny solitude, when I can reflect on all the love and fun I've been having...

In my beautiful backyard.
I know 2018 is going to have it's struggles and it's hilarity. But as long as it's shared with open-minded people, I know I can endure, and maybe even flourish through it. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A weird Christmas.

I'm writing this on the evening of the 29th, in a hotel in Lubbock, after a very thought-provoking, warm and fuzzy, capitalistic-encouraging Christmas.

I can honestly say I sort of changed this Christmas. 2017 was a rough year, and not just because it's an odd, pointy number (I'm greatly looking forward to delving into the smooth curves of 2018, but I'll get into that in another post). With the year ALMOST behind me (us), and my 30th birthday looming ahead, I granted myself an opportunity to take the 10 hour drive by myself to my next-door state and visit 40 of my family members and friends in one central location. The only kicker is that I have to endure the quintessential Capitalistic+religious love-baby that is Christmas. 
Don't get me wrong-- for all the things I can't stand about Christmas- the strong implication that it is necessary to buy things people don't need to show that you care about them, the growing tension as the holiday approaches, the inability to get through a shopping line under 10 minutes, and the intolerable commercials, there are the wonderments of cinnamon candles, making cookies, seeing relatives, singing songs together, and the sparkle of a decorated tree emanating it's fragrance in the front room. 

One thing that changed me was the words of encouragement from friends and family who read my blog. Although you (and Russia, apparently) are the only ones who read my blog, it showed that it's certainly not for nothin'. Although it does cause hesitation when the characters of my world that I'm depicting here are also my only readers. I appreciate you all for following along, and I have some exciting things planed for the coming year.

Because the greatest memories and revelations from my one week home came from vastly different sources, I can think of no better way to present them than....bullet points.

  • The sweetest, smartest, most-gentle-man in the world (who happens to be my grandpa) told me not to worry too much about rising climate change, and increasing stupidity (my words) because we're going to get nuked. #affirmation
    • As a side note-- I listened to the Nature Backchat podcast from November 2016, with world scientists coming to grips with Trump's election win and speculating what that might mean for science...and I felt okay-- like there are champions of science working to spread information and educate people. Then I went to Wal-Mart, and felt like maybe getting nuked wouldn't be so bad. Really though-- so many people seemed to be suffering, smoking, shuddering, stooping. If going to Wal-Mart is their greatest hope in life, maybe a bomb wouldn't be so bad. #judging #sympathizing
  • My other amazing grandfather said "I hope to see you again" when he hugged me g'bye.
    But there's NO WAY I won't see him again cause he's a peppy 93 years old and we've got lots of life to live together. 
  • Internal monologue while watching presents unwrapped, "So much packaging. Wait that's recyclable! (watches as it's thrown in trash). Dammit. People use these? Can't we just read books anymore? What's that? How does it work? Put your phone down!"
  • Comparing my 5 humble Christmas celebrations to my boyfriend's one simple present opening. 
  • Reading my favorite Christmas story to my family with the help of my English-expert brother for some of O'Henry's harder words. 
  • Taking 5 trips to pack up all the wonderful gifts I received-- that I don't need, some I wanted, others, such as the fuzziest blanket I've ever had, will certainly come in handy, wondering how it's fair that I get so much love, warmth, food and presents while others get so little. 
I guess the bottom line is that I'm sensitive. I'm sensitive to people wasting resources, and I'm sensitive to people who fill their bodies with cool whip and fast food and sneer at kale salads and doing squats and stretches in public. I can honestly say that I've been touched with the Christmas spirit this year. As I'm sitting in my gnome pajamas from my grandma, in a hotel my dad booked for me so I could take a rest from the road, eating a chocolate covered strawberry that my brother made himself I am literally surrounded by love and warmth. This Christmas was overwhelming if you count what I ate or spent or saw thrown away... but it reminded me of how blessed I am to have family and presents and live in a place without blizzards, or fires or hurricanes (currently). And I am motivated more than ever to spread the love and warm fuzzies. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Things I don't Understand

I haven’t written in a Long time. It’s certainly not because I have nothing to say. It might have something to do with the insane hours I put in at my job. But it’s mostly because I’ve been listening. There are a lot of voices speaking up for the first time, or that have been speaking up for a long time and are finally being heard. So I’m listening.

The shortest summary I can give for my stance as an environmentalist, is that we’ve failed. Maybe it occurred when Trump got elected. Maybe it was that seemingly insignificant day when the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide? It is quite possible that it has been a different day for every different person, and clearly, that day hasn’t come for some, yet. But as I increasingly allow myself to understand what it means that we have failed, I am comforted as friends and colleagues join me.

I’m talking about an utter loss of hope. A paradigm shift. The start of the apocalypse—to be dramatic.

A year ago I still felt that I was making a difference. That I could bike to work, explain to others what could be recycled, and inspire environmental literacy in our youth. Today, every time I hear a low-flying plane, I imagine it’s a nuclear bomb. Beautiful women harmonizing on the radio sing of “when the soft rains come” after the people have wiped ourselves out. Environmentalists I use to work for also make plans about where they should move to avoid rising sea-waters, increased hurricane activity, extended droughts and unforeseen things like blackouts and a breakdown of our necessary systems like food transit.

In short, I strongly believe that we’re going downhill, fast. But I’m not here to talk about that (yet).
Since I’m still listening, I want You, whoever you are reading this besides my mom and maybe my uncle, to explain these things to me. Things I really don’t understand.

I am not a professional scientist. But I spent a lot of my undergrad studying science, and I seek to continually learn about how our world works. I know that our climate is something we’re still trying to figure out, and that it runs in cycles that overlap on cycles that repeat with other cycles. Like most of our world, nature is beautifully complicated. I know that trees and plants can communicate within their communities through energy, and some sort of pheromones. I know that there are MILLIONS  of species that we aren’t even aware of, but we act like we’re the only ones who share this planet.

But there are a number of things I can’t, for the life of me, understand.

1)      Babies. I clearly missed the procreation gene, or something. I just really don’t understand how, with all the social, environmental and population issues plaguing our planet, why anyone would want to make a smaller version of themselves to have to feed and teach and grow into a decent human. In my experience, most people having babies forget that last part.

2)     Lack of systematics and mistrust for science. How many of you reading this have a degree in science? I recognize that a lot of science is funded by interest groups that can make scientists unreliable, (see below) which should prompt us to be skeptical and search for citations…not mistrust science. When someone who spends 60 hours a week studying something that interests them for a nominal wage is arguing against someone who has billions of dollars to lose and will say or do anything to not lose money… why wouldn’t you apply that skepticism to the latter.

3)      Capitalism. I understand the idea of capitalism around material things, to an extent. I don’t understand how greed can manipulate basic human services like education and healthcare.

4)      Economics. I took a couple classes on economics. One drove me to environmentalism. I really don’t understand environmental economics. Maybe economics outside of capitalism makes more sense.

5)      Apathy. In a world with SO MUCH going on, how can anyone not be bothered to care, about something, at least.

6)      Human nature. This one might be unpopular. But as an animal species-- albeit a sentient, empathetic one—there are things that are inherent to our nature that we seem to suddenly be asking everyone to ignore. Not that all people born with female genitalia have the nurturing gene, or that all men are aggressive fighters… but many of us are. I’m not opposed to the non-binary trends and appeal for an increase in sensitivity, but I wonder how it’s going to work on us apathetic animals.

These are the things I don’t expect to understand, no matter how much I’m listening.
Most days, I wake up and go through the motions because it’s what I’ve practiced doing for so long. Recycling, taking short showers, up-keeping my bike, and buying food from the local farmers market. But when I hear those low-flying planes and imagine what the blast would feel like… I feel sort of calm. That all these increasingly complicated layers of our society that don’t make any sense, might just disappear.