Saturday, August 30, 2014

Calculating your Carbon Footprint

The whole reason I started this blog is because I believe I’m pretty environmentally conscious, and sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who thinks through the repercussions of certain actions. That said, I feel like my carbon footprint has greatly increased upon moving to the city. I’ve justified it mostly by telling myself that the work I do connecting students to nature and getting them thinking about water conservation and electricity use is worth the energy expended, but it’s time to put some science to that thought.
I just read a delightfully fun book by local author Laura f. Sanchez, called Freaking Green. We are thinking about having this be our kick-off book to start off our state-wide book club for environmental educators, or environmentally minded people. The premise of the book is that a teenage girl’s life is turned upside down when her great aunt dies and requires that the family cut their carbon footprint by 80% if they are to inherit her estate. Although there were plenty of tacky-teenage bits, I feel that a lot of people could relate to this book, just like I did. What I really hope is that if teachers require this reading for students, they follow up with a project to see how much of their carbon footprint they could decrease. Inspired by the book, I decided to estimate my own carbon footprint since I moved to Albuquerque 6 months ago.
I did a google search for Carbon Footprint Calculators, and found the following two most helpful:
 This quick and easy test gives you a basic idea of how many tons of carbon your actions produce every year, while giving you the option to donate to the Nature Conservancy (my favorite place to donate!) to "offset" your carbon footprint. My number was 18 tons, which is less than the us average of 27 tons, but far greater than the world average of 5.5 tons. WOW. This is why I love numbers.
The Ecological Footprint Quiz has some fun background music and a cute little interactive scene. I like that it asked more specific questions, but still left a few things out (they asked how much I drive, but not what kind of vehicle).
Here's a nice little graphic of my results.
I'm curious how the results differ from this time last year, when Amil and I were living in a 5th wheel trailer in the San Bernardino mountains, right after having traveled across the country and back to visit family for a month.  But I don't remember enough details to take the full test.
What really inspired this entry was not the book I read, which led me into some fascinating research, but a comment that an old friend made, asking if me living in Albuquerque was “sustainable” since I preach eco-friendly living, but am living in a desert. I retorted that I live along the river and the water we use to flood the pecan trees and water the grass comes from the acequias. I do my part to conserve water around the house, too, taking seldom showers, and washing dishes with one bucket-full of water that we then broadcast onto the trees outside (we use a biodegradable soap called Miracle 2, that Amil could write more about).

One thing I love about this city is how environmentally friendly it seems. The recycling bin is as big as the trash bin (although it doesn’t get picked up as frequently), which I can’t say about our service in Texas. The city as a whole is incredibly water conscious, with a noticeably large amount of xeriscaped lawns and lots of reclaimed water sprinkler systems. I've read through lists of 'the most sustainable or eco-friendly cities in the US', but just like with the Footprint calculators, they leave a lot of things out. I'm going to continue to search for how sustainable Albuquerque is, but in the meantime, I'm still casting my dishwater on my plants.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rants and Raves

Have you ever seen something that makes you want to scream, pull out your hair and fall to your knees crying? I feel that I have gotten pretty good at pushing through the day-to-day (though it’s never) routine glossing past things that make me want to stop and scream at someone, but sometimes those things need to be addressed. My sweetie told me today that I do a good job of expressing those feelings in a calm way. He attributed my love for science as a way for me to express the problems I have seen and felt in the world with facts. For example, something happened today that made my heart jump out of my chest, my stomach tie in knots and my blood pump furiously throughout my body. So what did I do? I opened up my computer and typed out the following letter to some of my sort of supervisors.
Good morning ____ and ____,
I am back to our sweet little home, and jumping back into weeding, cleaning, and planning for programs. I’m writing to you now to bring to light a situation that greatly pains me here at B.
This weekend Amil and I spent about 6 hours weeding around caretakers, the driveway, and the grapes, in hopes that it would tame some of the most ferocious weeds, like the goatheads and
​ amaranth. ​
Since taking this job I have developed a strong curiosity toward weeds, thinking about focusing on weeds for my Master Naturalist project, when the time comes for me to enter that program. I have been looking at courses at UNM or online to teach me more about weeds, which I also studied a fair amount this summer. 
I say all of this because I want you know that I am passionate about keeping this space beautiful, but doing it in a way that correlates with our mission to connect people with the outdoors. This morning, as happens almost every week, ____,
​who works relentlessly to keep this place maintained
, was seen spraying around our house with a gas-mask on, being sure to stay far away from the poison he was pouring on the plants along our driveway. This chemical is covering the plants that we spend hours weeding with our gloved hands, and is likely the culprit for killing the bumble bees I have seen on multiple occasions writhing and wrenching as them chemical pours through their body before rendering them useless to their hive. We watched as he rounded the house, as we were making breakfast with the windows open, wondering if we’ll remember which patches got sprayed when we go out to remove them.

My main frustration with watching him spray these plants, is that these are plants like grass that I purposely left in place, spending my hours instead to pull the more dangerous weeds. As I mentioned, I am still learning about the weeds in New Mexico, but I do know that of the three classes of weeds, only things like goatheads, Bull Thistle, and bindweed are a direct threat to our lands. The other “weeds” have important jobs like habitats for ants and termites (whose colonies allow more water to be absorbed into the ground, at a rate 10 times that of compacted soil, thereby decreasing erosion), and holding onto the dirt to prevent it from blowing away in our strong spring gusts. In my opinion, anything that is able to grow away from our carefully maintained drip-irrigation and is not hazardous to the landscape or the humans or animals that come to visit Bachechi, should be given a chance.
I understand if this belief is not in line with the county’s mission in landscape maintenance, but I hope that you will at least consider preventing the spraying of chemicals around the parking lot and house, where almost every person and pet that come here spend time walking or sniffing around. I would love to live in a place where landscaped plants and wild plants can live in harmony, especially in an Open Space like this.
I appreciate you taking the time to hear this, and any conversations that come up as a result of this plea.
Thanks for all that you do,
Cass and Amil
I neglected Amil's advice to wait it out, and send it when I was calmer, insisting that it would make me calmer to get my feelings out in the open. (In hindsight, the whole thing seems so silly I hesitated to put it down here, but I had already written half this blog in the heat of the moment, and it seemed a good ...example). After sending it, and biking as fast as I could do the office to take up my boss's suggestion that I weed over there, where it will be very appreciated (despite the fact that I had been weeding for a least an hour a day in both places-- talk about killer glutes!), I did feel better. But part of that time was spent weeding to Johhny Truant and Iron Maiden. Nothing like some good aggressive plant pulling to calm you down.
I also felt a little silly ranting to my boss. She asked if some of the weeds we left behind were non-native-- a question that I surprisingly hadn't thought of. I'm sure that some of them are not native, and that's another thing I want to learn about the plants around here, but that question proved to me that in my haste of anger, I didn't think through the whole situation.
I must also say that I received a very kind response from one of my very favorite supervisors. This is the woman in charge of our contracts, who brought her boyfriend out on a Friday to help fix our dishwasher, and suggested some great workshops for Amil to focus on his spirituality. She gave me the link to a farm tour happening today that I could check out to get more information. I am constantly impressed at how damn cool everyone in this town is.

So, now that the frustration is past... I’m curious—what gets you upset to the point of action? Do environmental problems (like people driving cars unnecessarily, or consistently “forgetting” to put recyclables in the recycling bin) get you enraged? And would actually screaming at people convince them of your passion and inspire them to make a change? Or is there another solution (like making a graph of the pollution they’re creating, and offering ways to change)? Or do social problems typically move you- like seeing a man begging for food on the side of the road? Or animal cruelty- like watching someone kick their dog. What moves you to action? And what action do you, or would you take?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Back from the wild

It has been two full weeks since I've returned to my new favorite city from a program in which I was fully immersed in the beauty of nature.
For 10 wonderful weeks I got to eat, sleep, and smell the things I believe in, that keep me going: community, nature, and personal growth through education and life skills.

The first night back, I busied myself with unpacking--settling back into a space that my partner had reinvented for himself for the last two months. I watched the sun set, then hesitated to turn on the lights... a luxury I hadn't had at my fingertips in weeks. As I waited for Amil to come home from work, I sat outside...and cried. I remembered coming back from my first over-night summer camp experience when I was probably 12. After the week-long camp had ended, my mom picked me up but dropped me off at the house and went back to work. I remember wandering from room to room hearing the echoes of laughter, feeling the warmth of the sun, and the tracing through the winding labyrinths of paths in my mind. Eventually I plopped on the couch and turned on the TV so I wouldn't be so alone-- and I cried.

If I had one word to describe my summer, it would be community. More than in other temporary jobs I have travelled through in the last 4 years, there is a strong sense of community at this little camp in Northwest New Mexico. Although I have met and left hundreds of people in my past jobs, I always had Amil to help me with the transition. He didn't always start at the same time, enabling me to get to know people with my own personality first, but when it came time to leave, we would always get in the car, or board the train toward our next adventure, with memories of our friends in our collective brains, waiting to be brought up again down the road.
Although he knows a lot of the people I worked with this summer, and he came out to visit a couple of times, I feel that I was able to create much stronger bonds this summer, for a variety of reasons. One reason might be that he wasn't with me, and my social attentions were spread farther. Another is that, as my third year with this company, I was able to spend more time getting to know the other people around and filling in the gaps of the little jobs that were left to be done. I really enjoyed this position.

But now that I'm back, I'm bracing myself for a busy fall season, but making time to reflect on the things I've learned and the habits that were reinforced this summer.
I have some great ideas for upcoming blogs, but I wanted to say Hello, and I'm get ready. Also, I'm using a new blog server...we'll see how that goes.

I'll leave you with a little ditty I wrote mid-summer.

The Last
When was the last time you sung a song in front of others but along with them, with all the passion you have?
When was the last time you spoke your feelings and 40 people listened?
When was the last time you got so engrossed in a project that hours flew by without your noticing?
When was the last time you hiked up to your bed by moonlight or slept on the ground under a blanket of stars?
When was the last time you laughed so hard it hurts, and learned something about yourself in the same conversation?
When was the last time you had another being in your hands and examined it up close?
When was the last time the beauty of a landscape moved you to tears, or a hug from a friend came at just the right time?
or watched the sun rise and set in the same day?
These pleasures all occurred to me today, and are likely to happen again tomorrow.