Why Empathy is Important For Our Survival

imagesThe Northwest Earth Institute staff just participated in our newest discussion course: Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability. For six weeks we delved into the hard issues. Why is their war? How does structural violence relate to human caused environmental degradation? How do our so-called “sustainable” choices still often adversely affect people half the world over? And, what the heck can we do about it all? As NWEI Board Member Alysa Rose reflects on, a connecting piece is empathy. “As a board member, I first challenged the fit of the topic to NWEI’s mission: Inspiring people to take responsibility for Earth. As I read each of the weekly sessions in Seeing Systems however, it is clear that the issues raised round out our view or definition of “responsiblity” and “Earth.” And the concept that keeps coming up for me is EMPATHY.”

Alysa points to a recent article in the New York Times about Millennials and empathy. The article unpacks a Pew Research Center’s study which found “not an entitled generation but a complex and introspective one…And its highest value isn’t self-promotion, but its opposite, empathy — an open-minded and -hearted connection to others.”

For us here at NWEI, one of the key takeaways from our discussions about the connections between peace, justice and sustainability is that empathy is critical to our survival. An open-minded and open-hearted connection to others expands our capacity to care about environmental degradation, the destruction of war, and the often hidden specter of structural violence and social injustices. Empathy moves us to care, and beyond caring is acting.

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer says in Seeing Systems, “our challenge is to envision pathways to a fairer, more just and more ecologically responsible world, to see ourselves as actors capable of tackling problems and to take action because doing so is the right thing to do and because we believe it is possible that our efforts could enhance the quality of life for ourselves and future generations…” As Alysa says, “I feel my EcoChallenge coming on! How about you?”

Deborah McNamara is Director of Organizational Partnerships for the Northwest Earth Institute. Alysa Rose has served on the NWEI board since 2006 and is currently a consultant helping businesses and non-profits be more effective. Alysa also recommends checking out Elizabeth Lesser’s TED Talk, Take “The Other” To Lunch, to further delve into the importance of empathy in our lives. And, for another thought-provoking read, Alysa recommends Nicholas Kristof’s article on the humanities. To start your own dialogue about the difficult issues embedded in peace, justice and sustainability, click here. Or, ready for action? Sign up for our annual EcoChallenge.














Take Action and Maximize Impact: Two Upcoming Webinars

2014 Ecochallenge 4.25 x 6 postcard without cropsWe are hosting two upcoming webinars on the EcoChallenge! Each webinar be 30 minutes and will help you easily participate in this year’s EcoChallenge: a two-week event October 15-29th, 2014 designed to help support you in taking action. The first webinar is *this Wednesday.* Please join us!

Webinar I: Intro the NW Earth Institute’s EcoChallenge Program: A tool for engaging citizens to take action: August 27, 2014 / 11:00-11:30am PST

Whether you are a green team coordinator, community organizer, concerned citizen or campus sustainability rep, the EcoChallenge is a great tool for engaging your network in taking positive action. The EcoChallenge is easy and fun, and over 5,000 people have taken action at work, on campus and in the community while participating each October. Join us for a 30 minute webinar on August 27th, where we’ll provide an overview of the EcoChallenge, info on how it works and how you can use the EcoChallenge to spark change in your community or workplace!

This webinar will also provide tips for success, examples from businesses have used the EcoChallenge in recent years, and time for Q&A.

Webinar 2: Maximizing Impact: Best practices for EcoChallenge team captains
September 10, 2014 / 11:00-11:30am PST

This webinar will focus on how you — a team captain for EcoChallenge 2014 — can utilize the EcoChallenge event to make a big impact in your business, college or community. We’ll cover the role of the team captain, steps to increasing participation and ways to keep your team active and engaged during the Challenge.

*For webinar registration, click here.



More People Not Only Living Green – But Eating Green Too!

imagesAs you know, we are gearing up for our annual EcoChallenge, a two week event October 15-29th where we challenge you to change one habit that benefits both you and the planet. We often are asked for ideas on “what can I do?” and this week NWEI Board Member and Ziba Design Creative Director Eric Park shared the following article as inspiration for the EcoChallenge. Not sure what to try for two weeks? How about a vegan or vegetarian diet? As Eric says, this article “makes becoming a vegetarian late in life seem like normal behavior change.” For the full article, click here

Many Boomers and seniors grew up being told, “No dessert until you’ve finished your vegetables.” That parental pronouncement led to spinach hidden in napkins, broccoli smuggled to the dog, and, for some, a lifelong aversion to anything green. But, these days, more and more in this age group are learning that it’s never too late to start eating your veggies. Two and a half million Americans over the age of 55 have made the switch to vegetarianism, and the even-more-extreme version of a plant-based diet—veganism—is going mainstream.

The word “vegan” has steadily increased in Google searches—it is now up to 36 million hits. Chipotle offers vegan burritos. Even White Castle is testing veggie sliders in selected markets. And Kaiser Permanente, the country’s largest HMO, recommends that its members eat a plant-based diet. The vegan trend has also impacted the dairy industry. Cow milk consumption is down, while the sales of soy, almond, and other milk substitutes are up.

It also doesn’t hurt that many famous Boomers have gone vegan, from Bill Clinton and Al Gore to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi. And it’s not only celebrities but regular folks that are eating green to stave off the chronic conditions that plague four out of five people over age 65. Fred Willms, 81, of Medford, Ore., has experienced the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Although he grew up on meat and potatoes, Fred became a vegan at 78 at the urging of a physician who gave him “The China Study,” a book that details the connection between nutrition and diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes…

To read the full article, click here. Ready to choose your own challenge and change a behavior? More ideas are found here.

Change Habits for Good: EcoChallenge Registration is Open!

CaptureWe know change can be tough, and sometimes it takes a kick-start to make it happen. And that is exactly what we are gearing up with the EcoChallenge here at the Northwest Earth Institute: giving you and your family, friends and colleagues a way to kick-start new habits that are good for you and good for Earth.

Registration is now underway for the 2014 EcoChallenge. The EcoChallenge is an annual event; each October we challenge people to choose one action to reduce their impact and stick with it for two weeks.

Individuals and teams pick a category—water, trash, energy, food, transportation or civic engagement—and set a goal that stretches their comfort zone. (Check out these inspiring stories from participants, and our EcoChallenge videos if you need an idea of what to take on for your challenge this year.) After taking on their challenge for two weeks, nearly everyone finds that there are aspects of their challenge that have become a habit — they’ve changed for good.

Who should join? You!

2014 Ecochallenge 4.25 x 6 postcard without crops

The EcoChallenge is open to anyone who would like to make a commitment to living a little lighter on Earth. Create a team at work or on campus, and invite your friends and family to participate with you. Camaraderie, friendly peer pressure and fun raffle prizes make change a little easier, and a lot more fun.

We look forward to hearing what your EcoChallenge will be!

Deborah McNamara is Director of Organizational Partnerships for the Northwest Earth Institute.

Guest Blog Post: A Film that Shows Us How to Reverse Climate Change Now

T20140417173626-cowspiracy_posteroday we are excited to share a guest blog post from Sabrina Louise, who works with NWEI partner organization Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth. Sabrina is an environmentalist, plant-based food consultant and vegan. Her reflections below are about a new documentary film, Cowspiracy, which shows us one way to reverse climate change. As the filmmakers say, “there is one single industry destroying the planet more than any other – and no one wants to talk about it.” We here at NWEI believe in the power of dialogue. Thanks to Sabrina for bringing this issue and this resource to our attention!

Two principles I learned early in life have helped shape me significantly: the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person (which I joyfully extend to all beings), and the belief in the interdependent web of life, of which we are a part. Some days, it is a challenge to remain hopeful, attempting to live those values in my day-to-day life, while so much destruction is being done to Earth, to each other and to the species we share this planet with.

According to a recent poll, I’m not the only one concerned about the state of Earth. While 75% of all Americans consider themselves to be environmentalists, few of them are aware that the number 1 contributor to global climate change, deforestation, diminishing natural resources, ocean dead zones, and contaminated groundwater, rivers and streams, is animal agriculture.

A new film, Cowspiracy, is a real game changer, however. Recently released for its debut run on the west coast, Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn set out to create a documentary to confront these issues while discovering why the world’s leading environmental groups haven’t been addressing how animal agriculture contributes to climate change and how the promotion of a plant based diet is a solution. Cowspiracy is almost entirely crowd-funded, and is very successful at painting us a vivid image of how humankind is contributing to our own species’ eventual extinction.

Instead of emphasizing painful footage, the filmmakers focus on visual statistics, info-graphics and charts, comical animation, and interviews from related organizations, former cattle ranchers, the dairy industry, small “sustainable” farms, activists and doctors. Their stories are shocking, inspiring and exceptionally convincing. In its wake, Cowspiracy has prompted much interest from teachers across the country looking for educational material for their classrooms. It’s wonderful to hear that Kip and Keegan are working on a shorter film to meet that demand. Want to order your own copy and support the efforts of these new filmmakers? Learn more here. Earth thanks you.

Want to dive deeper into exploring your food choices? NWEI offers two food-focused discussion course books: Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change.

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