The congregation in Palo Alto has offered a number of NWEI discussion courses on topics ranging from Voluntary Simplicity to Choices for Sustainable Living. The small groups participating in NWEI programs have been instrumental in catalyzing action in their congregation. Resulting actions include replacing low efficiency furnaces, installing flourescent and LCD lighting, installing timed thermostats as well as installing a solar electricity generating system to provide approximately 50% of the church’s electricity usage. The church also decided to use Palo Alto City Green Electricity for the other 50%.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto has also been proactive in advocacy for coastal Alaskan villages suffering from global warming as well as implementation of a “green” purchasing policy. Members beyond the Green Sanctuary Committee and NWEI discussion groups have also been extremely active, with member pledges totaling 100,000 pounds of carbon reductions! They’ve also chosen to plant low-water-use plants (mostly California natives) in church landscaping. As Margaret Mead says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
“You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.” ~Vernon Howard
Our friends at Center for a New American Dream just released their Simplify the Holidays booklet, which you can download here. As our friends at New Dream say, “If you were asked to describe the ideal holiday season, chances are you would include the company of loved ones, good food, fun and relaxation, and maybe an inch or two of snow. It seems so simple, but for many of us, this could not be farther from reality. Too often, the holidays seem to exhaust rather than uplift us. Are you tired of the shopping, spending, and frenzied preparations?Do you want your holidays wrapped more in meaning and less in stuff?”
If so, the Simplify the Holidays booklet is a great place to start, along with NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity discussion course, which delves into our decisions on how we live and consume – and how we are affected by the consumer culture and society around us. Voluntary Simplicity helps participants examine how modern society can interfere with caring for the planet and explores how consumption patterns have an impact on you and your relationships, as well as the environment.
We invite you to discover new ways to slow down and live simply – now and as we head into the New Year!
Throughout North America, thousands of engaged citizens are organizing NWEI discussion courses and effecting change in their communities. Today’s story is from Janet Silman of North Saanich, British Columbia, a retired minister who has been involved in environmental and eco-justice work for many years.
Janet and about a dozen others gathered over five years ago in 2008 to participate in Northwest Earth Institute’s Global Warming: Changing CO2urse discussion course at St. John’s United Church on Vancouver Island. The discussion group was open to the community and drew a mix of participants who upon completion of the course decided they wanted to “carry on.” The small group was inspired to form a new grassroots education, advocacy and activism network focused on climate change and other environmental issues. Formerly known as “Eco-Cell at St. John’s,” the group has grown over the past five years to include a core group of 12 along with a wider involved community of 40 members who organize meetings, community events and maintain an email list focused on climate change and other environmental issues.
“The group, now called Peninsula Eco-Vision, hosts one to two issue focused documentaries a year, with 80-100 people attending each time. We’ve co-sponsored film showings at our local cinema and several of our group members have testified against the Enbridge Pipeline, a key issue in our bioregion. We do letter writing around environmental issues, generate petitions and write letters to the editor,” says Janet. While the group’s focus remains on climate change, they have also raised awareness around the environmental impacts of fish farming and pesticides and promoted salmon population protection. “We are a non-partisan group, but we encourage all political candidates to support environmental protection,” says Janet. The group recently hosted all parliamentary candidates for a forum open to the public before a recent election.
“We are very involved in the Farmer’s Market that we host at the church as well, encouraging local and organic produce,” she says. “Every year we host one of NWEI’s discussion courses and open the courses up to the community…The group will continue its grassroots work encouraging individual action and reducing our environmental footprint.”
The following guest blog post comes from Sandra Mills of Carrington College, who has shared the college’s research on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). For more information and reflection on sustainability and food issues, check out Northwest Earth Institute’s two food-focused discussion courses: Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability – which also include a variety of perspectives on GMOs.
With the advent of Genetically Modified Foods or GMOs, US consumers came to realize we must be more knowledgeable of the origin of our food. Subsequent studies on GMOs forced us to ask the question: Could the farmer’s hurrah be a cause for environmental and health concerns?
Genetically modified crops not only have the ability to ward off nature’s pests, but also survive harsh weather conditions. You can see how GMOs were perceived to be a major positive development in the agricultural industry. Farmers, by letting their crops be genetically modified, could statistically ensure a higher productivity rate. Today, many still hold GMOs as the scientist’s solution to world hunger. However, environmentalists say that GMO crops are just paving the way to a world without biodiversity. This depletes soil, which in turn, makes the increased bounty you’re now privy to much less nutritious than it may have been if farmed in an organic and nutrient rich soil.
However, organic food options are often more expensive and less sizable for the price, which makes natural food purchases a hard choice for a society recovering from a recession. Let’s face it, as Americans, we’ve also been hard-wired to look for what we perceive to be the best deal based on old time economic models that do not account for current bio-economic issues. Big companies that genetically engineer their crops are able to offer more for less. This is the bottom line: Never in the history of US consumerism have we as a society been made to feel as if our $3.99 fruit purchase is so powerful.
Health concerns have also been linked to genetically modified crops. Crops that have developed a resistance to herbicides require more herbicides to be used. This has been linked to higher death and illness rates. Herbicides are made with chemicals which are not made to be digested by human beings.
With all the back and forth, it may feel easier to stay uninformed, because there is more to this debate than meets the ear. A visual representation of this debate is presented here for the reader to make their own informed decisions about the future of genetically modified foods and how we choose to invest in it: The GMO Debate.
Ila Vassallo, Captain of Evesham’s Green Team in New Jersey, recently wrote us at NWEI reporting that “the Evesham Green Team had a lot of fun and made an impact in our first EcoChallenge!” Of note was Mrs. Carol Suboleski’s third grade class from Marlton Elementary School in Marlton, NJ. The third graders participated in the EcoChallenge and received a Mayoral Proclamation for their efforts!
Marlton Elementary teacher Carol Suboleski shared, “Our third grade class pledged to make environmentally friendly changes in our lifestyles. Some of them include using reusable water bottles and bags, turning off the lights and other electronics, increasing the amount of recycling that we do, riding our bikes or walking whenever possible, and picking up trash that we see on the ground. We also plan to promote greener practices at our school.” She chronicled the students’ journey on their EcoChallenge blog.
The class decided to continue the green practices that they started and do more to help the environment by getting the entire school involved and beginning a petition campaign. “The boys and girls are going to write up a petition asking the Evesham Township Council to make a pledge to make open space a priority in our town. This will provide homes for our animal friends and will keep our community green! We plan to ask every student to sign our petition. That’s good citizenship in action!” says Carol.
*Want to be notified when we do our 2014 EcoChallenge kickoff? Sign up here!