by Mark Haubner

I worked with a guy in construction for a while whose motto was, ‘Just slap it up.’ It could be painting a room, installing patio blocks or hanging siding, but with that motto everything was supposed to be really easy and problem-free, home by 4 p.m. Like the old joke: “cheap, fast, good—pick two,” slapping things up never worked.

And so it is with ‘All you have to do is…’ and we are one-and-done, climate restored to 1850 levels, oceans subside, winter temperatures see below freezing for at least eight weeks, ticks and mosquitoes are gone in the winter and our next hurricane is guaranteed to be just a Category One.

We’ve been blessed with a grandson given to our care five days a week since just after he was born, a little over four years ago. I remember the responsibility my wife and I felt (and met) when we had our daughter, but this is somehow a lot different. Making sure that television shows are not just appropriate but educational, teaching him manners to get along in the world, creating self-sufficient behaviors like getting himself dressed are all so basic but not always the norm in the outside world at this point.

We spend a good amount of time outdoors—in the front yard playing ball, in the back yard planting flowers and trees, learning to play well with the dogs and all of that. Getting out is a conscious effort and comes with resistance at times. Having a partner in nature is always better than being alone, and this is one of the lessons we carry with us. But I’m always amazed when he pops out with something I had said only in passing from a year or even two before.

The things we learn outdoors are more than science and math. They include art when we find a bright red maple leaf, or dance when we watch the sparrows playing, and certainly music when we hear a red-tailed hawk searching for lunch. We are but guides in this world and the job of guide is to point out the many different forms that this world takes from moment to moment. 

To be literate in words (literacy) or numbers (numeracy) must be accompanied by knowing the world (ecoliteracy), and we would urge everyone to make sure that we round out our own discussions to include the very ground upon which we stand. It is the children who are going to carry this world forward in whatever condition we leave it.

We are hearing more often about adults needing to be more resilient, and that discussion has been raised to a high level due to our affliction with Covid-19. The Yale Center for Climate Communication’s paper in mid-February points to the alarming trends of young people, especially teens, who are showing signs of anxiety, depression and hopelessness. I feel the same way when I read too much, but then when I get back to my desk to see the piles of solutions we are given by Project Drawdown, I feel so much better: the way we grow, transport, eat and reduce the waste of our food is the #1 solution to our planetary overheating.

It is our job as guides, not simply teachers, to empower people, especially young people, with even the simplest activity that will make a big impact. We scrape our plates into a small countertop container, then move it out to the green bucket on the porch, and then it’s our grandson’s turn to help move it out to the compost pile. Being the ‘lazy composter,’ I simply drop leaves and brush in a 3:1 ratio on top of the food scraps, flip the lids closed and walk away. At the bottom of the pile, the terriers have been digging for voles all year, and the rich, dark, earthy-smelling compost they pull out is the lesson of the day. Having our grandson move it (shovel, only, Poppy, can’t get the hands that dirty yet) to tomato plants or peppers that he planted in the spring closes the loop. He knows it is not ‘dirt,’ but ‘soil.’

And so our ever-growing teams of partners and participants have grown to include every level of personal (households), community (civics, restaurants) and governance (towns) over the last year with Riverhead’s food scraps-to-compost pilot programs. The simple act of scraping food scraps into a bucket is the first step, and it can be done by anyone from the ages of three to 90. 

“How is this impactful?,” you may ask. Just figure the half-pound of food waste produced by each person per day in just Suffolk County and we can divert, recover and reuse 375 TONS of food scraps EVERY DAY. That’s 375 tons of carbon dioxide if burned, and 750 tons of methane if buried, and we really need this kind of impact right now.

And you don’t have to have an Aerated Static Pile monitored to between 130-170 degrees Farenheight over six weeks on a DEC-approved concrete pad — just a pile off in the corner of the yard will do.

All you have to do is… just one small thing!


Mark Haubner has been recycling newspaper since 1965, and not seeing his example being followed by everyone on the planet, started learning Science Communication in earnest about six years ago. He got a Certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California at San Diego (the daily commute was grueling) and now writes Community Based Social Marketing programs for the various nonprofits with which he is involved.

East End Beacon
The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

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