Every once in a while, I come across an idea that really lights up my path in life. Lately, I’m finding more of these than ever. I am regretful they didn’t come 20 years ago, but also quite grateful that they showed up at all.
We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I was a part of the first Earth Day, and looking through the rearview mirror on this global set of efforts makes me realize that we have not achieved the Grand Vision of the founders of the movement — and it is, I propose, because there was no truly unifying Vision for which to strive in the first place.
Is this a harsh assessment? Stark reality? Or simply a basic concept that’s missing?
This concept, which I stumbled on a few months ago, was presented by Hildy Gottlieb, founder of creatingthefuture.org. I was wary of their whole approach being some sort of infomercial, so I spent some time watching videos on YouTube and downloading some free materials they had to offer.
Then the light went on: We need to start asking the right questions about everything we are doing, and we must start finding the most beneficial outcomes in whatever we do.
We have been playing Whack-a-Mole with the great majority of our efforts, from ‘banning DDT…and phosphates…and malathion…and PFAS and PFOS and 1,4-dioxane…and…and…and.’ Wouldn’t it be so much simpler to ‘ban chemicals which cause harm from production? Yes, and that’s what we have done with years and decades of research and court battles and lawsuits and protests and petitions, one harmful chemical at a time.
But what if we were to simply insist that the chemicals we are going to use in our households are so simple and effective and harmless that we don’t need a law to govern them?
What if we create the condition in our communities that our own care for our properties will be guided by the Laws of Nature, where leaves became mulch (like in a forest) where rain fell and didn’t run off but saturated the ground where it fell on our permeable driveways and town sidewalks, where our native flowers and bushes nourished the creatures and pollinators that provide us with the very food we eat?
And what if, during all of this, we achieved the balance of rainwater and our water usage overall? What if we found the food grown in the Peconic Bioregion was more nutritious than any we could fly in from California because we were simply feeding the soil? What if we helped the soil to regenerate and it required less irrigation and fewer or no chemical supplements, and we started to see our bays and creeks become healthy once again?
What if we required that every new building didn’t just ‘fit criteria’ but ‘generated health.’ In its very design, site selection and intention there would be healthy landscaping, healthy indoor air quality and less or no need for harmful fossil carbons to keep it comfortable all year long?
The lifespan of a commercial building in its current format is about 50 years (think the old Walmart and KMart in Riverhead); a skyscraper will live about 75 years before need for an overhaul (see the current work on the Empire State Building); and a residential dwelling will probably see 100 years before the End of Useful Life (yes, that’s a thing).
The buildings we are putting up this very minute are never going to get to a state of reduced carbon emissions and certainly not Net Zero energy use if we keep on building them like we are. We will either pay a bit more for this improvement before it is built or pay through the nose to fix it later. We have a golden opportunity in Riverhead to make this a reality as we, the citizens, rewrite our future in the Comprehensive Plan.
I have not talked to anyone who does not want a healthy future — Social, Environmental or Economic — or who does not want their children or grandchildren to be healthy and not have to struggle against enormous odds of harm. There is a way, we have solutions, and they are better than sustainable — they are the ‘plus one,’ helping Nature regenerate herself for the benefit of every one of us.
All our options are laid out in the Drawdown book from 2017, the online revision of Drawdown 2.0, and the work of Drawdown East End over the past two years. It’s all based on science and has nothing to do with rockets — simple things like making compost or getting some delivered for your gardens and bushes, wasting a lot less food in a week, requesting funding for rebates on an all-electric car from our leaders in New York State or looking into ways to decrease the use of fossil carbons (oil and gas) for our home heating and cooling needs.
Our future is ours to create. Let’s do it right.
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 6 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.
Climate Local Now is a partnership between the East End Beacon and Drawdown East End, which is working to implement the local and personal goals of Project Drawdown, a comprehensive plan to reverse the climate crisis. DrawdownEastEnd.org