Mission: 2015

Well, friends, family, and cyber community, it’s 2015! That means a combination of things, not the least of which is that I will be signing the date incorrectly on all paperwork for the next month. Rolling into a new year means that, as per Western tradition, some folks will be trying to stick with New Year’s resolutions or break bad habits while other folks will hardly notice that anything has changed other than the calendar on the fridge. (But gold star if that calendar includes hockey players or firefighters with puppies.)

I will admit, I’ve never been much of one for New Year’s resolutions. I’m a Jedi Master when it comes to making excuses, but I would say that my inability to commit to a resolution largely boils down to laziness and a lack of accountability. Who wants to add more work (even if it’s worthwhile?) to their day, and if you’re not held accountable, who is going to notice? I think if I have a support system taking the plunge with me, maybe I will be more faithful to my endeavors.

Thus, I give you:

My 2015 Challenge to All of Us Together
Learn more about the natural world around us and start taking some stewardship steps!

Ok now, wait, wait, wait, before you tune out my save-the-environment shtick, let me give you a really big number: $124-145 trillion. Yes, you read that correctly, trillion. That’s the estimated value of ecosystem services in our global economy. So, on the one hand, our planet is amazing. From mighty volcanoes, to beautiful birds, to the vast and mysterious oceans, to this underappreciated lot, there is quite literally no end to the possibility of discovery and awe with every step outdoors. On the other hand, we quite literally need our natural world. In spite of such beauty and power to be thankful for, we often forget how much we actually rely on our natural resources and easily we can damage them. We may not notice all weather patterns or the water cycle (or the oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon cycles), but we certainly notice when something is wrong. Our planet’s basic processes play a role in everything from our food development to our recreational activities, yet we often take these processes for granted because we don’t necessarily dwell on pollinators in action or notice the consequences of impervious surfaces to stormwater runoff.

Thus, we must remember the words of that great philosopher, Uncle Ben from Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility. We humans, we’re a reasonably intelligent bunch. Sure, we did produce Justin Bieber and these folks, but as a species, we have accomplished quite a great deal. We have power. And what’s more important, we can each make small choices that collectively have a tremendous impact.

So, what can we change for 2015? I know that most of you are aware of probably the majority of the items on this list below, but here are just a few of the things I personally want to be more focused on for this new year. If these are totally foreign, maybe the best idea would be to pick two new things and try to be faithful about those. At least in my experience, I know that if my starting goal is too big, I overwhelm myself and either give up or slowly stop caring (aye, my brain.) So, list, list, listy:

Recycling—This is a no-brainer. If you’re not already recycling, you have zilch excuses. I know that not all neighborhoods have recycling pickup, but most communities have drop-off locations that can be easily looked up on township websites. One of the more popular excuses I’ve heard not to recycle is that it isn’t cost-efficient because not enough of us in the US recycle. Um, know the easy fix to that? More of us should recycle! The contents of landfills seriously just don’t go away magically…they sit for years, and decades, and probably a very, very long time.

Reusable Shopping Bags—I’m super guilty of this one. I own a good number of reusable shopping bags. Half of them are in my car, half of them are merrily skipping about my apartment like pixies in Neverland. Yet somehow, whenever I go grocery shopping, I get up to the check-out line and realize that I don’t have a single bag with me. Fail. So, if you guys are in this with me, I’d super appreciate the camaraderie of other folks trying to remember their shopping bags too.

Change your Facewash—This was a new one for me in 2014. I had never really given much thought to what kind of exfoliants were scrubbing away those old, keratinized epithelial cells on the surface of my skin until I came across an article like this one. Many health and beauty products contain polyethylene microbeads—tiny bits of plastic to scrub away at that dead skin; but plastic doesn’t particularly decompose, it isn’t filtered out of our waste water, and it causes havoc in natural water ways. If you want to make this switch, look for polyethylene on the ingredients list. I switched to a facewash that uses powdered walnut shell instead, and it works great! (And I will clarify…I’m definitely not someone who always wants to be the first to use “natural” products just because they’re natural. Not because natural means bad, but because it doesn’t necessarily mean good or better. I might have do a post on this in the future sometime.)

Use Native Plants in Your Home Gardening–As native plants become more popular, they’re becoming somewhat more common at nurseries and you can most definitely find them if you want to! Using native plants means your greens and blooms are growing up in their best possible environment, which means less work for you, and you will be a magnet for pollinators (plus, you’re not adding the issues with invasive species.) You can also specifically try a pollinator garden. I’m no green thumb, but I know plenty of gardening enthusiasts who can make magic happen with just a watering bucket and a bit of weeding.

Buy Local–When you’re focusing on local businesses, you’re supporting a healthy economy and cutting back on the need for your products to be shipped hundreds or thousands of miles. Besides farm markets and small grocers, you can also look into farm shares (might be easier for bigger families, but I’ve wanted to try it!)

Try to Switch to Some Organic Foods–I know it’s more expensive, but I’m definitely a stickler for organic dairy and I try to buy organic produce whenever I can. Now, to be clear, organic foods are not good because they are “more nutritious.” Not at all. Rather, most organic foods have been produced using sustainable agricultural practices–at least in theory. To be USDA organic, they have to meet certain standards, many of which really do promote a decrease in pesticide and herbicide use. Of course, not all organic products are created equally (or are equally earth-friendly), but I figure it’s better to try!

Take Advantage of Learning Opportunities Around Your Town—I live in Pittsburgh, and we have some really great resources for learning about science and nature. We have the Carnegie Science Center, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the National Aviary, and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, in addition to educational efforts like the Citizen Science Lab, local chapters of the Audubon Society, and a number of other organizations. Take the opportunity to learn with these places! Many museums are now even regularly hosting events like 21+ Nights (like this or this), where you can check out all of the exhibits without having to awkwardly tell the six-year-old that it’s actually your turn to complete an electrical circuit and make the bell ring. Visit, have fun, and learn! And hey…if you have a few hours a month, volunteer. You won’t regret the experience 🙂

Make Learning a Habit—In our internet age, we quite literally have the world at our fingertips. We have access to educational resources unlike any generation has before us. Make learning something new about our world a daily habit! Heck, just sit down and Google anything that sounds interesting—why are scarlet macaws red? Where does drinking water come from? Why is the sky blue? What is the aurora borealis? What are the ocean trash patches? You can even get super fancy and hop over to Google Scholar where you are more likely to run into peer-reviewed sources.

**However, it’s a worth a note to please, please, please watch your internet sources. If a website looks or sounds like it was generated in somebody’s mama’s basement, it probably was. The best websites for information tend to end in .gov or .edu, or if you recognize them as a trusted source. Even .org sites can be sketchy (my favorite, honk when you get it), though certainly not always. And I’ll be real with you, this caution includes my own blog! I’m only a couple months out of grad school. I wrote half of this article on my living room couch, and half in my lab. I’m not a master, so don’t take my word for it. Check my resources. But I will say this: if the website tells you not to vaccinate your kids, run, hide, avert your eyes. It’s lying or ridiculous.**

So, are you ready for a 2015 challenge? Definitely post if you have other ideas, this list is by no means exhaustive. I just wanted to create a springboard for change, for positive action. If we each try just a little bit, we’re collectively doing a lot!

Peace, love, and science!

2 thoughts on “Mission: 2015

  1. Maria, this is such an excellent post! I would add as a suggestion that recycling is great, but reducing your total waste output is even better. Karl and I started composting this summer and we cannot get over how much of the garbage we were throwing out and paying taxes to have hauled away to a landfill somewhere was made up of only food waste. We only fill about 1/2 a bag each week now with other non-recyclable trash. Composting is so easy too, and even if you don’t have a garden or a few flower pots to use it in, you probably know someone who does.

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