Figuring out the carbon footprint we leave with our homes, schools, municipal buildings, ski areas, shopping malls, travel vehicles, road maintenance, and more becomes overwhelming in that there seems to be no end to what we ask Earth to contend with and make OK. Do we really have to look at our footprint?
Only if we want to continue to breathe freely, continue to raise our children and access safe food and water. Most of us luxuriate in this beautiful north country where just a drive to the post office bathes us in scenic splendor. It is hard to recognize that continuing this luxury depends on whether we wake up, do our part, and give back to the Earth the means to continue to provide us with enough oxygen.
The term “carbon footprint”(CF) tells us the amount of land and sea area required to sequester carbon dioxide emissions from human activities. Trees and plants help us because they need to breathe in carbon dioxide and they exhale oxygen for us. Trees are the major lungs of the earth.
To figure out our carbon footprint, just what counts? Is it just about our home energy and personal travel habits or does it include all the goods and services we purchase, the skiing, theatre performances, our shoes and clothes? Do we count the footprint of meat we buy or is that tallied by the cattle raiser? Over which carbon footprints do we have control?
On the state level, the Northern Pass wants to put in an above ground line with 35’ deep cement pilings for miles of High Voltage poles. Every ton of cement emits one ton of carbon dioxide and that doesn’t include the print left by cement mixers, blasting, jackhammers, etc. NP plans to cut 500 miles of access roads to service their power lines. That means cutting carbon-sequestering trees down. Will New Hampshire require NP to mitigate its carbon footprint and include a comprehensive plan to offset the huge carbon footprint the NP creates?
There are international companies that measure and monitor carbon footprints. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is an internationally recognized company based in London that measures 4000+ international companies who voluntarily submit their environmental and emissions data. Harry Hintlian, who has a home in Woodstock, where he and his family vacation, recently received the highest environmental rankings from the CDP for his Superior Nut Company. Hintlian’s Cambridge, MA company has been offsetting its carbon footprint by planting trees in the tropics through Reforest The Tropics (RTT).
The Gloucester, MA school system is implementing the Cape Ann Green Initiative, an RTT program that teaches school children how to figure out the carbon footprint of their homes, schools, and community.
Thanks to our school systems, our children are our greatest teachers of basic technology. It is time to raise our carbon footprint consciousness by jumpstarting our schoolchildren who will surely stimulate us to protect their future by offsetting our CF.
Sunday’s bright sun invited me up Mt. Pemigewasset in Franconia Notch for the thrill of One Winter Day at a Free Mountain Health Spa (FMHS.) I grabbed my microspikes and poles, packed my first aid kit, bivy sack, ginger tea and snacks, and headed north for the 1.7 mile hike up the mountain.
Thanks to earlier rain and high temperatures, there is a sneaky layer of ice under what few inches of snow we have, so it is best to keep that in mind with every step you take just about anywhere, but particularly over the variety of rocks and logs, puddles and streams that need to be negotiated on a hike.
An FMHS hike is different than other winter hikes because the object is to pump up a good sweat. On other winter hikes, we must layer our clothes judiciously to avoid any heavy sweating and potential chills. The last thing any winter hiker wants is a mishap needing a wait for help in wet clothes, or even a de-energizing slow cold walk out.
An FMHS hike is all about breathing. On the uphill, I usually pace myself using 2:1 breathing. My exhalations have to be twice as long as my inhalations. For example: exhale for 6 paces, inhale 3 paces and shift gears as necessary. When it becomes difficult for me to exhale for 2 paces and inhale for 1, it’s time to stop and rest a bit. The advantage to this breath is that it keeps me hiking in a relaxed state, yet gives my muscles a good stretch and squeeze. Hiking in tune with your own body is crucial. First, it guarantees that you will work up a good sweat. Think of it as the final spin on a complete wash. You still need the rinse cycle, but that comes later. Especially on the uphill, it is important to maintain a good sweat, not a roast, just a sweat. You may need to pocket your hat and open your jacket a bit.
Sweating clears the toxins and debris from our systems. An FMHS hike necessarily needs a brisk walk up a small, well- traveled mountain, one you have climbed before and know it is reasonable for you to complete the round trip and head home immediately after. Pack an extra layer to stay warm on the hike out. These recommendations are for an intentional FMHS hike only.
Using poles helps to distribute the weight so that our legs AND our arms are pumping us up the mountain without straining our knees. The Pemi trail winds its way around swells and streams, through hardwood forest gradually joined by evergreens that take over the nearer you come to the summit. The Pemi summit is a huge field of granite that wraps around evergreens to the east, looks south through the notch and west to Mt. Mooselauke.
At hike’s end, head right on home, treat yourself to a hot as you can stand mineral or solar salt bath, enjoy a warm meal, a good night’s sleep, and a fresh start on the rest of your life!
Kurt Vonnegut, POW in Dresden before, during and after US bombs destroyed it, returned from WWII to spend the rest of his life urging us to be kind.
Arthur Clarke, inventor and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, said on his 90th birthday, “I have great faith in optimism as a guiding principle. I hope we have learned something from the most barbaric century in existence (20th). I would like us to overcome our tribal inhibitions and begin to think and act as if we are one family.”
Our tribes, our religions, all developed rules and regulations aimed at seeing to it that people got along as the groups survived and grew in their own locales. Now, as our tribes and religious preferences intermingle in travel through sophisticated transportation systems, shared art, science, music and electronics, the reality is that our groups, tribes, religions, and countries are now One Multi-Talented Family. This extended family needs to learn how to get along together for our mutual benefit.
Winter solstice gives us the opportunity to reset our sites and begin to think and act as the Family of Humans on Earth. How do we need to behave with each other to thrive and grow as a family? Our health depends on our ability to be kind.
Here’s what researchers are saying about the benefits of random acts of kindness: such acts make us feel good, reduce stress, make us live longer, and tame the “selfing” regions of the brain lost in thoughts of past and future instead of staying in the Now. Being kind gives us healthier hearts by releasing oxytocin which releases nitric oxide to dilate our blood vessels, makes for better relationships by releasing endorphins, the spirit boosters, and serotonins that give us the feeling of satisfaction and well-being. And, best of all: kindness is contagious.
Dacher Keltner, Dir., Social Interaction Lab at UCBerkeley, has a book out: Born To Be Good: The science of a meaningful life. Keltner says that our species has remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self sacrifice- all vital to the task of evolution – survival, gene replication, and smooth functioning groups. He notes that Charles Darwin also studied compassion and found that the most compassionate human societies fared better.
So, here’s to the coming light! May we use it to remind ourselves to be kind and spread the condition everywhere!
This week, many people focused on the art of being happy and its effect on our health. At church, the whole service was on the importance of laughter, whatever the internal or external circumstances. Hymns continued the theme. We sang all four verses of, “If you’re happy and you know it,” and, “We Gather Together.” Thanksgiving is another important ingredient.
We had a “Laughing Meditation,” and the sermon drew on Norman Cousins’ 1974 recovery from a normally incurable illness by watching hilarious movies and literally laughing himself well. He spent the rest of his life writing books, including, Anatomy of an Illness, and lecturing at Medical Schools on the benefits of laughter to healing.
When the pianist played as a postlude, Mozart’s “Alleluia,” her fingers danced over the keys in a bright staccato variation that I am sure Mozart himself would have cheered and laughed right along with all of us.
Later in the day, PBS interviewed our Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy and asked him what advice he would give us to be healthy. His spontaneous reply was, “Be happy, Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, and Exercise” – in that order!
In Yoga, one of the breathing practices is the Laughing Breath. It is probably one of the most robust of practices and has the effect of relaxing the whole body so that we can move into more demanding postures. In yoga, we emphasize lengthening exhalations. The laughing breath is one people usually can extend for a long time. By emptying the lungs fully, we make room for a big inhalation of oxygenated air that fully charges and relaxes our body.
I scanned through the research literature on the effects of laughter on health. It does matter whether we do it solo or with other people. Even laughing with one other person promotes relationship well being, a sense of belonging that promotes longer, healthier lives. Studies have been done that show group laughter triggers the release of endorphins (pain killers), improves sleep, enhances memory and creativity, improves cardiac health, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion, and more….
Caution: avoid unhealthy laughter that enhances self or group at the expense of others. Despite the tenuous world situation in this century of escalating greed and refusal to address climate change, perhaps the best thing we can do is continue to look for the bright angle of each moment, alert to ferret out the humor and joy that helps us to bond with and encourage each other. What innovative solutions might we then enact that enable people of the world and all life forms to share the joy of living?
On the heels of a generous fall of light and color, when bright pumpkins and squash signaled the coming Thanksgiving Feast, the plight of Parisians, of Syrians fleeing their country and our complicity in the chain of world events jolts us. We are no longer simply New Englanders; we are all world citizens who need to figure out how we can share this bountiful, beautiful Earth.
How can the spirit of Thanksgiving help us? Fortunately, several academic studies of the health effects of grateful people are freely available by googling ‘gratitude researchers’.
Lisa Aspinwall (University of Utah), and Robert Emmons (UC Davis) both study the health effects of giving thanks. In separate studies they found that grateful people have higher levels of alertness, determinism, optimism, and energy; they take better care of themselves, have less stress, exercise more, are happier, have stronger immune systems, and hold a brighter view of the future. Their academic studies and more are on the internet (google ‘gratitude researchers’). The health effects Aspinwall and Emmons found are attributes we need if we are to bring a healthful spirit of cooperation to the world and end our relentless competitive streak.
So, what do people do to build the habit of giving thanks? Options are wide open! Everything, every person, and every interaction is fair game.
One option is to keep a daily list of whatever makes us feel grateful. We begin to notice and observe more. At the end of the first day, we may jot down a special tree or path, a kind person, bubbly children, and a sunset. Day 2 might include the veto of the Tar Sands Project, a family gathering, a mentor, a bird that seemed to connect with us, lunch full of laughter with friends, a good day’s work. Day 3 might include a good night’s sleep, a warm jacket, a gentle snow, a call from a friend, fresh eggs, a raise in pay, snow tires, a great mechanic, and an awesome concert. My experience with this list keeping is that the list keeps getting longer each day as I ‘see’ more.
This habit gradually shapes us to be on the lookout in all our ordinary experiences, lets us see how much we do have to be thankful for and to acknowledge! Our expressions of thanks relax us and give us the energy to come up with positive possibilities for life here on Earth.
May we use our energies to figure out ways to share the earth’s bountiful resources so that we and the rest of the world can join in the spirit of Thanksgiving.
Where do we go from here? Is our land use spinning out of control? What do we need to do to reclaim a once-healthy planet? Why do we need so much health care? How evolved are we as humans? Given the wide array of eco-prophets, who should we believe? “Diversity” seems to be the persistent buzz-word today. Do we even grasp what is meant by diversity? What or who is included?
On the morning news, we hear a Portugese woman lamenting the fact that the forest around her is disappearing, turned into a monoculture by some corporation. We read that Montreal is dumping sewage in the St. Lawrence River. Even on a temporary basis, this makes no sense. In NH, forests are being cut up in wide swaths for power lines, windmills, and natural gas lines. Our consciousness is being tweaked around our interference with wildlife by trophy hunting for bobcats or other wildlife, just for fun, not for sustenance. Why do we take pleasure in such action? We would be considered bizarre to value human trophies.
Who or what is included in the necessary diversity to keep a healthy balance on Earth? In our fetish with cleaning products and dishwashers, what are we eliminating that would probably keep us healthy? How are we contributing to the genocide of the very species that have protected or nourished us in the past? Why do we need evidence that we are wiping out a species as crucial to our food supply as bees to begin to reign in our use of pesticides? What can we do to change this scenario?
It is clear to us now that we do not have dominion over the other species, which, with us, share the Earth. Something as invisible as bacteria could wipe us out, no problem. Monoculture farming with GMO seeds and their pesticides ruin our soil and wipe out healthful nematodes and other beneficial organisms that supported our produce in the past, all of which puts us on a downward spiral for health.
We know that nature will survive. In the area around Chernobyl, uninhabitable by humans since the 1986 nuclear disaster, wildlife and plant life are making adjustments and thriving.
The point is: how interested are we, as humans, in surviving? How willing are we to recognize our dependence on the whole caboodle of life on Earth? At this season of Thanksgiving, how can we reach out and give thanks to all the beings that naturally act to keep the web of life we share healthy? How can we do our share?
Whether we have chosen to have a Flu Shot or not, it’s time to fortify our immune systems for whatever comes down the pike. If you have already had a flu shot, know that it takes a couple of weeks to build the antibodies needed for the three strains included in your flu shot. If strain number 4 hits, your body may be too busy to build the antibodies needed against strain 4. Here are some general precautions we all can take to develop needed immune support for whatever comes down the pike.
Drink plenty of tap water.
Eat bright fruits and vegetables, powerful antibody builders: fresh oranges, kiwi, frozen berries, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, peppers, and the whole rainbow out there. Probiotic food builds friendly bacteria in our digestive tracts: plain yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, pickles. Whatever your cultural background, there’s a probiotic you have probably enjoyed on special occasions.
Zinc helps to maintain a healthy immune system. Turkey, crab, mushrooms and legumes are all high in zinc. Plenty of garlic helps white blood cells to reproduce and strengthens antibodies. Wild Salmon and flax seed oil are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. They bump up antibody protection by multiplying phagocytes and white blood cells, our body’s main line of protection that engulfs unwelcome invaders.
Beware the routes Flu Viruses use to enter our bodies. Watch the number of times you touch your hands to your face each minute, maybe 20+; check it out. Combine that observation with a card game in which cards are shuffled and dealt for a few hours, or a soccer ball, basket ball, or tennis ball, handled and passed through many hands, or a handshake. Suddenly, regular handwashing makes sense.
Choose some form of exercise: walking, stairs, morning bicycle pumps in bed, swimming, birdwalks, anything you can dream up that stimulates your heart to pump those antibodies freely throughout your body. Get out in the sun as often as possible and soak up free Vitamin D. Socialize, keep engaging the people you meet or work with, friends you can laugh or sing with, all essential to building a strong immune system. And get enough sleep to keep antibodies strong and prolific.
This is kitchen table talk, time to figure out what combinations work best for you, time to enjoy the magical coming winter snow season, the spellbinding mornings, and, as we move full circle, time to claim another year in robust health.
A recent misprint of my column passively titled, “Keeping well with each other”, triggered my need to emphasize why I chose the more active title, KEEPING EACH OTHER WELL, as my springboard for the last five years.
Whether we tick off Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, or Aldo Leopold’s, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” both approaches recognize that Keeping Well is a community project, not something we can do on our own. Everything we do impacts everything else alive in connections we may only begin to recognize.
Maslow’s list has to do mainly with human needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, self esteem and self actualization (some form of enlightenment). Leopold adds a much deeper need or recognition that we are connected to every living thing, including animals we kill. I’d add birds, chipmunks, frogs, cabbage worms, trees, and the infinite more that are out there breathing along with us.
Today, Thoreau’s dictum, “In wildness is the salvation of the world,” continues to gain in relevance. Whether we stand on the Sugarloaf Mts. in full view of the Presidentials atop a huge valley of fall foliage brilliant among the evergreens, or the nearest maple in our neighborhood, we can see the tree’s transition from live leaves that drop, yet leave spring buds behind to wait out the winter.
Something softens like a healing balm when a natural panorama presents itself, whether it is a valley, a couple of fawns crossing the road or a cub rambling back into the woods, a surprise waterfall, or the sight of a few rainbow trout in a stream, all possible because we or people before us saved the wilderness. What kind of legacy are we actively pursuing that will keep our people healthy in the future?
Bill McKibben says we need to learn how to fit in rather than dominate the planet. Will we figure out how to fit in?
How keen an eye are we keeping on our water supply, our soil, our air, the safety of our power lines? Do our laws reflect how much we value available health care and education for everyone, and a living wage for work done? Are we committed to Keeping Each Other Well?
The last two weeks in September are guaranteed to bring a string of changes. A gentle, friendly, fall wind woke me one morning and I heard the flutter of leaves that are beginning to change their song to the fall tune. Chipmunks are chattering up a storm as they chase around putting food by for winter.
The rare pair of yellow warblers I saw a couple of weeks ago have headed south but chicadees still buzz me. Mice are checking out my attic. I don’t like to kill them and found a neat way to turn them off a few years ago. I was doing a grandma stint with my daughter’s cat, Mack, who refused to leave the house for the duration of his visit. But he did make use of the litter box I set out. When it was time to change the box, minus the feces but fragrant with urine, I sprinkled the contents outside along the wall of the house where the mice usually enter. For two years, with Mack’s regular visits and litter deposits, no mice elected to visit. I missed visit time with him this year and definitely need to invite him back for another symbiotic adventure.
We continue to need to take precautions when cleaning out sheds, attics. Rodents are typically drawn to our storage spaces. Be aware that rodents are carriers of viruses, some of which are deadly, and if we inhale dust from their saliva, urine or scat that they leave behind, we can contract a virus. While some rodents, like the white-footed mouse, have been identified as carriers here in the Northeast, they are all potential carriers of viruses and bacteria.
A few precautions are in order. Wear rubber gloves or cover hands with plastic bags to avoid touching what we clean up, and double bag it for the dump. Avoid touching dead rodents or birds. Special attention must be given to children who are often fascinated by dead wildlife and need to be forewarned as they explore the wonders of our area.
Be aware that most of us normally touch our hands to our faces several times an hour (check it out!) Thus, depending on our attention to hand-washing, we risk inhaling organisms that spell trouble.
On a brighter side, fall is also a time to put the gardens to bed for winter, spread that last layer of mulch to keep the worms warm, time to gather seeds, plant cover crops, set out the bulbs, make hearty soups and apple everything. It’s a time to enjoy the flood of color that fills our mountains with our friends and families, a time to give thanks.