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Saturday, 20 October 2018

Earth Overshoot Day

Reading time: 6 minutes
Key words: Climate change, environmental awareness, sustainability, ecological impact, global footprint

Today's blog is written by guest blogger Kaitlin Carlson.


Earth Overshoot Day

On August 1 2018, we, the collective citizens of Earth, had used up all of the ecological resources the planet could generate for us this year. Earth Overshoot Day passed without most of us (including myself) even knowing about it, and we continued on with business as usual - generating waste (the average Canadian generates 2.3kg of waste per DAY) and explicitly or implicitly contributing to other activities which simply aren’t sustainable.

Let me begin by providing some background on what Earth Overshoot Day really represents. It’s a metric calculated by the GlobalFootprint Network to give us an idea of how our consumption compares to earth’s production capacity using the following formula [1]:

Planet’s Biocapacity ÷ Humanity’s Ecological Footprint x 365 days = Earth Overshoot Day

Both biocapacity and ecological footprint are measured in terms of area (hectares). Biocapacity refers to the area of land and sea that is biologically productive and includes forests, grazing and crop lands, fishing grounds, and built-up land. Ecological footprint is a measure of the population’s demand for plant and animal-based food products, timber/forest products, space used for infrastructure, and forest area to offset carbon dioxide emissions (mainly from fossil fuel consumption).

In a sustainable world, Earth Overshoot Day would not exist - or at least it wouldn’t occur until December 31 of any given year. But, in the last five decades, we have consistently been hitting Earth Overshoot Day well before the end of the year. Here’s how Earth Overshoot Day has been trending since the 1970s [2].


Looks like we’ve been over-consuming for some time, and 2018 was our highest-consumption year yet - we maxed out our annual biocapacity with still five months left to go. This means that we would need 1.7 times the biocapacity of our earth just to break even. Since Earth currently does not import from other planets, this is troublesome.



There is no planet B (at least for now)! [3]

Earth Overshoot Day should give us cause for concern, and hopefully make us take action to make some serious changes. Beware though; there are well-founded criticisms of the use of Earth Overshoot Day as an indicator of our impact on the planet. The main criticism is that the calculation isn’t overly scientific. It turns out that each land use type included in the calculation is nearly balanced in biocapacity and ecological footprint except for carbon dioxide emissions [4]. What this means is that when the Earth Overshoot Day calculation tells us that we’ve consumed a year’s worth resources by August 1, it isn’t technically accurate. Rather, we've actually consumed a year’s worth of carbon, but we still have a surplus of the other resources to work with for the remainder of the year [5]. (If you want to calculate your individual carbon footprint, you might find this guide  interesting.)
On the surface this point might seem like a good thing; maybe our food production, deforestation, and construction is sustainable? (…That intuitively doesn’t seem right, does it?) The alternative solution is that the use of area (hectares) as a measurement of biocapacity or footprint must be an oversimplification. Critics argue that such a simple measure of our impact on the planet cannot capture the real consequences [6].



But, even if we accept it to be an oversimplification, Earth Overshoot Day is still a call to action that captures the attention of the public at large in terms all people can understand: we’re depleting the earth’s resources at an alarming rate. The Global Footprint Network’s #MovetheDate campaign puts the power in our hands to lessen our ecological debt to the earth. Let's see if we can collectively make changes in order to #movethedate for 2019! Calculate your ecological footprint and get ideas of how you can help move next year’s date by using this footprint tracker.

References
[1] Global Footprint Network, "Earth Overshoot Day," Global Footprint Network, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.overshootday.org/newsroom/past-earth-overshoot-days/. [Accessed 08 October 2018].
[2] mw238, "flickr," 29 November 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mw238/23400563466/. [Accessed 17 October 2018].
[3] R. B. Richardson, "Earth Overshoot Day May Seriously Underestimate Humanity's Ecological Footprint," ScienceAlert, 30 July 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.sciencealert.com/earth-overshoot-day-may-seriously-underestimate-humanity-s-ecological-footprint. [Accessed 17 October 2018].
[4] B. W. Brook, E. C. Ellis, P. M. Kareiva, T. Nordhaus and M. Shellenberger, "Does the Shoe Fit? Real versus Imagined Ecological Footprints," PLOS Biology, 5 November 2013. [Online]. Available: https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1001700. [Accessed 17 October 2018]. 

[5] F. Pearce, "Admit it: we can’t measure our ecological footprint," New Scientist Ltd., 20 November 2013. [Online]. Available: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029445-000-admit-it-we-cant-measure-our-ecological-footprint/. [Accessed 17 October 2018].

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Put Your Action Where Your Mind Is

Reading time: 6 minutes
Summary: This post is about the things we know are good for our mental health, but that we don't always make an effort to do; it can hopefully encourage you to find ways to do the things that you know are helpful for you. 

Last week I read Brené Brown's "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life." I admit I cringed when I saw the cheesy cover combined with the cheesy title, BUT the author is Brené Brown, and she has gained both my respect and my interest by her overall approach to mental health. Brené and I seem to share a task-oriented stubborn determination to plough through life, achieving whatever strikes our fancy (and ideally doing so faster and better than everyone else. '...Life is a competitive race, right?' No? Just me..? Ok.) You can get a sense of her research on shame, courage, vulnerability, and wholehearted living, as well as her approach to mental health more generally, by watching her tedtalk. (It's one of my favourites.)

There are many parts of Brené's book which I found striking and helpful, but I'm going to summarize just a few of them here. I should note that, while I've picked up on these from reading her book, there are so many other influences in my life lately that make me hone in on these particular things. Other big influences have been the PhD I'm doing at the University of Cambridge with a supervisor who values and encourages deep learning, attending meditation retreats with Jaya Ashmore, reading poetry (I really love the works of Mary Oliver, Rainer Maria Rilke, Nayyirah Waheed, William Stafford, and Wendell Berry), reading books or listening to podcasts by theologians/philosophers/individuals who grapple with questions of faith and what it means to be human (Paul Knitter, Swami Prabhavananda, Ram Dass, Pema Chödrön, and The Liturgists podcast), as well as having an abundance of conversations with dear friends and colleagues. I'm so grateful for each of these influences. 

Alright, back to some insights gleaned from reading Brené Brown's book. 

1. If we pay attention to our bodies, we can note physical symptoms of anxiety, stress, freak-outs, etc. Recognizing the physical symptoms can "cue us" to respond healthily. 
If you are like me, you might not 'listen to your body' all that often. (This is coming from the girl who rarely takes sick days, who has played basketball with a broken wrist & jumped on a trampoline with a broken ankle---to name a few.) Let's say, for example, you open up an email from someone that says something critical of you, or that for another reason you find troublesome. If you were to notice that your palms are sweating, or that you have a headache, or that your chest feels tight, or that you've just clenched all the muscles in your neck, it might be a good moment to pause, take a deep breath (or a nap) or even wait an entire day before replying. This can be true on much bigger scales, as well.

2. "If we want to live a wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth."
I find that this is especially true of graduate students or early career individuals, or anyone who is still trying to "prove themselves." Sometimes we don't even realize it, but phrases like "I was at the library 12 hours yesterday", or even just feeling exhausted and taking that as indicative of working hard---AND SOMEHOW FEELING PROUD ABOUT IT!?!?!---is very very damaging to our mental (and physical) health! Research by Lynne Twist also shows that we increasingly feel like we have to be busy and productive in order to be good, admirable people. That's kind of messed up.. Sleep and play are both important. Make time for them.

3. There is not only a big difference between the things we achieve and the things that make us joyful but the things that we are trying to achieve do not always allow for the things that make us joyful.
Brown suggests to make a list of the things you are doing when you feel joyful, and to place that side by side with a list of things that you are actively and intentionally trying to achieve. Do they line up? Do the things on the latter list actually allow for / encourage the things on the former? I tried it, and on the "achievement" list I had things like "publish a peer reviewed article", "get a tenure track teaching job." On the "joyful" list I had things like "garden," "play music with friends," "cook and eat good food." Some of the desired achievements did allow space for the things that make me joyful, but many did not---and this certainly made me wonder whether I have my priories straight! (Consider asking yourself the question: 'Why am I spending all this time and energy trying to achieve goals that do not give me nearly as as much joy as the things that I already have within my grasp?' I'm certain there are ways to intentionally focus more on the things that give us joy...)




This leads us to the next and last one:
4. There is a difference between theoretically agreeing with something, and acting upon it. So often, we become theoretical advocates for things that improve mental health, but we rarely follow through ourselves.
Reflecting upon this made me come up with the phrase "put your action where your mind is" (from 'put your money where your mouth is'). There are so many things that I advocate for and/or theoretically agree are valuable, but it is rare for me to prioritize them into my busy schedule. I love lists, so of course I made a list of these, too. For me, they included: spiritual practice, community and relationships, reading, exercise, tidiness, deep rest and relaxation, intentional creativity (art, music, writing), being outside. But, when I look at how I spend my time, it is mostly: PhD reading/writing, other academic side projects, applying for future academic projects, scarfing down food, going to the gym simply to check off 'exercise' from my to do list, and Netflix. (Of course, I sometimes do make some time for the other things, but they are rarely a priority. I'm not proud of it, but if I feel short on time, it is always the "extra mental health stuff" that is the first to get cut from my daily rhythm.) 

I wonder what might life look like if we didn't view those 'good for mental health things' as extras, that could be fit in if and when we finished all the 'real' stuff? What if, instead, we were to recognize them as important pillars for the rest of life? For one, I suspect that our self-worth, our relationships with others, and even our work ethic/creativity output would all improve...



Monday, 30 October 2017

Grad School + Beyond:

I'm 3 years into my PhD and I just read the statistic: "only three or four in every hundred PhD students in the United Kingdom will land a permanent staff position at a university."
The stat showed up in this article in Nature's International Weekly Journal of Science, which is written with regard to the sciences, but I have my severe doubts that the humanities are any better off: the reality is that myself and most graduate students I know will be hard-pressed to get a permanent contract with a university even after we've all become "Doctor ____."
This should cause us to pause and reflect on why we're doing these degrees in the first place.
To me, graduate studies---isolated yet competitive work culture, high-stress, long hours, low-pay, and seemingly with no promise of an academic job that most people assume they will fall into---is really only worth it if you (a) can work with the flexible learning environment it allows (/forces upon) you; and (b) can stay happy/healthy while doing it.
An alarmingly high number of students struggle to stay happy and healthy + link this struggle to their studies/work environment. Some studies like this one in Science have shown that 1 in 3 graduate students struggle with mental health on account of their workload and work environment (and, based on my friend/colleague circle, I'd speculate it's actually significantly higher than 33%.)
I assume I will be happy to have done my PhD even if I wind up in a career totally outside of academia where my PhD specifics aren't really needed (/useful?) (--but then again, I only pursued graduate studies in the first place because it provided a debt-free, albeit financially meagre, way to do full-time learning on topics that interest me.) I truly hope that other grad students feel similarly, and that they're studying their various research topics primarily because they enjoy the process of studying. (At least, I pity those of you who are wading through grad school, not enjoying it at all, but are under the [false?] hope that you will end up in a TT professorship job.)
So, if this is indeed true that the process itself ought to be enjoyable, it is most important that we focus on enjoying the actual process at hand.
A few things come to mind in this regard. I'm writing them out somewhat with the hope that I will force myself to adopt them for myself...(that is, they are pieces of advice which are thus far hypocritical due to not following them myself...)
1. Abandon the 'publish or perish' paradigm. 2. Stop stressing that I haven't read enough theories, or don't know as much of the literature as xyz. 3. Focus on learning for the sake of improving my knowledge of a topic that interests/intrigues me---not for appearing smart, not for impressing my supervisor, etc. 4. Don't try to make a perfect + brilliant thesis/paper/etc. That benchmark is unrealistic and can be somewhat uninspiring. Try to write something that is interesting, or challenging, or inspiring, or beautiful, ...and coherent. It doesn't have to incorporate everything you've learned and it doesn't have to be applauded by the academe. 5. (I would like your tips/feedback!) And, now, a poem...which I find challenging, inspiring, beautiful, and coherent.
"Every day I see or hear something that more or less
kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle
in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for - to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world - to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation."
~ Mary Oliver (USA, 1935-), from “Mindful,” Why I Wake Early



Saturday, 12 August 2017

Rosemary Apple Pie/Crumble

After many months since last posting (oops) I thought I would resurrect this blog with some baked goods. Below you will find a recipe for a delicious rosemary-apple pie/crumble.


It is a great way of using rosemary in a dessert to spice (herb?) it up! But because both the rosemary and the apples I used were foraged, let me give a bit of context to that.

Three things you might already know about me:
1. I love being outside
2. I hate wasting things, or seeing wasted items
3. I find satisfaction in creating good things on minimal budgets
Add all this together and you have a pretty good combination leaning towards food foraging.



My friend took this photo today while we were foraging blackberries to make yet another crumble


I also take glee in being somewhat mischevious, and so when my former neighbours emailed me last weekend to ask if I wanted to join them in sneakily picking some apples from the back garden of my old house, the answer was an automatic yes. Together, we went into the abandoned garden and picked a large bag of apples. That same afternoon, on my way home, with my apples in tow, I grabbed a few handfuls of fresh rosemary from a rosemary bush that was taking over the public bike path. (At that particular moment, I had not yet planned this dessert.) And to top it all off I also passed a big bin of apples that people were giving away, and so I added a couple of those to my pile. 





The next day, I decided to try mixing the rosemary and apples into a pie or crumble. I used this recipe (http://mysecondbreakfast.com/rosemary-apple-pie-recipe/) as my model, though I modified it a little bit. I'd recommend looking at the recipe link if you want more specific instructions!


Step 1: The pie crust
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped finely
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter (cut into thin cubes)
~5 tablespoons of cold soy milk

Mix in order given, cutting the butter in with a pastry cutter, fork, or clean fingers. Before adding the milk, your pastry should have the texture of wet, coarse sand. Add the milk slowly, and once it holds together when you pinch it between your fingers, don't add any more milk! (You could also use dairy milk; the original recipe calls for that, but I had soy milk on hand!)

Place the pastry in the fridge for a few hours before rolling it out. (I let mine sit overnight, since I might the pie crust at 9pm and didn’t want to wait up to bake.)
When you're ready to roll it out, if you're like me and you don’t have a rolling pin, you can use a clean wine bottle. :D 


Step 2: The Apples filling
- washed, (mostly) peeled, and sliced the apples until you have a big bowl of them
-flavour with cinnamon, the juice of half of lemon, a  dash of nutmeg, splash of vanilla extract, a crack of sea salt, and some sugar; toss it around in this mixture. 


Step 3: The topping
This is an alternative to topping it with another pie crust, though you'd be welcome to do that!
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup (30g) brown sugar (I used less)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons rosemary, finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter (I considered coconut oil for this, since that's what I normally would do for crumble, but I decided to not add in another flavour...maybe next time!)





You can either make a regular sized pie with this crust or you can do as I did and make little pies in muffin trays. 


I put some coconut oil on the muffin tins so that the crust did not stick, and then rolled it out with a wine bottle and cut it with a large beer glass I have on hand. (Hmmm. I didn’t notice all these alcohol usages before writing it out like this.)




I placed the circle cut outs in the muffin tins, filled it VERY HIGH with apples....






...and then put the crumble on top. :D

I topped it with a few pecan pieces and then put it in the oven. I baked it at 180 Celsius for about 20 minutes. 




They were delicious! They really held their shape and the pie crust was quite tasty, with the rosemary giving a nice flavour to all of it.  Voila!



Bon appétit! 





Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Lost and Found

A significant part of my time in India this year has been focused on the beautiful but chaotic process of ever-learning more about myself and the world around me. I’ve been prompted, pushed, pulled, and sometimes dragged into experiences, events, and conversations which make me question what I value most in life and whether I am acting in a way that corresponds with my values. 

What is that I hold onto? What is it that I think is important? Do I spend my time in a way that shows that? In what way do I want to engage with the world? (Am I doing that?) How do my actions and beliefs impact other beings around me? Am I happy? Do I feel loved by others? Am I loving others? Am I loving myself?  

I feel that these are important questions—and I ask them, in one way or another, almost every day. As such, time and time again, I find myself in need of the reminder that all of this is a process. For better or for worse, we are people who are caught in change and motion rather than grounded in constancy. 
(This is felt rather poignantly when travelling to new cities almost every week, but there are other ways of noting this in our lives even when we seem to stay still…we are always changing.) I’m trying to become more comfortable with uncertainty, and also with the seeming-dichotomy of knowing something (“holding onto something”) and being open to new ways-of-knowing/being.

My desire to try out new things and be okay with change, uncertainty, and imperfection has manifested in a rather practical way for me this year, where I have dedicated some time to a new project: shooting and editing videos which tell stories which I believe to be important and interesting. You can stay tuned for the release of some of those in the near future...

Sometimes we lose ourselves to find ourselves; and sometimes those two actions seem to be indistinguishable from each other.

I’m pretty sure that’s why I wrote this song, Lost and Found. (I picked up a guitar the other day and the melody and the lyrics came out within about 4 minutes.) I suppose these thoughts have been percolating for some time now… You can listen to it on my soundcloud here or just read the lyrics below.

~


I found myself at the sea.
I found myself by the water.
I found myself as I lost all the thoughts
that I thought I had to hold onto.

I lost myself at the sea.
I lost myself by the ocean.
I lost myself as I found all the thoughts
that I thought I’d learned to let go of.

I’m still holding, I’m still losing, I’m still finding.
And searching and praying and cursing and letting go. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Interconnectivity

Why I Wake Early
by Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety – 

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.



There is something really grounding about being taken away from the busy-ness of regular life and being thrown into a life of simplicity where plenty of time is spent outdoors. I found that, through my 10-day course in Advaita Vedanta at Swami Dayananda Ashram in Rishikesh, India, I was ushered into a reminder of the importance and goodness of stepping back and slowing down from my otherwise generally-chaotic lifestyle. 

This is not to say that our days were empty...our days started early (some individuals attended a daily 5:15am temple ritual; I joined in at the 7am meditation) and ended around 9:15pm when the nightly "satsang" (literally "truth gathering" but essentially a Q&A time with our teacher) finished. In between those hours, we had 2+ Vedanta classes, yoga class, Sanskrit class, chanting class, and free time which, at least for me, generally resulted in either a visit to the library or a conversation with another camper about the material we were learning.



There are a number of key points to Vedanta philosophy which I have difficulty accepting. One of them is the idea that, fundamentally, no person or no thing is different than any other substance. On one side, I find this a beautiful thought and I think it can do much to promote equality and love, but there are some philosophical nuances/implications which I find difficult to accept. (I won't get into those now.) But I must say that having a time and space--- and the guidance of some rather wise gurus--- to contemplate the nature of the self and of reality was a very welcome thing. 

How often do we view ourselves as totally separate from the other people around us, and our very surroundings? What might things be like if we focused more on exploring the varying ways in whcih we are integreally connected? (If you are not convinced by the Vedanta argument regarding total non-dualism, that is fine. There are other ways that you can focus on the interconnectivity.) The neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor shares some interesting thoughts of her experience with a stroke/brain hemorrhage, and the way that the right hemisphere of our brain is responsible for connecting us to the world around us. 

sunset in Goa, India

Monday, 30 January 2017

A Cultural and Spiritual Transformation



---

I am still grappling with a succinct "reasons why humans hate/discriminate against/kill each other," but it is in this same vein that I am motivated to study religion/theology and its dynamic intersection with culture. We indeed need a cultural and spiritual transformation.
And, if you even glimpse at the news sporadically, you are more than aware of how much room for change there is in our many religious, political, educational, and cultural spheres. There is so much more room to love more widely and more deeply. I think all hands are needed in this--no matter your career/hobbies/skills/passions etc.--because each of us have our own ever-widening circles of influence where we can be more loving and encourage others to do the same.
And to those of us who are able to devote ourselves 'full time' to questions of religion and culture (I would place many students and scholars of religion more broadly in this category, as well as those in leadership positions of spiritual communities), well...... I hope we can find creative ways to use our insights and knowledge to evoke positive change.


p.s. please feel free to kick me in the pants whenever I (again) begin to fret more about trying to walk delicately on egg shells in some imagined-path to a tenure track job than I do about following my passion.