Cultural Quandaries: Death

November 7, 2013 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Earthly Rites, Natural Reflections, Restorying the Sacred.

It is late autumn/early winter here in borealis, the northern hemisphere, and it is in this portion of the world right now that we experience the shortening days and lengthening nights with the northern pole tilting away from the sun. Life that are able to migrate move southward with the view of the sun, some migrate up rivers lay eggs and perish, much of life that remains goes dormant, and the vegetation withers into the ground. The fields and forests become quiet and much more empty. Leaves of deciduous trees have fallen leaving the trees bare, revealing the skeleton that was once obscured not so long ago. Many cultures throughout borealis have a common response to these stark changes this time of year. A response of contemplating the inevitable point in time when life quiets and dissipates like this season, death. Death of those who have come before us, who have recently died, and our own demise.

Dead Salmon in Creek. Image Credit: Rua Lupa

Death is often an uncomfortable topic and thus is little discussed. Unfortunately this can lead to unintended consequences, namely what to do about a loved one who has died leaving no will of their wishes once they’ve gone. A result of both the individual and those around them not taking the time to discuss the inevitable. Once tight friends and family can be fractured and bitter when attempting to resolve the situation of what to do with the body and with what their beloved has left behind. I think that if you love your friends and family you would take the time to discuss it with them and have everything prepared ahead of time and so the topic must be breached – how to deal with death?

There are a great many ways of approaching this, but I think it best to keep to what is confirmable.

All life dies, and that is part of the circle of life. What does that even mean? Isn’t life linear? You’re born, you live and you die? Well no. Death is just one part of the cycle. So how does it then connect to life again? Perhaps it is best to start with life and how life is able to be.

You, me, the birds, those trees, that bug, are all alive, but how? What sustains life? To live we must obtain sustenance with the right proportions of nutrient to be healthy, not to mention being active. Each organism, including ourselves, requires a specific set of nutrients to function, without these essential nutrients life becomes susceptible to disease that lead to death. So for us humans, we need carbohydrates, fats, dietary fiber, minerals, proteins, vitamins, and water. Where do we get it? Water we usually get directly, otherwise and everything else is mostly from other animals, and plants – killing and eating plants and other dead animals to sustain our own lives. But without plants life on earth as we know it cannot exist.

Life Energy. Image Source: field-studies-council.org

Plants are the primary producers that feed base nutrients and all energy into the earth’s ecosystem via harvesting the energy of the sun and taking in nutrients from its surrounding environment. Eventually being consumed by other life forms which they themselves become consumed by other life. Plants obtain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen from the air while every other essential nutrient required by plants are obtained from the soil. Being the primary macronutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K); the three secondary macronutrients: calcium (Ca), sulphur (S), magnesium (Mg); and the micronutrients/trace minerals: boron (B), chlorine (Cl), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni). So without these nutrients in soil or water, plants wouldn’t exist and the majority of life on earth wouldn’t exist. So where does soil come from?

From Death to Soil - A Salmon's Body Found By A Creek. By Rua Lupa

From Death to Soil – A Salmon’s Body Found By A Creek. Image Credit: Rua Lupa

All soil is rotted material of dead plants or animals – that’s right, that soil under your feet is from dead stuff. What gardeners who cultivate this rotted dead call compost. But it is also the most diverse and complex ecosystem on the planet. There are at least 50 million genus of bacteria and 50 million genus of fungi in the soil which break down the dead matter and make the components accessible to other life forms. Plant life is then able to draw up these nutrients from the dead, sustaining itself and other creatures both of whom eventually die themselves, continuing the cycle. So without the dead, there wouldn’t be soil, without soil there wouldn’t be plants, without plants the majority of life on earth wouldn’t exist, ergo without death there would be no life as we know it.

Beyond all this there is an additional component often forgotten in the process. The sun. Without the sun the plants wouldn’t even have a source of energy to tap into in the first place – which started the whole evolutionary path that we are on. We rely on solar energy to be alive just as much as we rely on water and the nutrients of the earth to be alive. And beyond that, the nutrient rich earth, with its water, and the sun would themselves not be here if it weren’t for previous earlier generation stars exploding, scattering their enriched components into the cosmos.

From a dead ancient star (a nebula) to our solar system. Image Source: plymouth.edu

Components made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These components gathered in dust clouds that condensed to make up the celestial bodies in our solar system. So life wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the death of stars.

It is then ultimately that in the death, new life is supported through the components that had made it up. Just as our own lives are supported from the components of the dead plants and animals we consume. Cycling again, and again and again forever more and those components can spread throughout, not only our region, but the whole planet and even into the rest of the cosmos.

 

The Circle of Life. Image Credit: TaintedEnterprises

The components that make up you and me and everything else around us was once part of something else, somethings that were alive and all of which from the stars and may eventually become stars again. Death is a beautiful thing.

And it can remain a beautiful thing in our ceremonies and rituals for the dead. Unfortunately this fantastic part of the life cycle is often repressed in our current modern customs. Embalming the body (suffusing it with toxic substances so that bacteria cannot break it down and killing the bacteria that are there) and placing it in a reinforced coffin is common practice which further prevents decomposition and not to mention taking up a lot of space in the ground. Although cremation takes up less space and can spread its components, it also releases the toxins dioxin, hydrochloric acid, and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It also takes a lot of energy to super heat a cremation oven for 3 hours and the majority of its potential nutrient to the earth is lost in this alteration processes. So that isn’t really an ideal option either. (for a deeper look into these and virtually every other option out there follow this link, a number of which won’t be mentioned here but are solid options)

Image Source: naturallyearthfriendly.com

One of the most ideal options is the most ‘old school’ way of doing things – burying the dead as they are. Thus encouraging the natural decomposition process. There are various ways of approaching this, some of which being, wrapping the body in a shroud or favourite blanket and/or placing the body in a felt, wicker, or wooden plank coffin. Ideally the body would be buried in a place that allows for a tree or other vegetation to be planted or let grow over the burial mound. There is an increasing number of resources and options for such burial grounds – often called green or natural burials. You can even have the burial on private property with a permit – also known as home burials (search ‘burial permit’ for your area). These methods of approach are the most affordable and simple way of going about death. A very poetic touch would be to grow a food producing plant on top of the burial to enable direct participation in the circle of life.

Promession is another, arguably the most environmentally responsible way of disposing the body. It involves dry freezing the body, shattering it to dust, removing medically added components from remains which can then be recycled and thus not waste the material or contaminate the soil, and scattering/burying the rest in top soil – becoming completely decomposed into soil in as little as 12 months.

Natural Burial Ground. Image Source: beatree.com

So consider your death a positive adventure as exploring and finalizing what you want for yourself can be a very fun and creative experience, and by having it ready keeps peace of mind for you and loved ones when the moment comes.

 

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Directional Invocations, Palouse Style

December 17, 2012 by Categorized: Earthly Rites.

This last week, along with Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse‘s new minister and  the Green Sanctuary Committee, I’ve been busy devising a Winter Solstice Celebration. It has been a few years since our church has hosted such a celebration. The last time was an attempted fusion of religious naturalist sensibility with neopagan structure with an injection of local ecological awareness.

Warm Winter Sun Bath from Wikimedia Commons

This year, the minister is taking the lead with a focus on the darkness and with children participating to “return the light.” The service will be more universalist in approach and should prove to be a new experience for anyone who has attended our past Winter Solstice Ceremonies. If any readers are in the Pullman, WA & Moscow, ID area I encourage you to attend. (More information is available here.)

We still have some logistics to work on, and my part is the acknowledging of the directions. This is a tradition I have adapted and adopted over the years. Unlike many neopagan traditions, the directions are not assigned to any color, season, element, or gender; instead, the focus is on how the directions relate to my life-place (in this case, the Palouse). Most times I improvised these acknowledgements, but I felt a more formal touch was required and have written a variation for the upcoming service:

East

Called by impulse to survive,
the salmon lay eggs in the east
the mountains give birth to
sacred rivers cutting pathways in the earth.
The Palouse stretches into the east
where the sun bursts each morning.

North

Called by impulse to survive,
the geese fly from the North.
The north brings us the snow
wrapped within the sacred darkness.
The Palouse stretches into the north
with the cold embrace of transformation.

West

Called by impulse to survive,
the salmon swim from the west.
Clouds come from the west,
carrying sacred rain in their bosoms.
The Palouse stretches into the west
where the sun sinks each evening.

South

Called by impulse to survive,
The geese flew to the south.
The south awaits patiently
for the return of the sacred brightness.
The Palouse stretches into the south
with the warm embrace of transformation.

Humanity

We mourn with the land
as our industry confuses the seasons;
as our neglect threatens the survival of many species;
as our ignorance has blinded us from our deep humanity.
We gather here to touch our deep humanity through celebrating
the land as our flesh and the sky as our breath.

One thing the keen observer might notice is that I start in the east and go counter-clockwise instead of clockwise as some might expect. The reasoning behind this is to follow the path of the earth around the sun and not the perceived path of the sun in the sky. Given our understanding of the Earth’s gravitational pull around the sun, I feel counter-clockwise is more appropriate.

Anyone with knowledge of Pacific Northwest ecology might identify with the imagery I’ve invoked:

  • On this side of the Continental Divide, rivers flow east to west.
  • Salmon are a vital traditional food staple of local indigenous people and restoring salmon population is an important conservation effort.
  • The geese have prominent migration patterns during the changing of the seasons.
  • The warm winds often come from the south, and the cold winds often come from the north.
  • The semi-arid climate of The Inland Northwest is a product of the Cascade Rainshadow which results in cold air on the west of the range pushing warm air over to the east.

I felt it necessary for the closing to speak directly to the impact of humanity in the environment, but to end with a positive focus of re-cultivating humanity’s sacred place within the ecosystem.

I hope this serves as a practical example of how sacred ecology builds new rituals, ceremonies, and traditions from the landscape and local ecology where one lives. Also, it can be easily applied to already existing traditions. The idea is to ground religious events with local ecological awareness.

Six Seeds by Alison Leigh Lilly

I would be delighted to hear others’ comments on:

  • How do you integrate local ecological awareness and identity into your ceremonies, rituals, traditions, and celebrations?
  • If you where to use the above example as a template what features of your life-place’s unique landscape and ecology would you be compelled to include and why?
  • What role does local ecology play in your personal spiritual identity? (Whether it be Wicca, witchcraft, neodruid, Asatru, religious naturalist, Unitarian Universalist, deist, polytheist, neopagan, or any other philosophy or spiritual system.)

For me, the key to 21st century sacred ecology is to combine creative inspiration with practical knowledge of your surroundings. If you feel so moved and inspired, be free to take my words and rewrite them to be specific to your life-place and your relationship with its unique ecology. Or share a unique short sample of poetry, prose, or prayer you have created to express the intimate relationship you have with the land around you.

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My Green-Living Birthday List

June 16, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters.

Do you ever have a year that just seems to last forever? On Monday I turn 29, and all I can think is, What took so long? There have been a lot of big changes in my life this past year, and even though I’m getting older, in a lot of ways I’m still pretty green.

Welcome to the world, Hummingbird Babe!

Each year, during the week leading up to my birthday, I stop and take stock of how my life has changed. (Wasn’t 27-year-old Ali so adorably innocent and fresh-faced? Ha!) Ever since my initiation into the Ancient Order of Druids in America, part of my yearly birthday practice involves paying special attention to the ecologically-conscious changes I’ve made to my lifestyle over the past year, and taking a moment to look closely and honestly at how I’m doing.

So how am I doing? Just as in previous years, it’s a mixed bag.

I’ve made some important Big Deal changes that have helped me “go greener” in many ways:

  1. I had a “green” wedding. And it was on a pretty tight budget, too. But we sacrificed things like elaborate floral displays and a huge guest list, and focused on shelling out the extra dough for organic, locally grown food and a wedding wardrobe made of organic cotton and hemp. We even paid a carbon offset to balance out the environmental cost of our guests’ transportation. Plus, merging households meant reducing our carbon footprint by combining our utilities and other daily needs, and new evidence suggests that number of households has a larger influence on climate change than just the raw number of people on the planet.
  2. We moved. From an old two-story, poorly-insulated row house in Pittsburgh to a bright, energy-efficient one-bedroom apartment in Seattle. Not only did this mean drastic downsizing (we donated about two-thirds of our furniture and half of our books and clothes), but thanks to the differences in local climate and urban infrastructure we use less energy to heat, cool and light our new place, and what energy we do use comes from renewable hydroelectricity instead of the ubiquitous coal mining of Pennsylvania. Plus, Seattle has a city-wide composting program, so we didn’t have to give up our love of compost just because we no longer have a yard of our own. Turns out, large-scale infrastructure makes a big difference in how effectively we can “go green.”
  3. I work from home full-time. Technically, I was working from home last year, too, but I was working for somebody else and that meant I still had to make occasional business trips (often on airplanes — ugh!). This year, I made the transition to working for myself full-time, which has meant far less travel. When I need a change of pace, I pick up and head down the street to the local coffee house. (I’m living in Seattle now. Did I mention that?) Even Jeff has been able to make some changes: though he no longer telecommutes, he’s able to bike to work. Biking almost 15 miles a day round trip is not only good for the earth, but great for his health.
  4. I live my ecological values every day through my creative work. Which is probably the best part of working for myself. Besides writing here, I also became the Wild Earth Feature Editor for Aontacht Magazine last fall and this May, I began co-hosting Faith, Fern & Compass, a podcast dedicated to exploring nature spirituality in the digital age through environmentalism, art, politics, community and interfaith conversation. Some of this work brings in dollars and cents, and some just earns me good karma points. By rethinking my relationship with money and focusing on “low productivity” work that emphasizes care and craftsmanship, I was able to go green financially and environmentally and step out of the anxiety-ridden rat race of worrying about every paycheck. I finally get to earn a (modest) living doing work that aligns with my life-long passion for the earth and my deeper values of ecological balance. (And it only took about 29 years!)
  5. I volunteer as a naturalist. This is something I would have started doing years ago if it had ever occurred to me, but I’ve always been very much an introvert and maybe even a bit anti-social. It took moving to a new city on the other side of the continent to jar me into such disorientation that I felt compelled to go out and connect not just with the land itself, but with the other humans who shared it with me. During my first week in Seattle, I interviewed with Parks & Rec and signed up to become a volunteer naturalist. After six weeks of training this spring, I now spend many of my weekends manning education stations in local urban green spaces, and leading programs for school kids during the week. I can’t think of anything as fun and fulfilling as teaching the next generation why good stewardship and environmental awareness is so vital to our planet.
  6. 20 March 2012 - Naturalist Journal

  7. I keep a naturalist journal. Something I’ve been wanting to do for years, our move into a new ecosystem on the opposite side of the continent finally gave me the excuse I needed to break out the watercolor pencils and give it a try. It’s not as thorough or well-kept as Eli’s phenology journal, but even with my poor drawing skills and tendency to smudge my already-awful handwriting into something nearly unreadable, it’s worth the effort. Drawing has become for me a kind of meditative engagement with the natural world around me, even during times when I’m feeling overwhelmed by big life changes. Maybe sitting quietly for an hour or two sketching birds in the frontyard doesn’t seem all that green on a grand scale, but turns out that scientific literacy alone isn’t what convinces people to go green. Staying grounded in sacred relationship with the natural world helps give me the strength and focus I need to make those important changes.
  8. I stopped shampooing my hair and using tampons. Wait! Where are you going?! Come back, seriously, it’s not as gross as it sounds. I recently made the switch to a DivaCup, cutting my moon-time related trash down to pretty much nothing (and it’s way more comfortable, too, not to mention far cheaper than a box of feminine products month after month). Also, after weeks of equivocating, I finally joined the really-poorly-named “No ‘Poo” movement and switched from chemical-laden, plastic-packaged commercial shampoo to a homemade blend of baking soda and apple cider vinegar that’s gentle, natural and (with the right blend of essential oils) smells wonderful. Believe it or not, my hair looks the best it ever has and the homemade mix is far kinder to this sensitive Irish girl’s scalp. Being able to cut down on plastic in the bathroom is a huge step in our overall reduction in household plastics, an on-going initiative inspired in large part by our dear friend (and NUP staff writer) Cat Chapin-Bishop.

So a lot of progress over the past twelve months!

Still, there are a plenty of places where I haven’t lived up to my own hopes for a greener way of life. Moving to a new city, it’s been a struggle to adjust to an unfamiliar region, with its slightly different seasons that affect the availability of local, organic foods. More often than not, Jeff and I have fallen back on cheap and convenient non-organic foods from the local grocery store instead of putting in the time and effort to seek out co-ops and farmers markets. Both of us use lots of computer technology and mobile devices in our work, which have their own environmental (and ethical) consequences that we can’t ignore, as much as we might enjoy the latest gadgets and what they let us do. Working as a volunteer naturalist, I see how deeply entrenched the anthropocentric worldview is in how we understand the study and care of nature, and teaching school kids means I have to deliver that message as part of the curriculum whether I officially agree with it or not. And, despite all my time in training to become a naturalist, sometimes the facts and studies and science can drown out my feeling of connection to this new land where I live — especially since, perhaps my biggest disappointment of all, we no longer live within walking distance of a park.

Forsythia

There’s always room for improvement. So I guess I already have my list of things I want to start working on for next year. What’s on your list?

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Earth and Nature Holidays – April 2012

March 31, 2012 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Sustainable Energy (2012)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy in order to “increase awareness of the importance of addressing energy issues, including modern energy services for all, access to affordable energy, energy efficiency and the sustainability of energy sources and use, for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, sustainable development and the protection of the global climate, and to promote action at the local, national, regional and international level” to work towards ensuring energy access for all and to protect the environment through the sustainable use of traditional energy resources, cleaner technologies and newer energy sources. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.

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Keep America Beautiful Month

  • “In 1953 a group of individuals formed an organization called ‘Keep America Beautiful‘ aimed at reducing the amount of littering on public lands, highways and waterways, encouraging Americans to take pride in America. It is the nation’s largest volunteer based community action and education group. Since its conception, it really has grown in leaps and bounds with campaigns and promotions such as:
    - ‘Close the Loop, Buy Recycled’ U.S. EPA partnership
    - Web-based educational tools, including Clean Sweep U.S.A
    - ‘Back By Popular Neglect’ PSA campaign

    “Each April is Keep America Beautiful month drawing attention to the campaigns and research done by Keep America Beautiful and their three primary areas of focus: litter reduction, waste minimization, and beautification.” (from ecofriendlydaily.com)

National Garden Month

  • “Every April communities, organizations, and individuals nationwide celebrate gardening during National Garden Month. Gardeners know, and research confirms, that nurturing plants is good for us: attitudes toward health and nutrition improve, kids perform better at school, and community spirit grows. Join the celebration and help to make America a greener, healthier, more livable place!” (from the official website)

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International Holidays

  • April 7World Health Day
    “Every year, World Health Day is celebrated on 7 April to mark the anniversary of the founding of WHO in 1948. Each year a theme is selected for World Health Day that highlights a priority area of concern for WHO. The topic of World Health Day in 2012 is Ageing and health with the theme “Good health adds life to years”. The focus is how good health throughout life can help older men and women lead full and productive lives and be a resource for their families and communities. Ageing concerns each and every one of us – whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor – no matter where we live.” (from the official website)
  • April 12Yuri’s Night
    “Yuri’s Night is an international celebration held on April 12 every year to commemorate space exploration milestones. The event is named for the first human to launch into space, Yuri Gagarin, who flew the Vostok 1 spaceship on April 12, 1961. In 2004, people celebrated Yuri’s Night in 34 countries in over 75 individual events. Locations have included Los Angeles, Stockholm, Antarctica, the San Francisco Bay Area, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and the International Space Station. The goal of Yuri’s Night is to increase public interest in space exploration and to inspire a new generation of explorers. Driven by space-inspired artistic expression and culminating in a worldwide network of annual celebrations and educational events, Yuri’s Night creates a global community of young people committed to shaping the future of space exploration while developing responsible leaders and innovators with a global perspective. These global events are a showcase for elements of culture that embrace space including music, dance, fashion, and art.” (from Wikipedia)
  • April 15 – 21World Creativity and Innovation Week
    “World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21 is a celebration of our ability to get new ideas, use imagination and make new decisions to make the world a better place and to make your place in the world better too. Do what you can, do what you like. There’s only one rule: do no harm.” (from the official website)
  • April 15 – 21International Dark Sky Week
    “International Dark-Sky Week (IDSW), held during the week of the new moon in April, is a week during which people worldwide turn out their lights in order to observe the beauty of the night sky without light pollution. This event was founded in 2003 by Jennifer Barlow of Midlothian, Virginia, and its popularity and participation increases every year.” (from Wikipedia)
  • April 18World Heritage Day
    “World Heritage is the shared wealth of humankind. Protecting and preserving this valuable asset demands the collective efforts of the international community. This special day offers an opportunity to raise the public’s awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability.” (from the official website)
  • April 22Mother Earth Day

    “The proclamation of 22 April as International Mother Earth Day is an acknowledgement that the Earth and its ecosystems provide its inhabitants with life and sustenance. It also recognizes a collective responsibility, as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration, to promote harmony with nature and the Earth to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity. International Mother Earth Day provides an opportunity to raise public awareness around the world to the challenges regarding the well-being of the planet and all the life it supports.” (from the official website)

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National Holidays Around the World

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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Effective Communication for Tree-Hugging Dirt-Worshippers

March 19, 2012 by Categorized: Earth Matters.

Environmentalists spend a lot of time telling everyone how close we are to destroying the planet, or at least disrupting the delicate balance that allows the human species to survive on it. But they spend almost as much time complaining about how it seems like all that their fellow environmentalists ever do is run around frantically preaching doom and gloom, trying to harass and frighten people into action.

It’s only natural. When you see a loved one in danger — whether they’re suffering abuse or neglect because of someone else’s ignorance, selfishness or greed, or because there’s an on-coming mac truck speeding down the street with the breaks out — your first response is to cry out in alarm, to yell for help! You don’t stop and wax philosophic about the numerous existential and ethical reasons why your curmudgeony old aunt deserves not to be hit by a truck. You don’t think twice about why your son deserves to go to school without being bullied for his weight, his sexual orientation, his clothes or hobbies. Your first priority is to act now to protect them, to make the bad shit stop. The reasons for it are so obvious, it doesn’t even occur to you to explain why. Justifications can come later, when the disaster has been averted and everyone’s safely out of harm’s way.

Many of us feel the same way about the planet and her diverse ecosystems and wild places. It’s hard to take the long, calm view when the mountain you love — this mountain, right here, right now — is being stripped and raped for coal and natural gas, or when the river you love is being polluted and all its diverse lifeforms strangled and suffocated by toxic waste. It doesn’t even occur to us that we need to explain why it’s important to protect these habitats and landscapes from destruction and abuse. The reason is obvious: because we love them. Because they have an inherent value and beauty in and of themselves.

In fact, it can even feel a little bit wrong to focus too much on human-centric justifications. It seems overly simplistic to say that it’s better to have cleaner air and water because of the public health and human rights benefits, or that flourishing, self-sustaining ecosystems are valuable because of the natural resources they provide to humans, or that states with greater environmental protections are more likely to also have greater long-term economic growth than states that waive such protections for the sake of short-term profits.

All of those things are true. But they don’t tell the whole story. Maybe your curmudgeony old aunt sends you a birthday card every year with a twenty dollar bill in it, but if that’s the only reason you pulled her out of the way of that speeding truck, you probably want to rethink your priorities.

Besides, all of the logical arguments and abstract self-interest in the world might not be enough to inspire the kind of wide-scale, fundamental lifestyle changes that will pull us back into balance with the natural integrity of the earth’s ecosystems. After a long day at work, on a chilly Friday afternoon when you’re looking forward to a weekend of relaxation, how easy is it to let the immediate comfort and convenience of driving your SUV home overrule all of your abstract reasons for taking the bus or riding your bike instead? Even the best of us sometimes have to fight the urge to give in to those easy temptations; and sometimes the guilt of knowing better just makes the choice feel like even more of a burden. The visceral immediacy of physical and emotional comfort often trumps philosophical ideals and lofty goals — that’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for you.

Environmentalists who cry out vehemently about the terrible destruction of the wilds and wildernesses of the world are speaking from a place of deep love and reverence for those landscapes and ecosystems. Their anger and fear come from a place of connection and concern at the deepest levels of physical, emotional and psychological relationship — not just from abstract ideologies of logical self-interest. But their audiences often consist of folks who might not share those personal experiences of wilderness, beauty and wonder. Folks who might not have had the same opportunities to cultivate relationships of appreciation and love for the natural world and its non-human beings that make it so obvious to many of us why the earth deserves our respect, reverence and protection.

For these folks, their primary experience of environmentalism and ecological awareness might be an angry person yelling frantically at them about a danger that they can’t see coming and don’t really understand.

Anyone who says they're great at communicating but 'people are bad at listening' is confused about how communication works.

Communication, by xkcd

“Anyone who says they’re great at communicating but ‘people are bad at listening’
is confused about how communication works.”

So what can environmentalists and other ecologically-minded people do to communicate more effectively?

For a start, we can begin by extending a hand and inviting others to join us in our curiosity, wonder and appreciation for the natural world around us. Instead of telling people why they should care, we can help them to experience firsthand what it feels like to care and to allow that care to inspire them to meaningful action. Pagans who put the natural world at the center of their spiritual work can host public, community rituals that help others foster healthy, gratifying relationships with their immediate environments and landscapes. Maybe not everyone who attends will walk away an animist or polytheist — but they might just have a few new memories of what it’s like to sit in reverent silence listening to the sound of wind through the trees or to breathe deeply the mingling scents of incense, pine and muddy earth as they watch the sun set and the stars come out. Those memories can become a foundation for further exploration and connection.

We can also be more creative in the ways we talk about positive, everyday actions that help the environment. Instead of focusing on the hard work and sacrifice involved with riding a bike to work instead of driving (as noble as those aspects may be), we can speak enthusiastically about all the ways that biking is itself a pleasurable and spiritually meaningful experience, one that we would miss if we were forced to give it up. Living a life of greater ecological awareness often means renewing our appreciation and gratitude for a simpler, more hands-on approach to life. Many modern Pagan traditions already embrace the value of simple tasks of mindfulness and attention: weaving, spinning, woodcrafting, cooking, sharing meals, bathing. These and other activities are already part of our mythology, imbued with a spiritual significance.

Finally, we can be honest about our own struggles to live lives of ecological awareness and balance. When we extend an invitation to others to join us in engaging more openly and sensitively with the world around us, we’re also inviting them to share the challenges and frustrations. We can respond to those challenges with empathy and understanding, acknowledging our own failures and drawing on our past experiences. Instead of giving people the impression that we blame them or see them as part of the problem, we can leave them with the memory of someone offering a relationship of mutual help and support, someone who knows what it’s like to feel frustrated or impotent. Cultivating authentic relationships with our fellow humans means that we all feel a little less alone in the hard work of changing the way we live.

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Earth and Nature Holidays – March 2012

March 2, 2012 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Sustainable Energy (2012)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy in order to “increase awareness of the importance of addressing energy issues, including modern energy services for all, access to affordable energy, energy efficiency and the sustainability of energy sources and use, for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, sustainable development and the protection of the global climate, and to promote action at the local, national, regional and international level” to work towards ensuring energy access for all and to protect the environment through the sustainable use of traditional energy resources, cleaner technologies and newer energy sources. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.

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International Holidays

  • March 14International Day of Action for Rivers
    “March 14 is the International Day of Action For Rivers and Against Dams. Every year hundreds of people around the world lift their voices to celebrate the world’s rivers and the thousands of people who struggle to protect them. The International Day of Action For Rivers is a day to celebrate victories such as dam removal and river restoration. It is a day to take to the streets, demonstrate and demand improvements in the policies and practices of decision makers. It is a day to educate one another about the threats facing our rivers, and learn about better water and energy solutions. Above all, it is a day to unite – by acting together, we demonstrate that these issues are not merely local, but global in scope.” (from the official website)
  • March 20Vernal / Autumnal Equinox
    Religious and spiritual traditions all over the world celebrate the autumnal/vernal equinox as a holy day in the cycles of the seasons.
  • March 22World Water Day
    “International World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day. Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. On this page, we present a brief overview of the different themes that have been the focus of World Water Day celebrations.” (from the official website)
  • Mrch 23World Meteorological Day
    “The United Nations’ (UN) World Meteorological Day is annually held on or around March 23 to remember the World Meteorological Organization’s establishment on that date in 1950. World Meteorological Day often features various events such as conferences, symposia and exhibitions for meteorological professionals, community leaders and the general public. Some events aim to attract media attention to raise meteorology’s profile. Many countries issue postage stamps or special postage stamp cancellation marks to celebrate World Meteorological Day. These stamps often reflect the event’s theme or mark a country’s meteorology achievements.” (learn more here)
  • March 31, 8:30 – 9:30 PMEarth Hour
    “Hundreds of millions of people, businesses and governments around the world unite each year to support the largest environmental event in history – Earth Hour.

    More than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries worldwide switched off their lights for Earth Hour 2011 alone, sending a powerful message for action on climate change. It also ushered in a new era with members going Beyond the Hour to commit to lasting action for the planet. Without a doubt, it’s shown how great things can be achieved when people come together for a common cause.” (from the official website)

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National Holidays Around the World

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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Earth and Nature Holidays – January 2012

January 1, 2012 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Sustainable Energy (2012)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy in order to “increase awareness of the importance of addressing energy issues, including modern energy services for all, access to affordable energy, energy efficiency and the sustainability of energy sources and use, for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, sustainable development and the protection of the global climate, and to promote action at the local, national, regional and international level” to work towards ensuring energy access for all and to protect the environment through the sustainable use of traditional energy resources, cleaner technologies and newer energy sources. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.

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International Holidays

  • January 1New Year’s Day
    Many cultures celebrate the end of the old year and the beginning of the new around the time of the winter solstice, with festivities around the world focusing especially on the final day of the internationally accepted civil calendar.

    New Year’s Eve also corresponds to the annual date of the zenith of Sirius, the brightest visible star that can be seen from earth. Sirius reaches its highest point in the sky around mid-night (half way between sunrise and sunset) on the eve of the new year.

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National Holidays Around the World

  • January 1National Tree Planting Day (Tanzania)
  • January 2Ancestry Day/Forefather’s Day (Haiti)
  • January 2 – 4Cassé Gâteau (“Breaking the Cakes”) (Vodou)
  • January 10Save the Eagles Day (US)
  • January 14Makar Sankranti (Hinduism)
  • January 25Pusiaužiemis / Kirmeline (“Day of the Serpents”) (Lithuania)

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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Earth and Nature Holidays – December 2011

December 1, 2011 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Forests (2011)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 the International Year of Forests to raise awareness around issues of conservation, protection and sustainable management and development of forests all over the world. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.
  • Highlighted as part of 2011 International Year of Forests, the UNEP also organizes the “Plant for the Planet” Billion Tree Campaign.

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International Holidays

  • December 5International Volunteer Day
    The United Nations celebrates the thousands of volunteers working across the globe to help foster sustainable human development, many of whom are involved in environmentalism and conservation.

    “IVD [International Volunteer Day] offers an opportunity for volunteer organizations and individual volunteers to make visible their contributions – at local, national and international levels – to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Over the years, rallies, parades, community volunteering projects, environmental awareness, free medical care and advocacy campaigns have all featured prominently on IVD. Apart from mobilising thousands of volunteers every year, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme works closely with partners and governments to establish national volunteer programmes to create structures that foster and sustain local volunteerism in countries. Through the Online Volunteering service volunteers can take action for sustainable human development by supporting the activities of development organizations over the Internet. Every day thousands of people are volunteering, online or on-site, contributing to peace and development and working to achieve the MDGs.” (from the official website)

  • December 10Human Rights Day
    As the #Occupy movement has spread world-wide, environmentalists and protesters alike see the relationship between protecting the environment and upholding basic human rights. Celebrate 63 years since the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    “This year, millions of people decided the time had come to claim their rights. They took to the streets and demanded change. Many found their voices using the internet and instant messaging to inform, inspire and mobilize supporters to seek their basic human rights. Social media helped activists organize peaceful protest movements in cities across the globe – from Tunis to Madrid, from Cairo to New York – at times in the face of violent repression. Human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values. As a global community we all share a day in common: Human Rights Day on 10 December, when we remember the creation 63 years ago of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” (from the official website)

  • December 11International Mountain Day
    “International Mountain Day is an opportunity to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build partnerships that will bring positive change to the world’s mountains and highlands. This year’s International Mountain Day theme will focus on Mountains and Forests. It aims to raise awareness about the relevance of mountain forests and the role they play within a Green Economy as well as in climate change adaptation measures. Healthy mountain forests are crucial to the ecological health of the world. They protect watersheds that supply freshwater to more than half the world’s people. They also are the home of untold wildlife, provide food and fodder for mountain people and are important sources of timber and non-wood products. Yet in many parts of the world mountain forests are under threat as never before and deforestation in tropical mountain forests continues at an astounding rate. Protecting these forests and making sure they are carefully managed is an important step towards sustainable mountain development.” (from the official website)
  • December 20 – 25Winter Solstice / Summer Solstice
    Religious and spiritual traditions all over the world celebrate the winter/summer solstice as a holy day in the cycles of the seasons. Many holidays, such as Christmas and Hanukkah, are heavily influenced by the seasonal tides and have given rise to local customs such as Las Posadas and the Night of the Radishes in Mexico and Guatemala, and Junkanoo in the Bahamas.
  • December 31New Year’s Eve
    Many cultures celebrate the end of the old year and the beginning of the new around the time of the winter solstice, with festivities around the world focusing especially on the final day of the internationally accepted civil calendar.

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Green Holidays Around the World

  • December 3World Conservation Day (Autralia)
  • December 4Kamolo Day (Thanksgiving) (Marshall Islands)
  • December 6Farmers’ Day (Ghana)
  • December 8Blessing of the Waters Day (or, Beaches Day) (Uruguay)
  • December 10Ganga-Bois (Haiti)
  • December 12 – 14Agou-Arroyo (“Feeding the Sea”) (Haiti)
  • December 31Hogmanay (Scotland)
  • December 31Ōmisoka (Japan/Shinto)

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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Earth and Nature Holidays – October 2011

October 4, 2011 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Forests (2011)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 the International Year of Forests to raise awareness around issues of conservation, protection and sustainable management and development of forests all over the world. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.
  • Highlighted as part of 2011 International Year of Forests, the UNEP also organizes the “Plant for the Planet” Billion Tree Campaign.

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Energy Awareness Month

  • “The 2011 Energy Awareness Month theme is Turn Words into Action; Turn Action into Results. Wise energy attitudes, behaviors, and organizational decisions ensure results. Take time to review your daily routine to conserve energy, empower others to take action, and join together to save energy and money. Participate in site-specific energy action programs, expand existing activities, and align efforts with your agency’s Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan (SSPP). Now is the time to act with urgency to achieve a clean and secure energy economy and save taxpayer dollars. Turn awareness into action. Turn intent into investment. Turn opportunities into outcomes.” (from the official website)

World Vegetarian Awareness Month

  • “Make a difference this October by informing others about the benefits of vegetarianism. You will be helping to create a better world because vegetarian diets have proven health benefits, save animals’ lives and help to preserve the Earth. It’s easy to get involved. Display our free, colorful, informative poster in your community. You can post it at a local store, office, coffee shop, library, school or other suitable location. Use it as a great way to start a discussion about the benefits of vegetarianism with the people in your life.” (from the official website)

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International Holidays

  • October 1World Vegetarian Day
    “World Vegetarian Day was established as an annual celebration to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism. The day was originated by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977 and endorsed by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978. October 1st is the official date, however if necessary, individuals may schedule their event on a nearby date instead.” (from the official website)
  • October 2World Farm Animals Day
    “World Farm Animals Day takes place on October 2nd, which honors the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, an outspoken advocate of non-violence towards animals. WFAD observances are hosted by volunteers in communities in all 50 U.S. states and 2 dozen other countries. Participants include animal advocacy groups and individual activists- anyone and everyone who cares about animals is encouraged to join us in this global outcry. In addition to promoting a vegan lifestyle, the 2010 observance will reveal the ways that animal agribusiness manipulates the government, institutions, and a well-meaning public in order to sell more cruel products.” (from the official website)
  • October 3World Habitat Day
    “The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. This year, World Habitat Day will be celebrated on 3 October 2011 and the Global Celebration will be hosted by the Government of Mexico. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all, to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat. The United Nations chose the theme Cities and Climate Change was chosen because climate change is fast becoming the preeminent development challenge of the 21st century. Indeed, no-one today can really foresee the predicament in which a town or city will find itself in 10, 20 or 30 years time. In this new urban era with most of humanity now living in towns and cities, we must bear in mind that the greatest impacts of disasters resulting from climate change begin and end in cities. Cities too have a great influence on climate change.” (from the official website)
  • October 4World Animal Day
    “World Animal Day was started in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered species. Since then it has grown to encompass all kinds of animal life and is widely celebrated in countries throughout the world. October 4 was chosen as World Animal Day as it is the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. It is intended as a day of celebration for anyone in the world who cares about animals. It is not restricted to any one nationality, creed, religion, political belief or ideology.” (from the official website)
  • October 15International Day of Rural Women
    “The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on 15 October 2008. This new international day, established by the General Assembly in its resolution 62/136 of 18 December 2007, recognizes ‘the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.’ At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 it was suggested that 15 October be celebrated as ‘World Rural Women’s Day,’ on the the eve of World Food Day, in order to highlight the role played by rural women in food production and food security. ‘World Rural Women’s Day’ has been celebrated, primarily by civil society, across the world for over a decade.” (from the official website)
  • October 16Blog Action Day
    “Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion around an important issue that impacts us all. For 2011, our Blog Action Day coincides with World Food Day, so our topic of discussion for this year will be food. We use food to mark times of celebration and sorrow. Lack of access to food causes devastating famines, whilst too much is causing a generation of new health problems. It can cost the world, or be too cheap for farmers to make a living. Food is important to our culture, identity and daily sustenance and the team at Blog Action invite you to join us to talk about food.” (from the official website)
  • October 16World Food Day
    “Price swings, upswings in particular, represent a major threat to food security in developing countries. Hardest-hit are the poor. According to the World Bank, in 2010-2011 rising food costs pushed nearly 70 million people into extreme poverty. FOOD PRICES – FROM CRISIS TO STABILITY has been chosen as this year’s World Food Day theme to shed some light on this trend and what can be done to mitigate its impact on the most vulnerable. On World Food Day 2011, let us look seriously at what causes swings in food prices, and do what needs to be done to reduce their impact on the weakest members of global society.” (from the official website)
  • October 17International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
    “The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty has been observed every year since 1993, when the General Assembly, by resolution 47/196, designated this day to promote awareness of the need to eradicate poverty and destitution in all countries, particularly in developing countries – a need that has become a development priority. 17 October presents an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and struggle of people living in poverty, a chance for them to make their concerns heard, and a moment to recognize that poor people are the first ones to fight against poverty. Participation of the poor themselves has been at the center of the Day’s celebration since its very beginning. The commemoration of 17 October also reflects the willingness of people living in poverty to use their expertise to contribute to the eradication of poverty. The theme of the observance this year is ‘From Poverty to Decent Work: Bridging the Gap’.” (from the official website)
  • October 27World Paper Free Day
    “Paper is a costly crutch and one that may be handicapping your office more than helping. Research shows that we will have close to 10x more information in 2011 compared to 2006, which means that organizations with paper based processes and archiving will drown in paper. Going paperless will therefore not only help the environment, but make an organization more efficient with easier and simultaneous access to valuable information from across the organization. Last year over 57,000 people participated in the first World Paper Free Day. Grow this group and bring your office into the 21st century without the paper trail.” (from the official website)

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National Holidays Around the World

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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Earth and Nature Holidays – September 2011

September 1, 2011 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Forests (2011)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 the International Year of Forests to raise awareness around issues of conservation, protection and sustainable management and development of forests all over the world. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.
  • Highlighted as part of 2011 International Year of Forests, the UNEP also organizes the “Plant for the Planet” Billion Tree Campaign.

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National Honey Month

  • “Americans consume nearly 1.5 pounds of honey per person annually – mixing it into sweet and savory recipes, adding spoonfuls to tea and other beverages, and drizzling it over biscuits, toast and muffins. Consumers can choose from hundreds of honey varieties, each with a special flavor characteristic. These varietal or “mono-floral” honeys result from the bees gathering nectar from flowers of only one type of plant. Honeys may range from clover and eucalyptus to orange blossom, buckwheat and sage. Generally, lighter colored honeys are milder in flavor, while darker honeys are usually more robust. Local beekeepers are a great source for single varietal honeys, selling their products at farmer’s markets and specialty stores. Visit the honey locator at www.honeylocator.com to find a floral source specific to your area. Explore honey’s versatility, benefits and deliciousness, and have a sweet National Honey Month!” (from the National Honey Board website)

Organic Harvest Month

  • “In 1992, the Organic Trade Association implemented ‘Organic Harvest Month’, a widespread promotion of organic food and agriculture through regional and local events. The objective of Organic Harvest Month is to highlight organic agriculture and the growing organic products industry. September is also an ideal time for consumers and retailers to celebrate the bounty of the organic harvest. Events and celebrations of all shapes and sizes take place across North America, in parks, schools, stores, farmers’ markets and at restaurants. Events in the past have included Gastronomic Walking Tours, Organic Country Fairs, organic-themed barn dances, special displays and tastings at supermarkets and special pull-out sections in local newspapers.” (from the Organic Trade Association website)

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International Holidays

  • September 16 – 18Clean Up the World Weekend
    “The campaign’s flagship event is Clean Up the World Weekend, held on the 3rd weekend in September each year. In addition to uniting millions in global environmental action, Clean Up the World Weekend serves as a celebration of participants’ year round activities. By promoting their achievements internationally, Clean Up the World focuses public attention on global community concerns for the environment and how each individual can make a positive contribution to a cleaner and healthier world.” (from the official website)
  • September 16International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer
    “In 1994, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 16 September the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date of the signing, in 1987, of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (resolution 49/114). States were invited to devote the Day to promote activities in accordance with the objectives of the Protocol and its amendments. The ozone layer, a fragile shield of gas, protects the Earth from the harmful portion of the rays of the sun, thus helping preserve life on the planet.” (from the official website)
  • September 17International Coastal Cleanup Day
    “Over the past twenty-five years, Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup has become the world’s largest volunteer effort for ocean health. Nearly nine million volunteers from 152 countries and locations have cleaned 145 million pounds of trash from the shores of lakes, streams, rivers, and the ocean on just one day each year. They have recorded every item found, giving us a clear picture of the manufactured items impacting the health of humans, wildlife, and economies. As our 2011 report demonstrates, the body of data from the International Coastal Cleanup has inspired action to rid the ocean of harmful trash. During the amazing signature event each September, hundreds of thousands of volunteers from countries all over the world spend a day picking up everything from cigarette butts and food wrappers to lost fishing nets and major appliances. Because trash travels to the ocean by way of storm drains and waterways, they don’t just work along ocean beaches; these dedicated folks slog through mud and sand along lakes, streams, and rivers, too, often working far inland.” (from the official website)
  • September 18World Water Monitoring Day
    “World Water Monitoring Day is an international education and outreach program that builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens to conduct basic monitoring of their local water bodies. In 2010, over 200,000 people in 85 countries monitored their local waterways. Celebrate with us on September 18, or host your World Water Monitoring Day anytime from March 22 until December 31!” (from the official website)
  • September 21International Day of Peace/Peace One Day
    “In September 1999 I [Jeremy Gilley] founded the film project Peace One Day to document my efforts to create an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence with a fixed calendar date. In 2001, Peace One Day achieved its primary objective. United Nations General Assembly resolution (A/Res/55/282) was unanimously adopted by UN member states, formally establishing an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence on the UN International Day of Peace, fixed in the global calendar on 21st September. With the day in place, Peace One Day’s aim now is to institutionalise Peace Day across the world so it becomes self-sustaining. Not only has Peace Day been proved as a catalyst for broad-ranging civil society action by individuals and groups in every country of the world, but also for life-saving activities. As a key driver towards the institutionalisation of Peace Day, Peace One Day is calling for and working towards a day of ceasefire and non-violence on Peace Day 21 September 2012 – a Global Truce. We hope this will be the largest reduction in global violence in recorded history, both domestically and internationally.” (from a letter from Jeremy Gilley, on the official website)
  • September 22 – 23Autumnal / Vernal Equinox
    Religious and spiritual traditions all over the world celebrate the autumnal/vernal equinox as a holy day in the cycles of the seasons.
  • September 22World Car-Free Day
    “Every September 22, people from around the world get together in the streets, intersections, and neighbourhood blocks to remind the world that we don’t have to accept our car-dominated society. But we do not want just one day of celebration and then a return to “normal” life. When people get out of their cars, they should stay out of their cars. It is up to us, it is up to our cities, and our governments to help create permanent change to benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and other people who do not drive cars. Let World Carfree Day be a showcase for just how our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without cars…365 days a year.” (from the official website)
  • September 24Moving Planet: A Day to Move Beyond Fossil Fuels
    “The goal is to get moving beyond fossil fuels—both symbolically by pouring into the streets in the thousands on foot, bicycle and other means of sustainable movement, and politically by bringing powerful demands to our leaders that day to move beyond fossil fuels to a 350ppm world. Mobilizing for individual and community solutions will continue to be important—but one of the main goals for Moving Planet is to demand government action, especially in places where governments are stalling on climate action despite the overwhelming urgency of the science.” (from the official website)

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National Holidays Around the World

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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Earth and Nature Holidays – August 2011

August 5, 2011 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Forests (2011)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 the International Year of Forests to raise awareness around issues of conservation, protection and sustainable management and development of forests all over the world. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.
  • Highlighted as part of 2011 International Year of Forests, the UNEP also organizes the “Plant for the Planet” Billion Tree Campaign.

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International Holidays

  • August 1Lammas/Lughnasadh
    During the month of August and the late summer season, religious and spiritual traditions the world over celebrate sacred festivals of ripening and harvest. In modern Pagan traditions, the most widely known in the northern hemisphere are the Wiccan festival of Lammas, the Celtic/Druidic festival of Lughnasadh, and the Norse holiday of Freyfaxi, all of which fall on August 1. Among the indigenous peoples of North America, the Green Corn Ceremony marks the ripening of the corn harvest with dancing, feasting, fasting and other religious observances. (In the southern hemisphere, many modern Pagans celebrate Imbolc on the same date.)
  • August 9International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
    “The focus of this year’s International Day will be Indigenous designs: celebrating stories and cultures, crafting our own future. This theme highlights the need for preservation and revitalization of indigenous cultures, including their art and intellectual property. It can also be used to showcase indigenous artists and cooperatives or businesses who are taking inspiration from indigenous peoples’ customs and the indigenous communities who may have participated or benefited from this.” (from the official website)
  • August 20International Homeless Animals’ Day
    “Organizations around the world come together on the third Saturday of August to raise awareness about the pet overpopulation epidemic. International Homeless Animals’ Day activities often include candlelight vigils, adopt-a-thons, microchip clinics, blessings of the animals, and heartfelt speeches given by council members, local veterinarians, humane officers and shelter personnel. Other activities include slideshows, rallies, dog walks, open houses, award ceremonies, live music, raffles, and games. To read about previous International Homeless Animals’ Day events, please visit our Newsletters page on our website.” (from the official website)
  • August 20 – 27World Water Week
    “From 20 to 27 of August, 2011, the World Water Week will take place in Stockholm, Sweden under the overarching theme “Water in an Urbanising World”. The World Water Week in Stockholm, organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, is the leading annual global meeting place for capacity-building, partnership-building and follow-up on the implementation of international processes and programmes in water and development.” (from the official website)

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National Holidays Around the World

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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Sustainable Living as Civil Disobedience

July 12, 2011 by Categorized: Earth Matters, Nature in the News.

The Rosa Parks of Sustainable Gardening?

Everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist who on December 1, 1955, refused to give up her bus seat to accommodate a white passenger. That act of civil disobedience resulted in her arrest, and quickly became one of the defining and most memorable acts of resistance in the Civil Rights Movement.

It might be a stretch to describe Julie Bass as “the Rosa Parks of sustainable gardening”… but not by much. Bass is no activist. She’s just a homeowner living in Oak Park, Michigan, who planted a vegetable garden in her front yard — like the one Michelle Obama planted on the front lawn of the White House, she notes — and who now faces arrest and jail time if she refuses to tear it down.

Why? Because of a city ordinance which reads, “All unpaved portions of the [screening and landscaping] site shall be planted with grass ground cover, shrubbery, or other suitable live plant material.” And a complaint from a neighbor to a city councilman that the front-yard garden looked like a “New Orleans cemetery.”

Since when is a vegetable garden not considered “live plant material”? The debate turns around the meaning of the word “suitable,” with city officials arguing that, “If you look at the dictionary, suitable means common. You can look all throughout the city and you’ll never find another vegetable garden that consumes the entire front yard.” Of course, the word “suitable” does not mean “common” (no, not even according to the dictionary), and Bass’ attorney Solomon Radner argues that the term is intentionally vague, allowing the city to enforce arbitrary policies, and therefore unconstitutional. Even if city officials were correct about the meaning of the word “suitable,” however, Radner points out that the ordinance itself also lists several exceptions, including vegetable gardens: “Exempted from the provisions of this article, inclusive, are flower gardens, plots of shrubbery, vegetable gardens and small grain plots.”

This confrontation over property aesthetics might have remained a local matter if it hadn’t been for Facebook, where multiple fan pages in support of Julie Bass’ cause have sprung up, spurring broad international criticism of the Michigan suburb’s position. City officials complain they’re being misunderstood. “We’re not against people having gardens,” said City Manager Rick Fox. “Just not in their front yards.” Sure, and it’s fine for African-Americans to ride the bus… as long as they sit in the back, right Rick?

Of course, that comparison’s a bit of hyperbole — but again, not by much.

This summer, the U.S. continues to face devastating floods, droughts and fires that threaten large swathes of midwest farmland and bring the consequences of human-caused climate change into inescapable focus. Political and cultural leaders all over the world acknowledge that environmental destruction has become so dire and so wide-spread, it is perhaps the single most difficult, most vital challenge we will face in our lifetimes, on which the continued existence of the human species itself might depend. If the rights of our fellow human beings to live freely and equally continues to be an issue of immense importance, how much more so the rights of the earth and its ecosystems on which we depend to live free from pollution, exploitation and destruction?

Yet cases like Julie Bass’ illustrate how unsustainable, un-”green” practices and lifestyles are not only culturally ubiquitous, but sometimes even dictated by law. It has long been known that expansive lawns of perfectly-manicured grass are not only exceedingly expensive to maintain in many areas of the country, but that monocultures of non-native plants are unhealthy for the local environment, depleting nutrients in the soil and disrupting the careful balance of local insect and wildlife populations leading to problems with disease and pest control. Environmentally-minded individuals might wonder, in such cases, if maybe we should take a long, hard look at what else the word “suitable” might mean (which the dictionary actually defines as “right, appropriate or fitting for a particular person, purpose, situation or place”).

Loving the Earth is a Political Act

All across the U.S., as well as internationally, people are beginning to do just that, and discovering that seemingly common-sense steps to make their homes and properties more eco-friendly often run up against antiquated property laws meant to enforce aesthetic values often based on underlying, unacknowledged classism, racism and industry profits. The result? A growing movement of eco-activists taking matters into their own hands through sensible, everyday acts of civil disobedience. Far from the “eco-terrorists” who blow up buildings or destroy property in protest of exploitation and pollution, many eco-activists today are ordinary citizens working on a local level to overturn outdated laws that keep them from living gently and respectfully with the earth.

Though Julie Bass and her family might not consider themselves such activists, they’re part of that movement, too, in defending their right to grow their own vegetables on their property. The trend of growing sustainable, eco-friendly “Victory Gardens” has picked up steam among green-minded (and green-thumbed) Americans in recent years. Modeled after the wartime vegetable, fruit and herb gardens grown during the World Wars of the last century by private citizens trying reduce pressure on public food supplies, modern-day Victory Gardens combat climate change on several fronts. Using sustainable gardening techniques to grow local food means relying less on factory-farmed produce fertilized with petrochemicals and sprayed down with damaging pesticides that then must be shipped across country. Hands-on gardening helps to reconnect us with the local landscape, the local community and our own physical bodies. Michelle Obama sees her White House Victory Garden as a step in her campaign against childhood obesity, by encouraging healthier eating habits and a renewed enjoyment of fresh fruits and vegetables. As the interest in Victory Gardens increases, cities like Oak Park will face the task of re-evaluating ordinances which seek to protect property values by enforcing a specific value judgement about the aesthetic and practical concerns of landscaping and gardening.

Another way individuals are quietly embracing acts of civil disobedience is by line-drying their clothes. In many cities and towns all over the country, it is actually illegal to line-dry laundry, despite the obvious ecological and personal benefits of this age-old practice. Why? “Many homeowner associations seem to believe that the act of air drying clothing present their developments as being low-income,” saying that for some “clotheslines connote a landscape of poverty rather than flowering fields.” The advocacy group Project Laundry List works to overturn this classcist attitude by supporting a “Right to Dry” bill and helping to educate individuals about the benefits of line-drying.

Perhaps one of the neatest and most committed ways people are engaging in eco-civil disobedience is through the Small Living or Tiny House Movement. In the wake of the housing bubble and bust, people are turning their backs on the dream of a McMansion with private drive and in-ground pool, and are looking for homes with smaller ecological footprints — both figuratively, and literally! Tiny houses are small cottages or cabins built from sustainable, natural materials on trailer beds or permanent foundations ranging between 65 and 140 square feet. Not only does it take less energy to heat, cool, light and clean such a small residence, but folks who choose the tiny house lifestyle choose to live with fewer material possessions and a greater reliance on community spaces and public amenities. Some build tiny houses in gorgeous natural landscapes, trading spacious indoor rooms for amber fields, majestic mountains and spacious skies.

The problem is that the small size of tiny houses breaks many conventional building and zoning codes concerning the appropriate size of a single family permanent residence. Some cities have even gone so far as to make it illegal to camp in your own backyard, to prevent homeowners from setting up tiny houses as permanent “camps” for themselves or others. Such laws are in place for a variety of reasons — including concerns for safety, aesthetics, over-crowding and property value — though many of them were determined by the housing industry itself as a way of ensuring what Jay Shafer calls “mandatory consumption” of larger-than-necessary residences. Shafer, founder of the popular Tumbleweed Tiny House Company which designs and builds tiny houses, lists civil disobedience as one of his primary motivations for his and his company’s work, and is committed to proving that house size is not a requirement for safety, prosperity, or happiness.

The nonviolent, community-oriented principles of civil disobedience have been used effectively in some of the most profound cultural movements in the world, including the Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights movements in the United States. And the idea of civil disobedience is not new. In 1849, the famed naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau published his essay “Civil Disobedience” encouraging individual citizens to act in good conscience as “a counter friction” or resistance against the institutional “machine” of any government that produced injustice. As the writer of Walden, a book of reflections on simple living in harmony with nature and a deeply influential text for the modern environmentalist movement, I like to think Thoreau would be particularly pleased at the role of civil disobedience has played in recent years in expressing our love of the natural world and our willingness to work to protect and care for it.

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Earth and Nature Holidays – July 2011

July 2, 2011 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Forests (2011)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 the International Year of Forests to raise awareness around issues of conservation, protection and sustainable management and development of forests all over the world. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.
  • Highlighted as part of 2011 International Year of Forests, the UNEP also organizes the “Plant for the Planet” Billion Tree Campaign.

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July Belongs to Berries Month

  • The month of July is a time to celebrate the exquisite, juicy flavors of berries of all kinds — blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, you name it! Take some time this month to appreciate the nutritional and culinary benefits of berries. Add them to salad for a splash of color, eat them fresh (or frozen) for a sweet snack, or bake them into a pie for an amazing summer treat. Seek out local and organic sources of berries and get to know which berries grow in your bioregion.

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International Holidays

  • July 11World Population Day
    “World Population Day is an annual event, observed on July 11, which seeks to raise awareness of global population issues. The event was established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989. It was inspired by the public interest in Five Billion Day on July 11, 1987, approximately the date on which the world’s population reached five billion people.” (from the Wikipedia page)
  • July 18Mandela Day
    Though Nelson Mandela is best known for his social justice work, Mandela Day is celebrated around the world as a call to action embodying justice and kindness of all kinds, and has grown to include conservation and environmental efforts as well as education and community service. “Mandela Day on July 18 is an annual international day adopted by the United Nations. It is more than a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy; it is a global movement to take his life’s work into a new century and change our world for the better. Mandela Day asks us all to embrace Madiba’s values and honour his legacy through an act of kindness. Who knows, it might leave you inspired enough to make every day a Mandela Day!” (from the official website)

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National Holidays Around the World

  • July 1David Bower Day (USA)
  • July 7Tanabata – Star Festival (Japan)
  • July 14National Tree Day (Mexico)
  • July 16World Snake Day (US)
  • July 19Marine Day (Japan)
  • July 22National Tree Planting Day (Central African Republic)
  • July 24 – 30Coral Reef Awareness Week (USA)
  • July 25Hurricane Supplication Day (Virgin Islands)
  • July 31National Tree Day (Australia)

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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Which Potato Would You Rather Eat?

June 23, 2011 by Categorized: Earth Matters.

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How to Plan an Earth-Friendly Wedding

June 15, 2011 by Categorized: Earth Matters.

I’m getting married! In fact, I’m getting married in exactly three months and one day, on a beautiful beach where the three realms of Land, Sea and Sky meet and mingle with the sea foam, sunlight and a warm, early-autumn breeze. My partner Jeff and I have been planning our wedding for many months now, and from the beginning we were committed to guiding our wedding planning by three important principles: Pagan-Friendly, Earth-Friendly and Budget-Friendly. Since these last three months are going to be serious “Crunch Time” for us, and I have weddings on the brain, I thought over the next few weeks I’d share the story of how we’ve approached planning a Pagan wedding that incorporates earth-friendly principles.

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“Your body is as ancient as the clay of the universe from which it is made; and your feet on the ground are a constant connection with the earth. Your feet bring your private clay in touch with the ancient, mother clay from which you first emerged.”

- John O’Donohue

Jeff and I are both quite serious in our commitment to this lovely blue-green gem of a planet that we happen to live on — which is probably not surprising, considering we’re tree-hugging, dirt-worshipping, long-haired-hippie Druids. We see our embodied existence as human animals weaving our way through this vast, thriving world of flora, fauna, landscapes and ecosystems to be pretty much the best, most sacred thing ever.

But even if we didn’t ground our spiritual lives in the, uh… well, the ground, we’d still be planning to have a “green” wedding. Being environmentally friendly is all the rage these days. Okay, honestly, rage is all the rage these days — including rage over the exploitation, rape and destruction of this unique and beautiful ball of rock we call home. It makes my blood boil! And not just because the planet is literally getting hotter.

It seems to me that any sane person, when thinking about formally acknowledging and celebrating her union with her beloved in the eyes of their community, should probably stop and ask herself where that community is going to end up ten, twenty, fifty years down the road if our bad habits and selfish greed continue. In fact, a sane person might have cause to wonder if she shouldn’t expand her concept of “community” to include the soil, water, air, trees, plants and animals that create, shape and sustain her human community, and if all these beings and creatures might not have just as big a role to play in lending their support (and joy and celebration) to a marriage based on mutual love and responsibility. Now maybe there aren’t that many sane people in the world these days — or maybe there’s a screw or two loose in folks who think they need not just their families and the officiant, but the oceans and the winds and the sunlight and the forests to bless their union — but in any case, Jeff and I strive for sanity as best we can.

Which means we’re trying to craft a wedding which, like our marriage, will embody our earth-loving, environmentally sustainable values as much as possible. As physical creatures, we participate in the web of interconnection. Our clay arises and takes on form and meaning from the ancient clay of our earth mother, as does that of our children, and their children — it is to this clay that we all eventually return. Jeff and I try live our lives as deeply as we can with this awareness of our relationship to the earth and its ecosystems, our impact on the beings, entities, organisms and landscapes of the natural world… and their impact on us. Like all things in the natural world, relationship is a two-way street. (Or more accurately, an eat-and-be-eaten, give-and-take, inhale-and-exhale kind of thing.)

So what this means in practice is that we’re guiding our wedding planning decisions based on the old familiar principle: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

These days, many people like to skip ahead to that last one, invest in some disposable flatware made from a combination of corn and recycled plastics, and call it a day. But Jeff and I are hardcore. Or methodical. Anyway, we like to start at the beginning.

Reduce. Trying to be eco-friendly is a great excuse to cut down on budget costs and unnecessary miscellany, but really the best part is not getting swept away by the Wedding Industrial Complex and buying lots of stuff you don’t really want and can’t possibly need. Staying grounded in simplicity is a wonderful tribute to the planet, and quite effective in keeping things eco-friendly as well. We already practice this in our everyday lives, weighing each purchasing or lifestyle choice based on whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs (and we mean all the costs, from financial to environmental, to political, social, psychological, ethical and spiritual). As you can imagine, with so many potential costs to worry about, we’ve found again and again that simpler is better. Sometimes it’s a simple walk in the park instead of a night out at the movies. Sometimes it’s a simple home-cooked meal (or better yet, a raw vegan salad!) instead of dinner at a restaurant. You get the picture. And we’re hoping our wedding will be much the same: the gift of simplicity brings with it the gifts of creativity, flexibility and often the gift of stress-reduction, too. So if there’s a wedding tradition that involves elaborate planning and complex execution…. well, we’ll probably be giving it a pass.

Reuse. Now I’m not going to commit to getting my dress at a second-hand shop, though I certainly know brides who have…. but my personal goal for wedding planning is to spend as little as possible on one-time-use and wedding-only items. That means that, while the dress might be new, it probably won’t be white, and I’ll probably wear it again and again over the years of my married life. It means decorations, besides being sparse (see also: reduce), will likely be things we can incorporate into our home decor, or give away as favors to guests who might have use for them. It means we may be asking friends and family if they’re willing to lend a hand, or a dinner platter, or a set of beach chairs. It means that we’ll be finding creative ways to kill two or three birds with one stone (except, you know, not literally). And it means that, when it comes to the whole “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” bit — we’ll have the “something old, something borrowed” part covered.

Recycle. Yes, our good friend, recycling. Recycling can be so tricky these days, because so much of what we recycle is plastic and, unlike glass and metal, plastic cannot truly be recycled — it can only be “down-cycled” into a less useful form. After only a few rounds of down-cycling, all plastic eventually winds up in the dump. Or, worse, floating in the oceans choking the sea life. So part of our eco-friendly commitment is to avoid, whenever possible, the use of plastics. Anyway, plastic often looks so tacky compared to the elegance of metal, wood and glass. In addition to seeking out non-plastic alternatives for our wedding ceremony and reception, we’ll be looking for recycled and recyclable products, and vendors who are committed to earth-friendly practices and heathy recycling habits for their businesses. We’ll also be looking into options for both recycling and composting for rubbish from the wedding itself — after all, no matter how “compostable” those disposable plates might be, they won’t break down if they’re squeezed into layers and layers of a landfill without the necessary aeration or bacteria-and-bug population.

Now, before you go thinking that this wedding is going to be all dull and no fun, remember that for us, being earth-friendly is not only about responsibility, it’s also about love. Just as we have an impact on the environment in which we live, that environment also has an impact on us. Recent scientific studies have actually shown that spending time out in the natural world, experiencing the beauty and organic wildness of the earth, has a measurably positive effect on our psychological and physical well-being. And so, the final aspect of our earth-friendly principle is to Get Out of the Way, step aside and allow the earth’s inherent beauty and bounty to shine through and inspire the love and awe it so deserves. After all, when we talk about “sustainable living,” we don’t mean that human beings bear the burden of upholding the weight of existence — we mean that, as human animals, we celebrate our connection and rootedness in the ultimate, self-giving Sustainer: Mother Earth herself.

When we get away from all the buzzing machines, flashing lights and gimmicky plastics of our civilized existence, we discover a chance to realize the truly awesome and amazing nature of the world we share with one another. Jeff and I can’t think of a better setting in which to celebrate our love and our community of family and friends, than to share that gift of awe and reverence for the natural with them.

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Earth and Nature Holidays – June 2011

June 5, 2011 by Categorized: Nature in the News.

All over the world, people are celebrating and honoring earth, nature and environmental awareness and education in their communities. Here are just a few national and international “green holidays” to liven up your month.

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International Year of Forests (2011)

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 the International Year of Forests to raise awareness around issues of conservation, protection and sustainable management and development of forests all over the world. You can learn more about this project and related events on their website.
  • Highlighted as part of 2011 International Year of Forests, the UNEP also organizes the “Plant for the Planet” Billion Tree Campaign.

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Great Outdoors Month

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International Holidays

  • June 5World Environment Day
    “World Environment Day (WED) is an annual event that is aimed at being the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action. WED activities take place all year round but climax on 5 June every year, involving everyone from everywhere.” (from the official website)
  • June 8World Oceans Day
    On World Oceans Day people around the planet celebrate and honor the body of water which links us all, for what it provides humans and what it represents. “World Oceans Day provides an opportunity to get directly involved in protecting our future, through a new mindset and personal and community action and involvement – beach cleanups, educational programs, art contests, film festivals, sustainable seafood events, and other planned activities help to raise consciousness of how our lives depend on the oceans.” (from the Wikipedia page) This year’s theme is: Youth
  • June 15Global Wind Day
    “Global Wind Day is a worldwide event that occurs annually on 15 June. It is a day for discovering wind, its power and the possibilities it holds to change our world. It is also a day for discovery of the work that has already begun by pioneers around the world. In more than 75 countries around the world, wind farms are in operation, generating energy from a clean and renewable source.” (from the official website)
  • June 17World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought
    “There is a close relationship between livelihood, ecosystem wellbeing and soils that are rich in biodiversity. Healthy soils produce life, and yet soil health depends a lot on how individuals use their land. What we do to our soils determines the quality and quantity of the food we eat and how our ecosystems serve us. Our increasing ecological interdependence also means enhancing soils anywhere enhances life everywhere. Where well tended, soil biodiversity will be a resource for use by future generations, and for services that are yet to be discovered.” (from the official website)
  • June 20International Ride to Work Day
    A day when people all over the world are encouraged to ride their motorcycles or scooters to work to demonstrate the social and environmental value of small, low-fuel vehicles and to challenge cultural stereotypes about motorcyclists.
  • June 21Summer Solstice / Winter Solstice
    Religious and spiritual traditions all over the world celebrate the summer/winter solstice as a holy day in the cycles of the seasons.

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National Holidays Around the World

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Did I miss one? Leave a note (and a link, if you have one!) in the comments letting us know what “green” holidays you’re celebrating this month!

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