Tragedy brings out the best in us: TSU Biweekly Question

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Stories of earth’s collapse surround us. Hollywood increasingly brings apocalyptic visions to life and we see wastelands with turf wars waged as resource scarcity takes center stage. We often wonder, what would happen if an “end of times” narrative played out? In each generation the mythos continues that the ever-looming threat of apocalypse may happen in this lifetime or the next. It is a part of our collective consciousness and we wonder if people in cities would turn to rampant pillaging, the darkest parts of humanity rising to the surface in a free for all scavenging.

image source

Yet actual experiences of communities under drastic threat reveal that a different characteristic emerges in real-life catastrophes.

This week, @tribesteemup asks us,

“If you could teach/show everyone in the world one thing, (something that has a huge impact on humanity) what would it be?”

Currently I am reading a book by George Marshall called Don’t Even Think about it: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change. In it, he digs into extensive research he has done in an attempt to unravel & speak to the reasons humans have trouble taking climate change seriously. It’s a very interesting book and I’m reading it to help myself understand the evolutionary & survivalist psychological underpinnings of why we as a species find this hard to face.

Interestingly enough, he finds that people who have experienced extraordinary events of climate change like hurricanes, droughts, severe flooding or wildfires are less likely to “believe” in climate change. Oftentimes, in the wake of such disasters climate change isn’t even mentioned as people sort through the wreckage. Speaking to the town that endured a ferocious wildfire (30 mph winds empowered a fire that burned 54 sq miles of forest, destroyed 1,600 houses, and could be seen from outer space) in the town of Bastrop, Texas in October 2011, he writes,

“What was curious, though, was that, when I visited Bastrop a year later not one person, in a string of formal interviews, could recall for me a single conversation in which they had discussed climate change as a potential cause of the drought or fire.”

The same thing also happened in the Oceanside town of Sea Bright, New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy (damaged 350,000 homes and waylaid the town). It turns out that people most affected by climate change events usually don’t have mental space to attribute it as such. Instead, they’re working on banding together as communities.

Marshall writes about those who endured the fires in Bastrop,

“Above all though, what they wanted to share with me was their pride in their community and their capacity to overcome challenges. They spoke of the many acts of kindness, altruism, and generosity from strangers.” The same happened in the town of Sea Bright,

“The strong sense of local pride I found in Bastrop and Sea Bright is entirely consistent with that found in other areas after disasters. Contrary to expectations, people rarely respond to natural disasters with panic, and there is often a marked fall in crime and other forms of antisocial behavior. People consistently tend to pull together, displaying unusual generosity and a sense of purpose.”

If I could teach the world one thing it would be this aptitude toward kindness.

I was very fortunate in that I grew up in a household full of kindness and experienced much kindness from community and strangers alike as I grew up. This has continued into my adulthood and I make it a part of my ripple to extend kindness into my circles.

image source

Others aren’t so fortunate and have either never experienced kindness or have had a bad experience which closes them off to the potential to receive anything but pain from the outside world. I know some of these people myself, always having a tale of woe to share about how they have been wronged.

It is encouraging and heartening to hear that the apocalyptic narrative of cars on fire and houses looted isn’t indeed what actually pans out in times of severe communal struggle. Perhaps in the larger cities this would be different, but I believe that one of the strongest ways we can influence humanity in an impactful way is to keep the flame of kindness alive. It isn’t partisan and reaches beyond our differences to find the spot of shared humanity. In times of struggle, these communities have found this spot and acted from it.

In the worst and best of times, it is what sustains us. It is a free action that also feeds the one who gives it. This is my hope and prayer for humanity. Let’s change the narrative and keep kindness alive.

In the end, only kindness matters.

The Importance of Good Neighbors in a Permaculture Ecosystem

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About two weeks ago we had around 10 people to our homestead to help with a very important task – the task of turning trees into woodchips!

Wood chipping Party at Mountain Jewel!

There never seem to be enough wood chips around the homestead. We use them for so many things- chief among them being mulch. With all of the trees we’re planting (and putting cardboard and mulch down around to suppress weeds, retain moisture and encouraging microbes and mycelium), we need a lot of it!

ONE group with our huge woodchip pile made that day!

Permaculture has 3 guiding principles: earth care, people care, fair share, which means spreading the surplus of our abundant earth.

We talk a lot about practical ways to implement permaculture, but the people care aspect and how we come together is equally as important.

That’s why I was so happy to have the ONE – Ozark Neighborly Exchange – group come to our homestead with the wood chipper they procured through a local grant!

Tough Old Birds

One of the things that most impressed me about this gathering is that everyone was older than us – most by 25-40 years! We worked for 5 solid hours and this team didn’t miss a beat! A lot of these “tough old birds” have been at this lifestyle for a long time and are very hard and strong workers. We were impressed! It’s in drastic contrast with our aging culture that has the notion that once you’ve retired you’re made for a life of relaxation or that once you grow old, you can’t do anything anymore.

The importance of good neighbors cannot be overstressed.

Through it all, we need each other.

10 humans with 20 hands can get a lot more done than just Ini and I on the homestead. In fact, it was amazing to see what many hands making light work could do that day!

And it is about reciprocity. This group is a type of assurance that we’ll be there for one another. Not only when times are rough, but for all the times. That we show up for one another, lend a hand and later sit down for a good bowl of soup. It’s fun to work with others on a beautiful day!

Transforming Biomass

The field you see above is a very special place. When we first moved to our land, the soil here seemed lusher and more fertile than others. Early on we dubbed it “The Orchard” and it has always held a notable position in our visions. As many of you know, we procured a grant to plant fruit and nut trees and we are in year 3 of that planting.

We’ve planted 2.5 acres in the past 2 years and this year we are planting out The Orchard! We are also building a Straw Bale house this year within this space!

Needless to say, there is a hum in the air when we are over here. It slopes toward the creek and faces South / Soutwest so we get the best sunsets over here and it’s generally a gorgeous lay of the land. Ini and I have been steadily clearing the land of scrub & brush and he cut down some large red oaks, cedars and 1 walnut (a tough decision to be sure!) as they were shading out too much of the area. The land is filled with persimmon and we’ll be coppicing these and grafting asian and improved american varieties on them.

We’ll also be planting Paw Paws, Gingko, Wild Plum, Chestnut, Lavender, Basketry Willow, Apples, Pears, Thornless Honey Locust, to name a few!

And to implement our vision, we need lots of wood chips! This machine was awesome in expediting the process! At Mountain Jewel, we don’t have many machines and while we aren’t opposed to them (they do have their place), we usually choose the slow and hand-held approach. In instances like this, however, a machine makes perfect sense.

The Day

The crew arrived around 10.30 AM and we watched a safety video for the chipper. We then positioned the chipper and got to work! Ini had already bucked up a lot of the large pieces and we dragged the tree tops and smaller branches to the loading site. 2 people stood to the side of the machine while Lisa, the badass farmer who procured this machine for the ONE group, womaned the machine and kept an eye out for anyone not following the safety rules!

Soon enough we were humming. Tom, the owner of the cool old truck, went off and brought truckloads of tops and branches from the farther reaching parts and kept us in a steady supply of wood. That machine chewed up wood for hours without fail! And it was beyond amazing to see all that biomass pile up on our homestead! We transformed the biomass and sped up the process of decomposition so it will be more readily available for our purposes.

Ini and I intermittently giggled with joy as we saw the pile grow! And I was sooooo impressed with how the group got along so well together. Age wasn’t a thing and it was so nice to be humming as a part of a hive. By the end of the day, we had 1 ginormous pile (perhaps 3 tons worth of wood chips) and 2 smaller piles that stretched down the road.

The next day Ini and I started moving it around and putting it on some apple trees in The Orchard! We made quite a dent and it was such a celebration and testament to the power of good neighbors! We’ll be sure to be at the next ONE work party.

To us, homesteading isn’t about making our space in this big wide world and reaping the benefits by ourselves.

It is about creating a fruitful haven, a place many people can benefit from the abundance of the earth that we’ve set in motion and remember what is possible.

So often we humans live by a scarcity model where there isn’t enough or we have to work most of our lives away paying for our survival. We want to live out a different model, one in which there is more than enough and it tastes really good & is full of beauty! We are 3.5 years into such a model and we’re starting to reap fruits! What would all this abundance be good for if there weren’t other people to share it with – the good and the bad, the hard work and relaxing days of fruition? We hope to teach, learn from and share life with many over the years!

In lieu of this, we’re hosting an internship this summer, so come build and grow with us!

Hold Fast to your Dreams: Inevitable Hypocrisy & Doing my Work in the World

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As you know, dear readers, my thoughts of late have often been drifting toward climate change. An offshoot of that is that I ask myself, I ask We the People, What can be done? This isn’t a new question for any of us. My generation has grown up with disastrous statistics of the earth’s slow and quicker forms of degradation, yet increasingly we are reaching a critical mass. Change doesn’t need to happen by 2050, it needs to happen by 2030.

When I started studying Permaculture and having divergent thoughts about society, politics as usual and culture, my dad and I butted heads a lot. I remember him often cajoling me that I was a hypocrite because I drove a car, I consumed, I used electricity based on coal. I was nothing but an idealist. For many years I let this voice guide me and I acted against it as a counterbalance. Fine, I said, I will try to be as pure as I can.

For a couple of years I didn’t own a car and when I lived in the outskirts of Los Angeles, I biked everywhere and when I couldn’t bike, I took public transit and had a small moped I buzzed around on. This worked, for a while, but the toll it took on my physical body was too great. I also ended up waiting a lot and it caused me to be inefficient with my time. The 12 mile commute on my moped to massage school was brutal in the pre dawn cold and I would show up with frozen hands – not ideal for massage! When I took the bus, the circuitous route and many bus changes meant that my commute took around 2 hours. Yet most of all, my body became tired. My lower back started to hurt frequently and I had signs of adrenal fatigue. I wasn’t a climate superhero, I was a human who was burning herself out. How could I balance my ideals with my situation?

Our system simply isn’t built (in most places) for people to lessen their use of fossil fuels. Yet for those of us who feel acutely the pain that comes as a biproduct of living with open eyes and seeing the exploitation and theft, what can we do? We witness Amazonian communities where big companies come in for oil and to deforest, raping women, destroying communities and polluting water and land – all for more oil, more timber. How can we continue along as if nothing has changed when we see increasingly that it is getting more and more difficult to extract oil from our earth’s cavities with greater environmental and social cost and pollution? To drive and continue guzzling gas seems heartless and cruel, yet most of us continue to do so out of necessity. Though we care, we are inevitable hypocrites.

Somewhere around this time, while on a soul searching bike tour where I visited many intentional communities of people seeking to live out a visionary sustainable shift, I met Ini. We hitch hiked around and finally bought a car that ran on veggie oil. This seemed like a great alternative, although far from a perfect solution. Emblazoned with the good vibes of driving on a waste resource, we watched YouTube videos of farmers growing fields of sunflowers and processing the oil themselves to make veggie oil or biodiesel. Hopeful and passionate, we wondered why this wasn’t a larger movement. News has always been out that “the government” (or some hidden large power) has the plans for incredibly fuel-efficient cars, but that they’re hiding it from the public to serve big oil interests. I envisioned fields of sunflowers grown for alternative fuel use and veggie oil stations popping up all over the United States.

As we went around looking for veggie oil we could strain and process to use in our car, I realized that most people don’t have the psychic or physical energy, let alone time, to endeavor such a thing. If it’s not immediately economical for people, it often doesn’t get done. Isn’t that so often the bottom line? Time, energy and money? In lieu of prioritizing ecological action, the necessity of capitalism entangles all of our actions. It’s how we are bread to think and behave. Usually we don’t choose jobs or lifestyles based on true passion, but because they’re economically stable or lucrative. We need to change the bottom line, but how? We all have to eat and wouldn’t a little security later in life be nice?

These days as the next guard of politicians are coming into office, we are faced with a wave of butting heads. Like my dad, a seasoned “old guard” of his generation, laughed in the face of my idealism, many “old timers” see the new politicians and their visions as ludicrous. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one who is daring to dream big and head up the Green New Deal. Shortly after it came out, she was heavily criticized for using car transportation (ostensibly instead of always using public transit- do they know how much longer that takes and how many stops simply aren’t on routes?) and because other aspects of her campaign weren’t ecofriendly. What a hypocrite, they said, She wants to implement a Green New Deal and she’s not even green!

Her rebuttal was key because it’s the world we all live in unless we want to be radical variants like the man who lives without using any money. She’s trying to get things done quickly and efficiently within the system she is trying to change. We all live within this system that causes pain and suffering, usually offloading it to developing countries by extracting their resources, polluting their environments and by damaging their communities. Out of sight out of mind. If you are sensitive like me, however, it doesn’t matter whether the pain is caused in your backyard or in a perpetually disenfranchised population states away like the Indigenous people of the United States who face many crimes at the hands of our government, not least of which is continually broken promises and treaties.

The fact is that we are all connected, we are interconnected, and pain and exploitation somewhere is connected to us all, especially if we are living comfortably as a result of another community’s exploitation.

With all of these thoughts lately, I’ve wondered if the actions of those people who are trying to make steps toward a more sustainable life really matter. Specifically, do my actions matter? As @geke so pointedly publishes each day, the military is shelling out billions of dollars per day and it’s depressing and frustrating to think of where that money is going.

In the face of a global war machine, polluting corporations impervious to checks and balances, and industrial “civilization” that eclipses individual action, do my actions even make a difference?

I brought this up with a friend who came over last night. She insisted that our actions do indeed matter and gave Paul Stamets as an example. Stamets is the leading researcher on mushrooms and how they can save the world. His research includes using mushrooms to purify contaminated water, clean up toxins in the environment, as well as heal the human body. His work is groundbreaking and inspiring and he is a driving force for good action in our world. He is someone we can look to and feel that our individual actions do matter, that by following our passions we can find the balms to heal the wounds of our world. After she said that, I realized that she was right. Individual change, paired with key policy shifts and pressure on large corporations to be held accountable for their pollution and actions, are where it all starts. We make up the whole, after all.

We live in a time when there is like a knee-jerk reaction to look up – up the ladder. We look to the big bodies to fix things or to stop things. It’s up to the government to shift it or this business or that organization. We are angry at Facebook for stealing our data, yet millions continue to use it and hand over our data each day. We want them to change, instead of taking a different approach to realize that each one of us makes up the We and we are a part of the Them.

It is disheartening that so many people are choosing rampant consumption rather than look at the impact of our human actions. I scream inside every time I read the statistic that Americans make up 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. I cannot change the minds of my fellow Americans. I can’t shake them until they see the destruction their consumption is causing and will continue to cause for eons. I can only change my actions.

 For too long we have chosen comfort over aligned sustainable action. I read statistics and I cry and cringe – about plastic pollution, which I wrote about the other day, and studies that say that all of the subjects tested had phthalates in their urine – phthalates that disrupt hormones, neuropathways, cause cancer, and more – and that these are in plastics which are passed around haphazardly (would you like paper or plastic?) and wrapping most of the consumer goods that we buy. I realize that this stuff is taking us over, we don’t know the side effects of it long term, and what we do know is horrific. We’re basically swimming in a sea of hormone shifting plastic, but this is an article I will write for another time.

You may ask why I continue to study these things if they make me scream, cry and cringe. I keep reading because I want to know where we’re at. I want to take an honest look at the state of things and act accordingly. My soul cannot live on this earth and just act like life is going on as normal because it’s not. We aren’t our parent’s generation or their parents who had an American Dream that didn’t already have a bazillion holes poked in it. Unlike them, because of the internet we can see the devastation our actions are causing world round. The American Dream is not a dream everyone can realize – on the way to every human getting it, resources would be long gone and the earth a catastrophic wasteland.

I’m here for a reason and that reason isn’t to blindly consume and make money at a job that contributes to the devastation of the earth. I am here to be an earth warrior, not a blind consumer.

How can I enjoy myself when I know that on Navajo reservations that have reaped the negative impacts of having coal plants and mines on their land (tapping already low aquifers, being one impact) thousands of families still don’t have running water or electricity in their homes. How can I live a comfortable life on the back of that inadvertent sacrifice the Navajo people have been forced to make? I don’t see the chasm between their experience and mine.

It is not out of sight out of mind for me, which is why we decided to make our homestead off grid and solar powered (yes I know solar power isn’t perfect and has its fair share of environmental harm.) But you see, that’s the catch 22 I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We cause harm while living within this system. As much as I’ve tried to divest from it in so many ways through growing my own food, building our buildings ourselves with as many natural materials sourced as locally as possible (because the modern building industry is a nasty unexamined business as well), heat with wood sustainably harvested from our forest, and chosen a life of voluntary simplicity thrifting or buying second hand most things, I am still a part of it. Yet that’s not a reason to call me a hypocrite or others like me, for example.

It is my sensitivity which causes me to heed the results of my actions and which inhibits me from living blindly.

While living within a destructive system, until the system is dismantled and rebuilt block by block, we cause harm as we seek to shift things. It’s inevitable. It doesn’t mean I should stop fighting for principles I believe in and living it out to the best of my ability, and it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t, that we shouldn’t start where we are and still speak about how we wish things could be.

If I light a vision in you, you carry that vision now and it evolves and morphs inside of your being in a unique way that only your life experiences and soul can make it. It manifests in a unique way through you. Never stop dreaming and never stop believing that the seeds of dreams within your person aren’t the exact things the world needs to hear from you! Imagine if our great visionaries stopped before they started – if Paul Stamets became discouraged and never carried on his research into the potentials of mushrooms. The world would never be blessed with the fruits of his vision. I believe the same goes for all of us.

The world has enough of the old curmudgeons who have fit their lives to go along with the status quo and who will shoot down every dream you have before it makes its way off the ground. While they may have some wisdom about how the current system works, that’s not the only information we’re interested in. Yes, it’s helpful to understand the current system so we know how to change it, but revolutions happen and will continue happening. I believe our age is ripe for an evolution of that sort.

My age group isn’t having children because we don’t see much hope for the future and we’ve heard statistics about overpopulation our entire lives. How can we add to this mess of humans taking over the earth? These are seeds planted in us and in a myriad of ways they are finding fertile soil, abundant water and sunshine and they’re making their way to the light of day. Perhaps in the end, human action and greed will cause a mass scale die off of all life on this planet. Yet where I stand, I cannot know how this will pan out and I am a hell of a lot more satisfied living out the passions and dreams which make life worth living than defeatedly following along with the status quo. How does it line go?

Hold fast to dreams 

For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly. 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes
(source)

Unbelievable Stats on Climate Change

Ecotrain, Homestead

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets. We are literally taking over the earth and causing animals our grandparents grew up with to go extinct. 40% of insects have already gone extinct. This is due to conventional farming practices (read pesticides and herbicides), deforestation, habitat destruction and warming air and waters. Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.) As everything is interconnected and human reach is so vast, our actions intimately and more and more quickly impact all of life on the planet. Now is the time to simplify & drastically scale down consumption, buy used durable goods we can use for a long time, grow your own organic food or know your farmer who does, stop using plastic in favor of wood, glass or metal and simplify simplify simplify. Downscale. Share. Barter. Create. Rampant consumption is not a sign of wealth or progress, it’s actually more quickly devastating our planet and everything on it. Throwaway culture is the death of us all.

Yesterday I shared this soundbite on Instagram with a picture of our little cabin the woods. (We finally got a wee bit of snow!)

I was surprised at some of the “backlash”. Multiple people found the facts I shared unbelievable, one even going so far to call them delusional, and while the gram isn’t link friendly, writing a blog post sure is.

Perhaps you all will find these statistics on climate change and human related impact hard to believe as well. If so, keep reading and I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Breakin’ It Down

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets.

This stat came from this article in The Atlantic, Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction.

Our destruction is so familiar—so synonymous with civilization—in fact, that we tend to overlook how strange the world that we’ve made has become. For instance, it stands to reason that, until very recently, all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass. This Frankenstein biosphere is due both to the explosion of industrial agriculture and to a hollowing out of wildlife itself, which has decreased in abundance by as much as 50 percent since 1970. This cull is from both direct hunting and global-scale habitat destruction: almost half of the earth’s land has been converted to farmland.

40% of insects have already gone extinct.

This stat was from this article in The Guardian, Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.


The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

So it seems my statement that 40% have already gone extinct was incorrect. Rather, they’re on the verge of going extinct. Either way you slice it, news like this is not positive and we need to start creating pollinator habitats while we stop destroying the wilds and curb pesticide and herbicide use.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.)

You all already know about the Mariana trench from an article I did earlier in the week and the egg yolk fact came from this article Plastic chemicals discovered inside bird eggs from remote Arctic.

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet.

Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects.

These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food.

The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive.

“These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher.

Conclusion

While I misrepresented the statistic on the insects, the rest of them stand affirmed. I find these stats unbelievable as well and it’s shocking to have people who read these demanding that I prove the veracity of my writing simply because the stats themselves are so controversial.

Yet on the other hand it’s not shocking at all. A large group of humans remain “climate change deniers” and they make it a political issue obfuscating the very realities that we need to heed in order to act accordingly.

It’s always so odd to me that people deny that this stuff is going on or get lost in the minutiae. One could go on and on sharing alarming and disheartening studies revealing the state of things facing our world and all of its inhabitants.

Most of us ignore finding the details out about this information because it’s too difficult to take in.

It really is as bad as the scientists confirming it are now saying. Ask people on the coasts or the people facing increased rates of floods, wildfires, hurricanes, island dwellers with raising sea waters, fishermen with less and less to fish, the list goes on…

We can waste our time arguing about the details or focus all of our energies on the solutions. I do think it’s worth hashing out the details so we can really know where we stand and realize how bad it is (or not if that’s what the facts say)! Yet at a certain point, we just have to start acting.

I found this article, The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future, a very worthwhile read proving that no matter where you live you can make key changes toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

After all, we are all just reaching toward sustainability. It’s literally impossible in this day in age to be divorced from the system that is killing our earth. With that said, it is very possible to take the necessary steps toward living more lightly and aligned with the earth. If the movement toward a gentler way continues, we can truly make lasting change and turn this ship around.