Don’t Call It Climate Change – A Guest Post from Ecotrust

Author Paul Hawken, speaking in Portland last month

Just a few weeks ago, more than 300 Oregonians gathered at the Natural Capital Center in Portland to hear best-selling author, environmentalist, and climate advocate Paul Hawken present Drawdown, his long-awaited new book that chronicles over 100 creative solutions for addressing global warming.

“Climate change isn’t a curse,” Hawken said. “It’s feedback.” What if global warming is not an obstacle but an opportunity to innovate and reimagine everything we make and do? What if we view our circumstances not as daunting, but as a worldwide cue that it’s time for something different?

Thanks to our colleagues at Ecotrust, and in particular Molly Simas, for sharing these key takeaways around opportunities to help reverse global warming. For the full recap, click here

Land use is the only way to draw down carbon

“If you’re going the wrong way, you need to stop and turn around. Slowing down just means you’re going the wrong way more slowly.”… He was talking about the need to not only arrest greenhouse gas emissions, but the equally important goal of pulling them out of the atmosphere. This is what the term “drawdown” refers to — the point where atmospheric greenhouse gases peak and begin to decline year-by-year as more carbon is sequestered back into the earth.

The normal functioning of natural, healthy ecosystems pulls carbon from the air and stores it in soil or biomass. Most people know that trees store carbon, but perhaps not everyone is aware that grasslands and wetlands also do so, sometimes even to a greater degree. Still, forests are a crucial part of the picture. Drawdown found that restoring the world’s temperate rain forests could result in nearly 23 gigatons of carbon sequestration by 2030.

A huge surprise – food is a greater solution than energy

Eight of the top 20 most effective global warming solutions found by Drawdown researchers were food-related. Solutions three and four — reduced food waste and a plant-rich diet, respectively — exist on the consumption end of the spectrum. But every other of the eight — silvopasture, intercropping, and more — are related to how we produce our food.

What we talk about when we talk about climate: notes on language

Throughout the talk, Hawken noted the confusion of terms that swirls around the topic of climate: decarbonization, negative emissions, climate change, global warming. There’s a need for an accessible, simple vocabulary, Hawken said, and also a need to move away from the typically violent rhetoric that surrounds the topic: the war on carbon, slashing emissions, combating global warming. “Any time you have a military metaphor, you’re saying there’s an enemy or other,” Hawken said. “That’s dualistic thinking; that got us exactly where we are.” Plus, Hawken noted, you can’t “battle” climate change. The climate is always changing in response to chemistry on earth, and always has. When we refer to “climate change” as the problem, we are talking about its dramatic changes on a planet warmed by excessive greenhouse gas emissions in a very short period of geologic time.

In summary: We want to reverse global warming to reduce the effects of drastic climate change. (Final answer.)

*For the full article, click here. To explore NWEI’s Change Is Our Choice: Creating Climate Solutions book, click here

NWEI’s New White Paper on Behavior Change for Sustainability

Have you every wondered why changing habits can be so difficult? Or why it is that if you change one habit it can have a cascading effect on the rest of your life? And why is it that so many people express values in alignment with protecting the environment but have a hard time matching behavior with those values? We’ve been delving into behavior change research for several years now – and just this week NWEI has published its newest white paper on Behavior Change for Sustainability: Northwest Earth Institute’s Approach.

In our new white paper NWEI’s Director of Learning Lacy Cagle and curriculum designer Dr. Veronica Hotton explore how even though many people claim to care about environmental issues, their behavior often doesn’t align with expressed environmental values. Behavior change research shows that making small changes or trying on new habits like participants do in NWEI’s Discussion Courses and EcoChallenge can have a cascading effect on other habits and routines in your life.

Want to learn more? Download the white paper here.

Take Action this Spring – NWEI Course Book Sale May 1-15th!

As you know, the little things add up to make a big difference – and that’s why we are offering a course book sale between May 1st-May 15th! If you haven’t checked out NWEI’s series of sustainability focused discussion course books, this is a great time to do so! Until May 15th, NWEI books are $18.

For nearly 25 years, NWEI has been bringing people together across all walks of life to create positive action. To date, nearly 200,000 people have participated in NWEI programs! As we head into our 25th year, we’re excited to offer resources that make change more possible, more social, and yes, more fun by helping people connect with their communities and take action, together.

Spring is a great time to bring people together to connect on the topics and issues important to you. If you’ve been thinking about ways to take action – now is the perfect time. Consider which topic interests you most and use the NWEI books to organize a Northwest Earth Institute discussion group with your friends, coworkers, or any other community you are a part of. As Robert Louis Stevenson reminds us, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant!” Let’s continue planting seeds of awareness and action!

Earth Day, Marches and Beyond – What Next?

Photo courtesy of Earth Day Network

This Earth Day, over 600 marches happened around the world in celebration of science – and the Earth Day Network inspired over two billion “acts of green.” This weekend, the People’s Climate March will happen in hundreds of communities around the world, with people marching for climate, jobs and justice. We’re excited about the momentum underway!

At NWEI, we are thinking ahead to what actions we can take to follow these global awareness-raising events. We’re also thinking on what is needed long-term in order to maintain the energy and persistence required to usher in a more sustainable future.

In the spirit of our discussion questions in the NWEI course books, here are several questions for reflection to consider as you move forward.

  1. What do you care most about now? Why do you care about taking action? Take a moment to clarify for yourself. Consider writing it down. 
  2. What steps are you taking daily, weekly and monthly to show your support for the issues that matter most? Identify at least one action you can take. 
  3. How do you stay inspired, even in light of discouraging news? What practices can you weave into your life that will help you to maintain your energy and commitment? 
  4. What actions will you commit to in the next month that will move you toward your goals? Clarify. Invite others to join you. 

Whatever you do after Earth Day and the marches, find ways to stay involved and engaged! As naturalist and writer Wendell Berry says, “The Earth is what we all have in common.” Let’s do our part to be the change we wish to see.

Helping Employees Make Sustainable Choices

Intel employee & NWEI course organizer Sydney Wirsig

In honor of Earth Month, we’re excited to share this changemaker story from CSR@Intel about Sydney Wirsig, an Intel employee, Northwest Earth Institute course organizer and sustainability champion. As Intel notes, “Sydney Wirsig is one employee who has turned her passion for sustainability into action and positive impact.” Sydney engaged 450 Intel employees in NWEI’s Choices for Sustainble Living discussion course – and the results were inspiring. Below is an excert of CSR@Intel’s blog post about Sydney’s impact. To read her full story, click here. 

Sydney joined Intel in 2014 and from day one was looking for ways to get involved in sustainability efforts, “I feel we all have a responsibility to be a good global citizen and do what we can to make sustainable choices in our own lives as well as helping others do the same.” On her personal journey to live more sustainably, she realized she wanted to help and encourage others looking to do the same.

Then, an opportunity at Intel popped up in her inbox. The Corporate Responsibility team was looking for a passionate employee to develop a pilot sustainable living discussion course for employees. Sydney jumped at the opportunity and was selected to lead this effort. By working with the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI), who creates discussion course books on sustainability topics, Sydney launched the Choices for Sustainable Living course to 200 employees. The NWEI course book covered everything from food to transportation through articles and data from a variety of sources. It gave people “food for thought” and allowed them to decide for themselves what they do with the information. The format of the course allowed for open discussions about reactions to the course content, and collective problem solving.

Sydney reflected on the course saying, “It was incredibly gratifying to hear stories from the group about the things they tried and what worked for them long term. I didn’t know if anyone would make changes to be more sustainable based on what they learned but it turned out, they did. The efforts of everyone were outstanding.” She facilitated two offerings of the course and engaged with about 450 employees in total. Even though she is no longer facilitating the course, this was just the start for Sydney’s sustainability efforts at Intel.

“I realized opportunities to lead sustainability projects were all around me. I just had to take initiative to pursue them,” Sydney recalled. That aha moment led to her next project. Wanting to expand access to local, healthy food and searching for ways to lower her own food miles, Sydney wanted to start a community garden on an Intel campus.

The resulting garden in full bloom

She recruited volunteers, planned raised-bed building days, and coordinated vendors to bring the 38 raised-bed organic garden to life. The results? In its first growing season, the garden club had over 50 employees participate, beat its food donation goal, and hosted a garden educational event for 300+ kids. Upon reflection Sydney revealed, “It was the most rewarding and challenging side project I’ve ever done but even knowing now how challenging it would be, I’d do it all over again.”

But as you may have grasped by now, Sydney always has a new sustainability idea brewing. So what’s next? “I’m interested in looking at ways to divert more waste from going to landfills. I’ve started collecting my hard-to-recycle packaging to send to organizations that can properly recycle them and I’d love to try that on a larger scale in the community,” she shared. Clearly, Sydney is a true champion of sustainability at Intel and is always looking for new ways to help employees reduce their footprint on the planet.

To read the full article, click here. To learn more about NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living course book, click here. Thanks to Sydney for her leadership and for her work to create positive action! 


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