For Earth Day: The Little Things

For at least a year now, a large jackrabbit has been a regular in our neighborhood. Last spring*, when Claire had only been walking a couple of months, we saw him more than once in the grassy open area in front of our townhouse, or in neighbors’ yards, and I was surprised and thrilled that she could spot his drabness against the dead grass. We would follow him together, sometimes as she tottered wildly on her own, sometimes with her in my arms, until we got too close and he bounded away.

This winter, unseasonably warm here as in the rest of the globe, snow was late coming, but he turned white anyway. I spotted him more than once, looking stark and vulnerable against the green and brown grass, a portent of changes happening too fast.

One night in the late fall, I was coming home late from an outing, driving on the highway — prairie on one side, urban sprawl on the other. In the dark and silence, memory and melancholy pressed in, on the dull edge of this drab city. As I pulled off the highway onto the busy road into our suburb, I suddenly thought of the rabbit and hoped he stayed away from the 4 lanes of traffic I was on. Then I pulled into our driveway, and there he was, glowing in the headlights, luminous against the dying lawn. I called my partner and told him to come to the front and look out. It was too magical a moment to have alone in car.

When the snow came, I was relieved for the rabbit, even though his camouflage really mattered little here. I saw him a couple more times during the winter. Then a couple weeks ago, back on that same busy street, I drove over a pile of white fur. I didn’t want to wish for the death of any animal, but I hoped it was anything but the rabbit.

A couple days ago it was a warm, cloudless day, too warm for March. Claire and I were walking along that road and as we stopped to look at things, I noticed a flash of white fur on the grass by the road. I went closer and it was a rabbit foot — the rabbit’s foot, I was sure. Way bigger than a domestic rabbit’s foot, and furrier. Little bits of pink bone and tendon protruded from the fur.

I thought about the rabbit the rest of day, and at night as I lay down with Claire. I  thought about wildness and wild things and how we like to think that we do them no violence as we continue to expand and consume at will. I thought of the violent moment of impact that crushed that beautiful animal, and recognized that I do violence, too, when I drive and contribute to the emissions that change weather patterns, creatin bigger and bigger storms, destroying the lives of millions in the poorest countries in the world; we do violence when we get rid of a perfectly good cell phone or laptop because we want an upgrade and that phone ends up being “recycled” by a small child in China who is exposed to toxins before those toxins make their way into the environment; we do violence to wild things when we buy a myriad of products containing non-sustainable palm oil that comes from places where wildlife are poached and displaced to make room for palm crops, and on and on.

It’s just a rabbit, just a small thing, this death of one wild creature. But we do small things every day that add up when repeated by millions (or billions) of people and these small things create enormous dangers for both human and animal populations.

I kept thinking of the whiteness of the rabbit against the late fall grass, and then again the whiteness of his foot against the early spring grass — always out of sync with the world we are shaping. I thought of how he had changed to white for the last time that fall. That same day a friend said to me, almost in passing, “you know the last Black Rhino is gone.” I wonder how many more lasts I will see in my lifetime, and, even worse, how many Claire will see in hers.

I read a tweet recently by @YourDailyVegan that said, “Every purchase is the opportunity to save lives & affect positive change. Awesome how much control you have in the world #vegan.” I love this. As a parent, I feel especially helpless to shape a positive world for my child when so much is out of my control, like the loss of the last Black Rhino. But this tweet reminds me that so much else is in our control — like reducing reliance on animal products in our diets, buying fair trade and sustainable options, refusing to buy unnecessary plastic and packaging, not using micro-bead products, unplugging chargers, and much more.

After all, the little things are the big things.


*I wrote this last March but never published it, so the spring mentioned here is actually the year before last.


11 Weird (Or Not So Weird) Things to do for the Planet


When the Blogging U “list” prompt came up, I thought it was kind of a lame thing to write about until I read some of the amazing example lists they gave, including this cool list project. And that same day, I read this depressing article about how the nightmares of climate change are already here, not just approaching. This stuff is even more terrifying to me when I think about the world Claire will grow up in. I often feel helpless to really change things for her, but I try to focus on the things I can do.

Little things done/not done daily by millions of people can make a huge difference, for better or worse. So here is my list of things to do for the planet, some of which are kind of weird because environmentalism brings out the obsessive eccentric in me, and some of which might only seem weird because we live in culture in which wastefulness is the norm:

  1. Use a hankie, use rags, buy responsible toilet paper. Rain forests that breathe for our planet, cool our planet, and house countless species of animals are being destroyed at alarming rates so that we can have the convenience of single use paper products made from virgin forests. I go into a rage when I see those stupid commercials showing how strong and absorptive a paper towel is. You know what is stronger and more absorptive than any brand of paper towel? A cotton rag cut from an old t-shirt. And using a hankie doesn’t have to be weird like it was for the kid beside my sister in elementary school who took his out from time to time and rummaged in it. Use it once and toss in the wash. DIY note: an old flannel receiving blanket can be cut up to make great hankies/wipes for babies.
  2. Refuse to drive everyday. This one is definitely weird in the city I live in where most people live in sprawling suburbs and many things are hard to walk or bike to. I’m in a playgroup on Facebook and it is very active: I could drive Claire to activities and meet-ups every single day. I refuse to. Some days she is going to have to settle for just walking to the park with her mama.
  3. Buy locally made clothes that use sustainable fibers. This is not weird but it is expensive, which forces me to buy fewer clothes.When we lived in Ottawa, there was a little boutique that sold only Canadian designed and manufactured clothes. They were not cheap, but you knew that the people making them were paid a fair wage and the fibers were often organic. One summer during my PhD I bought a red Jennifer Glasgow summer dress. It was my entire summer clothing budget and then some. It meant supplementing my wardrobe with other means (see #4), and also meant that I wore that dress to pretty much every special and not-so-special event I went to that summer. And the next. And people probably thought it was weird to see that dress in almost every photo of me on Facebook (ditto for the summer dress I bought at Anthropologie this year). But this is the thing: the fashion industry is an environmental and human rights disaster and the less you take part it in, the better. Not only did the cotton industry in Uzbekistan drain the Aral Sea, it is powered by forced labour, and this is only one example. Don’t even get me started on the leather industry.
  4. Buy used. We buy most of Claire’s clothes at a kids’ consignment-type shop called Once Upon A Child. I’ve given up the idea that giving my child the best means buying new clothes from Baby Gap. Giving her the best means not increasing demand for clothes that destroy her planet or hurt people in other countries (see #3). My husband, an economist, has made the argument that buying used or local doesn’t help textile workers in foreign countries; a job with bad conditions and low pay is better than no job in a country without social programs, he would argue. Agreed. So take the money you save buying used and give a Kiva loan to a women’s collective in a country like Bangladesh.
  5. Unplug chargers. Vampire energy sucks. Look it up.
  6. Keep houseplants by the kitchen sink. Whenever I have stale water in the kettle or water bottles, I use it for the plants so it’s not wasted.
  7. Grow a lemon tree. I stuck an organic Meyer lemon seed in a flower pot this spring and voila: a beautiful little tree graced our window all summer until I killed it by leaving the window near it open on cold days. Still, I like to imagine everyone in Canada planting one and having a little forest of millions of lemon trees on window sills. You know, to atone in part for the other forests our TP is destroying (see #1).
  8. Clean with lemon juice, baking soda and white vinegar. Any time I use any kind of cleaning product, I imagine Claire having to drink it some day. I know this sounds weird, but everything that goes down our drains has the potential to end up in our drinking water. Eventually we will not be able to avoid our own water pollution; this is already the case for many people worldwide. Non-eco-friendly toilet bowl cleaners are the worst with their poisonous noxious chemicals. I get that the toilet is a germy place, but do you really need to go all scorched earth on it? Are you going to wash your hands in the basin? I put a big squirt of lemon juice or vinegar around the bowl then use some serious elbow grease with the bowl brush. It looks and smells great afterwards.
  9. Eat leftovers. This is totally not weird to me, but my sister told me that her co-workers said they hate leftovers and never eat them. So she told them to bring them to work and she would eat them, and that is weird, but we all do our part in different ways, I guess? Food waste is not only a waste of all the resources that went into producing that food, it is major contributor to global warming.
  10. Buy the ugly eggplant at the grocery store. Have you ever seen the grocery store staff walking through with a big cart piled with totally eatable but slightly blemished or wilted produce? They’re going to throw it out and it is really depressing. (see #9)
  11. Pee in the shower. This one is legitimately weird, but it really is A Thing. Peeing in the shower can save up to 12 litres of fresh water per saved flush. Universities have actually started campaigns to get students to do this. Imagine 10,000 students all saving one flush per day by peeing in the shower? That’s 120,000 litres of water per day! Seems worth it to me. It also saves toilet paper (see #1).  And it’s really not as gross as it seems, after all: urine is totally sterile — if it’s not, you’ve got a UTI. So for the sake of the planet, I’m going to put it out there: I pee in the shower. Let’s normalize this, people.