What is Sustainability?

What is Sustainability? Sustainability is about a lot more than what we buy - it's about community. (Photo: A tree with red berries)

Pushing my son on the biggest tree swing I’ve ever seen, he declared, “This is fun!” As I half-listened to a talk on medicinal plants, I had to agree. We were at the second annual Paw Paw Festival at Long Creek Homestead, the home of a local family who grows much of their own food based on ecological principles. While we go to these events because they’re fun, it’s much more than that. I bring my family to these events so we can have a little glimpse into a possible potential, beautiful future. That’s because these kind of community events embody social and environmental sustainability to me.

Sustainability has become such a buzzword it’s easy to lose the true meaning. Companies sell us “green living” via labels on products that promise they will be safer for your family. (Never mind anyone else’s family.) But to create a just world that offers opportunities to all people in a way that’s environmentally sound, we have to go deeper.

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How to Talk to People Who Disagree With Your Parenting or Lifestyle Choices

How to Talk to People Who Disagree with Your Parenting or Lifestyle Choices. Have family & neighbors questioning what you're choosing for your family? Try these science-based tips to help reduce conflict while still stating your mind. (Photo: A set Thanksgiving table.)

Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, I struggled to describe my job to my conservative aunt and her even more conservative neighbor. I wasn’t in the mood at the moment for a throw-down on climate change. More importantly, I wanted them to see my job – telling people about fuel-efficient and electric cars – as a good thing.  I finally settled on the energy security angle.

“I tell people about how they can use less oil in their cars. Eventually it’s going to run out, so it’s best if we can use as little as possible,” I explained.

“Well, you know, some of those old oil things, they go back to and there’s more there,” the neighbor responded.

As I stared at her and my husband tried to explain that away, she continued, “Oil has to build up faster than scientists say it does to get the amount we have, since the world’s only 8,000 years old.” I was so surprised that I had nothing to say. To put it lightly, that’s a very rare situation for me.

While this conversation was about science and my job, it could have easily been about parenting choices, green living, or politically progressive points of view. Eating a vegetarian diet, choosing not to use time-outs on your stubborn or strong-willed kid, or attending a climate change rally with your family are even more likely to draw unwanted commentary. It’s easy to want to avoid people who hold radically different perspectives, but that’s not always possible. Plus, if a topic is near and dear to your heart, you may want to try to change their mind on a topic, even if you have to talk people who disagree on it.

Here’s some tips for talking to people who disagree with your parenting, lifestyle or just point of view. Most of this is from the social science literature, so I’ve tried to link to good summaries of that literature when possible. Just as a warning – this may not be relevant for all situations. There may be times when you want to straight-up call someone out, like if they tell a racist or sexist joke.

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Here’s What We Should Do About Phthalates in Mac and Cheese Instead of Food Shaming Parents

What We Should Do About Phthalates in Mac and Cheese. (Photo: Rows of boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese on a shelf.)

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart on Flickr.

“So now we can’t eat mac and cheese. Is there anything we can feed our kids?!” That was the cry heard across the land from moms and dads who read the Scary Mommy or New York Times articles on phthalates in mac and cheese.  Both of the articles are based on a report put out by a coalition of environmental groups concerned about toxic chemicals in processed food. (If you want to be super data-geeky, here’s the actual data.)

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My Husband and “Me Time”

"My Husband and 'Me Time' / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo of rows of chairs in a movie theater.

“Going to the movies” read the text from my husband. I shook my head. He had told me earlier that he was planning to go to the movies, but it still annoyed me. Logically, he had every right to go. He had led one of our preschool’s clean-up days all morning, the kids and I were out, and he spends a ton of time with them as a stay-at-home dad. And yet, it still felt wrong. Whereas I and many other women would have used the free afternoon to tackle their to-do lists, his first (and probably only) thought was re-watching a movie he had already seen. In the world of 28 million blog posts about why moms should be taking “me time,” he was living the dream.

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The “Earth March”: Bringing My Kids to the People’s Climate March

Text: "Bringing My Kids to the People's Climate March / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Young boy in a teal hat holding up a sign that says

So proud of my munchkin.

“You’re not going to bring the kids to homeless shelters are you?” asked my husband, several years before we had kids. “Probably. We need to teach them how to help people.” He most likely rolled his eyes. But now after being married to me for a decade and living in the Age of Trump, he understands. Which is why all four of us were out in the sweaty heat this past Saturday walking in the Washington D.C. People’s Climate March.

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Guest Post: This is the Least I Can Do

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Privilege is a word tossed around a lot these days, often in the phrase “Check your…” But even though the words are new, the idea is something I’ve known about for a long time. My mom emphasized how I was lucky to have what I had. Sure, my parents and I worked hard, but what we had wasn’t through hard work alone. I hope to pass that knowledge onto my kids.

Knowing how damn lucky and I my kids are motivates so much of my activism. I got the chance to write about it for Mamalode recently, in a piece called My Privilege Protects Me and My Sons From So Much – This is the Least I Can Do.

Here’s the first two paragraphs:

“President Obama, I know you have two daughters. I know you love them. But I want you to know that I don’t know if I’ll have kids. That’s because I don’t know if they’ll have clean water to drink,” said Eryn Wise, a 26-year-old organizer of the movement against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. As she stared out at the crowd gathered in front of the White House, I gasped just a little. Of course, I know this is a calculation women make every day – whether the world they would bring their child into is good enough. And too often, that answer is no. But to hear a young woman say it in person made me breathe in just a little more sharply.

That’s because it’s a question I’ve never had to face.

Read the rest at Mamalode!

The Challenge and Beauty of Being an Activist Mom

Photo: Photo of a husband and wife dressed in winter clothes hugging with the wife holding a Forward on Climate sign; Text: "The Challenges and Beauty of Being an Activist Mom / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So"

Standing on the National Mall in the  February cold, I stomped my feet and tried to ignore how sore my lower back felt. Watching the stage, I strained to listen to the speakers, from Silicon Valley billionaires to Native American activists. I was at one of the biggest climate change protests ever, focused on defeating the Keystone XL oil pipeline. While it attracted 12,000 people, it’s unlikely that many were in the same situation as I was: five months pregnant.

Despite the cold and a serious lack of bathrooms, I marched in hopes of shifting the tide against climate change. Now, with the election of Donald Trump for president and the Republican domination of Congress, I find it more important than ever before to be an activist mom.

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How Parents Can Help Love Trump Hate

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The election of Donald Trump for president has unearthed a whole spectrum of reactions. While some people are triumphant, many of us are frustrated, sad, angry, and exhausted – including me. Trump’s future policies are likely to be disastrous for climate justice, immigrants, people of color, LBGT people, religious minorities, poor people, and disabled people. Even though Trump hasn’t taken office yet, there have been numerous reports of people emboldened by his rhetoric who are targeting and harassing vulnerable people.

But as Valarie Kaur wrote after the Charleston shooting, “Today we mourn, tomorrow we organize.” Now, it’s metaphorically, if not literally, tomorrow. It’s time to pick ourselves up and take action.

While it can be very hard to find time, energy and money to spare as a parent, here are some constructive things that we can do in response:

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To My Children Upon the Election of President Trump

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To my children,

I’m sorry. That’s really the core of what I have to say right now. I’m so, so sorry.

I’m sorry that I was crying as we snuggled in bed this morning. Sprout, when you asked me what was wrong, I said, “The really mean person was elected leader of the country.” I almost choked saying the words. They just seemed so wrong. I’m sorry that I may be crying when I put you to bed tonight.

I’m sorry that our country elected a racist, xenophobic,  misogynistic bully to lead it. That this is the sort of leadership the people of the United States of America actually want to have. That someone who stands for everything that I’m trying to teach you to stand against is going to be the most powerful person in the world. That we can’t hold our future president to higher standards than I hold you.

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