Yes We Canopy!

Birthdays in a pandemic

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

This week felt heavy. Suddenly the weight of no sleepaway camp, day camp, group camping trips, raucous house parties, or lazy summer dinners with friends hit me hard. I love my work, I love my family, I love my life, and my vibe is generally Ned Flanders in a jumpsuit, but this week I was bummed. I felt like it was self-deceiving to not acknowledge the long-term bumminess of it all. So I’m trying to lean into it and accept that I cannot overschedule my way through this endless summer, or endless year. I cannot just get ‘er done. And that’s okay.

Today is one of my favourite people’s 40th birthday. She’s the kindest and thoughtfullest human, and she’s taught me a ton about the environment, from basic biology to how to talk about nature with my kids to how to care about the planet while still being a person who likes all the things that people like. She’s one of the first people I really got to know who worked on climate full-time. Watching her made the leap less scary for me. 

There’s a little park behind our neighbourhood that doesn’t get as much love as the huge destination park just north of us. For years the only people who knew about it were twentysomething softball players and owners of pocket-size dogs. Thanks to COVID it’s suddenly resplendent with people. People looking for off-the-beaten grass to get fresh air, exercise, and do curious dance routines while twirling large sticks. It feels alive now. There’s still lots of room for everyone to spread out, but it looks more like the cinematic embodiment of a park, with so many real-life extras tossing frisbees and sunbathing.

It’s quiet in the mornings, though. Quiet enough for birdwatching or even a bit of meditation, especially in the little wooded area on the west side. My Lordy-She’s-Forty friend once told me she goes there sometimes for a bit of peace and greenery, and that if you situate yourself just so, you can almost feel like you’re in a deep forest and not a patch of urban scrub. At the time I thought you needed nature in large doses. I didn’t know an inner-city ramble could harbour enough space for birds and contemplation. I didn’t know that nature in small sizes could be just as effective at curing nature deficit disorder.  

Which brings me to the nowness of our current nature needs. We have to get outside and soak up our greenery, but also share the space and cede ground to others. We have to joyfully appreciate green patches but also follow soberly prescriptive rules for engaging with said green patches. In Toronto we’ve had ample drama about how to manage that delicate dance. One way is to appreciate the smaller parks.

I have a more bellicose neighbour who fears that our urban green spaces are in too short supply to accommodate the new developments and the people and pugs these developments will bring. I agree with the need to carve out as much park space as we can, even as it grows increasingly hard for our near-depleted city coffers to manage it. But I also feel that there’s still so much room yet, and that learning to share the green peaceably is almost as important as the nature time itself. (Dodges errant frisbee, listens to crooning, bearded guitar-bro, closes eyes to soak in the neverending day.)

I’ve become the lady who calls up the newspaper with gossipy tips about political malfeasance. I’m worried about our greenbelt, and with fewer and fewer journalists left on the provincial beat, I had to harass one of them into covering the fact that applications to build on the greenbelt can now be approved with a quick Alohomora from a minister. It’s worrisome for the precedent it sets. We need this greenery for myriad reasons beyond the fact that everyone deserves space to toss some devil sticks into the air.

(Another idea for what to do with all that cardboard: make a living card. Thanks to Rebecca and Ben for pun support. Ben’s newsletter is on George Bernard Shaw’s slightly sanctimonious vegetarianism today, so readers of this newsletter may enjoy it.)

THIS WEEK

Talk to me about the state of your local parks!

CUTE PEOPLE DANCING

I loved this -

I thought it couldn’t get any better. Then Ausma shared this:

We are in the golden age of family dance videos.

Hope you are having a lovely week,

Sarah

Towards a working practice of not being miserable about the planet

plus pie charts

Every week in this newsletter I spout off in a million directions, without a unified theory of why. And you all have been far too patient with me. I was working something out. I’m still working something out, but in these iterative times, I want to share seedlings more than plants, batter more than cake. Who am I kidding, I would love to share cake. If only it could be delivered electronically.

I’ve been working on a recipe for how to stay mentally healthy in an ever-warming world. For something like a decade I’ve wrestled with my Mean Greens, and while I haven’t extinguished them, I’ve blunted their growth. They’re frothy seafoam now instead of fiery seaweed. I can’t say if this will work for everyone, but it’s done wonders for me, and I’m hoping to elaborate on this formula in my next book, which will come out someday.

For years I’ve made the argument that we need both incremental and systems change. It’s only over the past few years that I’ve realized we need both of those things within ourselves. We need small discrete behaviour change goals, and larger actions to work towards. Together, they comprise our action pie. Small efforts feel inconsequential without a bigger goal. Sustained efforts feel laborious without quick wins. It’s all about building your short and long, while wearing a shortlong.

Your smalls can be simple behaviours you want to make habitual, local climate efforts you want to help out with, emails you want to write, straws you want to eschew, water tanks you want to besweater.

Your bigs are the things that require sustained effort over time - a large campaign, a costly environmental retrofit, a sticky challenge, a full-time environmental job or volunteering gig. 

With both small and big goals, you’re never stuck. If the larger effort is proving challenging or unrewarding, you have the daily doings of small change to restore you. When your compost pile feels insignificant in the grand scheme of our rapidly exhausting carbon budget, you have your large project to chip away at. Again, I can’t promise COMPLETE ERADICATION OF YOUR ECOMALAISE™ but this formula is working for me. I would love to know if this resonates at all with you.

(This newsletter’s illustrations brought to you by ‘all the cardboard I have to reuse before I allow myself to use any other paper.’)

THIS WEEK

How do you combat your environmental blues? LMK

CUTE PEOPLE DANCING* 

*Or, playing violin. My sister and her band have been playing physically distant gigs at the old folks home. This 98-year-old man brought his violin out to join them. And if Que Sera Sera isn’t the song of our time, I don’t know what is. Normally, I’d have every centimetre of our summer planned by now, but we’re living in a rare moment of take it day by day. The future’s not ours to see. 

ON KINDNESS

Here’s my latest comic for Yes! Magazine.

Have a lovely week,

Sarah

Circle Back to This Email

Or just get around to it right now!

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

Reader Danae sent me the above line after last week’s newsletter, in which I had rhapsodized at 1.5x speed about trying to get more stuff done in less time. Try to think in circles rather than straight lines. I love this sentence. It’s an ecopoetic spin on work smarter. And of course I love a circle. Also an ellipse. Who doesn’t love an ellipse?

Danae went on to elaborate on the idea of getting things done while getting things done. She writes: 

if I'm weeding, I'm simultaneously gathering mulch for my fruit trees -

if I'm shredding paper, I'm creating mulch for my raspberries -

if I'm sweeping, I'm adding to the kitchen compost bin -

if I'm mowing orchard pathways, I'm gathering nitrogen for the compost tumbler -

if I'm changing water in bird baths, I'm watering mints planted at the base of bird baths.

I love the idea of a circle of actions, a thing that helps another thing. It’s circular economy without all the bureaucracy. It’s circular thinking without going in circles.

At a talk I listened to yesterday, (yes, I am always listening to talks, but I love how there’s an interesting panel every twelve minutes these days) speaker Jo-Anne St. Godard, Executive Director of the Recycling Council of Ontario, stressed the heightened importance of circular economy given how broken recycling is these days, especially here in Canada. (Canada is big, so people dump a lot of stuff here.)

While the pandemic has caused our household to waste less food, our recycling is perpetually full of boxes. Where our farmshare once delivered food in reusable bags, COVID fears mean everything now comes in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box inside a Hazmat suit. Plastic bag bans have been lifted in many jurisdictions, and we’re obviously using PPE like it’s going out of style. All necessary, of course, but heaping new challenges for an already beleaguered recycling system. Maybe Extended Producer Responsibility could extend to cardboard and Jeff Bezos can figure it all out. If you can’t tell, my circular eyeballs are rolling.

I’ve been baking a ton and kneading to give away my bake goods. I drop them at friends and neighbours houses out of some weird desire to make sure everybody has cookies, and also because if I’m turning the oven on, I might as well really use that energy (thanks Hannah!).

I love the idea of mutual aid, and picture new circles being created all over the city. Someone in our neighbourhood offered to do a bulk order of St. Viateur bagels from Montreal. Everyone got into it. Thousands of circular bagels all rolling into Toronto, and being distributed across our hood. It’s fun to picture.

Ultimately, our net zero or net positive future is about building a world of circles. Nothing is shot out into the world to be wasted or discarded. Almost everything is looped around, repurposed. We always circle back to the beginning. I find this metaphor both appealing and calming. We’re all here, closing loops together.

So random, but this appeared in my IG feed this week.

It’s true. I mean the song did make me melancholy in a way I couldn’t explain, but we were sitting around a campfire hugging our best friends, so we didn’t think about Neil Young being depressed about aging out of childhood. Probably because there’s comfort in…a circle. Hope you find comfort this week. As always, tell me about the loops you’ve hooped.

LAST WEEK

Writes lovely Helen: I am amazed everyday on how what is waste for one person is truly a treasure for another.  We are coming into strawberry season here and they are packaged in a plastic single-use punnets.  Last year I had saved several punnets and decided to put them on the Spare Harvest marketplace to see if someone else would use them.  Well I moved to all to another home.  One gentleman used them for growing his micro-greens, another person used then as a small hothouse for their seeds and a lady used them to package up her homegrown cherry tomatoes so she could share then with her family.  We don’t have to take on the burden of doing everything ourselves, as a community is easier and more rewarding.  I now save those punnets and use them to cover my ripening fruit so the birds don’t eat them.  I would never had thought to use them this way if it was not for the people I met and the conversation we shared when I first put them on our marketplace.

From inspiring Saara, who reminds me again of how amazing Finland is: Check out this Lichen Fest in the forest. And then check out this amazing art organization, that “unites the worlds of art and science and offers hope amidst the climate crisis.”

And in cute people dancing: This feels like a lifetime ago, but it was only January. I don’t know when we’ll be able to circle dance together again, but here’s to keeping the jams alive.

Thanks for reading. Hope you are healthy and happy,
Sarah

Do More In Less Time

a lifehacker's lament

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

I went to a very intense music camp in Michigan when I was a kid. We wore uniforms that included navy corduroy short pants, so I was onside from the get go. The camp’s motto was Do More In Less Time. They played reveille at 6:15 AM, and days were packed with activities and lessons and concerts. Somehow I managed to learn classical guitar, watch obscure foreign films, obtain my lifeguard certification, realize I actually hated classical violin, develop a major crush on a contrabassoon player, and see about 40 concerts in a mere eight weeks. I imagined it would be impossible to maintain this pace year-round, but they now have a boarding school, so who knows.

Phrases imprinted on my brain when I was young seem to stay there, like tacky glass pebbles on the bottom of a fish tank. I come back to Do More In Less Time on the regular, even if there’s a sort of lifehacky striveyness to it that I don’t love. I think it’s because, despite every deep-breathed effort to slooowww myself down, I like the idea of doing more in less time. It means there’s lots of leftover time to do even more.

When it comes to climate, I’m interested in the ways we can do more in less time because we don’t have time. When I started thinking about how I could best work on climate full-time, I searched for the work that would have the quickest and most meaningful impact. For me, the answer was carbon pricing. An instant global carbon tax would do so much in so little time. Even the IMF has said as much.

While I have forbidden myself from using the phrase “silver linings” with regard to Covid, I’m curious about how it can get us to do more in less time. We talk of shovel-ready/shovel-worthy green projects. What are the things we can do quickly? After initially rebuffing all efforts to expand and expedite Toronto’s pedestrian spaces and cycle paths, our Mayor has done an about face and now plans to quicken the pace of our cycle grid installation. This, when every few kilometres of bike lanes in this town normally require 72 years and 45 minutes of deliberation. Do more in less time! Or in the parlance of our Mayor, fasttrack it! (He likes to add the word track to the end of any transit project.)

I “attended” two great talks this week that gave me hope that there are things we can do immediately. From electrifying our vehicle fleets to retrofitting our built infrastructure, there is so much we can get going on in relatively short order. The trick: we need to do the right more in the smallest amount of time possible. 

Though emissions have fallen for the wrong reasons, Carbon Brief’s revised projections of an annual decrease of 8 percent give us headwinds. And the Covid fallout has given us the opportunity to spend like the wind. We need to use this small window of opportunity to do so much more than status quo. We need to use this time to restructure and decarbonize as quickly as possible. I’ll play reveille at 6:15 if it’ll help.

How can you do more in less time? LMK

Hope you are safe and healthy and better at baking bread than I am,

Sarah

Cute Humans Dancing

I don’t know what this even is, but I like it -

When you know you have officially lost it in isolation!! 😂😂 #canwegooutsidenowplease
May 5, 2020

Love Goes to Building on Fire

A comic

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

P.S. I’m not kidding about Climate Boost the Economy. I’m going to make fetch happen.

Other language stuff to be mindful of:

And yes it’s tough, but we can doooo this!!

Also, this. Whoa!

I feel like my hero Missy Elliot missed an opportunity to make the #cooloffchallenge about cooling down the planet…but I want to hijack every meme to make it about climate change.

Hope you are happy and healthy! Thanks for reading.

Have a great week,
Sarah


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