Time to Buy an Electric Car?

electric carAs you probably know, one of the basic tenets of living a low-carbon lifestyle is to use everything as long as possible.  Then, if need be, reuse and then finally recycle or better yet, compost. Well, I don’t see myself composting my car, or even recycling it anytime soon, but it is in that gray area between “it runs OK” and “I need a live-in mechanic.”

Please know that I pride myself in holding onto cars for a long time. I’d still have my SAAB 900S (which had 300,000 miles on it ten years ago) if a drunkard hadn’t smacked into it while it was parked curbside. I loved that car. I cried seeing it smashed, its hatchback grotesquely twisted open, sides dented. We took so many fun ski trips together; skis strapped to the top, friends cozy inside, cruising up mountain roads. And, driving to the beach with four bikes crammed on top ‘cause everyone was training for triathlons. I can even remember when the speedometer turned its first 100,000 around a curve on Storrow Drive in Boston.

I don’t love my current car as much. It’s more of a utilitarian box with wheels. So, when it started to sputter, I started to daydream about a new low-carbon car. One of those electric cars I see gliding quietly around. Besides, my hiking, snowshoeing, mountain-driving days are fewer and fewer, so something without aggressive tires and all wheel drive would probably work for me 90% of the time.

And, I know what you’re thinking; building a new car is far from a zero-carbon emissions process. So, is a new electric car lower-impact or should I just hold onto the sputtering box? Thankfully, our friends at The Guardian have already looked into the carbon footprint of a new car.  The article talks about the complexity of gauging carbon emissions for the entire process of building a car giving a range of 6-35 metric tons per car. And, ultimately suggests that we keep our old cars. I’m not deterred.

I found a CAR carbon-footprint calculator – miracle!  Ok, let’s see what my box on wheels is costing the world in emissions. Oh, I’m sorry, based on this calculator, I’ve spewed 58.6 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere over the last ten years. That said, I think I have a case to buy a new car if my driving is creating approximately 5.8 metric tons a year. Then buying a small electric car that creates carbon emissions to build but none to drive might be worth it. Tiptoeing forward.

Ok, before you get all up in arms, I know that driving an electric car is just externalizing pollution to wherever your electric power is generated. On Bainbridge Island our power company Puget Sound Energy still gets 30% of its power from a coal plant in Eastern Montana.   (As you probably know, Sierra Club’s Coal-Free PSE campaign is trying to pressure them to replace coal with renewable energy. ) In fact, there is an interesting article on electric car emissions by country. The data is a little old, but it gives a nice overview of the impact of each country’s electric power generation on electric car emissions.

So driving electric cars here isn’t that much cleaner than some of their gas-powered counterparts unless they are powered by solar  (or other renewable) energy. Did someone say solar? That’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card, right? Guess who’s been working on solar car charging? Our friends at Sierra Club, along with Ford and a solar installer, SunPower that’s who.  This is hot off of the presses. I’m totally psyched because if I buy an electric car I want to power it with solar energy. I’m practically giddy. I was looking at solar charging stations for cars and they are super pricey, but if I can integrate solar power into our house and have that charge my new car — woohoo!

I’m going car shopping. I’ll keep you posted.

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Turbines as Far as the Eye Can See

turbinesLast night I watched Disruption. Climate. Change. a precursor to the People’s Climate March on Sept 21st in New York City.

It was a powerful call to action. I was momentarily sorry I would not be able to go to NYC to be part of this historic event.

But, the next morning I woke up feeling uneasy. Yes, its important that we make our leaders aware that protecting our planet is important to us. Yes, we need to address climate change. Yes, renewables are a good idea.

But, about those renewables… it was the image in the movie of turbines stretching across the ocean as far as the eye could see that gave me pause. It occurred to me, renewables are not going to be enough. We need to change our lifestyle. I think if we look deep, most of us are secretly hoping that we can continue to live as we are now and just swap out fossil fuels for sun and wind power. If that’s true, we need to make one more change: how we see ourselves in relation to our environment.

Yeah, that’s right. We need to change how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us. Big time. As a culture we are very focused on ourselves. We’re the sun and moon of our existence.

One of the most famous images on the Sistine Chapel ceiling is God is touching the finger of man, giving him life. God’s not touching the nose of an animal or showering the fields with rain, nope. It’s all about us. Michelangelo’s David is another example, but I don’t mean to pick on Romans. Our self infatuation is evident everywhere. And, our myopic focus on ourselves is going to be our downfall. Facebook, anyone?

If we’re secretly hoping that we can continue to live as is and just swap out fossil fuels for sun and wind power, then I think we need to make one more change: how we see ourselves.

We worship ourselves. I’m not just talking about religion. Listen to any radio station. What are 99% of the songs about? The same is true of movies, TV, books, and most art in any museum – we elevate humans and the human form to the highest level. All you have to do is look at birds, fish, animals, or vistas in a national park to know nature is more beautiful and in many instances more sophisticated than anything we can create or imagine.

I was glad to see Vermont taking the moral high road in a Times Argus article Moral Response to Climate Change. They argue that it doesn’t make any sense to replace an intact ecosystem of incalculable value for turbines and an industrial complex capable of offsetting fewer than 10 days of carbon emissions from NYC traffic.

Keep ecosystems intact. Increase wildlife habitat. Realize we’re an intrinsic part of the ecosystem.

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Oil and Honey

You’ve heard of  Bill McKibben and the incredible global climate movement he started, 350.org, right? His book Oil and Honey details how he became an activist and what it takes (incredible energy, ideas, speaking and writing ability, and almost no time at home relaxing with family or friends).

My two major takeaways from the book were:

  • We have five times as much oil, gas, and coal reserves as any scientist thinks is safe to burn.
  • The value of ExxonMobil and other oil companies is in their reserves, estimated at $28 trillion dollars. Wow. That’s a lot of mullah to kiss good bye.

You can see the rub, right? If renewable energy isn’t as profitable, there is no real incentive for oil companies to change their product and become renewable energy companies. Bill McKibben writes about this conundrum in detail in his 2012 Rolling Stones article Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.

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Seaweed Harvesting

copyright Jane Lindley Spencer Spit State Park, Lopez Island, WA

Spencer Spit State Park, Lopez Island, WA.

The magic of my weekend on Lopez Island at Spencer Spit State Park with Passionate Nutrition learning  about seaweed harvesting is waning as I reach into the now slimy bag of cold Nereocystis luetkeana (bull kelp) fronds to hang them on a line to dry. However, my eye is on the prize: mineral-rich dried seaweed that will go into all my food for a year.

My deck as a kelp processing area.

My deck becomes a kelp processing area.

You know what’s great? The fronds (harvested sustainably, of course!) from one bull kelp are enough seaweed for one person for a year. Neat, right?

You know what else is neat? All seaweed is edible.* Some apparently doesn’t taste as good as others but it won’t kill ya – very freeing. Plus, you can eat it straight from the sea. No rinsing necessary, or really even desired. How did I not know this already?!?

kelp bed, harvesting seaweed

Sitting in a kelp bed. Our leader Jennifer Adler in foreground in blue cap.

What did I mean by harvested sustainably? As Jennifer Adler, owner of Passionate Nutrition and our intrepid leader for the weekend says, “just give seaweed a haircut.” A nice visual for: don’t rip it out by the roots (holdfast for you seaweed experts).

harvesting bull kelp

Piling up one bull kelp’s worth of fronds onto my spray skirt while Holly steadies the boat.

When foraging bull kelp fronds in particular, be careful not to cut the stipe, which is the long cord that attaches the fronds to the holdfast or the bulbous float, which is filled with CO2 and keeps the fronds floating on the surface of the water. Cutting either of those will kill the kelp.

I don’t want you to think you can only harvest seaweed from a kayak. The following day we harvested seaweed at low tide on Agate Beach and had the good fortune of seeing a red octopus chasing crabs through the seaweed. There we harvested sugar kelp, sea lettuce, nori, Turkish towel (good for scrubbing), and rockweed to name a few. Remember, before you harvest to take a look around to see if the area is healthy. One with no open sewer systems, and a variety of seaweed present. For instance, if only sea lettuce, one of the hardier seaweeds, is present it means the ecology has been compromised – look for diversity to find a healthy ecosystem.

Seaweed-ize that Meal

seaweed menu

Our menu for the weekend. Seaweed in parentheses.

One of the best things about the weekend was learning how easy it is to incorporate seaweed into every meal. So easy. All the meals included seaweed and special recipes weren’t needed. Just create a salad as usual then add powered seaweed to the dressing or fresh seaweed to the salad itself or bake it into bread, muffins, falafel – you name it. Other than the chopped fresh kale in our oatmeal and the nori wraps, I would not have known there was seaweed in every dish if Jennifer hadn’t pointed it out before each meal.

drying kelp

My first kelp harvest :-)

Most of us think of sushi or Japanese dishes when we think of eating seaweed. And, even though my husband and I enjoy seaweed salads from Uwajimaya, in Seattle, neither of us had thought to use seaweed in all our meals. What an eye-opener – to think some of the most mineral-dense food can be part of every meal. Many nutritionists call seaweed a superfood as it’s hard to get the trace minerals our bodies need in any other food. Minerals such as iodine, which is great for protecting our bodies against radiation in the atmosphere (apparently Fukushima’s radiation has drifted over to the Pacific NW).

Kale is groovy but kelp has my vote. Got kelp?

got kelp

got kelp?

Oh, and I couldn’t seem to help myself — I made Got Kelp? t-shirts (you know just a little something for the gym). You CAN’T get you’re very own to let people know why you’re kicking their butts — you’re kelp-powered because the attorneys for “got milk?” are threatening to sue. I guess no one can use “got__?” that sentence has been removed from the English language – I’m looking into their copyright claim.

seaweed license

If you harvest seaweed, you’ll need a license.

*Seaweed should be harvested far away from populated areas to reduce the amount of pollutants it absorbs. Like all living things, seaweed ingests pollutants right along with the air and water it inhabits. For those of us in King and Kitsap counties Jennifer suggested we harvest north of Port Townsend. “Poof!” My daydream about harvesting right off the shores of Bainbridge Island disappeared.

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Fossil-Fueled Obesity


At first glance, it might seem a little far-fetched. But, there is a connection between highly productive oil-based fertilizers, an increase in corn production, high-fructose corn syrup, the addictiveness of sweeteners, greed, and obesity. Details below….

For the past year or so I’ve been chipping away at aspects of our fossil fuel-driven lifestyle and related carbon emissions:

  • Bottled Water
    Fossil fuels are a big part of our bottled water industry (plastic bottles are made from oil; plus, oil is used to create energy for extraction, production and transportation).
  • Fertilizer
    “Most nitrogen fertilizer in the U.S. goes directly into the production of corn. The majority of that corn goes to feed cows [steer]. Approximately 40% of the steer is edible.  It takes about 140 pounds of nitrogen to grow an acre of corn, but closer to 60 pounds to grow an acre of kale – a crop that people eat.” Conservation Magazine’s Fertility Treatments.We need to shorten the distance between fertilization and human consumption to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which we can do by eating more fruit and vegetables.
  • Diet
    Meat production is not an efficient source of food and creates more than its share of greenhouse gases. We feed cattle grain for years until they are slaughtered. Whereas plants go directly to feeding people.

Now, thanks in part to the documentary Killer at Large: Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat, I’m seeing how fossil fuels have been a catalyst for obesity. Michael Pollan, the author of Omnivore’s Dilemma articulated the connection. He points to our nation’s desire to continually increase the Gross National Product (we need to consume more, including food), our evolutionary ability as humans to store fat, and the addictive powers of high-fructose corn syrup.

Michael Pollan asks us to: “Trace food back to its energy source – where do the calories come from?

What’s the path to your burger? Is it:
sun > grass > steer > burger;
Or, is it: oil-produced fertilizer > sun > corn > steer > burger?

He concludes: We’re eating fossil fuels. Corn is sipping fossil fuels in the form of ammonium nitrate – fertilizer, which goes into the corn, into the steer, and finally into us. It makes us sick. We need pharmaceuticals to make us better. Oil, corn/big agriculture and pharmaceutical industries are the winners. Oil is fertilizing food, processing food, and moving it around the country. It takes10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of food.  20% of the fossil fuels we burn go to the food industry.

What’s worse is once we’ve put on more weight – it takes more fuel to move us around. Extra weight equals higher gas use, explains Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, University of Illinois. “Americans use 39 million gallons of fuel a year for each additional pound of weight.”

Even Alaska Airlines made a request recently for passengers to lighten their cargo so that they would be able to use less fuel thereby reducing their impact on the environment.  They managed to stay politically correct by asking people to pack lighter, not lose weight.  “If every passenger packed just 2lbs less the airline would reduce their carbon emissions by the equivalent of 32 railcars worth of coal [a year].”

Its one thing to produce more food, thanks to oil-based fertilizers, but how do you get people to buy and eat more food? The answer: high-fructose corn syrup. Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology, U of California, San Francisco, Dr. Robert H. Lustig’s, in-depth video (below) Sugar: The Bitter Truth details why fructose, more than other types of sugar encourage our bodies to store fat and why many of us have such a hard time saying no to sugar.

Michael Pollan says its no accident that corn production increases and obesity increases have run in parallel. Corn, as high fructose corn syrup is in many processed foods including some you might not suspect: coffee, wine, cheese wiz, canned fruit, soup, candy, frozen yogurt, tv dinners, ketchup, snacks, vitamins, McDonalds meals, etc.

If you’re having a hard time losing weight, you might have fossil fuels to thank. However, unless you grow your own food with organic fertilizer, live in a small log cabin off the grid, and use only non-motorized transportation, fossil fuels are part of your life.

As Matthew Huber’s book Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom and the Forces of Capital explains, fossil fuels are intrinsically woven into our daily lives and it’s going to take a lot of conscience effort on our part to untangle ourselves.


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Oil Trains in Your Backyard

Climate Action Bainbridge

Climate Action Bainbridge raises oil train awareness.

A couple nights ago, Climate Action Bainbridge (formerly Coal-Free Bainbridge) greeted ferry passengers with No Oil Trains signs to commemorate the oil train explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people and to raise awareness that the same highly flammable oil is now traveling through downtown Seattle and along Puget Sound.

Climate Action Bainbridge realizes that unless you’re a Sightline fan, Eric de Place groupie, or follow all topics related to climate change, you may not know that Bakken oil from North Dakota is traveling through Seattle. And, that it is more volatile than other types of crude.

Inside Bainbridge‘s informative article about proposed and current oil-by-rail projects in our state:

On July 6, 2013, 47 people were incinerated when an oil train carrying the highly flammable crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. This Thursday, July 10, Climate Action Bainbridge wants to join, as they put it, “countless other communities that have designated this week as a time to remember those killed and prevent the needless death of others.” The memorial is part of Sierra Club’s campaign Protect Your Community from Explosive Oil Trains, happening from July 6-13.

While we stood on Olympic Drive SE during the ferry loading and unloading a passerby asked us: “Did you all drive here?” Great question, of course. And, yes, many of us did. His question pointed out that we do have a little supply and demand problem. As long as we keep demanding fuel, someone will find a way to supply it and make a profit – that’s capitalism. Are we not capitalists? We are. And, making a shift in our way of life can be a slow and uneven process. Maybe commuting will someday be a thing of the past, or we’ll have infrastructures to better support biking and walking within our communities and between communities, or perhaps we’ll lead less busy lives. There’s a slow food movement, why not a slow life movement?

One other thing our presence was meant to highlight — we trust large corporations and more importantly our government to work to keep us safe. If oil is needed, does it need to run through highly populated areas? Or along large bodies of water such as the Puget Sound where an oil spill could be disastrous?

Its worth noting that many people have already made the leap to a lower-carbon lifestyle. We cheered on cyclists (one of whom said he got 50 miles to the pint of IPA), bus passengers, Smart cars, electric cars, motorcycles and other fuel-efficient modes of transportation. Proof that many people are already trying to live more lightly on the planet.



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Buying Bottled Water Benefits the OIL Industry

clean water, hands

“75% of the earth’s surface is covered with water but only 1% is drinkable.” – TAPPED

Yup, that’s right, the oil industry. The production of plastic bottles uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel more than one million U.S. cars for a year!

Plus, it benefits the largest bottled water companies: Nestle, Coke and Pepsi that pump millions of gallons of water from the earth, often from municipal water sources, and sell it back to us for 1,900 times the cost of tap water, which is regulated to ensure its drinkable (most bottled water is not).

Tapped, a documentary from 2009, does a great job of outlining the industry and its impact on the environment (or if you have less time, check out The Story of Bottled Water). Bottled water is so bad for our planet. It seems like a harmless convenience, but once you add in the fossil fuel consumption to produce plastic bottles, carbon emissions, implications of water mining and plastic waste that is clogging the oceans, killing fish and shore birds – it’s just not worth it. Plus, it’s costing you money you don’t need to spend. Great thing is that the solution is so easy:

If you need portable water, fill a reusable bottle with tap water.

So, this summer, give it a try. Fill your BPA-free bottle with tap water and know you’re helping the planet, wildlife and yourself stay healthier. If you’ve already kicked the water bottle habit and are looking for other ways to reduce plastic in your life, check out My Plastic Free Life for tips.

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An Airline with a Green Heart

refillable water station

Water bottle filling station with an integrated fountain.

I found myself on a flight recently (yes, I know!) to the East Coast. As I paged through Alaska Airlines’ in-flight magazine, an article by Keith Loveless entitled Waste Not caught my eye (page 9). In a highlighted sidebar there were suggested steps passengers could take to make their trip a little bit more sustainable. Two stood out:

  1. Pack light. If every passenger packed just 2lbs less the airline would reduce their carbon emissions by the equivalent of 32 railcars worth of coal [per year, is implied but not stated]. It made me curious how much the typical suitcase weighs, but I guess it doesn’t matter as long as all of us bring less onboard in the future.
  2. Fill an empty water bottle instead of buying bottled water. Pack an empty water bottle then fill it after passing through security. I love this idea.

Now, the next thing we need are bottle filling stations at all airports, like the one pictured in this post. Many people think drinking fountains spread germs and so avoid them. Bottle filling stations are perceived to be more sanitary and that’s why they’re more likely to be used. Plastic water bottle production is a fossil-fuel intensive process and uses more than 17 million barrels of oil a year. Bringing and filling your own water bottle is a very sustainable thing to do.

Also, AA is giving $60,000 to the conservation project with the most votes on FB – it’s hard to choose between the six Nature Conservancy projects.

It was a nice surprise to see an airline thinking about ways to reduce their impact on the earth and encouraging their passengers to do the same. Way to go Alaska Airlines!

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Climate Shame

Polar bear

Polar bears have become a symbol for climate change.

Or, climate change: it’s a shame. I’m starting to notice a trend, are you? A trend where people probably with the best intentions, use guilt and shame to try to get the rest of us to sacrifice for the greater good. The conversation starts like this “would you give up your drier?” or “who else rode their bike here today?” both mild challenges and carry a sense of the sacrifice each person feels they have made for the greater good.

Shame makes people feel horrible. Who needs more self-loathing? It’s not very life affirming and not a great emotion to rally around. Empathy will take us much further down the road to climate solutions.

How different the conversations would have been if the person who no longer has a drier had said they loved the fresh outdoor sent their clothes had from hanging on the line or if the cyclist had said how much healthier he felt now that he bikes the majority of his errands instead of driving. And, the person receiving the information might be interested to learn more, and perhaps change their habits instead of taking an offensive position and, in one case, noting there wasn’t any bus service and they weren’t able to bike for health reasons.

Shaming Others

The rub comes when we start to create an us-versus-them approach to climate solutions. Paul Ehrlich’s book Humanity on a Tightrope  does a wonderful job of explaining why empathy is critical for a viable future. We don’t need to alienate people we need to welcome people into the fold to change business as usual. There are many ways to approach climate solutions from political action to personal lifestyle changes. As long as we are conscience of the problem we’re already on our way to finding and acting on solutions, big and small.

We’re all at different points on the climate disruption spectrum of understanding. It’s nice that some people have focused on climate issues and have reached a plateau of sorts where they can see solutions in the distance. But it doesn’t do much good to point out and in the very act of doing so shame people who have not made learning about climate change a priority, such as Harvard President Drew Faust in her famous explanation of why Harvard was not going to divest from fossil fuels: “we extensively rely on those company’s products and services for so much of what we do every day.”

Ultimately, she has a point. Currently, we do use fossil fuels for many aspects of our American lifestyle that we hold near and dear (plastics, running our cars, heating our homes, clothing, etc.). We need to listen to people who see things differently and understand their view points, maybe change our messaging before we can all move forward together toward a more sustainable future.

Feeling Ashamed

At Whidbey Institute’s Climate Conference, Climate Solutions‘ KC Golden referenced Zadie Smith’s NYT Review of Books article, Elegy for a Country’s Seasons (worth a read!) when he talked about the Moral Vortex – shame or denial. Her article reminded me of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring.

“’Oh, what have we done!’ It’s a biblical question, and we do not seem able to pull ourselves out of its familiar—essentially religious—cycle of shame, denial, and self-flagellation.”  – Zadie Smith

At the same conference, I felt the audience collectively nod at KC Golden’s description of a moral vortex where one extreme takes you to shame, the other to denial. Oddly, I don’t feel any shame about climate change, and I don’t think I’m in complete denial either, for that matter. I feel like a student. I’m learning and changing as I learn. Why is there a sense we should have all the answers already? We’re learning that we can no longer use fossil fuels. Ok, let’s find renewable energy that will enable us to continue to live comfortably without killing our life support system (earth) – we’re smart, we can do this.

Let’s keep sharing information and be as inclusive as possible, growing intellectually as a community.  (There are 7 billion people on the planet and we need to get a majority onboard to see real change.) What do you say?

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Climate Disruption Labyrinth

labyrinth of climate change

Labyrinth at the Whidbey Institute.

Cascadia Climate Collaborative held a two-day climate conference at Whidbey Institute last weekend. It felt like a journey.

I had a sense it wasn’t going to be a typical conference when it was kicked of by a Native American, Paul, playing an ancestral melody on a wooden flute followed by the entire audience of 80-plus people introducing themselves. Great idea! As we went around the room, I noted who I might want to make an effort to meet over the next two days.

Throughout the conference we were encouraged to enjoy the surrounding woods, trails and landscaped lawns. On one of the breaks I found a labyrinth and I started to walk it when I realized – it’s the perfect metaphor for climate change and our hope to mitigate it’s effects. The answers might look straightforward enough (keep fossil fuels in the ground, use less, buy less, recycle, reuse, renewable energy, divest, eat less meat and dairy, etc.) but implementing them is going to be fraught with twists, turns and dead ends before finding our way to the center.

Fossil Fuels = The American Way of Life
That’s right people. One of the best comments (and there were many!) was from a participant, Chom Greacen, an energy researcher, in a breakout session. She paraphrased Matthew Huber’s book Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom and the Forces of Capital, when she said fossil fuels are intrinsic to our way of life. They have made our lives comfortable and its hard to untangle our sense of prosperity from them.

“The biggest barrier to energy change is not technology but the culture and politics that have been produced through energy consumption.”

- Matthew Huber

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should stick with fossil fuels but I do think we should listen to deniers and people who do not have our clear vision of the future. They have a point and unless we can speak to that point and more forward together we’ll be at a dead end. I think mitigating climate change will be a team sport. More like Outward Bound and less like a silver bullet.

Where’s the Disconnect?
Alec Loorz’ impassioned speech tried to pinpoint why environmentalists and climate activists’ movement doesn’t seem to be working, or having the expected impact. He pointed to our change, centuries ago, from a hunter/gather society to one of agriculture. We domesticated nature and thereby distanced ourselves from it and tried to lord over it.

“We are truly connected to everything. Separation exists only in our minds. We must act as a unified system.”

- Alec Loorz

He mentioned that we’re part of a universal system that every natural being abides. It’s time to let the laws of nature govern us and not the other way around.

Reading List
Here’s what’s been added to my reading list from the conference:

Happy reading and finding your way through the labyrinth!

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