Christmas Trees – Buy One, Plant Two

Author watering a newly planted 33-inch tall Big Sur Coast Redwood Tree in her yard (center) with a 2-year-old Cypress Tree in the background (upper right)
Author watering a newly planted 33-inch tall Big Sur Coast Redwood Tree in her yard (center) with a 2-year-old Cypress Tree in the background (upper right)

How can an avowed tree hugger justify cutting down a living tree and displaying it in her living room during the Christmas season? It’s complicated.

Christmas trees pose a dilemma for me—tradition versus the environment.

I love everything about Christmas trees, searching for just the right tree, watching my sons wind colored light strings around it, reminiscing about when certain ornaments became part of our collection, decorating the tree with my family, and delighting in its beauty, scent, and serenity.

Growing, transporting, and selling Christmas trees and manufacturing artificial trees and tree trimmings uses land, water, pesticides, energy, fossil fuels, unrecyclable materials, and generates waste. Cutting down live trees so you and I can enjoy one adorning our living rooms for a few weeks strikes a discordant note with me. So, what is a good environmentalist or any person who wants to live more lightly on the Earth to do?

To buy a Christmas tree or not to buy a Christmas tree, that is the question.

Christmas Trees through the Years

Real Christmas trees have been a part of every Christmas holiday season I can remember.

When I was a kid, our family of five made an annual outing to a nearby Christmas tree farm. We tromped around the farm searching for the ideal tree, circumnavigating likely candidates looking for bald spots, and administering the springy needle test to check for freshness. When we got the tree home, we strung it with lights, put on the ornaments, and carefully placed silver tinsel strand by strand.

My spouse and I continued the Christmas tree tradition assembling our own collection of ornaments over the years. We purchased potted living trees a few times with little success. Only one made it to a new home in the Angeles National Forest where I hope it is still alive and thriving.

When we moved to the California Central Coast in 2007, where our yard is mostly wild, I began recycling our Christmas trees in our own yard. I cut the branches into small pieces before distributing them around the yard and then I drag the trunk to a spot that can use some erosion control. As you walk around the yard you can view Christmas trees past in various stages of becoming one with the Earth.

Christmas Tree Anxiety

My Christmas tree anxiety began after we moved to our current home. We live in a Monterey pine forest and our yard is mostly unfenced so deer, wild turkeys, and the occasional neighbor’s cat freely stroll through. Birds avail themselves of the birdbath outside our home office window. Living among and observing wild nature through the dry and slightly less dry seasons makes me mindful of the interconnectedness of nature including people. What we do to the planet we do to ourselves.

Now each year as the holiday season approaches I look forward to buying and trimming a Christmas tree, but I also wonder whether I should. In 2014, I contemplated buying an artificial tree so I did some research and shared my findings in the post Which is Greener a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? I decided on a real tree and proposed a new tree planting tradition.

A Tree for A Tree

For every real or artificial tree we purchase or each time we put up an existing artificial tree, I suggested we (meaning all of us) plant a new tree in our yard, a park, or a forest.

That year, I rescued a 6-inch tall cypress tree seedling from a street median and planted it between the stumps of two Monterey pine trees we had lost during the drought. Unfortunately, I failed to account for the deer trail running between the stumps near our neighbor’s chain link fence.

The seedling and the deer coexisted peacefully until the tree grew to be several feet in diameter. Deer brushing by the expanding girth of the little tree began breaking off its branches as they passed through.

If you have ever tried to reroute a deer path, you know it is an exercise in futility. We compromised by installing a deer deterrent device, a short span of fencing that shields the branches from passing deer (the tree and fence are shown in the upper right corner of the above photo). The tree and the deer seem happy with the solution. If the deer decide they feel inconvenienced by the fence, they will inform us by enlisting one of the bucks to rip it out with his antlers (this has happened before).

Christmas Tree Tradition Versus the Planet

So now, we are back to the original question, to buy a tree or not to buy a tree.

All living things inflict some measure of harm just by living on Earth, with people being responsible for the greatest share. An environmentally sound Christmas tree would be the one that grew up naturally in a diverse forest and stayed there unbothered by people.

However, if we are to keep this amazing planet habitable for all, we need everyone to feel connected and willing to work together and I believe we need beauty and pleasure as well as hard work and sacrifice.

For me, a Christmas tree is beautiful and helps me feel connected to other people and wild things. I am embracing my Christmas tree tradition while being mindful and thankful for the tree and the people who made it possible for me to have one. I am giving myself a break and accepting that I do not always make environmentally sound choices and that is okay—sometimes.

This year I am raising the ante on tree planting to “buy one, plant two.” The above picture shows me watering one of the two Big Sur Coast redwood tree seedlings I planted in my yard, just before going inside the house and decorating a real Christmas tree with my family.

Happy Holidays!

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Deep Ecology Collaboratory – Join the Movement

Ecologistics Deep Ecology Collaboratory Topic Leaders on October 23, 2016 - Photo Ecologistics From left to right: Derrick Jensen, Joe Bish, Dave Foreman, Eileen Crist, Stephanie Mills, Bill Ryerson
Ecologistics Deep Ecology Collaboratory Topic Leaders on October 23, 2016 – Photo Catie Michel
From left to right: Derrick Jensen, Joe Bish, Dave Foreman, Eileen Crist, Stephanie Mills, Bill Ryerson

If you are concerned about the future of life on Earth, consider joining the deep ecology movement which embraces all living things, not just people.

Participants at the Ecologistics Deep Ecology Collaboratory held in San Luis Obispo, CA October 21-23, 2016, had the opportunity to meet and work with local and national environmental leaders in a small group setting while addressing environmental issues through the lens of deep ecology.

A fusion of “collaboration” and “laboratory”, a collaboratory is an open creative process where a group of people works together to generate solutions to complex problems.

So, what is Deep Ecology?

Deep Ecology Overview

During the 1970’s, Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Naess introduced the phrases “shallow ecology” and “deep ecology” to the environmental movement.

He described shallow ecology as short-term thinking and taking shallow actions to address environmental issues without fundamentally changing our values or the way we live. This includes actions like recycling, driving electric vehicles, and buying energy efficient consumer products. While these approaches do some good, they allow us to continue with our human-centric, fossil fuel dependent, consumer-oriented lifestyles with little inconvenience to ourselves and not much thought to all the other life forms on Earth.

Deep ecology recognizes the inherent value of all living things. It involves deep questioning and acknowledging that tweaking our “business as usual” approach is not working. Global climate change, the collapse of biodiversity, the extinction crisis, environmental degradation, and overpopulation are enormous problems. Deep ecology requires us to change our basic values and practices; to use a long-range deep approach to addressing environmental issues and preserving the diversity and beauty of the Earth we all rely on for life.

Deep Ecology Collaboratory

Throughout the Deep Ecology Collaboratory topic leaders and attendees grappled with topics such as the biodiversity crisis, overpopulation, globalization, psychological barriers to addressing climate change, and grassroots activism.

In between presentations and brainstorming sessions, collaborators dined on delicious omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan food prepared by Linnaea’s Café enjoyed listening to music at an outdoor concert and breathed in the brisk fall air on a Sunday morning nature hike.

During the Collaboratory brainstorming sessions, participants began working on the Deep Ecology Manifesto for Preserving Our Planetary Commons, an action plan for addressing Earth’s climate change and biodiversity crisis on political, social, and scientific levels.

Ecologistics is forming a Loomio group for people who participated in the Collaboratory and people who did not attend but want to join the group to work on creating the Manifesto and to collaborate on other actions. Loomio is an online conversation, collaboration, and decision-making tool.

Pay-What-You-Can Registration

The environmental movement needs everyone’s voice, not just those who can afford conference and event registration fees.

To make the Collaboratory accessible to anyone who had the desire and time to participate, Ecologistics offered pay-what-you-can registration allowing each person to determine what she or he could afford.

This philosophy likely contributed to bringing together a diverse group of attendees including educators, business professionals, retirees, nonprofit representatives, students, environmentalists, and activists.

Topic Leaders

The Collaboratory gave participants a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and collaborate with environmental leaders and experts.

  • Kelly Sorenson – Executive Director of Ventana Wildlife Society
  • Dave Foreman – activist, author, and co-founder of Earth First! and Director of The Rewilding Institute
  • Robert Gifford – professor at University of Victoria, BC, Canada, environmental psychology
  • Bill Ryerson – founder and President of Population Media Center
  • Joe Bish – Director of Issue Advocacy at Population Media Center
  • Eileen Crist – educator and editor of Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change
  • Stephanie Mills – lecturer, activist, and author of Whatever Happened to Ecology?
  • Matt Ritter – author, editor, and professor of botany at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA
  • Derrick Jensen – radical activist and author of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet

Surprise guest, Roberto Monge, gave a firsthand account of his experiences at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest taking place on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

Songwriting Contest and Concert

Music and art are essential mediums for connecting people and ideas while spreading beauty and joy. To this end, Ecologistics hosted a songwriting contest and concert as part of the Collaboratory.

Songwriters of all ages across California responded to the call for an original song about the impacts of climate change, habitat loss, extinction, or overpopulation on our planet, animals, and ecosystems and on humans. Ecologistics received 37 song submittals. Ranchers for Peace and the three contest winners performed at an outdoor concert on Saturday evening.

If you would like to learn more about the Deep Ecology Collaboratory topic leaders, listen to the songwriting contest songs, or join the Loomio group, please visit the Ecologistics website.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” —John Muir

Note to readers. At the time of this writing, I am a member of the Ecologistics Board of Directors.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Our Environment

Farm Worker Spraying Pesticide on Lettuce and Cabbage Crops

Imagine preventing the people we love and ourselves from getting breast cancer by ensuring our environment is clean and healthy. Expand that vision to all cancers.

This October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I propose we look beyond the pink ribbons and feel good activities. Let us talk about the pink elephant in the room, the possible link between our environment and cancer.

Breast Cancer Risk

Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there is a deluge of articles and blog posts written to help you evaluate your breast cancer risk mostly by reviewing your genetics, family cancer history, and lifestyle choices (often referred to as environmental factors). Competing for space are advertisements for pink merchandise and reports on efforts to find a cure for cancer.

I am not against learning about breast cancer and ways to reduce risk, or pink ribbons (I am wearing one as I write this), or research to help people with cancer live happy and fulfilling lives. What bothers me is the emphasis on preventing cancer through personal choices.

“A person’s cancer risk can be reduced with healthy choices like avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol use, protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, keeping a healthy weight, and being physically active.” —Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This is good advice—for everyone.

Breast Cancer and the Environment

The thing is, while you are busy living your healthy lifestyle (which I am definitely for) you may be missing a crucial piece of the cancer causation puzzle—the environment. You, me, everyone is part of the environment and we depend on it for oxygen, water, food; a place to live, work, and play; for beauty and spirituality.

How does breathing polluted air, drinking contaminated water, eating food doused in pesticides; living, working, and playing in spaces made with and filled with toxic materials and being exposed to carcinogens just by walking around contribute to you or your loved ones getting cancer?

It is a complex issue requiring a lot more research. However, lack of research does not necessarily mean there is no problem.

  • Has anyone ever proven that spraying poison on food in the form of pesticides and herbicides is good for people’s health?
  • Has there been a scientific study showing that emissions from coal-burning power plants improve the condition of people’s lungs?
  • Is there peer-reviewed research demonstrating that the unpronounceable ingredients in cosmetics are safe and improve life expectancy?

It seems to me that a clean and healthy environment on planet Earth is crucial for each one of us to be healthy, happy, and cancer free.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Call to Action

Okay, so now perhaps you are willing to consider that our environment may be contributing to the possibility of you and / or your loved ones getting cancer. So what can you do about it?

Take action.

First, eat your fruits and vegetables, be physically active, and get enough sleep. There is no downside to living a healthy lifestyle!

Become Informed

Read the ingredients on your favorite snack package or preferred shampoo brand bottle. Then go look up the ingredients on the Internet. Do you still want to eat that or wash your hair with it? Do this repeatedly. Involve your kids and everyone can learn something.

Make your Voice Heard

Write a letter or e-mail to your congressperson, the mayor of your town, or the President of the United States letting him or her know you are concerned about cancer and how our environment might be contributing to it. Government agencies track issues of concern to their constituencies and data can be a powerful tool.

Hit the Streets

Join a group of people in your community who are working on something important to you. Do you worry about pesticide residue on the lettuce you buy at the grocery market? Are you losing sleep over the expansion of a natural gas fracking operation near your home or your child’s school? Are you concerned about pollution in a favorite stream or lake? Locate a group via your friends, family, coworkers, web browser or social media.

For my action, I am doing some research.

In his, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 2016 Presidential Proclamation, President Obama announced the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, which is striving to make a decade’s worth of progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer in just 5 years. I want to find out if and how the environment is being included in this national cancer research project.

What are you doing? Share your Breast Cancer Awareness Month action with other readers.

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