Rx for environmental leadership

By Lynette Walther | Jan 23, 2020
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther In our nation alone, we’ve lost more than three billion birds in the past 50 years, and now climate change threatens fully two-thirds of our birds.

As gardeners, we recognize the responsibility we shoulder when it comes to the environment. All too often home gardens and landscapes have come to rely upon chemicals and harmful emission-spewing, gasoline-burning power tools. Climate change -- along with the size of our own carbon footprints -- are registering in sharper focus and the contrast is chilling.

Personal responsibility and the idea that every one of us can effect change for good in our own landscapes is one thing to lead by example, but now let’s look at how we can expand the prescription and include others for an even more meaningful impact.

The Audubon Society reminds us that “It’s time to level up your impact by encouraging those around you to take climate actions. But where to start? Consider the local communities and spaces where you already have connections and influence. By merely showing up and making your case, you can lead others toward climate-friendly policies and practices. It’s not always easy, but it’s often productive—and rewarding. Along the way, you’ll develop new relationships and skills that will help you become an ace climate advocate.”

From the workplace to city hall, here are some ways from the Audubon Society to make your community more climate-friendly:

Start the Conversation

We are facing a climate crisis of epic proportion—one that threatens life on Earth as we know it. The fires in Australia are a dramatic example. For people and birds to have any chance of adapting, the response needs to be no less massive. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start at home.

Personal actions reduce our own contributions to climate change, sometimes significantly. Just as important, they have a ripple effect: When people see others in their community taking action, they are much more likely to do so themselves.

Take Action

While your personal actions at home and around your neighborhood can cut carbon and change social norms, actively encouraging others to adopt more climate-friendly practices is the next step. Think about the places you visit and the people you interact with every day, and consider how you might be able to change behaviors and ideas.

Many places—say your child’s school or your work—are rife with opportunities to be more energy efficient or more climate-friendly. Then, when you get comfortable in these spaces, consider ratcheting your advocacy up a notch by taking your case to your city council.

At work, there are plenty of things you can do to improve the office’s sustainability without inserting green line items in the budget—and some of them will increase productivity, too.

Adjust the Thermostat

Cooling and ventilation account for about one-fifth of office energy use, so ease up on the AC. Plus, research shows that, thanks to standards based on men’s bodies, offices are routinely set at temperatures too cold for women to work optimally.

Print Strategically

Paper production has many adverse effects on the environment, from the loss of carbon-capturing trees to the chemicals production requires and the emissions it creates. If you must print, do so double-sided (and in “draft” mode, which uses less ink). When you let your boss know that printing costs one to three percent of an organization’s annual revenue, send an email.

Pack Your Lunch

Whether your office is the cab of your pickup or a cube, pack your lunch in reusable containers. A study of 40 kinds of sandwiches—some store-bought, some homemade—found the carbon impact to be lower for the latter, thanks to far less packaging and refrigeration, which also applies to more meals than just lunches.

At school, many kids dive into an environment that shapes their lives now and for decades to come. So join the PTA and ask these things. The knowledge and behaviors ingrained in primary school can stick for a lifetime.

Climate Change Literacy

The knowledge and behaviors ingrained in school can stick for a lifetime, so including climate change in the curriculum is critical. NASA’s climate portal provides a repository of scientist-reviewed lesson plans you can suggest.

Healthier, Lower-Carbon Meals

Diets richer in plants -- such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes -- and lighter in meat can be better for children’s growing bodies and brains. Reducing the school’s climate impact is a bonus. In Oakland, Calif., for example, shifting to one vegetarian meal a week cut the district’s food-service carbon footprint by 14 percent.

Cost-Effective Building Upgrades

Asking for upgrades like LED lighting or nontoxic products can lead to positive health outcomes, keeping kids and their teachers in the classroom. Any upgrade that uses less energy or fewer chemicals will reduce emissions and the huge burden maintenance fees post on a school's budget—and, ultimately, taxpayers.

Lindsey Constance, a city council ­member in Shawnee, Kansas, cofounded the Metro Kansas City Climate Action Coalition and advocates for federal action as a member of the National League of Cities. Here are her tips for making council requests:

Bring Solutions

“Come with a suggestion or idea rather than just a problem,” Constance says.

“We hear problems all day long! Even if it’s not the right answer, it shows that you are willing to get in there and help problem-solve, too. It’s really motivating when your neighbors come with a solution and show that they want to be a part of figuring things out.”

Ask for Efficiency

The first thing to press for are efficiency improvements, so request a city-wide energy audit. Replacing old and inefficient HVAC units, windows, and insulation will save the city money it can invest elsewhere, so it’s an easy sell.

Consider Co-benefits

­Officials aren’t always motivated by environmental concerns, so pitch co-benefits. Native plants in parks, medians, and roadside cut costs because cities don’t have to water or mow them. In addition to acting as a carbon sink, they mitigate rain runoff.

In our nation alone, we’ve lost more than three billion birds in the past 50 years, and now climate change threatens fully two-thirds of our birds. We need everyone working to turn this around. But this is about more than birds, it is about our future.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a four-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement and the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.

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