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Reblog: Flint Water Crisis: When Water Becomes Unsafe



(This post originally appeared as “Living Earth Reflection: When Water Becomes No Longer Safe” on the ELCA Advocacy blog. It was written by Rev. Jack Eggleston, Director for Evangelical Mission and Assistant to the Bishop for the Southeast Michigan Synod of the ELCA.  Flint, Michigan, is in the Southeast Michigan synod.)

Rev. Eggleston holds a bottle of water drawn from the tap at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Mich.

People around me know that I drink a lot of water. Many years ago, Carl, a member of the congregation I served, told me of the health benefits of

drinking water. I drink at least 80 ounces of water a day. When I am tired, a glass of water refreshes my body and renews my energy. Nothing renews like the life-giving water Jesus offers (John 4), but safe water is one of our most basic needs.

Last fall, when refilling my water bottle at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Mich., numerous people told me they had concerns about the water and that I should use bottled water. I filled my water bottle from the faucet, but along the road found it discolored and did not taste right. Only later did I learn how dangerous the water is. Flint’s water is unsafe, toxic and a danger to health.

Water pipes are corroded throughout the city, and lead contamination in many homes and at Salem Lutheran Church far exceed safe limits. Lead harms the blood and can damage the brain. After extended exposure, it builds up in organs and bones, remaining years after exposure. All of this contamination could have been prevented. When people complained and physicians reported unsafe levels of lead, the concerns were dismissed. After 18 months, the water is still unsafe for consumption, cooking or even doing the dishes.

Flint is one of the more impoverished cities in America. Local General Motors employment fell from a high of 80,000 in 1978 to under 8,000 in 2010. More than 40 percent of the people of Flint live below the poverty line. The population has declined from a high of 196,000 in 1960 to just under 100,000 today. The city, under an emergency manager, decided to switch water sources and failed to adequately treat the water. The state of Michigan houses nearly one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. It is hard to comprehend unsafe water with such great water supplies nearby.

The long unheard cries of people in Flint remind me of the Israelites refusing to drink the water at Marah because it was bitter (Exodus 15). They complained to Moses, and he cried out to the Lord. The Lord and Moses made the water sweet. Every day, the water crisis in Flint touches me more deeply and reminds me that there are many water concerns throughout the world. Global warming is drying up lakes. The Aral Sea, once one of the world’s largest inland seas is mostly desert now, having receded by more than 75 percent in recent decades. Lake Chad in Africa has diminished by nearly 80 percent over the last 30 years due to global warming, reduced rain and water extraction.

Sharing God’s gifts and life-giving water with people in Flint

After visiting Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Bishop Donald P. Kreiss and Robin McCants, assistant to the bishop for advocacy and urban ministry, both of the ELCA Southeast Michigan Synod, shared the expanding depths of the crisis with the synod and the ELCA. With some government support

and generous response from the synod, ELCA World Hunger, and people around the ELCA, Salem is now one of the largest distributors of fresh bottled water in the city. Claimed in baptism, refreshed by life-giving water from Jesus that gushes up to eternal life, members of the ELCA are sharing God’s gifts and life-giving water with people in Flint.

Flint will need water for a long time to come. Find out how you can help by visiting the Southeast Michigan Synod website at

Congress is currently considering funding for resources to make the water in Flint safe to drink again. Find out more and take action by visiting the ELCA Advocacy Action Center.

This Sunday when I preach at Salem, I will bring cases of water and two of my own large drinking water bottles. When I return home I will refill them from my faucet and remember the people in Flint. I will be more attentive to ELCA blogs and advocacy requests. Jesus, who gives life-giving water, compels me to do this and to act.

From simple to sustainable on the homefront

Like typewriter or answering machine, the phrase simple living sounds a little quaint. Have you noticed how many faith-based and secular organizations devoted to scaling back lifestyles have called it quits? And how energy and attention have been gradually shifting from frugality towards creating sustainable lifestyles?

My life has been following this path, too. The Tightwad Gazette and Your Money or Your Life launched me along the journey described in Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal.  Those years of simple living culminated in the great paring down of 2009 described here and here.

Capturing rainwater for gardens is part of a sustainable NW home. The ReStore in Bellingham uses containers from a food processing plant to catch and store 800 gallons of water.

My early simple life unfolded in a city—a complex system with an infrastructure and buildings shaped around assumptions from a hundred years ago. There wasn’t much I could change about my urban environment (or so I thought), so I focused on decluttering my home and calendar; lowering my expenses; seeing what, personally, my son and I could live without; and organizing our lives around people and personal interests rather than mass market dictates.

All that changed when I moved closer to family in the northwest. Surrounded by fields, hills and rivers instead of brick and mortar, I wondered about the systems around me.  Where did my water, electricity, and propane come from? Where did my garbage go? How did my septic system work? What were my farmer neighbors growing, and who ate it? How could I ride a bicycle in the rain?

To create a life that complemented or enhanced those natural systems, I would need to learn a whole new set of skills around gardening, composting, and reducing and generating energy. That’s why this spring my simple life is way, way over budget. I’m rehabbing a 40-year old, single-story family home into a green, energy-efficient dwelling with the tiniest possible footprint. Everything I’ve read about green building is turning into practice as the rehab team tightens the building envelope, increases ventilation, and adds high-efficiency heating, a 50-year roof, low-flow everything, compact fluorescent and LED lighting and low-VOC or recycled paint. All while reusing, recycling or composting as much construction debris as possible.

In Chicago I did the laundry in a corner of the basement under a single 60-watt light bulb. Now I have daily discussions about ambient versus task lighting for a dedicated bathroom/utility room, dual- versus single-flush toilets, and radiant heat versus heat pumps. A basement washing machine under a dim light feels pretty Lutheran and pretty simple. It’s modest, straightforward, and leaves lots of time for loving your neighbor. Sifting through lighting choices feels scandalously self-centered, self-indulgent, and not Lutheran at all! Is this really me???

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

When pesky building specs overwhelm me, I remember: Changing any life habit takes time and attention. Someday, all of us will live in homes that consume few resources and even produce their own power—in the country and the city. We’ll have made our existing homes greener, and green building practices will be standard. But we’re not there yet. Contractors and customers still face a steep learning curve. Dissecting lighting (xenon, LED, solar tubes?), I hope, speeds it up a little.

Eventually, my house will stop being a full-time project and just be my home. Insides its sustainable envelope I can resume my regular simple life. I can get back to being Lutheran and loving neighbors I don’t know. But for the next nine weeks, the carpenters, the plumber, the electrician, the heating contractor, the roofer, and the insulation/air sealing guy are the neighbors I’m called to respect and listen to with patience as we tackle a million details and create a green home.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity

Solving the last-mile challenge

After 10 car-free years, I am a car owner once again.

Shedding my car meant mastering new ways of moving around the world. The alternatives come naturally now, which is why so many of my posts try to encourage—hector, even—readers to take up their carbon-dependent, gas-guzzling beds and walk, ride a bike, or take the bus.

But for a year now I have suffered from what transportation planners call the “last mile” problem. My wonderful local transit hub can get me around and between towns from Canada to Portland, Oregon. But only a handful of buses can get me the three miles to the Skagit Station—all before 6 pm, and never on Sundays. Bicycling is a great option for good weather and daylight savings time, but from November to April my biking day ends by 5 pm—and snow, ice, showers, or 40-mile-per-hour gusts can keep it from starting at all.

My new challenge is to own a car without lapsing back into blind dependence on it. To stay committed to biking, walking, and taking buses FIRST instead of lazily letting the convenience of my car gradually eclipse the other options. To continue to SEE the options and to start figuring out how to overcome that last-mile—or last-three-mile—problem.

Fortunately, trends are going my way. Google Transit is taking the mystery out of planning a public transit trip. Cities like New York and Mexico City declare some areas car-free on weekends. More than half a million members share almost 8000 cars in car-sharing programs across the U.S. (Find the closest to you here) General Motors itself is a partner in the new RelayRides program in San Francisco, a system through which private car owners profit by sharing (for a fee) their cars with neighbors who have been vetted and screened.

I see my car ownership as temporary, a sort of bridge to the world I have been trying to create by not owning one. Perhaps I’ll persuade more people to take my country bus line so we can extend its hours. Perhaps I’ll organize a small car-sharing group among my country neighbors. I have lots of allies, especially among the young.  A recent New York Times article noted that 46 percent of people 18 to 24 would choose access to the Internet over access to their own car. Only 15 percent of their baby-boom parents felt that way. “The iphone is the Ford Mustang of today,” quipped an automotive analyst.

Even more exciting, car ownership is declining among the young. In 1978, 50 percent of 16-year-old Americans obtained their first driver’s license. In 2008, only 30 percent did. My son was over 18 when he got his first license, and at 24, he still has no car. Those with licenses drive less, said the Times:  21- to 30-year-olds now drive eight percent fewer miles than they did in 1995.

Life without a car takes ingenuity, creativity, and commitment. It also costs a lot less. (Buying, registering, insuring, fixing, and fueling a 14-year-old-car in the last six weeks of the year boosted my 2011 expenses by 11 percent.) And it’s getting easier.

My 2012 resolution is to own a car that stays off the road as much as possible. Here’s where I get back to hectoring. Won’t you join me? Get to know your local bus system. Walk to the store. Set up a carpool. Urge your mayor to declare a popular part of town car-free for an afternoon. Dust off your bike. Keep your car, but drive it less. Broaden your transportation strategy to include some more active choices. Together we can figure out the last-mile problem.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity

The Disappearance of Garbage

Never mind “City of the big shoulders.” Chicago is the City of the Big Garbage Cans. Behind my old four-occupant, two-unit apartment building stood four 96-gallon supercart containers: two black ones for garbage, and two blue ones for recycling. Together, these monstrosities could have held 384 gallons of garbage and recycling, and the City of Chicago was prepared to empty all of them every single week!

In spite of our big garbage cans, I’m starting to see a shift in the way the world thinks about garbage. Outside of Chicago, garbage can sizes are shrinking as cities offer larger containers for recycling and yard waste/compost material. Collection calendars are shrinking, too. Skagit County tackles the waste-generating, big-container-frequent-pickup mindset by offering weekly, twice-monthly, or monthly collection. Every two weeks I set out a few ounces of plastic packaging and bottle caps in a 32-gallon can. Monthly pickup—or no pickup at all—is in my future.

Garbage is disappearing. It’s becoming a resource. “There is no garbage, only fuel we haven’t converted yet,” says one energy expert. In Denmark, garbage burned in very clean incinerators is an alternative energy source. In Washington and other states, methane from landfills is captured and converted into electricity.

“Urban mining” is gaining traction. Mining companies in Japan and China (and soon, the U.S.) are extracting rare-earth elements and minerals from cellphones, computers, and other electronics in landfills. Peninsula Plastics & Recycling in Turlock, California is remolding millions of pounds of plastic bottles into packaging for fruit, cookies, and cupcakes. Oft-cited on the internet is this nugget: Americans throw away enough aluminum every three months to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet.  If that’s true (I can’t find the source of that statement), mining landfilled aluminum can’t be far behind.

Then there’s my favorite: the Zero Waste trend. It’s partly an industry push to redesign products to eliminate wasteful packaging like plastic clamshells, and partly an individual quest to keep garbage at bay by buying in bulk, reusing containers, and otherwise avoiding packaging. The Zero Waste mantra? “Refuse, refuse, refuse” and “Don’t buy it!”  These folks are upgrading the old three Rs into five—Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rot (compost) and then Recycle—and launching a great new word: minsumerism.

Here are two Zero Waste slide shows to watch: this one about a California family that produces almost no garbage, and this one about the village of Kamikatsu, Japan, on track to become first place in the world to produce Zero Waste.

This is one race to the bottom—the bottom of my garbage can—that I’m really going to enjoy!

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity



Planet Earth — megastore or garden?

I have been thinking a lot about the food production and distribution systems in the United States, and was so happy to read Anne’s recent post on our national food culture here.  It’s always comforting to know that others are wrestling with similar issues and ideas — after all, isn’t that one of the reasons we have this blog?

One of the aspects of food production I reflect on is how disconnected we are from the “roots” of our food, and how we can best rebuilt that connection and help those suffering from hunger and poverty.  Both my husband and I come from a long line of small town/suburban backyard gardeners (and some farmers), and I honestly never thought too much about this as being “different”.  When we settled down and bought our first house in a Chicago neighborhood, we were on auto-pilot as we planted a garden and started a compost bin.  We had a tiny yard, but enough room for a few tomato and pepper plants.  Many of our neighbors did too.

As more of our friends also bought first homes and settled in, I began to notice that not everyone planted a garden.  Call me non-observant or naive, but I hadn’t really noticed this before.  Hmmmm.  One of my suburban-raised friends confessed that although she does feed her kids fresh vegetables, she hadn’t grown up eating them and certainly not growing them.  The affordability of purchasing fresh vegetables is a topic for another blog post, but this was not the issue for my friend.

Growing vegetables can be very cost-effective, and doesn’t require vast parcels of land.  One way that domestic hunger can be relieved is through more home gardening — both through donations of fresh produce to food pantries, and through knowledge transfer from experienced gardeners to others — some of whom may be suffering from hunger and poverty.

I recently found this fascinating article “For God So Loved the Dirt . . . by Norman Wirzba in the April 2011 issue of Sojourners Magazine that I wanted to share (you’ll first need to complete the Sojourners online registration process, but it will be worth it).  The author discusses the theology of “God’s garden” as described in various passages in the Bible and how it contrasts with a resource utilization/consumer view of the Earth.  I love the imagery of God as a farmer in overalls, digging in the dirt — does God have dirty fingernails like I sometimes do?

Wirzba’s assertion that local economies enable us to see how our actions may help or harm others is really interesting.  I don’t believe that most people intend to hurt other people, but it’s hard to gauge your impact on someone you never see.  In our global economy, I don’t have to look my farmer in the eye — even if my purchasing decisions might be harming his/her family.  I’m not suggesting that local food is the only “answer”, just that it forces us to really see the other person.

The author concludes with a vision of religious institutions moving away from seeing the Earth as a megastore where you might find a good deal, and instead building the connections between God’s garden and his/her people by transforming parking lots and lawns into gardens.  Although he doesn’t explicitly discuss it, I imagine the author may agree that donating some of that produce to a local food pantry might be nice too.

Looking through the archives, I found that I blogged about this last year here, and that some congregations are already started to dig up their lawns and grow food.  I really like the concept of faith congregations building community around gardening — sharing food, building bridges, and teaching each other.  Are there more congregations doing this since last year?  I hope so.  Could this idea work in your congregation?  Does this article challenge some of your assumptions?  I look forward to your thoughts.

Erin Cummisford

Animal-less meat?

Would you eat a hamburger that was never part of walking, breathing cow? Apparently we’re not too far from that as an option. Stem cell research is allowing scientists to take two cow stem cells, put them in a petri dish, and grow cow muscle, just like the kind we normally remove and consume from an actual animal. Okay, in practice the process of growing meat in a dish is a little more complicated than that. But not in concept or result. Because the petri dish meat came from cow cells to start with, the resulting meat is, indeed, “real” meat.  You can read about it in an article in the May 23rd issue of The New Yorker titled, “Test-Tube Burgers.” 

Why would we want to eat meat from a lab? The article cites the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization when it explains “the global livestock industry is responsible for nearly twenty percent of humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions. That is more than all cars, trains, ships, and planes combined. Cattle consume nearly ten percent of the world’s freshwater resources, and eighty percent of all farmland is devoted to the production of meat.” Then there are the well-documented problems of waste lagoons, use of antibiotics, and the treatment of animals in industrial meat production facilities. Add to all that the growing world population and the increase in demand for meat as countries like India and China get wealthier, and the current system for providing meat seems rather unsustainable. The petri dish offers a potential alternative that could mitigate or eliminate many of these issues. Perhaps the better question is why wouldn’t we want to eat meat from a lab?

There’s certainly an ick factor.  It’s similar to the notion, in the culture of the U.S., of eating insects, though they, too, offer an potentially excellent source of protein without some of the drawbacks of meat (something I blogged about a long time ago). But at least bugs are naturally occurring in nature. Meat in a lab wouldn’t happen without people and labs, which makes it more suspect – at least to me. The New Yorker article points out “lab-grown meat raises powerful questions about what most people see as the boundaries of nature and the basic definitions of life.” And yet, if lab meat could be produced in large quantities inexpensively (as they think will ultimately happen), could help provide food and good nutrition to people who can’t afford “traditional” meat, and if it could be done without many of the currently problematic impacts of meat production, what does refusing to eat it say?

I hesitate, but I think I would eat it. What do you think? Would you try lab-grown meat?

Nancy Michaelis

Where does it come from? Where does it go?

In blizzards like this week’s, basic services matter. When snow fell in Chicago, I was always grateful that my heat, water, and light almost never quit.

Where those resources came from mattered less. But connecting to services in my new home in Washington State, I’m asking: where does it come from? Where does it go?  And what is its environmental impact?

Electricity was first. In Chicago, my carbon footprint was high even though I had no car, because so much electricity is generated from coal. Naively, I assumed that Puget Sound Energy electricity would come from hydropower in the mountains and the manure-to-power plant down the road. What a surprise to learn that 56 percent of PSE power comes from coal and natural gas. A big chunk comes from the Colstrip plant in Montana—the second-largest coal power plant west of the Mississippi!  On the plus side, by signing up for Green Power, I can help boost the proportion of biomass and wind power in the overall PSE power mix. Consider it done.

Next, cooking gas. For the first time, I have a propane tank. Checking into this, I’ve learned that more than 80 million barrels of this byproduct of natural gas and petroleum processing are stored in giant salt caverns in Texas, Kansas, and Alberta. Factoring in extracting, processing and delivering, propane produces slightly more greenhouse gas emissions than natural gas but much, much less than electricity, which “looks” clean when it is used, but, once you add in emissions released as it is produced, stored, and transported, is the dirtiest of all fuels. (Something to keep in mind if you are excited about owning an electric car.)

Water, supplied by the county, comes from a mountain watershed, is stored in a reservoir, treated, and then piped to homes like mine. But I’m not connected to the sewer system; my waste water goes into the septic system out back. The science of septic tanks is something else I’ll be reading up on.

My landlords take their garbage and recycling to the local transfer station themselves. With no car and no outdoor storage shed, this is not an option for me. But the most recent Skagit County Solid Waste Management Plan recommended that local scavengers support recycling and composting by offering every-other-week pickup of one trash can. Bingo! I signed up for that paradigm-shifting service. When my garbage leaves the transfer station, it will be sent by train to a landfill in Klickitat County, where electricity is generated from methane. My compost will go in the garden and the dry recyclables will be stored until I can join someone else’s recycling run.

What do electricity, gas, water, sewage, and garbage services have to do with hunger? Severing these resources from their context and system makes it easy to waste or denigrate them. Knowing where our resources come from can change our behavior. (Maybe I should rely more on propane and less on electricity that turns out to come from a Montana coal mine!) Understanding who delivers these services also builds respect in a climate marked by griping about taxes. (Thanks, Skagit County, for designing a system that will treat everything from construction waste to agricultural waste to the cans and bottles of people like me. Thanks, Skagit PUD, for the clean water.)

Wherever we work on hunger issues, it makes sense to identify and understand existing systems before pursuing individual projects. How many of us well-building Lutherans know about the context of Water Supply and Sanitation in Tanzania?  A little due diligence might persuade us to invest water funds in strengthening an existing water delivery system instead of building “our own” well from scratch.

We live out our days inside systems. Most of them are transparent. Can you see yours?!

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal

Carless and driving

Wednesday, September 22 was World CarFree Day.  It was a big yawn.

Besides a bike ride in Chicago, not much happened. It never made the news. NPR paid it no attention. Since nothing really happened, commentary in the blogosphere debated the premise: the idea of being carfree.

As someone who hasn’t owned a car in nine years, I read with great interest why cars are so popular. Cars, says Loren Lomasky of Competitive Enterprise Institute: Free Markets and Limited Government, help us learn, travel, earn money, and enjoy privacy. They give us control over immediate environment, unlike buses (very true, I found myself nodding.)  They promote autonomy. They let us choose where we will live and where we will work, and they let these two be separate.

People want cars, says—but small cars like the Tata Nono, because in places like Lagos and Mumbai, American-style cars like Camrys (much less SUVs and trucks) won’t do.

World Carfree Day images showed healthy young people walking and biking in perfect weather. What about rain and snow?, the CEI asked. What about lugging groceries and children? (For the answer to that one, check out BusChick’s NPR essay, which aired last Saturday) What about folks with disabilities? Instead, the CEI recommended, protest World CarFree Day by taking a drive!

I did drive on September 22. Instead of being car free, I’ve been enjoying a free car as I house and dog sit for friends in Seattle. Last Wednesday I drove an elderly cousin up to Skagit County to see my visiting parents, and then drove all the 80-somethings to a restaurant for lunch. Had we done this by public transportation, it would have taken all day, and my elders and their aging joints would have had to walk miles and miles. Not possible.

I was grateful to get to use a car. I’m glad they exist. But I wish we owned fewer cars and shared them more. I wish we biked and walked more often, especially on trips under a mile. I wish our public transit systems were stronger and more convenient and bike lanes and sidewalks were wider and safer.

Others feel like I do. CityFix includes cars and buses in its vision of sustainable urban mobility. And Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance’s mission statement sounds like mine:

The mission of Active Transportation Alliance is to make bicycling, walking and public transit so safe, convenient and fun that we will achieve a significant shift from environmentally harmful, sedentary travel to clean, active travel. We advocate for transportation that encourages and promotes safety, physical activity, health, recreation, social interaction, equity, environmental stewardship and resource conservation.

“Carfree” isn’t a practical goal for the United States, with zillions of rural communities and only a handful of cities (like Chicago) dense enough for get-anywhere-anytime-you-want public transportation systems. But “car lite” is possible. Instead of railing against cars, the ATA is building a movement around active transportation. Cars will still exist, but the ATA’s goal is for Chicagoans to make half their trips by active transportation. And because they are working to reduce pedestrian and bicycle crashes by 50 percent, those trips will be safer. Think how slim and healthy those Chicagoans will be, and how pleasant and safe walking and bicycling will be.

So I’m glad I skipped Carfree Day. I’m going to celebrate the active transportation movement by walking, biking, taking buses, trains, and ferries, and borrowing or renting a car when I need one. I like strengthening  and expanding alternatives instead of shaming drivers and stoking disagreement. For heaven’s sake, let’s unite around something for once, instead of clashing.

I’m still going to celebrate Buy Nothing Day, but that’s another post.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal

Smitten and trying to respond

“He smote the bank!” cackles Jean Stapleton, after John Travolta, as the archangel Michael, casually unleashes a bolt of lightning in the movie “Michael.”

Earthquakes, oil spills, floods, droughts—there’s a lot of smiting going on, and a lot of preparing for it, not with sackcloth and ashes but catastrophe scenarios and emergency response plans and drills.

I discovered this last week at a talk on the Great Storm of 1861-1862—the one that turned California’s Central Valley into a 300-mile long puddle; the one that forced the California state government to move to San Francisco; the one that damaged 7/8ths of all housing and destroyed one out of every eight homes and a third of all taxable property in California.

Sacramento in 1862

This fascinating, safely distant story of a smitten state was followed by an anxiety-generating winter storm scenario that the U.S. Geological Survey is creating. The hypothetical date of this “extreme precipitation event” is January 2011; May 2011 is when the agencies and emergency managers and responders will hold their practice drill. Based on the understanding that California has a “mega storm” every 300 years (and destructive as it was, 1861-62 wasn’t a mega storm), these experts are:

…examining the possibility, cost, and consequences of floods, landslides, coastal erosion and inundation; debris flows; biologic impacts; physical damage such as property loss from wind, flood, and landslide; and lifeline impacts such as bridge scour [when the sand and rocks around a bridge give way, leading to collapse], road closures, and levee failures. Consideration is given to the disruption of water supply and the impacts on ground-water pumping, seawater intrusion and water supply degradation. The scenario is depicting the economic consequences of these damages in terms of repair costs and business interruption, public-health implications, and emergency response.

The USGS guy painted the picture starkly and dramatically. When he finished, the room was silent. Finally the emcee stood to thank the speakers and said, a little shakily, “well, I guess it’s time we all move to the foothills.” We took home delightful reading: “The ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario,” which modeled the aftereffects of a hypothetical 7.8 earthquake on the southern San Andreas Fault as the morning rush hour was ending. That Southern California earthquake drill, involving 5000 emergency responders and 5 million citizens, has already taken place. (Watch this USGS video on the earthquake scenario and  the ARkStorm winter storm project, and check out the Old Testament imagery.)

Appalled and intrigued, I went to the Internet, and discovered I could learn how a New Madrid mega-earthquake would affect the Midwest, where almost no anti-seismic measures are in place. Briefly, five to eight states would be affected; local mutual aid would not work; bridges over the Mississippi could be uncrossable for several hundred miles, for years; transmission of natural gas, oil, and electricity to much of the east coast would be affected for many months, along with the supply of wheat and grains to other parts of the world; there would be significant out-migration. (Question for discussion in this FEMA exercise: what could or would emergency managers in one local jurisdiction like Memphis do when faced with such a catastrophe?)

Or I could choose a scenario for a slow-developing catastrophe like Lake Mead going dry, leaving 22 million people in three states without water. (Discussion question: How can emergency managers in Las Vegas prepare to respond?)

Or I could browse peak gas scenarios, 2012 Armageddon scenarios, global warming scenarios, armchair quarterback analyses of the Black Plague, the Irish Potato Famine, the 1917 Influenza Pandemic, Hurricane Katrina, or Limits to Growth, the 1972 scenario published by the Club of Rome that projected nine different outcomes based on the variables of world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion. Only one of those nine is hopeful; the others are so dire, a catastrophe response plan would be pointless.  Recent studies confirm (says Wikipedia) that current “changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with the book’s predictions of economic and societal collapse in the 21st century.”

Things are not looking good.

It’s tempting to call my efforts to live a sustainable life foolish. To quit trying to support alternative systems and behavior. To chuck  my bicycle for a really big car. But I think I’ll stay the course.

Why? For starters, imagining catastrophe is the first step in trying to mitigate it. The literature of catastrophe helps us grasp the scope of what we face, and discern what part of it is in our control. The silver lining to spending a sunny  afternoon imagining my hometown underwater was learning just how many people are collaborating on the response.

Second, letting go of the idea that everything is in our control is just plain healthy. No amount of clean living and recycling can prevent an earthquake!

Third, there is power in individual and collective action. Martin Luther thought so, too. Asked what he would do if the world were to end tomorrow, he said, “Plant an apple tree today.”

Smiting happens. But faith kicks in where reason ends. I’m voting for faith, for the apple tree, for the bicycle helmet. And I’m  spending tomorrow curled up with “A Guide to Emergency Preparedness for Sacramento County.”

Anne Basye,  Sustaining Simplicity

Products that Inspire

While I know that we often speak of reducing our need for “things” at ELCA World Hunger, I can’t help but get inspired by people and companies who are creating cool, socially conscious products. For me, it’s very hopeful to see businesses take the initiative to produce items with a positive purpose. So I am going to briefly highlight a few products that I’ve come across in recent months that have caught my attention. I hope that you find them inspiring as well, but as always, please only buy something if you need it!

Eco Design Bicycle – Trek:

While I already think that the idea of commuting via bike is very eco-&-health-friendly as reduced emissions, fattened wallets and physical health are all by-products, this bike goes one step further. It features sustainably harvested rubber tires and can be disassembled for your recycling bin.

Recycled Clothes – Patagonia:

The outdoor clothing company Patagonia produces recycled clothing through their Common Threads Recycling Program. Customers can drop-off worn out clothing items in a store or through the mail, these then get recycled into new clothes to be bought later! What a fabulous circle. Check out their site to learn which types of fabrics are currently being accepted for recycling.

Self-filtering “Water Bobble”:

This fresh twist on a reusable water bottle has a built-in carbon filter. Fill up its recycled plastic bottle with tap water and squeeze filtered water into your mouth! This is a great option for the person who is still leery of accepting the challenge of quitting their bottled water habits.

111 Navy Chair – Coca-Cola/Emeco/DWR:

How do you feel about sitting on Coke bottles? This plastic version of the classic 1006 Navy Chair is made with 111 recycled Coca-Cola bottles. If you’re an avid soda pop drinker, make sure to recycle those bottles, and consider these design chairs should your dining set head for the free-cycle.

Power of the Invisible Sun coffee table book:

When you buy this book – featuring photography from philanthropist Bobby Sager – you’re also giving life lessons and hope to children around the world. The book funds the Hope is a Game-Changer Project, which provides indestructible soccer balls to children in war-torn countries. There, sport is used to teach life skills while the balls provide a sense of hope for the future because no one can deflate them, they will always be there.

So why write about these products here on the hunger blog? Hunger’s root causes involve poverty, war, access to clean drinking water and climate change. Each of these products in one way or another addresses these issues. Also, they are a great example of the recycling circle: Reduce (Water Bobble, Eco Design Bicycle), Reuse (indestructible soccer balls) and Recycle (111 Navy Chair, Common Threads Recycling Program). When we make the choice to purchase an item it will have environmental and social consequences…so I think it’s very cool when I see people and companies aspiring to make those consequences a little more positive. Perhaps none of these examples are perfect, but I’m a firm believer that they are a step in the right direction.

Do you have any favorite eco-friendly or socially conscious examples of products that inspire or interest you? Please share!

~Lana Lile