Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA World Hunger

The Music of the Future

In Wichita and many other communities across Kansas, more than a month of high temperatures and no rain has harmed crops and triggered water conservation efforts. The swimming pool in my Holiday Inn is closed. There’s no drain plug in the bath – a hint to take short showers only, perhaps?

Whether global climate change is behind this is controversial. Yes, says a scientist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research: “When climate change and natural variability happen in the same direction, that’s when records get broken.” Others disagree. On blogs about the weather and human behavior, a lot of name-calling is going around.

In the clamor, I’ve been encountering darker, more pessimistic views about what lies ahead of us. “I am not about despair, but I am leaving hope up to someone else,” one young man told me. A friend who consults with businesses on sustainability no longer believes that her work will have any impact on the near future. She says she is working for people in the far distant future—the small group of humans who will survive whatever comes next.  And responding to a climate question in a lecture on gardening, writer Jamaica Kincaid shrugged her shoulders and said: we are ephemeral. The world lasts. People don’t.

For an optimist who lives by the saying, “hope is the ability to hear the music of the future. Faith is dancing to its tune,” this was hard to take.  But my friends who hear a dirge have a point. Maybe our actions have little immediate impact. Maybe no one cares. Maybe temperatures will rise, rainfall decrease, ocean currents change direction, disasters overwhelm us, and our era on earth draw to a close. We don’t know. Instead of being optimistic or pessimistic, we can let go of the outcome, and strive to make choices now and live in ways today that care for the earth and its future residents.

Weeds are growing in the Little Arkansas River bed. Wells are dry.  The Kansans at this weekend’s Glocal Mission Gathering can only pray for rain. Act on their new-found solidarity with people contending with drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Remember that God is good, and turn off the tap water.

Thank you for your hopeful music, Kansas. May it rain soon.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity

Garbage, garbage everywhere

Is garbage really disappearing? You’d think so, from my last two cheerful posts (here and here). But I have a darker view today, because I had to do garbo.

“Garbo” is an inescapable duty for Holden Village volunteers, who must all put in at least one morning processing the previous day’s waste. At 8:15 am, we report to the quaint-sounding Garbo Dock for a couple hours of hard work. First, that morning’s five-person team breaks down and bundles cardboard boxes for recycling, setting aside waxy fruit boxes to send back to the growers. Next, we load the kitchen and dining room compost cans onto the pickup truck. We tuck them next to a dozen or more large plastic bags the Village Garbologist has collected from cans around the village—cans labeled Landfill, Burnable, or Recycling. When the truck is full, we walk to the Garbo Dock and spend 20 to 45 minutes opening and sorting the contents of those bags, one at a time, into the correct container.

We pluck candy wrappers and half-filled yogurt containers out of the recycling, moldy sandwiches from paper bags, toothpaste tubes out of paper towels. We separate plastic by number; glass into green, brown, and clear; stash items to be landfilled into bread flour sacks. All kinds of odd things turn up as we sift: toothbrushes, pennies, batteries, love letters, peach pits, postcards. When everything is in its proper place, we walk up a long hill to the compost pile. Depending on the village census, we dump and chop four to eight 32-gallon cans of compost into little pieces with flat shovels. Each day’s compost is slightly different; on my morning, we chopped coffee grounds and filters, kale stems, orange peels, oatmeal, and tomatoes. When the mixture is fine enough, we add it to one of the nine compost bins, throw in sawdust and already cooked compost, string up the electric bear-and-deer barrier, rinse out the garbage cans, and call it a day at about 10:00 am.

But not before we load the bundled landfill and recycled items into old school buses whose windows have been replaced with metal to keep bears out. Every few months, Mattias the garbologist unloads the buses onto a truck that he drives down the mountain, onto a barge, and, at the other end of the lake, to the Chelan County Waste Transfer Station. There he re-sorts the recycling and tips the landfill materials into a dumpster that goes to the landfill in Kittitas County, where more people and machines handle what Holden Villagers have discarded.

His daily duties have not made Mattias optimistic. He doesn’t think garbage is diminishing or that people are changing their ways.  “Once people throw something out, they don’t think about it anymore,” he says. “I know that 95 percent of this stuff is going to sit around forever. It’s really depressing.”

I was depressed, too.  Four hundred people trying to live lightly in the wilderness still generate A LOT of trash. Sorting it, you confront wastefulness (who threw this away??), laziness (why did this person skip sorting?), a pretty high ick factor, and a stern reality check to fanciful notions about the disappearance of garbage.

Nature, unlike humans, operates a closed system that converts one living being’s waste into another living being’s life source. Not us. We invented “away,” as in “let’s throw this away,” and then set up wonderful systems to take our trash there. A morning committed to garbo reinforces the truth that there is no away. Away is still on our planet (although Mattias has some intriguing ideas about sending trash to space) and in our—or someone else’s—neighborhood.  Throwing away something is a process that involves lots of steps and people, from the stewardesses who pick up your inflight drink to the hotel maids who clean your room and countless janitors and waste haulers who bend, sort, lift, and carry what used to be yours to its resting place in a transfer station or landfill.

Mattias does feel that the hundreds of people who participate in garbo leave with more insight into their role as wastemakers and clients of the mythical “away.” And watching garbage come and go, he  has determined one step he plans to take to create less waste. He is giving up disposable razors—one of the items he sees most frequently—and investing in an old-fashioned razor. The kind you don’t throw away.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity

Functional Optimism

The state of the world is discouraging. But I’m a functional optimist. I try to live as if my actions and decisions made a difference. And when change shows up, I like to think I played a role in its birth.

My last post on the disappearance of garbage is a case in point. I’d like to believe that every can and bottle I’ve recycled since my junior high recycling project in 1970 has been like a dripping faucet, slowly and steadily advancing the idea that garbage is silly. That slow, steady drips from millions of like-minded people pushed this notion at all levels of government and civil society. That those drippers worked together on legislation, testified before waste management boards, set up municipal recycling programs or got degrees in product design or lifecycle engineering, the better to create products that use less energy and produce less waste.

I’m pretty excited about the drippers who work for manufacturers. In industry magazines, they are discussing compostable, returnable and reusable containers, and the radical notion of providing no packaging at all. In the retail industry, drippers are discussing In.gredients, a zero-packaging store opening in Austin, Texas, this fall. In.gredients was inspired by Unpackaged, which opened in London in 2006 by a dripper who has been praised for her “system-changing idea.”

That’s what these drippers and their drops are doing: changing a system. Which is what it takes to make lasting change. Individual efforts will always be important, but they must be multiplied to have an impact. Go ahead and light your candle in the darkness—but your light will be greater if you link up with some other candle holders. (I’m mixing metaphors, but water and light are elements that transform!)

Says the press release from In.gredients: “Americans add 570 million pounds of food packaging to their landfills each day, while pre-packaged foods force consumers to buy more than they need, stuffing their bellies and their trash bins: 27 percent of food brought into U.S. kitchens ends up getting tossed out.” Now that’s a system.

If I see that system as powerful and oh-so-distant from little me, I’ll feel overwhelmed. But if I can see zero-waste stores and returnable packages as another response to the steady drips of my 41-year-long recycling career, I can get up and live another system-changing day.

Jesus knew the power of the tiny mustard seed. (Oops! Metaphor # 3.)  In fact, he was counting on our mustard-seed faith, habits and practices, joined with others, to coax system-changing ideas like the kingdom of heaven into existence. For people of faith, life is a system-changing enterprise. Let’s live into it and see what emerges!

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



A Bicycle and a Vegetable Garden

Sunday afternoon I heard a snippet of talk radio in which the host spoke about what he believes is the coming of higher food and oil prices. For those of us who listen to the news or read the paper this topic may come as no surprise. What struck me about the radio snippet was the tone. It was so fearful and induced fear in me as I listened, even for a moment.

I changed the station.

I began to think about the feeling I got from what I heard and my reaction to it. I started to think, “Okay what if oil and food prices rise? How can I think about it in a way that is empowering, that gives hope, and is grounded in love, not fear?”

Here is my over-simplified answer: a bicycle and a vegetable garden.

Is it convenient for me to ride a bicycle to work? Not at all. Is it possible? Absolutely. When I studied abroad in college I rode my bicycle to school almost every day. It took about 20 minutes and it was so fun. Everyone rode their bike, so you always had friends to travel with, plus it was great exercise. I suppose high oil prices could easily pay me back in good health.  (Did you know that some cell phones can even be powered by the energy created from bicycling?)

Now, have I grown my own vegetables lately? Not since the junior high school bean sprout project. Could I grow my own vegetables? Happily. Over the last year I have read about the sprawl of urban gardening. Although I could plant vegetables in my back yard, I am impressed with how many creative places people are gardening these days. Flower pots on their apartment’s balcony, community gardens, rooftop gardens, you name it. If I planted my own pea patch this year, I could save a few bucks by growing my own organic veggies.

Now, I realize that higher food and oil prices affect far more things than just my vegetables and gasoline. It is a complex issue and this is my very simplified response. The point I am trying to make is that I find it heartening to respond to fear with hope. To look at it from a different angle and to consider the gifts that God has given us in Creation. How can caring for the earth; using its resources sustainably, sharing with my friends and treading more lightly by bicycling or walking, actually cause positive change? How can we approach an issue with a solution that is responsible, sensible, and not fearful?

I suggest we take a minute to look at a situation from all perspectives and consider the solutions that are steeped in faith, hope and love.

Examining World Hunger at Pine Lake Camp

This is the fifth in a series of posts highlighting hunger-related activities that happened over the summer at ELCA Outdoor Ministry locations with the help of Education/Advocacy grants from ELCA World Hunger. The following is from Pine Lake Camp in Waupaca, Wisconsin.


Crossways Camping Ministries, located at three sites in northeastern Wisconsin, brings people together in Christ so that lives are changed and communities enhanced.  Campers between third grade and high-school grow in their relationship with God and learn to incorporate Christian principles into their daily lives.  This summer we have two hunger education focuses.  The first focus is to learn about hunger by discussing our own eating habits.  The second focus is to learn about hunger as we raise money to combat hunger in other countries. 

At Pine Lake Camp we use our World Awareness time to share the importance of making responsible food choices.  Counselors lead campers through one of three games which we created and/or adapted from other resources.  One opportunity is Food Mile Rummy.  Campers play a traditional rummy card game collecting one card of each food group, as well as a card indicating the number of miles the food has travelled, and a card indicating the number of fossil fuels used in transportation.  The winning camper is the one with a card in each category, the lowest miles travelled, and the lowest fossil fuels used.  Discussion after the game focuses on ways we can reduce the amount of miles our food travels, including, growing our own, and buying food in season.  Campers connect this conversation with our “local food chalk board” hung in the dining hall.  Here campers learn that some of the vegetables on the salad bar are from our camp garden and much of the dairy they are eating is from a nearby dairy.

Another game the campers can play helps them understand the balance between their needs and wants.  Campers choose pictures of things they own or value, like ipods and CD’s.  Then they choose what animal they’d like to buy for a family in need in another country.  The objective is to balance the cost of animal the with the proper amount of items they would need to give up in order to buy the animal.  Campers discuss how much we have in comparison to people in other countries, as well as their own definition of need and want and how they can change their lifestyle so that others may gain from their wealth.

Our second focus this summer is to encourage campers to raise money for ELCA Good Gifts – God’s Global Barnyard.  During Mission Project Time campers first learn from our international counselors.  Then they learn about God’s Global Barnyard and how buying animals for people in other countries helps to combat hunger.  To facilitate learning the campers gather in small groups with information about animals that can be purchased through ELCA Good Gifts.   They design a skit to share with the rest of the campers how a cow, for example, can help nourish a family and community in another country.  Then on Thursday the campers can donate money from their canteen cards towards the mission project.  At closing worship on Friday parents and campers alike find out how much money was raised that week and what animals will be purchased with the money.  As a way to tie into our summer Bible study we’ve put up a huge ark in the chapel to which we adhere the animals purchased throughout the summer.  The weeks we’ve been able to purchase a cow for $500 have been particularly exciting, but we’ve celebrated every animal with lots of applause.  We expect that our focus on hunger education this summer will be change lives and enhance communities once campers leave camp.

Erika Page
Camp Director
Crossways – Pine Lake Camp

Sustainability Part 1: Design

I was at a coffee shop with my brother, Krister, a few weeks ago sitting next to the window and drinking out of some more-or-less sustainable “for here” cups when we got talking about energy usage and good lighting. A designer by profession, he began to talk about lighting and how giving up the ambiance of warmer, more energy expensive lights isn’t the only answer to conserving energy through lighting. Apparently when it comes to lighting design, there are many ways to think about energy usage, and this got me thinking about sustainability practices in basic design in general.

As design is a huge industry, and we are seeing LEED certifications become the trend, it seemed to me that there was also something intrinsic to good design that was more sustainable than, well, not-so-good design. I started by asking the question – how does sustainability play a role in Plank Island Studio’s business practice? Well, it turns out that being a designer in a small town means necessary supplies aren’t always easy to find. So first off, when Krister buys something for his work, he only wants to buy it once. Though it may be more expensive, a quality tool or product lasts longer, works better and reduces both shipping and manufacturing costs and emissions in the long run. He also likes to reuse and repurpose. His desk is a good example. The glass top is actually the door of an old downtown candy shop which has been recently renovated into a vintage ice cream parlor. His studio has been created in the forgotten location of an old labor union office, slowly renovated over the past few years to bring back the history of the building. He adds that a friend once made the point to him that beautiful buildings are the greenest buildings because they never get torn down, thus a new building won’t be needed to replace it. (Though efficiency updates may be in order.)

So how can we tie elements of design sustainability into hunger? Let’s focus on lighting. Energy consumption affects natural resources and pollution levels. According to an ELCA Shareholder resolution filed in 2009, “U.S. power plants are responsible for nearly 40% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, and 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions.” Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases contribute to climate change which plays a role in shifting water levels and rain patterns globally. According to ELCA Advocacy, “as the earth’s climate gets warmer, droughts will grow more frequent and more severe in many parts of the globe, particularly in areas that are already water-stressed.” Droughts negatively affect crop production and access to clean, drinkable water. Yet in good design, lighting is everything. So what are we to do? Here are a couple of interesting examples of how good lighting design can help a normal home become more energy efficient, thus working toward sustainable emissions levels to keep our climate change impact low.

The subject of our coffee conversation that day was how to use lighting better. Track lights, dimmer switches and task lighting, Krister believes, make all the difference. You can dim incandescent bulbs always, and you can buy dimmable compact fluorescents (CFL). So whether you prefer the warmth of an incandescent or are just as happy with an energy saving CFL, dimmers help to keep energy consumption low no matter the type of bulb. Additionally, accent lights and track lights are commonly halogen, a form of more efficient incandescent light. You can also use CFLs for many types of accent lighting. Check out Krister’s offering of 5 Tips for Better Living through Better Lighting on The Table. (Note: incandescent bulbs require the use of the metal tungsten – while the majority of the tungsten used in the US comes from abroad, one-third of our supply comes from our own recycling of the metal1. Additionally, CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury which can be released if broken, however, they cause considerably less mercury to be released into the atmosphere through power production than incandescent bulbs.)

Next, as lighting technology continues to transform, LED is hitting the scene. LED lights are cool to the touch and require incredibly low levels of energy to function. They also outlast any competition. Plank Island Studio recently teamed up with a local furniture maker to design a commissioned bedroom side table that doubled as a night light. It utilized a low impact LED light to shine through Japanese shoji paper without heat concerns. It serves as an example of energy efficient task lighting. Plus, LED lights contain no mercury2 and because of their efficiency, expend little in power production as well.

To be truly sustainable we would probably all need to buy 100% renewable energy or install a windmill on our roof to produce the electricity which lights our homes. Kudos to those of you who do so, and to the rest, please consider good lighting design as a step in the right direction. Proper lighting for proper places means sustainable energy usage and sustainable, happy ambiance.

Lesson 1: When possible, buy tools and supplies that last.

Lesson 2: Design (and restore when possible) beautiful buildings that stand the test of time.

Lesson 3: Utilize good lighting design and you’ll be on your way to a more sustainable energy consumption level. This will be good for the environment and your pocket book.

Next book in cue: Strategies for the Green Economy, by Joel Makower

Today’s favorite link: