Honoring the environment by living simply

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Recently, I headed to a morning lecture at a local nursery: “Creating a Biodiverse Garden.”

This nursery is huge, with every kind of plant, gift item, basket, and seasonal décor. It reminds me of Bell’s Nursery in Anchorage – elegant and fun to browse, although this being a bigger city, this nursery is like Bell’s on steroids. It was founded decades ago by a young Irish immigrant peat farmer from Wicklow. The lad did well.

The lecture was not, as I had feared, an advertisement for the nursery’s products. It was informational, but like all climate and environmental education these days, scary. I try not to get depressed, but I hate that the U.S. has lost one-third of its bird population – 3 billion birds — since 1970 due to habitat destruction, pollution and pesticides. We have also lost 90% of the butterfly population.

The expert giving the talk was upbeat, though, and told us many things we could do. Use plants native to your region – in the Midwest that includes milkweed, coneflowers, and viburnum. Be diverse. Don’t be a clean freak as winter approaches – leave your dying plants (unless diseased) to provide food and shelter for friends like the finches.

“My yard is pretty much a mess in the fall,” he told us. He starts his clean-up in April.

Limit the turfgrass (it sustains nothing, and soaks up water and chemicals) and go for native grasses instead.

In Omaha, the latest blight is the dreaded Japanese beetle, almost unheard of here until recently. The pesticide to kill these horrible bugs “destroys the native insects and poisons the environment.” Next year, I’ve resolved to spend my early mornings picking Japanese beetles and throwing them into soapy water.

Like any good environmentalist, this guy couldn’t just stop at yard advice, however.

He went on with a climate litany: Compost. Recycle. Eat less red meat – a comment bordering on heresy in Nebraska cattle country. Don’t use palm oil. Avoid sulfates. And of course it goes without saying, don’t use Round-up. Put layers of newspaper covered by mulch in your flower beds to keep the weeds down.

And this message hit home: it takes, he said, 713 gallons of water to produce one t-shirt. How many t-shirts are in your closet – or mine?

In The New Yorker’s October issue, there’s a story about the growing popularity of high-end clothing resales. If you want a Louis Vuitton bag, shop TheRealReal to get it used for less than the $1,000 you might pay new.

Of course, we can find clothes more in our price range at any number of used or consignment shops. I frequent a couple of great used stores. One supports a home for homeless pregnant gals, the other supports activities for special needs kids and adults.

According to the article, “the equivalent of one garbage truck full of textiles is incinerated or added to a landfill every second.” Used clothing stores can’t possibly sell all the clothes they get, and Third World nations are tired of having used clothes dumped on them. Fashion is a hugely polluting industry. The message: buy less, buy used.

And it’s not just Louis Vuitton fans fueling the glut. It’s the “fast fashion” shops – the cheap retail places where people buy virtually disposable clothes.

On my patio is a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Like Pope Francis, he reminds us to honor the environment and to live simply. It’s really our only hope.

So next summer, you will find me saying a silent prayer to the good saint as I, wearing my second-hand t-shirt, pick Japanese beetles off the rose bushes.


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