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Environmental and Social Justice Blog

Saturn and Jupiter as seen from Shenandoah National Park near Luray on Dec. 13 as they head towards a “great conjunction” on the Winter Solstice (NASA/Bill Ingalls photo)

New Year’s Resolutions

At the end of a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, protests and conflict over racism and social justice, and turmoil over the presidential election, we can find hope for the coming year in the vaccines now being distributed, efforts to reform policing, the election results being formalized, and the return of light as the winter darkness recedes.

Many of us make resolutions for the coming year, and we have a few suggestions in this month’s post. If you would like to share your resolutions, please use the comment section below.

  • Become educated on climate change and energy production
  • Incorporate exercise into your daily routine
  • Help welcome refugees and create welcoming communities
  • Help protect native species

Energy Transformation

by Vernon Gras

Climate change will likely have a sudden and huge effect on U.S. politics under the new administration. Virginia, with passage of its Clean Energy Economy Act earlier this year, has already taken steps to transform energy production from fossil fuels to renewables.

For Environment and Social Justice Committee members, and for our readers, I recommend several sources for updates on energy news and transforming our economy:

1) Ivy Main’s blog Power for the People VA, which focuses on Virginia, especially the General Assembly in Richmond.

2) Les Grady and the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley ((climateactionallianceofthevalley.org) provide a weekly roundup of climate and energy news. Wider than a Virginia focus, it divides the U.S. and world energy news into Politics and Policy, Climate and Climate Science, Energy Potpourri, and a Closing Thought.

3) Timothy Whitcombe sends Climate Clips to a mailing list (search for va-climate-movement in Google Groups to be added to the list). The clips come primarily from newspapers and journals such as the Manchester Guardian (UK), the New York Times, NBC news, the BBC, Wired Journal, and others.

4) Three other sources nurturing and defending the need to stop climate change are the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Resources Defense Council, which is perhaps the longest and most effective defender of Earth and its people, plants, animals, and natural systems in the courts. These three groups have lawyers and take saving nature, life, and the planet itself from relentless greed with equally relentless opposition, and they usually win. But they need money for such work, so please help them with some cash.

I recommend that you link up with all of the above sources. Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic is much closer to our conception of personal danger. And, speaking personally, it is closer and more dangerous. But all of the plagues in history did not succeed in eliminating human life. Climate Change, as the ever-growing fires, floods, storms, droughts, produced by CO2 have already indicated, can do so. Other abundant life forms have already disappeared. So can we.

Vernon W. Gras is George Mason University Professor Emeritus of English and Cultural Studies and established the Vernon and Marguerite Gras Annual Lecture in the Humanities. More information is on his website at vwgras.com.

SimpliRural: Exercise and Minimalism

by Jay Allen
Jay Allen

This month we are looking at how exercise and Minimalism can coexist. We will start with an overview of a book called The Quick and the Dead, by Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Soviet Special Forces physical training instructor. His website is StrongFirst.com.

The author’s premise is that two or three weekly workouts of kettlebell exercises and power pushups can be a “stand alone,” total training regimen, leaving you with energy “to fight, work, play, and live.” I would think that kettlebell squats or other leg work would be needed.

The book gets technical about three different energy systems (creatine phosphate, glycolytic, and aerobic) and how reps of exercise should be strictly limited to periods of 5 to 30 seconds that ”beef up” the mitochondria. The latter grows muscle cells. There are charts and graphs that explain it all (though vaguely to my unscientific mind). The title of the book refers to the every-day drama of predator/prey engagement.

Wellness Specialist Lauren Parsons of New Zealand advocates we “Snack on Exercise”! Take a brisk walk or go up and down the stairs at the office. Do air squats at your child’s playground. Please check out her TED talk by that name here.

Best Regards, Jay

Refugee Dolls

The Refugee Doll Project

By Jeanne Trabulsi

A program in Portland, Maine, called I’m Your Neighbor, intended to create welcoming communities for immigrants, inspired me to begin the Refugee Doll Project in Virginia. As the project website explains: “Refugee dolls are educational tools to be used in schools, libraries, and multicultural events to foster awareness of and appreciation for refugees. The dolls represent school children from the Islamic World, Central America, and Africa because refugees from these areas are heavily represented in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The project uses standard 18-inch dolls, and the website has information and sewing patterns for simple, modest clothing. The dolls form one component of a traveling library with 34 award-winning picture books based on the immigrant experience. Used in conjunction with these books and with lesson plans, the dolls help children internalize concepts such as “What it’s like to be different?” What’s it’s like to be different and new?” and “How to be Welcoming.”

The goal is for the traveling library to visit schools and libraries in Virginia. In addition, the project is a model for others to replicate in their own communities by working with local libraries and schools, donating dolls and books to them, or giving the dolls directly to refugee families.

Bridget Harrison targeting garlic mustard

Habitat Defenders

By Bridget Harrison

Invasive plants are a growing problem in Shenandoah National Park, but there is hope for control thanks to the efforts of the Habitat Defenders, a volunteer group that assists Natural and Cultural Resources staff in their efforts to control targeted species in the Park. Invasive plants pose a real threat to native species, outcompeting native plants and degrading preferred forage and host species of certain fauna. Removal of target species usually includes garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), privet (Ligustrum sinensis, Ligustrum obtusifolium), bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and honeysuckle species (Lonicera morrowii, Lonicera maackii) by hand pulling or cutting and treating stumps.

In addition to removing invasive species, volunteers assist in the restoration process through revegetation. The Park has a native plant nursery, and volunteers help us collect seeds, transplant seedlings, and ultimately plant seedlings in areas where invasive plant treatments have been successful.

Volunteer opportunities average twice a month, usually from April through December. If you have an interest in helping with the Habitat Defenders program, please reach out to me via email at bridget_harrison@nps.gov, where I can sign you up for monthly email updates on volunteer activities. New volunteers are always welcome, and no experience is necessary.

Bridget Harrison is a Biological Science Technician and Habitat Defenders Volunteer Coordinator at Shenandoah National Park.

[Note: An interesting article from YaleEnvironment360, a publication of the Yale University School of the Environment, discusses: “How Non-Native Plants are Contributing to a Global Insect Decline”]

To our readers: we invite you to use the comments section below not only to give your thoughts on what you read here, but to recommend things to read, watch, or listen to related to environment and social justice. Also of interest are your own activities or accomplishments in the environment/social justice realm.