A Green Archivist’s Happy Home

The post below is the reproduction of a recent Facebook status by our Outreach Coordinator, Dana Gerber-Margie. This list was intended for her friends and family to use as individuals and families. It’s a different story for our profession, our conferences, and our institutions, but thankfully the REDUCE committee is working on that!

From August 30th, originally posted on Facebook:

Shower thinking brought a lot of ruminating on climate change/global warming and people’s engagement with it, or lack there of. It is so easy to become irritated, judgmental, and so frustrated, but it also so unhelpful to be all of those things. My mind pictures families in houses too big with cars too big for commutes too long, wanting too much stuff and too much new. I see the AC or heat up too high, lights on too long, too much food gone to waste, and an incredible amount of focus on entertainment that does not matter, educate, expand, only lets us pass the time.

But this is focusing on the negatives, and not the reasons: the intersectionality of the American dream, companies & governments that want more hours without more pay, a desire to feel comfortable in a sanctuary of home when the outside world is all about shootings, insane politicians, and oppression. And cities all over the country are increasing in size but not in width; rent is getting higher, the jobs are still downtown, and at the end of the day it is a very rational choice to live away from the luxury apartments, craft cocktails, and crowded restaurants.

So how do we step away from anger and judgment into something actually helpful? And how do we get out of the echo chamber that is educated liberal guilt (which includes knowledge of the issues without much action)? A future with bigger storms, wilder fires, and rising sea levels is a terrifying one. A future with less water, food, and energy is just as scary. There are other people working on policies, technologies, and discovery plans, so let them just handle it, right? We have enough to do. I feel this daily, but I also feel such a strong pressure to make the future better for our children, for the impoverished, for the under-insured, for all of the other countries that will be unfairly impacted by our society’s consumption and drive for progress.

And so below I offer some things we do in our home and in our lives to do our part, even if it feels small and insignificant. Sometimes I don’t do these in the best way, or I end up doing it out of guilt, or (the best times) I do it because I care. I do them because these actions will add up, and they can add up exponentially if you do them, too.

What are some actions for the environment you take?

  • Don’t see “reduce, reuse, recycle” as a phrase, but as a priority list. First, reduce. Then if you must, try reusing. And then if neither of those work, lastly recycle.
  • Don’t buy it. Really, you don’t need it.
  • Okay, you need it, but look at local stores, local materials, local food to ease the cost of transportation of goods.
  • Don’t buy things just because they’re on sale.
  • Understand that production of goods and use of resources comes directly from our consumption of them
  • Buy groceries in small batches so food doesn’t go to waste.
  • Eat a vegetarian diet. My husband Derek eats meat, but at home eats mostly plant-powered meals. Our next time is a more vegan friendly diet.
  • Bring our own bags to the store, including big box stores like Target. Derek forgets his bag in his car a lot when he’s at work, but we save all the paper and plastic bags he gets, and reuse them when we need them.
  • Never buy bottled water. I have a stainless steel water bottle at home and at work. I fill both up with water from the tap (purified at home with a filter on our faucet).
  • Use a reusable travel mug for coffee & tea. If I have the coffee “for here,” I make sure to mention I’d like it in a mug, not a paper cup. If I forget the above, I wash out the paper/plastic cup before recycling it.
  • Purchase fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, clothes, etc.
  • Utilize the farmer’s market.
  • Lights off if you’re not in the room. Lights off during the day because I just open the curtains.
  • Unplug the microwave when not using it.
  • Turn off electronics and appliances if not using them.
  • Always check the energy use stats for all appliances/electronics. Since I’m a renter, I don’t always have this option, but I did look at the specs for our computers, printer, and air conditioner.
  • Use CFL lightbulbs.
  • Don’t keep chargers plugged in all day; it uses up energy. My phone thankfully has a little alarm that tells me when it’s been charged.
  • Don’t fall prey to the next new neat gadget; Derek and I both have solid, great desktop computers. I bought my computer in March 2010 and it’s doing just fine! Same goes for our cell phones; I’m due for a renewal but since it’s working fine, I’m keeping it.
  • I don’t buy a lot on Amazon, partly for their labor practices and other reasons, but also because of shipping. If it’s offered, I get items packaged together.
  • Complain when a company over-packages an item. Yes I’m that customer. 😦
  • Shop at thrift stores — it’s fun!
  • Purchase the green energy option through our energy company. In Madison, that’s MG&E, and they have a sliding scale of what you can afford: as little as $5 towards renewable energies.
  • Elect politicians that care about the environment (this can obviously get very complex and weird, since it involves politics …)
  • Ask for no silverware, napkins, or extra sauces you won’t use when ordering take out or delivery. You have napkins and silverware!
  • Run the dishwasher when it’s totally full. Air dry the lighter loads.
  • Walk, bus, or bike to work.
  • When we moved recently, we didn’t move with our minds set on how much square footage the space would take up, or cool amenities like a pool or marble counters, but with a walk score in mind. We have our minimum requirements (we knew we wanted a 2-bedroom place for less than $1000 that took cats, etc), but only searched within a certain vicinity of the area. This ensured I could walk, bus, or bike to work and that Derek’s commute would be less than 1015 minutes. I also realize, though, that this is a privilege that we have since our city hasn’t been completely gentrified yet … but a good walk score will be a priority for me in the future too.
  • Drive with a consistent speed. Don’t brake or start too quickly; it uses up more gas.
  • Donate small amounts to agencies I support. $5 a month doesn’t hurt me, nor does giving $5-15 here and there.
  • Throw on a sweater and socks before turning on the heat. Once we do use it in the dead of winter, we keep it as low as possible. When we leave the house, we keep it just high enough so the pipes don’t freeze.
  • Choose lighter clothing in the summer. The same thing as above goes for using the AC: keep the temperature reasonable, don’t have it on when we’re not there. If it’s SO hot that the temperature will reach above 80ish inside, we’ll keep the AC around 78.
  • Ask your city for better recycling programs.
  • Do all of these things at work too! I keep computers off when I don’t need them, I keep the printer off, I turn the light off when I’m leaving the office for a while, I print on both sides, I recycle, etc.
  • Use stuff that can be refilled, like purchasing a soap dispenser and then large bags of liquid soap.
  • Ask elected officials for updates to infrastructure, which can lead to lots of good things like not dying on a collapsed bridge, smooth roads, and improved energy efficiency.
  • Bring lunch to work in reusable bags, including sandwich or treat bags. Etsy has them everywhere.
  • Purchase carbon credits for every flight we take.
  • Relax on a train instead of taking a plane.
  • Don’t take cruises, or if you do, research the impact they have on the environment and ocean. Some cruise lines bill themselves specifically as environmentally friendly.
  • On the same note, don’t always take environmentally friendly advertising as truth. Greenwashing for increased profits is very real!
  • All of these actions matter when I’m traveling, too. Do your best to reduce, reuse, and recycle while on the road.
  • Look into eco-travel or responsible/sustainable travel, and tourism that doesn’t decimate the local region.
  • The TV is off if I’m not watching it.
  • Keep that shower short.
  • Garden! I’m a black thumb but trying my best.
  • Join or start an awesome group like projectARCC.
  • Ask others for more ideas!

Nothing to Fear but Inaction and Division

Last month, John H. Richardson published an article in Esquire titled “When the End of Human Civilization is your Day Job.” Through an interview with climate scientist Jason Box, who studies glacier ice melt in Greenland, Richardson’s article focuses on how climate scientists have begun to deal with forms of depression after years of disturbing research findings and warnings about impending global catastrophe, which in many cases have gone unheeded by policy makers and the American public. I have only been involved in climate activism for about a year; this year it has been very difficult to not become afraid or overcome with a feeling of dread when reading the literature. I can’t imagine carrying this burden around for the last few decades.

A few weeks ago, the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics open-access journal published a study titled “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 degrees global warming is highly dangerous.” If you don’t want to read the whole article, the Washington Post does a nice job summarizing it.

The research was led by Dr. James Hansen and 16 other scientists. Hansen is former Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and now professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. Hansen was also the first to testify before Congress in 1988 about global warming, which brought the issue to the public eye.

This research reports that the two degree Celsius limit of global warming that scientists and policy makers have for years claimed as the “safe upper limit” is actually highly dangerous. Hansen reports that we will likely see several meters of sea level rise by the end of this century. A century isn’t a long time for archivists. For the earth, it means we could possibly see one meter of sea level rise in the next 20-30 years. Even an inch of sea level rise can have a huge impact on floodplains. How far are your collections above sea level?

The sea level rise is caused by melting glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctic. With more fresh water pouring into the oceans, Hansen also claims that this will power superstorms unlike anything that we have ever seen.

I’ll remind everyone why this is happening: Continued carbon emissions into our atmosphere are causing a greenhouse effect — heat and energy from the sun cannot escape the atmosphere. Prior to industrialization, Earth had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; this lasted for around 800,000 years. Last year we reached 400 ppm. According to Dr. Hansen, the safe upper limit of C02 in the atmosphere is 350ppm. Beyond 350ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we run the risk of causing positive feedback loops and runaway climate change, which cannot be reversed or stopped. The continued burning of fossil fuels causes carbon dioxide emissions.

After I read the Esquire article, I thought to myself, “How are archivists dealing with knowing about climate change when the history of civilization is our day job?”

Archivists are responsible for preserving history for future generations. I believe that it should be a professional and moral obligation for the archival community to come together and take action to ensure the preservation of a safe and habitable planet for future generations. I hate to put it bluntly, but sometimes I wonder: what’s the point in doing what we do if the future of humanity is in question?

I’ve been working on a digital exhibition that features conversations about climate change documented by public broadcasting from 1970 to the present. In 1970, only three days before the first celebration of Earth Day, renowned environmentalist David Brower visited Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He gave a talk, which was broadcast over the campus radio station WYSO-FM and posed the question “What will it cost the Earth?” He urged the students and listeners to educate and inform themselves on the environmental problems facing the world. “You can make a difference,” he told them.

ProjectARCC, a task force of archivists working to affect climate change, is working to make a difference. We want to ensure that archivists are aware of the risks of climate change on their collections. We want to find ways to collectively reduce our professional carbon footprint. We want to elevate relevant collections to improve public awareness and understanding of climate change. And we want to make sure that this moment in history is preserved for future research. But what is needed is collective action and contribution among our entire profession.

In 2014, Yale University and George Mason University published a report that categorized Americans on how they perceive the threat of global warming. The segments included Alarmed (13%), Concerned (31%), Cautious (23%), Disengaged (7%), Doubtful (13%), and Dismissive (13%). Only 13% of Americans are alarmed about climate change. These people are the most concerned of all of the groups and are the most motivated to take action. Where do you fall on the spectrum?

I’ve become really interested in how people are dealing with knowing about climate change. I’ve been reading a book called “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change,” by George Marshall, which looks into the psychology of how people understand and deal with (or not deal with) climate change. According to Marshall, the evolution of our brains makes it difficult for us to comprehend or act on risks that are not immediate. I understand. There was a time when I didn’t care about climate change. I attribute that complacency to my former belief that change wouldn’t happen until after I was gone. It is hard to grasp the risk of something not happening right now — something too subtle and unclear whether and when it would affect me. But then I started reading the literature and I tuned in to the changes that are already happening. And then? I thought about how as an archivist, the purpose of approximately third of my life for hopefully the next half century is to preserve history for the future. I entered into sort of an existential crisis. Twenty, fifty, one hundred years from now, our world will be completely transformed. Will our collections survive? Will our efforts to preserve collections for future generations be in vain? And then I think about the children that I want to eventually have. By the time they are forty years old, Boston’s sea level may have risen more than a meter. Where I currently call home, we’re about 4 meters above sea level. Will my kids be able to call this place home? Will it be too hot for them to live in Mississippi, where I grew up?

I think that in order to overcome the evolutionary problem of not reacting to the long-term risks of climate change, we need to find ways to keep climate change on our minds, even when it is scary to think about. This may seem silly, but I have decided that I need to read at least one relevant article every day so that I do not lose my drive to act on climate. If I don’t, I can easily get caught up in other things. Yes, a lot of what we read can be quite scary, but I really like how Naomi Klein puts it in her book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate“:  “fear makes us run, it makes us leap… but we need somewhere to run to. Without that, fear is only paralyzing.” I co-founded and continue to participate in ProjectARCC because it gives me a place to run to. ProjectARCC gives our entire profession a place to leap into action.

I recently read Columbia University’s Connecting on Climate guidebook, which gives 10 recommendations on how to communicate climate change to audiences. It says people are motivated the most to act on climate within existing networks and social groups, and that people are more likely to become engaged on an issue when a group that they are part of cares about it. The guidelines recommend local groups (like churches or neighborhood associations), but I think that mobilizing with one’s profession is equally as constructive. Maybe I’m biased, and I think this would be a great research topic, but I think that this is especially true for the archival profession, because I believe archivists are some of the most passionate professionals of all professions.

I look forward to talking with many of you at this year’s Society of American Archivists conference. Together, I know that we can collectively make a difference. It is the preservation of the history of human civilization that is our day job, and uniting together to take action will stave off the fear and paralysis.

– Casey E. Davis

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license.