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Working on My Triple Bottom Line

August 26, 2017

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The Triple Bottom Line of a corporation, according to The Economist, consists of three Ps: profit, people and planet. It measures more than wealth, taking into account the social and environmental impact of a particular corporation. I’m always looking for ways to improve my personal TBL, and seeking products and services that do the same.

See, for most of my life, I considered myself bad with money. I always hated math, I resented paying bills, I just didn’t want to have to think about it. I took out big student loans and didn’t pay them back, I overspent, I didn’t save. After I got married, I let my husband deal with the finances, though he wasn’t particularly good with money either. At least when the rent went unpaid or we couldn’t afford a night out at the movies, I had someone else to blame.

When my marriage ended just as I entered middle age, I realized I’d better get a grip on my financial health. For the first time in my life, I really started paying attention to money.  My income as a tour guide and freelance writer is largely seasonal, inconsistent, and not likely to make me a billionaire, plus the cost of housing is high in Key West, but I long ago decided it was important to me that I enjoy my work and where I live. I also want to spend my money well, as in not supporting corporations that harm the planet or it’s inhabitants.

One of the first things I did after my husband moved out, for reasons largely explained by the Occupy Wall Street movement, was take my money out of the big banks. I moved my checking and savings accounts from Bank of America to my local credit union, where they don’t charge bloated fees for overdrafts and services like BOA. Once I had a relationship with them, they were willing to give me decent credit though my credit rating is “Fair” at best. I pulled my IRA funds out of Merrill Lynch, and invested with socially-conscious Aspiration instead.  I pay less in fees, and it’s much easier to make small deposits that add up over time than with ML. Plus, Aspiration donates ten cents of every dollar to charitable activities expanding economic opportunity.

I made other consumer choices, too. I cut the expensive cable with a hundred channels I never watched and got a Roku stick with a few good subscription channels. I stopped buying $12 bottles of wine for the house, opting instead for the more eco-friendly Bota Box. Each box holds 4 bottles of ok (not great, but ok) wine for just $21. The box and bag inside are recyclable, creating 85% less waste than if the same wine lived in bottles.

Next, I ditched my haircolorist and his products tested on animals for a subscription to cruelty-free, Leaping-Buffy Certified Madison Reed. I stopped buying plastic disposable razors in favor of animal-cruelty-free Angel Shave Club, which donates part of their sales to the Malala Fund which helps send impoverished girls to school.  As a bonus with each of these products, I get to spend less time and less scooter-gas money shopping for hair dye, razors, and wine.

I also shopped around for lower internet prices, and ended up getting higher internet speed for less money. I cut down my cell phone bill by taking a plan with less data. I really haven’t noticed any difference, it’s not like I use my phone to play video games or watch movies.

Don’t get me started on the damage our consumerist culture inflicts on our planet and our souls. On the other hand, there’s real power in our pocketbooks. Consumer choices sway the way the world moves.  Money may not buy happiness, but it’s a tool we can use to help build a world we love.

 

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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in the Florida Keys

March 28, 2015

Lately, I’ve been tuning into the hoopla surrounding the possible release of a genetically modified mosquito called the Oxitec mosquito, creepily named after the corporation that created it. I’ve read several articles and papers (My favorite being a New Yorker article titled “The Mosquito Solution.”) I’ve joined in on a few arguments on social media. I’ve read a lot of the pro-release info provided on the Oxitec and Florida Keys Mosquito Control website. I’ve also perused anti-release literature by GeneWatch, and watched the trailer for the documentary Scratching Beneath the Surface on YouTube.

None of this is the end-all of research on the matter, but I’ve seen enough to form a tentative opinion.

Given that we don’t actually have malaria, yellow fever, dengue or chikungunya currently in the Keys, many residents, myself included, feel unmotivated to experiment with releasing genetically modified mosquito into our densely populated neighborhoods and the delicate ecosystem upon which our economy depends. We already know the effects of the pesticides used by Mosquito Control, and so far, we’ve been mostly willing to endure them for the sake of less bug bites. It’s the devil we know.

Supporters of the Oxitec release accuse protesting Keys’ residents of having a knee-jerk response to the words “genetically modified.” They’ve called protestors “ignorant” and “anti-science.” It’s an effective bullying strategy: no one wants to get lumped in among the climate-change naysayers, anti-vaxxers, and creationists; I certainly don’t. But I think we are right not to trust blindly trust any corporation that tell us their product is good for us. I think we are correct not to trust our personal safety, or the safety of the environment, to the FDA or any other government entity. The U.S. government has all too often sided with big corporations at the expense of the environment and the people. Scientists don’t always have our best interests at heart, and corporation rarely do. The Oxitec mosquito isn’t about humanitarianism: it’s about making money for Oxitec.

But what if these genetically modified mosquitoes do exactly what they’re meant to do: target a particular species of disease-carrying mosquito more effectively than pesticides, and with less environmental damage? So far, in places where Oxitec mosquitoes have already been released (Malaysia, Brazil, and Caymen Islands) and there’s been no obvious health or environmental backlash. But it’s only been a year or so, so we don’t really know if they’re effective, safe, or cost-efficient in the long term.

One argument in favor of releasing the Oxitec mosquitoes is that they may cause less ecological damage than chemical pesticides currently used to curb mosquitoes. But since only one species of mosquito is affected (Aedes aegypti,the most likely mosquito to carry disease) release of the Oxitec ‘skeeter will probably not equal any less chemical pesticides in the Keys. Let’s be honest: we want to kill all the mosquitoes. Mosquito control isn’t just about disease prevention, it’s about tourism and quality of life.

Frankly, I don’t like the idea of humans genetically modifying living things, period. I’m heartsickened by the idea of animals in laboratories for any reason, but I know many people feel there’s nothing wrong with harming other creatures for the benefit of humans. Admittedly, even I don’t balk at the killing of a mosquito.

Some biologists say the loss of the mosquito worldwide would not have much impact on the food chain or the environment. No animals have a diet of strictly ‘skeeters, and mosquitoes aren’t pollinators or soil-turners. As far as we can see, whatever created the universe also created these bloodsucking, illness-carrying, useless creatures whose only function is to to torment mammals. But say we succeed with the Aedes aegypti, what other species will we decide to eliminate?

How far should humans go in the way we alter the planet for our own comfort? Is it right that we expect all other organisms on the planet to adapt, stretch, or be devoured to sustain all our wonderful, long human lives?

I certainly wouldn’t wish dengue or malaria or chikungunya on anyone. Perhaps this technology could save lives, perhaps not here where we don’t really have a problem (yet?), but in third-world countries where death rates from mosquito-borne illnesses are high. I hate to say “experiment on third-worlders, not us!” But I would think that in places where mosquito-borne illness is a large problem, the rewards would outweigh the risk, while I’m not convinced that’s the case here in the Florida Keys.

Michael Doyle, Entomologist and head of Mosquito Control, very much wants the release. I assume he has tons more knowledge on the topic than I. Unfortunately, many of the more vocal protesters of the Oxitec release don’t have very impressive credentials. The Florida Keys Environmental Commission are a very passionate group of Florida Keys Community college students. Then there’s Mila de Mier, the real estate agent who authored the petition “Say No to Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Release in the Florida Keys.”  No offense to de Mier, but many of the fears stated in the petition are bogus. Most scientists agree that any bird or bat that eats an Oxitec ‘skeeter should be fine, and even if a female mosquito escapes into the ecosystem and bites a human, we should all be fine.

A far more thoughtfully written petition appears on the Friends of the Earth website: Tell the FDA: Say NO to GMO Mosquitos!   So far, the most impressive voice against the Oxitec release may be scientist and mathematician Helen Wallace, Executive Director of the British organization GeneWatch. Her paper titled “Genetically Modified Mosquitoes: Ongoing Concerns,” intelligently presents plenty of reasons we might object to Oxitec.

 The technology may not be particularly effective in suppressing mosquito populations and may even, especially in cases of limited efficacy, worsen the dengue problem. There is also uncertainty over the extent to which some of the GM mosquitoes’ offspring do survive into adulthood. More generally, the potential adverse effects of this technology are still not fully understood, given the complex interactions in the ecosystem between Aedes aegypti, other mosquito species, the viruses they carry and the humans they bite.

— Helen Wallace, GeneWatch

It is entirely possible that we citizens in the Florida Keys will have to quell our ill-ease at the thought of sterile, genetically-modified mosquitoes with glowing green eyes flying around. Frankly, I don’t think it will make or break our ecosystem, but I really don’t see how it will benefit us in any way.

If the Oxitec mosquito were to be used in combination with more natural solutions, and we really could do away with chemical pesticides, I’d say go for it. Mosquito control already gives out Gambusia fish to people with ponds and birdbaths. I love the idea of doing more to attract native predators, such as bats and frogs, or using native species of dragonfly nymphs, which eat mosquito larvae, then become adult dragonflies that eat mosquitoes. Doing more to eliminate standing water through education, code-enforcement, and better drainage could also help mitigate the need for chemicals.

I don’t see the Oxitec mosquito as inherently good or bad. It’s one method of mosquito control in arsenal, better than some, and worse than others. So I haven’t signed any petitions yet, nor do I wholeheartedly support the release of Oxitec mosquitoes. I would simply like to see more information and research all the way around before deciding anything.

 

Lost Poetry

December 13, 2014

For many years, I considered “poet” a part of my identity. Poetry, and writing in general, felt important to me. I burned to share my experiences and perceptions, to create works of depth and beauty, and to cultivate an identity as a writer. Throughout my career, I received some validation in the form of publications and readings, but I also came up against a lot of rejection (“Thanks for submitting, but we’ll take a pass.”)

Now that I’m in my early 40’s, I find my identity as a creative writer fading into the background. I spend far more time doing work I love, but which has nothing to do with writing. The last few years have found me rather enmeshed in a classic mid-life crises. I’ve obsessed over weighty questions about my own identity as a woman, a wife, and a person in this world. I tend to want to be around people more than when I was younger, when I felt perfectly content to lock myself away from the world for hours to write. These days, I find I’d usually rather go outside and connect to some living thing. It’s been an immense philosophical shift from believing connecting to art was the way to save the world, to believing connecting to nature is the way.

I have so many unfinished writing projects with great potential: a novel on pre-ancient Greece, a nature-travel guide about the Lower Keys, a poem about mermaids, all languishing. But here’s an early New Year’s resolution: I’m going to remember that poetry and creativity is a part of my soul, and a part of my identity, whether I’m actively writing or not. I’m not going to neglect my own little gifts, I WILL remember to write, and I WILL try to get more of my work “out there!”

Here’s the last poem I actually finished and submitted anywhere. It won top three in the Robert Frost Poetry Contest in 2011. I love it because speaks to my sensibilities as an environmentalist and a feminist (whatever those words mean) and because I adore using mythology and fairy tales in art.

In Eden

In Eden
when the insects were screaming
in the fields in high summer
When the honey
was aching to be taken
The skies filled with white wings
the fruit fell in pink piles
on the orchard floor

Remember how it was
before the trees were cut
before the rivers pitched their guts?
How the giant beasts beat their feet
slowly through our sleep
my lover kept me naked
the bounty of our bodies
not yet spent to ashes

I didn’t just bite the apple
I licked its juices from my fingers
I was a dancing cretan girl
and I reached for the universe
I was tempting and tempted
and not afraid of snakes
I saw we were spirit
bodies became pillars of white
the sea gave off the same light
as did trees, birds. Everything singing.

Despite what you’ve heard
I had a mother; she sang to me in the
slosh of the sea, in birdsong
Even as the machines rumbled,
when the garden revealed a stage
with a trap door
She sang until there was nothing
left of her but bone

Save the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park

October 11, 2013

“Look at Google Earth, and you will see there are very few green spaces left in Key West. To remove vegetation or increase human activity to the exclusion of wildlife is unthinkable at this point .”

–Dr. Ken Meyers, Director of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, discussing possible changes within the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park

Given a choice, Key West recently voted for protecting the environment and our quality of life, even over possible economic benefits. 75% of voters voted against starting a process which might have ended in dredging in Key West’s harbor dangerously close to our beloved coral reef and our marine wildlife preserve.

The battle to protect Key West’s fragile ecosystem from overdevelopment rages on. Now, the future of a small nature pocket certain city officials consider “underutilized” is on the table. The City recently presented three possible redesigns for the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park to a room full of locals. On the whole, the public (myself included) was not thrilled with the direction in which the park seems headed. You can read the Citizen’s report about the meeting online.

As per Florida Keys Audubon’s official statement regarding the proposed redesign: “The 8-acre Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park on White Street contains over 75 species of native trees and plants, as well as a freshwater pond. Hundreds of locals and tourists visit the park per year to enjoy a bit of quiet nature in an otherwise urbanized area. The park is a destination spot for birders who travel to the Southernmost City hoping to check the White-crowned pigeon or White heron off their “lifer” lists.”

I frequently bring my bike tours there to let them wildlife-watch, and people are delighted by the birds, iguanas, and freshwater turtles.

Personally, I love the idea of redirecting Atlantic Boulevard so that the park is attached to Rest Beach. Connecting areas of natural space together is always great for the wildlife, and this would certainly be a boon for wading birds and land crabs who would no longer have to cross a busy street to move from the beach to the forest. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely local homeowners will allow this part of the plan to progress, as it would create a disturbance to their daily commutes and redirect traffic into currently traffic-free neighborhoods.

The most environmentally damaging piece of the plan would move the dogpark, currently located across the street in the County park, into or abutting the forested area of the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park. Why?– To make more lawn in the County park. Monocultured lawn is useless to wildlife, and Key West already has Bayview Park for anyone seeking lawn, plus, Hello!?  You cannot have dogs running loose in an area important to wild birds! In a show of hands, only two people (not including City Planner Don Craig who came up with the idea) approved relocating the dog park.

The plan also calls for pickleball courts, despite the fact that we already have tennis, volley ball, and bocce ball courts in Key West. A show of hands at the meeting proved that not a single person in the room played or cared about pickleball. I’d wager most Key Westers have never even heard of it.

Two of the three plans involved relocating the federally licensed wildlife rehabilitation center whose facility is currently housed in the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park, ostensibly to one of two sites in Little Hamaca Park on Government Road. The city planner appeared quite confused when people objected that it is counterproductive to replace wildlife habitat with a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Sigh.

I’m hoping Key Westers understand the value of a patch of relatively undisturbed wild space in an otherwise urban setting, and that they will join me in contacting our city’s leaders.

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An Anhinga suns its wings over the freshwater pond at the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park.

 

Key West Eco-Tours

March 9, 2013

I have been neglecting my blog! I’m working A LOT, giving eco-tours, writing. But I’ll be back soon!

Photos of Blue Planet Kayak Eco-Tours, Key West
This photo of Blue Planet Kayak Eco-Tours is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Ancient Sites in Santorini, Part 2 (Thira)

May 22, 2012

Above the black-sand beaches of Kamari and Perissa, on top of Mesa Vouno, on the island, Santorini, rests the ancient city of Thira. I made a pilgrimage there while in Greece researching my novel-in-progress, The Bull Jumper: A Tale of Ancient Greece  I was driven to the top, then hiked down via an old donkey trail. The oldest remnants of Thira date back to the 9th Century B.C., and the latest from the 7th Century A.D., encompassing Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine rule. Along the hiking trail, in the middle of the mountain, sits a tiny church surrounded by olive trees beside a spring.

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I stopped at a cool spring along the way and drank, then lingered awhile to tease a little dog guarding a flock of fenced-in goats. A girl sat on a blanket offering trinkets made from the mountain’s stone, and I picked out a charm and paid her with a fine cotton scarf.

“Does no one know where he might have gone?” I asked.

His mother, the temple-slave, Creides, stepped forward. “He said he wished to drown himself in wine and women. ”

“Thira,” I said at once, for that mountaintop village was famed for both. I closed my eyes, picturing my half-brother quite clearly. I imagined him smiling, wild-haired, on the windswept cliffs over a sparkling sapphire sea. Perhaps he slept all day, or he paid tribute to the Lady of the Labyrinth, who had her own temple there, overseen by a third cousin who bore remarkable resemblance. Some days, he hiked halfway down the mountain to bathe in a cool spring next to a shrine to the God of Olives.

At night, when the fishing village beneath sparkled with cooking fires, he convened by moonlight to the temple of Dionysus, God of Wine, whose priests bore goat’s heads, then stumbling to the temple of Cythera, Love-Goddess, whose priestesses were skilled in the magic of lovemaking. For a moment, I wished I could leave him on the mountain.

Ancient Sites in Santorini, Part 1 (Akrotiri)

Ancient Sites in Santorini, Part 1 (Akrotiri)

May 13, 2012

For the past year and a half, I’ve been working on my first novel, a historical fantasy called The Bull Jumper: A Tale of Ancient Greece, which takes place in the Cyclades in approximately 1625 B.C.. Recently, my husband and I visited the island of Santorini, where most of my novel takes place. I had read countless books and websites on Minoan Greece and the Santorini eruption, but the experience of actually visiting the island, its museums, beaches, and ancient sites proved invaluable and inspiring.

Ancient Akrotiri was buried in a massive volcanic eruption around 1625 B.C.. The eruption virtually ended what is known as the Minoan period of Ancient Greece, a time when Crete and its surrounding islands was a superpower of military strength, culture, and technology. The volcanic ash preserved a large portion of an extensive settlement on Akrotiri. No human remains have been found in Akrotiri, so apparently, citizens fled the settlement before the eruption.

In The Bull Jumper, Akrotiri is a bustling market-city on the harbor, called Asasara. This is where my heroine, Amerin, spends the first thirteen years of her life:

In The Bull Jumper, Akrotiri is a bustling market-city on the harbor called Asasara....

My Aunt Udthara, our Lady of Asasara, called me to her sitting-room. Its windows opened onto a public square below, where people might wait for hours, craning their necks, hoping to glimpse our Lady in the guise of the Sky-Goddess, her silver hair curled elaborately to frame her white face, kept lovely with paint and potions.

“An earthshaking,” I croaked, struggling upright. “Was anyone hurt?”
“Minor injuries,” replied the Healer. “No casualties within the strong stone and mortar of our city.”

 I still held the vase over my head to throw at my sister. I blinked, then lowered the vase to the table: It was perfect.  I moved it in to view every side, admiring the red flowers and lively brown swallows adorning it.

Anxiously, I boarded the ship rowed by twenty-six slaves. I had never traveled beyond the sister-cities. My Brightest-Shining aunt spilled her stomach into the sea for the entire day’s journey, but I felt fine, and watched, delighted, as a pod of dolphins kept pace beside the boat. The ship’s young commander leaned against the prow of the ship and flexed, gazing out at the sapphire sea beneath the ship’s mastheads–a dragonfly and a butterfly. He claimed the dolphins were proof that the Sea-Goddess protected his ship.

“Ah, Qerasija’s kilt.” Old Sheran sighed, and bade me finger the wool, which was fine and time-worn. The ancient ceremonial garment had been pulled up, musty, its crimson and gold flounces faded, from a box deep within the sanctuary.

I turned to see Xanthe the Sea-Hag–the oldest living person in either of the sister-cities, approaching my Aunt and Governor Bansibara. Xanthe’s flesh looked nearly as dark and rough as her oxskin loincloth. She wore sacred symbols of the Sea-Goddess etched in ink upon her forehead. Three naked, brown youths bearing offerings of dolphin, mackerel, and tunny followed in her wake.

Ancient Sites in Santorini, Part 2 (Ancient Thira)