by Danielle Lanyard
The largest storm to hit the Atlantic coast made landfall on a Monday and ripped apart every thread of normalcy from Breezy Point to Bethesda. It also seems the storm has hit home for all. Or at least it should.
Let me share my story and tell you why.
In fall of 1997, I started college at Evergreen, where on day one, we had four incredible instructors who stood together and presented my first course Modeling Nature. We’d be brought into nature to measure samples of streams or waterfalls or soil erosion, and then go into the lab and use a software modeling program to map stuff out.
Like parts per million of runoff pollution from a riverbed, or the PH levels of soilbeds near industrial sites. Some regions were forested and thick with lichen. Others had no lichen at all, for when this sponge type moss that lives on tree is exposed to pollutants, it cannot survive. Each day, we studied places in nature and then studied our discoveries in the lab, modeling natural systems and using science to prove anthropogenic global warming.
Having lived in suburban New Jersey, this field was new for me. It was only a year earlier that I was led to choose this field of study, when during an evening swim at the Jersey shore I first experienced the interconnectedness of our ecosystem and the powerful role that the water element plays in all life systems. A year later, I was at Mt. Rainier immersed in it all.
That first day of class, my hand nearly jumped out of its socket to ask my burning question. Given current conditions could we model pollutants and sea levels and determine exactly when human survival on this planet will no longer be tenable?
My professors looked at each other and laughed. This was the one question they had hoped no one would ask.
Though I had a habit for asking the difficult questions, I was still clueless when it came to environmentalism. I showed up for the first field survey trip in tennis shoes and jeans. I read the bumper sticker of the car in front me and asked my classmates why ‘tibbit’ needed to be freed. It was Tibet, they explained. I put my first compost into a long underbed bin and kept it there for nearly a month. The list goes on.
Through it, I learned of the plight of the Tibetan people, of food waste entering the waste stream and the politics of landfills and waste management, of the warming of our planet and its rising sea levels. I returned to New Jersey after that first semester and every time I went to New York, it would be with an urgent and dire warning about the fate of our city.
And no one cared.
Today, that warning has turned into an actuality. It is not a fluke. It is not religious, partisan, political, economic or otherwise. It is anthropogenic global warming. Anthropogenic is the word missing from Bloomberg News’ magazine cover. And as I sat watching New York 1’s local press conference with New York’s elected officials, I saw Andrew Cuomo, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand all presenting different viewpoints on climate change.
They reminded me of my college professors. They were speaking truth to power and it was giving me the chills.
These are the same chills I got as a teenager swimming in the ocean that night at the Jersey Shore, when I dunked my head underwater and felt the interconnected ecology of everything. When I picked my head up from the ocean’s depth back into the air, I was forever changed. Now the Jersey Shore is gone and we are all forever changed. Manhattan was underwater and people have perished.
I was booked to fly out to Europe to expand my startup, Green Breakfast Club, to London, and to attend a finance conference to moderate a green investment panel.
Though nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, startup founders like me should know better than booking travel at the exact time and location when a superstorm is projected to strike. My flight was cancelled, as was the whole trip, leaving me at home watching my city and state officials discussing climate change. Yet, their discourse omitted the most important word from the equation: anthropogenic, the word that declares that global warming is caused by humans.
This is why this storm matters. It is the lichen on the trees that no longer grows.
Business, and our consumption of it, is sending the Earth into upheaval, including the humans who inhabit it. The way we do business creates the laptop this blog post was written on, and generates the toxic waste that releases pollutants into the atmosphere that warm up our planet and raise the earth’s temperatures and ocean’s sea level. The difficult question we must now ask ourselves if we are willing to put up with it, be the cause of it, or be part of the story of now.
We can do something about it.
Demand better business, build better businesses ourselves and begin with our own actions. I created a startup that helps green entrepreneurs share resources. Due to the storm, I couldn’t get to London to launch our chapter there, or make my flight to Zurich to attend a conference on sustainable investing. And ironically, I can’t get Swiss Air to refund my tickets.
It’s no longer 1997.
It’s six years since An Inconvenient Truth premiered and 20 years since the first climate change summit. It’s time for us to do better.
And we are. Here are some great examples: AlterEco, Arcimoto, Bennu, Do Good Buy Us, Exchange My Phone, Melon Power, Recyclebank, TerraCycle, Waste to Watts, Voltaic.
But the inconvenient question remains: What are you doing to become part of the story of a better now?