Deadlines and Goals


There is never enough time to do everything. We think that these organised people around us somehow make new time to do all things they love. They don’t. They just have their priorities straight. For effective time management – every book on that subject will tell you so – you need to set your goals. You need to see where you want to go, how you will get there, and when you will do so. That would be all fine if there wasn’t that nagging voice in the back of your head: Does it really matter RIGHT NOW? Couldn’t you just do it in two weeks time? Nobody will care anyway. Watch one more episode. Meet with your friends for dinner.

We put our tasks off until we can’t anymore because we have reached the ultimate deadline. Resulting in stress and bad outcomes. Why not invest more time in realistic planning before hand and then getting the job done? (Hint: we are lazy)

For all this wonderful planning (that I by the way adore) you need to know your goals in life. And then hustle. I just read Lilly Singh’s “How to be a Bawse” and it is awesome. So much practical advice on how to a) be a decent human being b) get shit done c) set your goals and d) grow and climb the ladders of life. You should really check it out. This book is a kick in your booty that was located lazily on the sofa. My booty has been in a very comfortable position lately. I told myself to write daily for this whole year. I made it until the middle of April. Then I stopped. Too much to do, I told myself. My dream – becoming a writer – seemed too far away. I had writer’s block on my latest book project and I just couldn’t get myself to add any more words. The mere thought was ridiculous. How could I write anything every anyway?

Instead I told myself that there was too much to do for uni and then ate my body weight in peanuts and watched youtube videos. Congratulations.

Goal setting for my blog hasn’t worked out that well in the past (look at the hundred’s of posts where I told you I was going to upload regularly. That went so well…) But it doesn’t help to complain about that. Let’s try again. Only talking doesn’t bring me anywhere. I need to do what I preach.

To kick myself in the booty, get away from all this “I am so stressed” nonsense, striving towards my goal of being a writer, I will post once a week. Please hold me accountable for that. Write me angry emails or comments if I do not provide a post every Friday.

Do you have a project you need to get done? Set yourself a deadline and tell your friends to check if you achieved it. Write me in the comments! Tell people about your goals and you are more likely to succeed. Let’s beat the monster of procrastination together!

NaNoWriMo Day 26: The Food We Throw Away


My grandmother is very careful with her food. She won’t throw anything away. She experienced the war, didn’t have enough to eat for so long. That stays a vital part of how she makes decisions concerning food.

Nowadays, we have lost our connection to the food we consume. There are less people in agriculture than ever before. We are moving into the cities, are not confronted with the life on the land anymore. We don’t see our food grow, we don’t know how it is made. Furthermore, there is an incredible abundance of it through technology and globalisation. Our demand has changed. In Europe, we could get strawberries and asparagus in winter. I always looked forward to the time when there are these two products available again in our region in April. Now, you can have them all year! Thats has horrifying consequences.

Children grow up in a world where they can get anything to eat at any time. In most of Europe and North America, you can have food items from all over the world just sitting on your supermarket shelf. We don’t consider where they come from anymore. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to import products from other countries than to buy them locally. There are carrots from Israel and apples from New Zealand and South Africa! We grow apples here in Germany! Why import them? What is wrong with this whole system?

http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/

1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year. That’s a third of global food production. 1/3!!! In Europe and North America, we throw away around 100 kg of food per capita per year. In sub-saharan Africa and parts of Asia, that’s only 6-11 kg. Something is clearly going wrong here. We have lost the connection to our food.

Food lost in Europe could feed 200 million people, in Africa 300 million and in Latin America also 300 million! We could solve our global starvation problem if we wouldn’t throw away that much anymore.

Why is it lost?

“In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.” http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/

What is lost? 30% of the cereals grown, 20% of dairy products produced, 35% of fish and seafood, 45% of fruit and vegetables, 20% of the meat, 20% of oilseeds and pulses and 45% of roots and tubers. Now look… For our production of cereals, vegetables and fruits we need considerably less energy and water than for the whole dairy and meat industry. Therefore, the numbers for these products are so much more tragic.

“The total volume of water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted (250km3) is equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva. (…) Similarly, 1.4 billion hectares of land – 28 percent of the world’s agricultural area – is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.” http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/196402/icode/

Where does all this wasted food land? On the landfill. We had a lovely module last semester, Sustainable Waste Management. We did an experiment on anaerobic landfilling of organic compounds. A lot of gas is produced in there. Guess which one? Methane. A greenhouse gas 23 times as bad for our atmosphere as CO2. Congrats to us, humans. We do not only waste water, land, work, money etc on food we throw away, we contribute further to climate change by where we throw it.

I talked a lot about our relationship with the oceans, too, in the last weeks. The by-catch rates for sea fish are 1:20 up to 1:50. That’s the amount of fish that is caught. So take that one kilo and throw the other 20-50kg back in the oceans. If the fish reaches the supermarket or you as a consumer, again 35% of it is lost! We are killing the wildlife in our oceans, destroying the balances of whole ecosystems to in the end we throw it all away?!
If these numbers aren’t shocking enough yet, let’s look into the issues a little deeper.

Tackling the issue of food waste, there are three aspects we need to consider. 1. From the field to the supermarket. 2. From the supermarket to our homes. 3. From our homes into the trash.

1. From the Field to the Supermarket.

We watched the documentary “Taste the Waste” in our study course a few weeks ago. There was a potato farmer who explained his work. The potatoes are checked if they have the right size, colour and shape. Every single one of them which doesn’t fit these parameters is thrown back onto the field. To rot.

In other countries, the harvesting machines might be not efficient enough and some food is wasted there. That problem can be fixed with modern technology and investment in monitoring this waste for example.

Here’s what we can do in this first part of the food system: Go to the fields. There are normally a lot of crops left because they do not fit the expectations of us consumers. Ugly potatoes, for example. Pick your own vegetables. That also lifts some of the moral weight off the farmers. It’s not their fault. We as consumers are the crazy ones here. A farmer showing his harvest on a local market will have a problem with selling all of his products. Why? Because we don’t like to buy the last one of a sort. We think that there is something wrong with this kale or carrot or whatever. When in the end, there is something wrong with us. If farmers allow people to get their own vegetables from the fields, they do not have to simply throw their crops away anymore. This food actually does have a purpose in the end.

2. From the Supermarkets to Our Homes.

Food waste is primarily due to our mindsets. We only buy products if they look good. Only if there are many of the products displayed. If the date printed on the packaging is not yet reached. This date doesn’t tell us anything. Depending on the type of food, you can eat them days, weeks or even months after their best before date. In German we have the term “Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum” (we love our long words…) which basically means “at least edible until …” Now what does “at least” mean??? That doesn’t make any sense. Neither does our whole food system.

Our choices are just made on appearances. That apple that is not perfectly round, the cucumber with a non-straight shape. I’m not telling you to eat mouldy food or bad food. I just want you to give a little love to ugly carrots and tomatoes. Who of you has ever had a garden or worked in one? How many of these vegetables that you put so much water and effort into were pretty? How much percent of them would you have bought? Close to zero I suppose. In which way is your tiny garden patch different to the huge plantations we have today? They are still plants grown in nature! If you now have the numbers of your own garden in mind, try to imagine the incredible amounts of food that are thrown away in supermarkets! It hurts seeing pictures of containers full of still edible food. Good food, tasty and healthy food. All wasted because it wasn’t pretty enough.

This is what I would like you to do: Go to your store and try to find fruits that are not that pretty. Eggs that have a little crack in them (you can then put them into a glass of water to check if they are still edible. If they are on the bottom, you can). Ask if you can have any of the dairy products that the supermarkets would throw out otherwise. Ask for bread that is a day old. And please, please. Limit your products a bit in accordance to the seasons and the travels they have made. Try to eat less meat, fish and dairy products.

3. From Our Homes to the Trash

http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/node/2472

“Almost 50% of the total amount of food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes. We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.” That’s a shocking statistic! That means we throw away more than ¼ of the food that could have fed us.

Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Plan your meals. Think about what you could make with what you have in the fridge. Be creative. Stick to your plans. Involve your children in the process. They need to see how important food is and that wasting it is a serious issue.
  2. Go shopping when you need something. Make a list and buy only items from your list. Don’t wander around and buy things that look nice to you and that could potentially… maybe… they are not eaten in the end. It’s the same with shopping for clothes. If it doesn’t 100% fit and you don’t like or need it 100%, don’t buy it.
  3. Look into your fridge before you go grocery shopping. You might not remember that you have already bought something.
  4. Put fresh food in the freezer. You will probably not eat a whole loaf of bread in a few days. Freeze it in slices and eat it in small portions rather than throwing away half a loaf.
  5. If you haven’t finished your meals, put them back into the fridge and eat them the next day. Stress to your children the importance of saving food or finishing it.
  6. Ask in restaurants if you can take the leftovers home.
  7. If bananas are a little too ripe, make a banana bread. If vegetables are a little squishy, cook them. Trust your senses. If they still smell good and taste good, they are still ok!
  8. Ask friends if they could use some of your vegetables you will not eat. Ask them over for dinner! Swap ingredients around neighbours.
  9. Compost organic material if you can.
  10. Eat consciously. Everything that you eat has an origin. Your cereals come from fields, your dairy products from real cows. Think of the impact you have on your environment. Enjoy your meals, don’t throw them away.

That all sounds so bad, but here is a good sign. As always, it comes from a Scandinavian country: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/denmark-food-waste-supermarket-we-food-copenhagen-surplus-produce-a6890621.html Denmark has opened its first supermarket which sells food that would have gone to waste. There are a lot of awesome projects concerning food waste. Inform yourself where you can help in your area to prevent food waste.

A lot of the food waste is due to our culture and our minds. You are hosting a party. Your biggest concern will be that you haven’t got ENOUGH food, never TOO MUCH. In a restaurant last week we finished our meals and the waiter said: “Oh, you ate everything, then it clearly must have been not enough!” What is that crazy thinking we do here? It’s always about more and more. Not about reduction. You feel embarrassed if you guests ate all the food at your party. When all you should be is happy that you don’t have to throw anything away. We need to change that perception in our society.

As you might have noticed, I’m a bit angry concerning the topic of food waste. We are just trying to fix all of these global climate issues and in the end our own consumption is one of the main problems, nobody talks about. There are more and more campaigns but do they put up signs in the supermarket: “Only buy what you need! Don’t throw food away!” Are the supermarkets themselves doing anything to reduce the amounts of food discarded? The policy makers? No.

This was a little guide to conquer the problem of food waste. If you calculate your carbon footprint, you are normally asked how much food you throw away. Because that can be quite significant for your greenhouse gas emissions. Try to be kind to our planet. Try to remember all those shocking numbers. We are wasting 1/3 of our food in the world, 1/3 of our soils, so much money and water. How much good we could derive from this 1/3! How many people we could make happy and satisfied. What a wonderful place this earth would be if we ate what we made.

Current Word Count: 43780

 

NaNoWriMo Day 22: 270 000 Tons


Some people say it is the plastics era. We drink out of it, we wear it, we use it for everything. It is useful, of course! I’m just looking over my desk, what do I find? Plastic headphones, plastic calculator, my laptop, my phone do have plastic parts, pens and bottles and wrappings of food, the boxes I carry my food in to uni. Everything is plastics. This is one indication of how I’m also a slave to the system of plastics that has overcome us. Slave is too passive. I also actively choose to buy those things! I can’t help it! I’m in no means better than anyone else. I just would like to bring some awareness to it. To consider our actions more consciously.

The thing is: We can do something about this problem. We can use different wrappings, bottles, clothes – there are alternatives. Why don’t we choose them? We all know the reasons. Plastics are hygienic, light, cheap. Here comes the challenge. They are too good for us and too bad for everything else around.

To make the discussion not too complex I will not focus on the obvious source of plastics – our fossil resources. This is closely related but will not be an aspect here. I want to focus on the effects plastics have on our environments and accordingly on us. We are not only eating out of plastics, we are eating them themselves. Our water is full of little plastic particles so tiny you cannot see them anymore. In our food, in fish and marine animals. We feast on plastics every day. Tasty.

I want to provide you with some numbers here: 268,940 tons of plastics are currently swimming in our oceans (1). That equals roughly estimated 50 000 elephants. Well, that’s also a bit difficult to imagine. Take the population of Los Angeles. Average of 70 kg per person. The combined weight of all people in Los Angeles equals the weight of all the plastics in the seas. That’s the weight. Sounds horrible, doesn’t it?

But why does the plastic flow and isn’t magically disappearing? This is why we bought it for, right? It is light and durable. Now we got the problem. Through sunlight and other weather phenomena the plastics are dispersed into small particles. And then eaten by all the small creatures that inhabit the sea. Plastics move up the food chain. Until we also consume them.

Not only do the animals consume them, they also get entangled, are seriously harmed and may not even hunt for food anymore (2). Have you ever tried to eat with a plastic bottle attached to your arm or even your head? With a foil around your body? It is terrifying.

Through wind and the currents in our oceans, those little particles of plastics are transported everywhere. Inputs in southern hemisphere are much higher than in the northern, but the amount that is found is approximately the same (1). Plastics are everywhere.

So now that we know all that, what now? This is maybe the most important question. I don’t want to be a preacher because I think that talking does only help to a certain extent. I show you my art, what I am passionate about. I hope that you will become passionate about it too. Also, I want to stress, that I am no environmental angel. I also buy vegetables in plastic foils. I also use shampoo in plastic bottles. I do all those things too. The thing is: I am aware of it and I try to reduce it. My way of thinking is that even a small change can have an impact. Our actions matter, the good and the bad. Maybe next time you buy water, take ones in the glass. Or buy yogurt in a glass. Buy articles in larger containers. Don’t buy bottles at all. Cook more and eat less packaged food. Bring you own cup to your favourite coffee shop. You can do many things.

Through my studies especially of waste management, I became more aware of the whole system we are a part of. When I go grocery shopping now, I think about what is going to cause the most garbage. Which of those wrappings I can reuse. It is a conscious decision. Maybe you can think about this the next time when you go shopping. Even small changes matter. To our environment and in the end also to all of us.

We are the only inhabitants on this earth making something that nature cannot break down. It tries, making the problem only worse. There is a great series of talks on plastics in oceans. Look it up here: TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch.

We had a very interesting topic in Economics today: The Stern Review on Climate Change. A little summary: It costs us up to 5-20 times more to invest in dealing with the effects of climate change than to protect it from happening in the first place. Investment in climate protection. It gets more expensive every year. GDP will decrease around 1% annually, if we change our energy sources to green energy, our transportation system. If we don’t do so, there are going to be many different effects, that influence our economy in a negative way: The weather events will get more extreme, there won’t be enough water and people will not be able to do agriculture anymore. There will be diseases and heat stress. Loss in biodiversity, pollution – the list is endless. Maybe you are a very rational person and you just want to see the effect climate change has on us on an economical level. Here are the numbers: 5-20% loss of GDP to today’s status. When we do nothing about our current situation. When we do not try to tackle climate change. When we put our hands in our laps and sit still until this earth will eventually collapse.

This is a message to the most extreme climate change deniers, people who do not see the point. To the most blind or unethical people: We will have a worldwide economic power decline of 1/5. Open your eyes and get to work.

Those numbers in the Stern Review are a few years old. We have done more research. The consequences we have found are even higher now. That’s why our potential loss will also be higher.

If we instead choose to invest in renewable energies, we might also face a potential economic benefit. The market for these energies is huge, we can make money with it! The authors suggested, that we might even have an increase in GDP in the end, of 2%.

A student asked: “When it is so much cheaper and apparently everyone knows about that, why aren’t we doing anything?” Our professor posed a question back: “Are you talking of me? All economists know this review. Everyone in this room does.” He went on to explain something totally unrelated to the question. The core remained. Why? Why aren’t we doing anything?

Dealing with climate change now is best for our own lives, our society, our economy, our environment- everyone! Or as or professor said: “Climate change is the biggest market failure we ever faced.”

We live in capitalism, we want high short-term profit. We face trade-offs. If we acquire a short-term benefit from our actions and in the long-term we might feel guilty about having polluted the environment, we don’t care. That’s how the system works. It’s the same for the big companies. In the end, they are the ones with the influence. Not the people, not the politicians and the workers, not anyone. The power lies where the money is, I’m sorry. Either we try to change that system or we try to deal with the problem together as a front against those who go on polluting. As consumers we have a choice. As people we have a choice. We can put our money where we think our interests and values are best represented. When we don’t participate in a plastic-wrapped system anymore, it has to change sooner or later. If we do not give money to companies anymore who will pollute our oceans with hazardous plastic waste, they will not be there much longer. If punishment from governments does not help, we have to do it. If we cannot speak to hearts anymore, we have to speak to bank accounts.

That all sounded so abstract. Let me break it down to some simple steps:

Notice what you buy. Buy less. Recycle more. Take action, clean up, speak up. Here’s a brilliant article on 10 easy steps to avoid plastics and to change the world in little steps: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/10-ways-reduce-plastic-pollution

Let me end with two little stories.

My mum and I went to the store recently and I tried to find a dish detergent which would be sustainable and without any hazardous substances. We found one. Wrapped in a bottle that was made from the plastics from a canal in Amsterdam. The waste would have reached the North Sea. Now it was put back into the process chain, recycled. It’s still plastics but if we cannot break it down into fossil oil again, we can at least use it as long as possible.

When I was walking around my favourite lake the other day, I saw some people collecting plastics out of it. Plastic bags, wellies, plastic wrappers – everything you might imagine. It was horrible to see that much garbage in such a little lake. On the other hand I was so happy to see people showing love to their environment. A child and his father I believe. Why don’t we make father-son fishing trips about collecting garbage in the future? Make it a challenge. Clean up your hometown.

Do you live near a coast or a lake? Start a cleaning project by yourself or ask your community if there is one. With joined efforts, with love for our planet and by little actions, we can change the world.

Here are the sources I used:

1 Eriksen M, Lebreton LCM, Carson HS, Thiel M, Moore CJ, Borerro JC, et al. (2014) Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. PLoS ONE 9(12): e111913. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111913

2 David W. Laist: Overview of the biological effects of lost and discarded plastic debris in the marine environment, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 18, Issue 6, Supplement B, June 1987, Pages 319-326

If you are interested in the Stern Review I mentioned, here’s the complete study: http://mudancasclimaticas.cptec.inpe.br/~rmclima/pdfs/destaques/sternreview_report_complete.pdf It’s 662 pages long, just so you know. There are some good summaries out there which you maybe rather would like to go to. I’m doing Nanowrimo, I haven’t got any time to read this whole thing either.

Current Word Count: 36 964

NaNoWriMo Day 17: You know you are an environmental student when…


You know you are a student of environmental and resource management…

When people have to ask several times to get what you are studying.

When people ask you what you can do with that.

When you answer: “I’m going to save the planet!” unironically.

When being an environmentalist is normal.

When wanting to save the world is your main goal in life.

When “Sorry for the inconvenience, we are trying to change the world” could be your slogan.

When your family considers you to be the weird one, the Eco Freak.

When you have claimed that word for yourself and wear the word with pride.

When you lead every discussion to an environmental topic in the end.

When your friends ask you if the can even come to your house if they have plastic bags with them.

When you are proud to see people with paper bags.

When you have an extra fabric bag in every handbag.

When you are happy that your supermarket does not offer plastic bags anymore.

When you constantly rage about lobbyism of big firms, inactive governments, environmentally ignorant politicians and the like.

When your parents give you cut-out newspaper articles about environmental problems.

When your parents send you articles about new technological innovations to save the world.

When you send them great articles about climate change with a praise-hands-emoji and a huge “YES!”

When you know more about environmental news than those concerning the whole world.

When you are having a hard time finding a great environmental magazine.

When you decide you would love to make your own.

When your parents do not understand you anymore when you talk about Pigouvian taxes, riparian vegetation and hyporheic zones in rivers.

When your parents smile silently about your enthusiastic views on the environment.

When you send your friends excerpts of environmental treaties to prove your point.

When you are extremely excited about the Paris Agreement.

When you marked the day it entered into force in your calendar.

When you are angry about people denying climate change.

When you detest people who think climate change was an invention by the Chinese.

When one of your first thoughts about the US election result was: Our poor poor environment.

When you try to stay positive about the environmental progress of the last years.

When you nevertheless suffer from environmental grief.

When you are a vegan.

When you at least thought about going vegan.

When you did so for mainly environmental reasons.

When there is at least one vegan food to eat at every social gathering of your course.

When people ask you which milk substitute is the best.

When you are able to make a twenty minute presentation about that.

When you know where to get the best vegan cake in town. And go there every week.

When you make cakes for each other. Vegan, naturally.

When you are excited to find certain vegetables in your supermarket.

When your fridge contains more vegetables than anything else.

When all your food containers are made of glass.

When you decide to just buy products from Europe, that are not transported around the whole globe.

When you cringe when thinking how much emissions they have cost to get into your supermarket.

When your food choices are based on the environmental and social impact they have.

When you try to make other people think about their food choices.

When you succeed in doing so.

When you drink out of glass bottles.

When your whole family does so too, now.

When second-hand shopping is perfectly normal.

When the 60 people in your course are willing to watch a documentary about food waste together.

When you get both sad and angry when you see how much food is wasted.

When you flinch every time you see food thrown away.

When you wonder about how you could have ever eaten meat.

When you meet with friends to watch documentaries. About salmon.

When you take notes about the statistics in your mind to win an argument next time.

When your youtube “To watch” list only contains nature documentaries.

When your “To read” list only contains books about the environment or related topics.

When your greatest heroes are environmentalists.

When you derive a lot of your basic knowledge from nature documentaries.

When you get more enthusiastic about watching those than blockbusters.

When you search for a list with all famous vegans to prove a point.

When you sent your friends messages about a documentary about the fates of dolphins in Japan and you are crying. Crying a lot. And hating the world.

When you are sharing this information with everyone you know.

When you are asking everyone to watch this documentary.

When your most used emoji is either a leaf or a panda.

When half your you hashtags are concerning the environment.

When you love to throw shocking numbers about fishery or oil spills or coal mining or factory farming into everyday conversation.

When you do so even though the topic was a completely different one.

When you then grin at people and say: We live in a horrible world. Let’s change it.

When you then give a list to them of all the things they could change in their lifestyle to have a smaller environmental impact.

When you have a perfectly rehearsed lecture for people who ask you why they even should do anything because their actions to not count anyway.

When you know what the carbon food print is.

When you know your carbon food print at any given moment.

When you are ashamed if you find that it is still too high.

When you changed your opinion about Leo DiCaprio a lot since you learned that he is a passionate environmentalist.

When you don’t particularly like the films he acts in but love his documentaries.

When you watch documentaries alone and stand up and cry “yes!” when someone advocates for change.

When you use your free-time to watch environmental documentaries.

When you have to sit down afterwards and write about it.

When you are in the middle of a project of writing 50 000 words in a month. About the environment.

When you can use your lecture slides to help you do that.

When your notes are written on recycled paper. With an FSC logo on it.

When you re-use paper that your printer spit out the wrong way.

When you are angry when professors tell you that you can only print your essays on one side of the paper.

When you are relieved to find out that you can upload them and do not have to print them.

When you have done excessive research on where your paper comes from.

When you get extremely excited about additional materials concerning water scarcity and climate change.

When you were in deep awe when you first entered the “environmental subjects” floor of your library.

When you just pick out random books and are surprised what a variety of environmental books there are.

When you actually read them.

When you feel weird going to any other floor.

When you can’t stay inside anymore and skip lectures to go for a walk or run.

When you simply love being outside.

When you have a photo challenge on your blog for autumn leaves. (festivalofleaves.wordpress.com)

When you go for a run and speak with a friend about the environment the whole time.

When you are on the country side and it smells awful and you just say: Waste Water Treatment Plant.

When you save little bugs that crawled onto you way and put them back into the forest again.

When you pet them softly and say that it’s going to be alright.

When you have more empathy towards animals than certain humans.

When you are a member of you uni garden. And dead serious about it.

When you have excursions to the forest.

When you dig holes in the ground for several hours.

When you simply love doing that.

When you post pictures of the pit showing other people how beautiful your soil profile was.

When you are sad that you had to close this hole again.

When you know a little something about plants.

When you refer to leaves in a river as “Leaf litter input”.

When you say “Floating Leaved Macrophytes” to water lilies.

When you draw the catchment area of your local river onto a map. Just for practise and fun.

When you give every animal and every plant around you a name. Because you love them so much.

When you collect your organic waste for the compost.

When you urge other people to do so.

When you urge other people to build a compost themselves.

When you are annoyed of people who leave their garbage everywhere.

When you pick up their garbage and throw it in the right bin.

When you are basically an expert in waste separation.

When you spent several weeks in a waste lab measuring awfully smelling gas production.

When you lecture other people how to separate their waste.

When you try to change the waste separation at your work place.

When you are angry when people buy fully automated coffee machines with those little plastic cups that get thrown away.

When you do not buy certain things when they are wrapped too much.

When you want to run around the supermarket and cry in anger about all the plastics.

When you are ashamed that you haven’t reduced your waste to zero yet.

When you discuss about using edible plates for your next party.

When you try to re-use packaging material for various purposes.

When you make art out of it.

When you start a new drawing series with animals and immediately, without thinking, pick endangered animals.

When you are able to ask people to throw names of animals at you and you know exactly where on the red list they are.

When you are jealous of Sweden and Denmark and Iceland for having made such progress in renewables.

When you switch every light off in the very moment you are leaving the room.

When you think intensively about where to cut your electricity usage.

When you stop ironing your clothes because a) you are a student and b) it costs too much energy.

When you ask people if they changed their lightbulbs to energy-saving ones.

When you take your bike everywhere. Even in the snow and minus 30 degrees.

When you want to change people’s attitude towards cars.

When you stated years ago that you do not want to have a car.

When you await in impatience the moment when electrical cars get less expensive.

When you daydream about a world without fossil fuel based cars.

When you daydream about where to put solar panels in your future home.

When your parents ask you how to change their energy consumption.

When you feel guilty about going on holidays.

When you shake your fists towards planes in the sky.

When you daydream about being part of a huge climate conference and actually making change happen.

When you just love the people around you and couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to be at this very moment in your life.

I would like to thank my lovely friends for helping me create this list. The idea was born during a run and we had to stop so often because we simply couldn’t stop laughing. Those points are sometimes just so true. You are awesome and I’m so happy to be part of this crazy environmental community! xxx

Current Wort Count: 29188

NaNoWriMo Day 14: The Sociology of Car Driving


Today I would like to share with you some considerations I made in first semester Sociology. We were talking about car driving. Why do people drive cars? This is an essay very focused on the transportation in Germany. I’m completely aware that my suggestions wouldn’t work everywhere. The problems are varying in each country and a similar evaluation would have to be for every region. However, I found it quite interesting and wanted to share it with you because I believe that you wouldn’t normally think about the many aspects of driving your car.

My writing style changed a lot over time and I’m so happy about it. It’s great revisiting that text that I handed in one year ago, to see how my thought processes were back then. My voice has changed, too! Even after lots of editing, you will still be able to see how I wrote back then. Progress is possible, people!

(I’m cringing so much, reading what I did back then. Ouch! a) incredibly long sentences b) my excessive use of the word “the” c) sentences so complicated I didn’t unterstand them… even though I wrote them!)


To get to work quickly, to buy groceries, to simply drive – there are a lot of reasons why we take our car. Often, we are not aware of the damage cars do to the environment. One reason is, that carbon emissions are invisible. Climate change is abstract, not connected to something as common as driving. We don’t develop a strong responsibility for the environment around. There are a lot of other factors concerning car driving which can be discussed on a sociological basis.

Relevant Practises

Going on holidays or on longer trips, we tend to ignore the fact, that these journeys are often the most fuel consuming. In Germany, there is no speed limit on motorways. From a velocity of approximately 130 km/h on, the petrol consumption rises dramatically. Many people drive much faster on the streets, because they want to get to their destination quicker.

Oil got more expensive over time because it is a limited resource. As a consequence, the price of fuel also rose. In the end, taking the train could be much cheaper. Not only the price is a factor for choosing to drive the car, though.

In rural areas there is often no public transport available to get to work every day. Taking the bike would take too long. Car-sharing would have to be organised thoroughly and is not as flexible as driving the own car. Eventually, people just take their car to the city.

Consequently, we have to ask ourselves, how this is going to change modern cities. If car driving gets more expensive, people from the countryside will also move into the cities, making them even more crowded. Living space will get more expensive. This might lead to a complete depopulation of rural areas. Therefore we have to search for other alternatives to fuel consuming cars. Expand public transport. This would counteract the movement to the city.

There are two main alternatives to petrol-driven cars. Electric cars based on accumulators and hydrogen-powered cars. I am focusing on the electric cars because the technology is a little simpler. More and more electric and also self-driving vehicles were developed in the last decade. The problem with these is, that we don’t really trust them. They are new, not as carefully long-term tested as “normal” cars. A lot of research has to be done to make them more reliable. However, electric cars tend to be much saver, there are no flammable substances involved. Not as many wearing parts.

After being introduced to the potentials of electric cars, people often say that power for these cars has to come from somewhere. One way to generate energy is using fossil fuels. In this case they are right: Deriving energy from this process wouldn’t change anything in the equation. Nevertheless, we can use alternative energies. We would not sacrifice our environment for the benefit of mobility. Solar, wind or any kind of green energy can be saved in accumulators. If there was a network of self-driving electric cars, we could even charge them and use them as transport mechanisms for the energy. We could store the energy in those cars. Introducing electric cars would change the cities and our ways of life drastically.

Costs and Benefits

There are many benefits of cars. Transporting goods, especially heavy and voluminous objects. Some people have a car just for buying groceries. Alternatives are delivery services of supermarkets. In recent years, they have been improved significantly. Through well developed networks, only one car for several households is required. In the future, self-driving cars could be used for this purpose.

Cars are comfortable. They can get us from one place to another much faster than a bike. We are not dependent on good weather. Independent from seasonal changes. Public transport like trains often have problems in winter. They are simply not perceived as reliable as cars. When driving a car instead of a train, we have our own private space. We like to have a known environment around to feel save. Train driving can be frightening, especially at night.

Another fact that has to be considered is that for handicapped people it is very difficult to use the public transport. There are not always lifts on station platforms. That makes it sometimes impossible for them to take the train.

Moreover, there are a lot of people who like to drive. They often do not think about the impact that may have. Long term consequences are not taken into consideration. Petrol consumption and emission of CO2 contribute to the green house effect and therefore to global warming.

Driving without a speed limit on the highway may pose problems. Drivers who exceed the average speed a lot are more likely to brake suddenly, which may cause congestion or lead to accidents. In the end, people get to their destinations slower and carbon emissions are much higher. The most efficient speed is 80km/h. The ratio between safe distance and speed is the best, the line of cars is most elastic.

Driving cars leads after all to visible negative consequences. Cities get more crowded and noisy. The air is polluted, by means of acid rain also the drinking water. Small spaces that are now parking lots could be free or green parks.

Environmental Attitudes

The environmental attitude is very important to change our behaviour concerning cars. We need to understand, that even small changes can lead to bigger positive impacts. We just point to other countries and say: You have to stop emitting carbon first! We deny our own impact on global climate. In the end we all live on this planet together. It should be a topic we are all involved in.

One could argue that other practises are much more CO2 intensive, for example factory farming. However, taking the bike for a small distance has also an impact. We have to understand, that every action we do to reduce carbon emissions is a good one. Not doing anything and delegating responsibility makes it worse.

Social Norms

Especially in Germany cars are status symbols. We have to have a car. Most people grew up not thinking about why their parents have a car. Early education did not point out the harms cars can do. Parents drive children to school. Later in life, we see it as a necessary object, that we must have.

Also, the media tell us so. There are many car advertisements on TV, on the radio, on the internet. Cars are everywhere. We ask ourselves, if we also need one. There are more and more advertisements for ‘environmental friendly’ cars, but rarely for electric ones. They are simply not as present. That is another reason why we don’t buy them. We are simply not confronted with them on a daily basis.

Owning a car gives us a freedom that trains and busses cannot provide. Changing and getting to certain stations on time can be very stressful. Taking the public transport is often just seen as an ‘alternative’. Not as the first option.

Sociological Theories

Car driving is not a rational choice. It is not carefully considered if the carbon emission is more important than the length of the way. If it is snowing, rarely anyone even thinks about taking the bike. We just drive and pay the petrol, being surprised about the price afterwards.

Many people are not as knowledgeable on the alternatives to petrol-driven cars. It is not a rational choice between them. The presence of electric cars is so little, yet the costs so high. That means we don’t even think about buying them at all. Mental framing in this case is, that we are used to buying petrol-driven cars. Everyone around is, too. We are not going to change that.

The low-cost-hypothesis produces another aspect. Environmentally friendly cars are still very expensive. Not enough resources are used to develop them and do research. The behaviour is constrained by economic aspects. Furthermore, public transport is very expensive. We think our cars are cheaper, more comfortable. We choose them. If there were no costs for public transport, we would rethink our choices.

Possible Political Intervention

There are lots of ways we could reduce petrol consumption.

First there are economic possibilities: Higher costs of petrol, higher taxes on cars. There is already a very high tax for big cars. The ‘pollution badge’ in Germany makes it impossible for inefficient, highly polluting cars to get into the city centre.

However, higher taxes would lead to a division of society into those who can afford driving and the ones who cannot. This division is not desirable. One way to avoid it would be to make public transport free. It could be financed from the taxes that the remaining car drivers pay.

Another economic opportunity would be to award people money to change from bigger to smaller cars. To more efficient or even electric cars. It would make the change much more attractive. Besides, it would focus the view on environmental issues. Make us much more aware of the problems with carbon emitting vehicles.

Investment in public transport would make it more reliable. The maintenance would be much easier, which is a big problem at the moment. Changing it in a way also handicapped people can use it. There has to be a high functioning system of transportation. It could involve self-driving electric cars that take people to train stations. Less traffic jams would occur because their navigation is much better. They can be programmed to not go faster than a speed limit. Road transport would be much safer. These cars will also pose alternatives to getting groceries.

Finally, there can be political campaigns and changes in governing, in urban management.

Information on environmental problems is essential. Huge campaigns can help. Climate change has to be something that is not as abstract anymore. We have to recognise that certain changes have to be made so that life can continue as we know it. The term of ‘sustainable development’ has to be something everyone agrees on. That life is lived in a way that allows the current needs to be met. But also those of future generations to come.

One of the most radical changes would be to make city centres absolutely car free. It would be of use to turn parking lots into green spaces. This could contribute positively to city climate and force people to leaves their cars at home.

The best way to reduce fuel consumption is to make electric cars more attractive, reliable and less expensive. To not have cars at all, public transport had to be free. The argument of the comfortability can be solved by better urban services. In the future, petrol-driven cars can be abandoned completely if new sustainable sources of energy are used and alternatives are attractive enough. People’s behaviour will change and that will have a huge positive impact on the climate and life on our planet.


Current Word Count: 23816

NaNoWriMo Day 13: Some Eco Stories


Story Time! Today I will present you some little tales from my journey of becoming an Environmental Manager. I’m not a scientist, I’m not an engineer, I’m a little of everything and that’s why I love it so much. We are the ones to gather people together and discuss different approaches. That is also kind of the excuse for when we are failing at maths. Hopefully, someone will do those calculations for us… It’s important to have a general overview. We are getting little portions of everything. Just enough to keep us excited and let us stick our noses into our books.

Last Friday, we went on an excursion for our module Basic Soil Science, which is one of my absolute favourites. I don’t know what it is about the dirt beneath our feet that fascinates me that much. Maybe because it is so vital to our existence. Without good soil we couldn’t sustain our lives. Or maybe it is just because I grew up doing some gardening work. I remember my dad digging holes in our garden to plant trees or plants or breaking up the soil. It is fascinating how it takes such a long time to build a soil. Up to 200 years to form 1 cm! Yet, nowadays we are ruining our grounds with chemical inputs and fertilisers so that the ground we need to feed ourselves is decreasing rapidly.

We drove to the forest north of Cottbus, there is an end moraine with the hills that the glaciers brought with them. It was oddly silent there. This silence is something we rarely experience anymore in our fast moving cities. There is always a car, a plane, a train, construction work… In this forest, though, it was silent. And extremely cold. Who wanted to go to Sweden for her semester abroad? In winter? Yeah, me. Freaking out over frosty temperatures in Germany…

To keep us warm we started digging a hole in the forest ground. That was some exercise! All the tree roots through the whole profile… We were the only completely female group. They expected us to not manage to dig a pit in the ground. Well, we were the first ones to finish! Some first class girl power here! Our professor came and examined what we had done, the hole was one metre deep just as we should do it. Then he said: “I’m terribly sorry ladies, you have to go on. There is another layer beneath.” So we kept on digging. And who would have known? Another layer of darker soil became visible. We even build a step to be able to get out of the pit again. That was a nice deep hole in a lonely, we made there.

Then it was time to examine the soil profile. At the top, there is always a layer of organic material, moss and humus and needles and other leaf litter. Underneath that, the first horizon starts, the Ah horizon. It is made out of humus and normally very dark soil. Beneath that one is the B horizon. In addition, it gets a little w if it is weathered. Weathering is a soil transformation process, in our case the iron in our soil was transformed and it got a yellowish colour. Right under that one is the C horizon, which was also a little weathered. Then the interesting part began. There was another layer where there should be none. How to explain that?

In medieval times, the forest that surrounded us had been cut and the trees dragged into the valley we were standing in. That damaged the top layer of the soil with all its organic material. It became fossilised, therefore it is called “II (for second layer) fAh”. Because we had a lot of sand there, it was washed away by heavy rainfall and got into the valley where we were standing. It covered the top layer, the organic matter. A new layer was formed. A new A, B and C horizon. My friend Hannah took this amazing picture to illustrate that:

soil

There was also a lot of little charcoal pieces in our soil sample. That could be due to forest fire or a just a campfire workers in the woods made. Forever to be seen in the soil beneath our feet.

It was an adventure, it was exciting. We visited history by digging into the ground, just 1.40 m deep. That’s not that much! We dug ourselves to medieval times! Only in rethinking the day I am grasping how amazing that is. We can look into our past by making a hole in the ground. A very beautiful hole, my father said, he always wanted to build one like that.

Looking back into our history has always excited me. I grew up with books about history and tv documentaries on the past centuries. One of the first ones I looked at was a book about the ancient Egypt, which is my mother’s but I would always study all the photographs and become excited. I read novels about history borrowed from my grandparents. I had great history teachers! I would talk to my granny about her life. We always look at the old photo albums. I just love to hear stories.

One of the heroes of my mum is Heinrich Schliemann, who made the first excavations to try and find the ancient Troja. He did indeed find it! At least the Bronze Age one. Now we know there have been many more. That’s also fascinating to me. They build a city and after they left or it burned down or something else happened, there was always a new one on the exact same spot!

Schliemann was obsessed with his dream and did everything he could to get where he wanted to be. Educated himself, learned languages. He embodies what history means to my mum and through her stories also to me. I love to go to libraries and do research. I love to read biographies at the moment, to learn about the lives of people who are so very different from me. Who share their experiences and thereby teach what life can be about. That your path is not always straight and that you should let yourself be guided by interest, curiosity and passion. Today I started Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”. I really didn’t want to put it down but I have to write this text! 😉 It’s such a great book from by such a great man.

Concerning the stories we are told by our families: I asked them when they first became aware of climate change. I mean our generation basically grew up with it. In school we were always taught about it, the science behind it was all around us. I painfully became aware of how difficult and desperate the situation was in a geography, when we were talking about the Doha conference in 2012. The Kyoto protocol was extended but Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand left this Kyoto II contract. We realised that it is difficult to reach agreements on an international level. In our course we learned about renewable energies and sustainable city design, all skills that we thought we wouldn’t need after school. Who would have known that I would exactly use that, just a few years later?

My family told me varying points when they became aware of global warming. It was as early as the whole ozone hole discussion came up or when there were increasingly damaging hurricanes and flooding in the Indian ocean.

The problem with our ozone layer began in the last 70s. There were several international agreements like the Montreal Protocol and the Vienna Convention which did a fair job. Scientific evidence on what causes the ozone layer to deplete was not that established at the time. 2012 was the first year in which we could observe that the ozone hole got smaller again. To me it seems like that was nearly the only significant positive news concerning the environment we got until this point. Sure, we have had a lot of international agreements. I’m flipping through a whole law book at the moment trying desperately to find that one article. It feels like a lot of talking without doing anything, though. Maybe I’m being unfair to the hard working people behind these agreements. Certainly they will have an impact someday. But until we are not able to implement them, nothing is going to change. International environmental law is a difficult topic and we will have to work on that for decades to get a decent outcome. Hopefully stopping global warming. This vision, however, seems a little to optimistic to me. Unfortunately.

As students, we live in a helpful environment. We are a bunch of people eager to change things. We will gather together as a study course and will watch documentaries about food waste. Any environmental challenge. You name it. Forty people raging and crying about all the lost vegetables and other products we throw away. Gasping each time the shocking numbers are revealed. We want to do something about this. Nevertheless, we are also aware of the fact that change takes a long time. Just like soil forming! 1 centimetre in 200 years! Especially with the tireless lobbying of major cooperations who want to secure their own profits. Who only think in short term profit maximisation. It’s a frightening world we are living in and as the gaps between people are widening, it is sometimes hard to imagine a better and united world.

Only those who focus on their vision, will make it come true. My father always tells me that analogy: “If you are driving the car and something emerges ahead, do not look at it. Look to its side because that’s the direction you want to drive to.” People who look at their goal in front of them and not their obstacle, those are the ones who will succeed in the end.

Current Word Count: 21802

NaNoWriMo Day 6: The Importance of Learning


NaNoWriMo Day 6: The Importance of Learning and a Painting

“If you feel naive, learn.” That’s what my dad said to me after we had a long conversation about the environment, society and politics in general. I get very passionate when it comes to the way we treat our earth. Then again, with every additional information I get, I feel like I know nothing at all. Every piece of knowledge opens up another world. You see that you haven’t discovered anything yet. It’s like the people who thought that the earth is flat. They knew everything about that round disc. Then they realised that our planet is in fact a sphere they knew nothing about. The more we learn, the less we know.

I believe in life-long learning. With every book you read and every person you get to know, you realise that you haven’t considered so many things yet. My dad and I were talking about carbon emissions. He said: “Wait a moment, has anyone considered that more people on this earth will also breathe out more carbon?” I said that this portion wouldn’t be that significant. Turns out that just the breathing of India’s population equals the emissions of our German transport system. Diving deeper into any kind of topic you find how little you actually know. There are three ways to react: a) You don’t care. b) You don’t consume any media anymore because it is too much for you. c) You want to know everything and you often feel naive and uneducated. Therefore you read book after book and try to keep up.

I love learning and studying. When I went vegan I read every book my library had to offer. I watched film upon film and read articles about it. I became obsessed with the topic once my eyes where opened. I found out that everything I should review everything I have ever been taught about nutrition. Now my family and friends ask questions about being vegan and I can answer them. I still feel like I don’t know enough yet. I still feel that I have to educate myself on nutrients and where to get them.

“I only trust statistics I have faked by myself.” My dad always asks me where I have those facts from. We live in a world with no independent media. Even if they talk about incidents objectively, they still can leave certain parts out. “History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books – books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?” You find that sentence in The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

This is why we need science. You can objectify it. You can measure something and the finding stays the same. The interpretations may vary. The basis does not.

To be a good citizen in this world it is important to learn. To be open-minded and to accept criticism. It is always dangerous to adopt an opinion without any or little information. For me, it is difficult to stay up to date with the news in this world. To get them from different sources, compare their messages. We simply don’t have the time to think about every little piece of knowledge we acquire from five perspectives. We have to make sacrifices. Our news come in little portions, bite-sized.

Sometimes I want to cry out: Give me everything you have about this topic, I want more! In the era of the Internet, it is so easy to inform yourself. You can get knowledgable on the subspecies of rays. A little excursion to tree species that lived in the Ordovician?

Stay curious. With every new fact you learn a new door opens up and you find yourself in another corridor of doors. We are build to be curious and to seek knowledge. If our ancestors wouldn’t have played with fire, our whole evolution wouldn’t have been possible. Well, what’s that interesting animal over there? Ouch… Oh, Gaby, it’s hot! Let’s put some food around it and see what happens. I don’t know why my hypothetical Stone Age woman is named Gaby, but you get my point. Knowledge is a vital part of our development.

My favourite fictional character is Hermione Granger. “When in doubt, go to the library” seems to be my new motto. I adore her passion for her movement S.P.E.W. and how she pieced all information together before anyone else did. Her curiosity inspires me. She always read books before the term even started. She helped her friends when they needed it and she even used a time-turner to be able to take all the courses! Solving riddles, she always mentions the books she got the solutions from.

I’m sharing a painting with you today I completed last week. My admiration for Michelle Obama is endless. I listened to a lot of her talks she gave in the previous weeks and I just love how she speaks. She has the ability to capture people with her words. She values education and knowledge. The painting I did of her sits over my desk, next to Malala. Every time I feel discouraged or unwilling to study, I look at them and find strength. If you have any suggestion which amazing woman I should paint as well, please tell me!

The process of painting has been difficult. I started with a sketch and as I put some colours on the canvas I knew that it wouldn’t work out. I was discouraged, I had to turn the painting around to not look at it anymore. I tried again. The next sketch turned out a lot better. Creating a painting is a lot like writing. You put a sentence on the paper. Rewrite it. Change words. Change their order, their tone. In painting you try and add a bit of a risky colour. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. You paint over it. Start again. It’s also a lot like making sculptures. You work a face out of a canvas until if finally looks at you. Nods. You’ve done a good job.

I’m not that easily satisfied with my work but I’m proud of this one. Painting, just like writing, is hard. There are days when it really doesn’t work at all. Then you have those days when everything falls into place. Where all the days you spent studying proportions of the human body are worthwhile. When all the hours you spent learning grammar make sense. You can never learn too much, stay curious.

Current word count: 10547 Edited: 7674 (605)