Good news: We can fix the planet… if we want to

Image copyright Moyan Brenn

Have you heard the bad news?

I know, I know, I know. You’re thinking, which bad news? I could be referring to the sixth extinction; or perhaps the news NASA and NOAA revealed during their annual climate briefing last week that the Arctic is essentially running out of ice; or I could be referring to the drought crisis that’s swept through eastern Africa and has left an estimated 36 million people facing hunger.

It’s impossible to deny that we are in the midst of a planetary crisis. And despite how overwhelming that fact may seem to us mere mortals, we each have a role to play.

I know what you’re thinking, again. What can I do about any of this? What can we do about any of this?

It’s time we engaged in a little bit of self-help for our planet, and ourselves, says Dr. Ellen Moyer, Ph D, environmental engineer and author. She’s written a new book, entitled “Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves: How to Thrive While Creating a Sustainable World,” which explores the issues we — as a planet — are facing in terms of our health, our environment and our institutions, and importantly, what we as individuals can do to resolve those issues.

“I’m an engineer, I want to solve problems,” said Moyer. “I wanted to come up with workable solutions that people can actually implement and enjoy— not just theoretical, pie-in-the-sky stuff, but something you can actually do. That’s what this book is about.”

Author Ellen Moyer, PhD. Image: Sandra Costello Photography

Moyer holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, a master’s degree in environmental engineering and a PhD in civil engineering. And she has witnessed firsthand how our technological success has often ended up damaging our ecosystem and our own health.

“I’ve been dealing with environmental issues for a long time, and in my consulting work, I’ve mainly been cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater,” she said. “In doing that work, it becomes really, really clear that it’s a hell of a lot easier to prevent problems than to make problems and then go in and clean them up.”

The inspiration for “Our Earth, Our Species, Our Selves” came from what she witnessed locally in her community in Western Massachusetts: new biomass power stations. These power stations burn wood to produce electricity, and were billed to the public as clean, renewable energy facilities. But Moyer knew that a wood-burning power station — which relies on huge amounts of timber, yielded by decimating forests and their ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and consequently releases even more carbon into the atmosphere — wasn’t a clean or green solution. “The thought that people think it’s OK to mow down the biosphere and burn it up for electricity is about as stupid as burning down your house to get warm,” Moyer said. “It’s just nuts.”

“That’s when I realized we are completely on the wrong track here, and need a complete overhaul of how we live and do things,” she said. So Moyer put her engineer brain to work on devising a set of simple steps that individuals can take to help improve our planet. “I realized we couldn’t just fight all these little projects one by one, it’s too exhausting. We need to completely overhaul our way of life. Here’s the problem and here’s how we can do it in practical steps.”

The book frames our planetary crisis through three lenses: our Earth as a system, human beings as a species, and human beings and individuals — and consumers.

“We are in deep trouble right now,” she said. “We are ruining our life support system.” The task of stopping ourselves from destroying our own planet seems Sisyphean today, but Moyer’s message points to how big issues around the environment and public health are actually interconnected — and that’s a good thing.

“Everything is interconnected,” she said. “If we improve one area, such as the environment, other areas such as health and the economy will also improve, because of the way everything’s tied together.”

Her sentiments may come across has idealistic, but Moyer has taken a measured approach in her writings and solutions, backed by years of research. “It’s a really big-picture book, and it draws on anthropology, environmental science, and personal development,” Moyer said. “It’s not an academic book. It’s for regular, non-technical readers.”

“I’m finding that people are incredibly hungry for this information,” Moyer said. “First of all they want to know that there’s hope and that we can turn things around, because you don’t often hear that; and secondly, they’re hungry for knowing exactly what they can do, in their everyday lives right now, to make that happen.”

And the book serves as something of an antidote to the doom and gloom of world affairs that I mentioned above. Moyer’s message is that we, as individuals, can successfully create a sustainable and happier world for ourselves and thrive in the process.

“It’s very inspiring and hopeful. We can do this if we decide we want to,” she said. “It’s a matter of will and awareness. And you don’t hear that very often from the outside world. We can clean up this mess. But we have to act fast.”

If you’d like to read some good news, Moyer’s book can be purchased on Amazon.

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