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  • Melissa Sims

A Little Mindfulness Can Go A Long Way

 Recently, my husband and I were on a boat just off the coast of Southern California. It was a gorgeous day and I was basking in the sun, counting my blessings at how lucky I am to be on a boat, and to live in such a wonderful place. I noticed something off in the distance, my heart at first jumping in my throat thinking I would somehow get swallowed by whatever it was. (The ocean has a way of making things look very large and scary) We got closer to see what it was and my fear quickly turned to anger. No, it wasn’t a massive shark, it was…a giant unicorn balloon! Out in the middle of the ocean. We got a pole and grabbed it, popping it and throwing it in our trash to take back to shore. I was mad, shocked, and just sad all at once. How can we trash our planet so poorly? 

I see litter and pollution all of the time. In fact, my neighbor keeps burning something in his backyard that smells a lot like either plastic or some other dangerous chemical that should not be entering our air space. Another time, I was sitting in my car waiting for my son to get out of class, and saw some high school kids take their fast food lunch wrappers and literally throw them out of the car window. Again - flabbergasted. What do they think happens to their trash? That some fairy is just going to come pick it up??? No. It is going to blow down the road, end up in a drain, and float out to sea. Sadly, this behavior isn’t abnormal. It’s alarmingly easy to not think about the effects that we have on our environment.

In recent years, climate change and pollution have become increasingly pressing issues, with new data highlighting the urgency for global action. From rising global temperatures to the widespread presence of microplastics, the state of our planet is dire, but individual actions can still make a difference.

Climate change continues to accelerate at an alarming rate. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the last decade was the hottest on record, with global temperatures rising by approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This increase has led to more frequent and severe weather events, including hurricanes, wildfires, and heatwaves. 

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that 2023 was one of the warmest years ever, exacerbating the melting of polar ice caps and contributing to rising sea levels. The Arctic sea ice is shrinking at a rate of nearly 13% per decade, and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating rate. The consequences of these changes are far-reaching, affecting weather patterns, sea levels, and ecosystems worldwide.

In addition to rising temperatures, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has reached unprecedented levels. In 2023, atmospheric CO2 concentrations surpassed 420 parts per million (ppm), a significant increase from pre-industrial levels of around 280 ppm. This rise in CO2 levels is primarily due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes. The increased concentration of greenhouse gases traps more heat in the atmosphere, further exacerbating global warming.

One of the most concerning aspects of modern pollution is the prevalence of microplastics—tiny plastic particles less than five millimeters in size. Recent studies have found microplastics in a staggering array of everyday items, from dental floss to fast food wrappers. These particles are not just in the environment; they have infiltrated the food chain, appearing in seafood, salt, and even drinking water.

Microplastics are now ubiquitous in the environment, found in oceans, rivers, and soils worldwide. A 2023 study estimated that up to 14 million tons of microplastics are present on the ocean floor, with millions more floating on the surface. These particles originate from various sources, including the breakdown of larger plastic debris, synthetic fibers from clothing, and microbeads in personal care products.

The impact of microplastics on marine life is particularly alarming. Many marine organisms, from tiny plankton to large whales, inadvertently ingest microplastics, mistaking them for food. This ingestion can lead to physical harm, such as digestive blockages and internal injuries, as well as chemical harm from the toxic substances that microplastics can absorb and carry. The accumulation of microplastics in marine food webs also poses a risk to human health, as these particles can end up on our plates through seafood consumption.

A groundbreaking study published in 2023 revealed that microplastics have now been detected in human blood. Researchers found that these particles can 24cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially leading to unknown health risks. This discovery underscores the profound and pervasive impact of plastic pollution on both the environment and human health. The long-term effects of microplastics on human health are still not fully understood, but there is growing concern about their potential to cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and other adverse health effects.

I am not trying to scare you senseless, but this is a real issue. These are not politics, these are facts. And the more it gets ignored, the less likely it will be that our children and our children’s children will have a healthy planet to live on. The scale of climate change and pollution can feel overwhelming. Do I save water by not washing out my recyclables? Or do I use water and not contribute to the plastic problem? It feels like a constant choice of the lesser of two evils. The enormity of the problem often leads to feelings of helplessness and despair. Listen, we aren’t going to fix the problem. But we can definitely slow it down. 

It's important to remember that collective small actions can contribute significantly to mitigating these issues. If we can look at our environment and our actions more mindfully, it can make a huge difference. Teresa and I talked about this on the last podcast, which you can watch here:

Here are a few mindful steps you can take:

First, simple awareness (mindfulness!) of your actions can prompt you to pause and think about if what you are doing/using/buying/throwing away is going to harm or help the environment could possibly change your course of action. 

One of the most effective ways to combat plastic pollution is to reduce your plastic consumption. Opt for reusable items such as shopping bags, water bottles, and straws. Avoid single-use plastics whenever possible. For example, bring your own containers for takeout food and choose products with minimal packaging. By making these small changes, you can significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste you generate.

Think before you buy. Is it going to end up in a landfill? Do you really need it, or just want it? I’m not saying to not give yourself the pleasures of things, but just consider what the longer term effects might be of your purchase. Large appliances, tvs, cell phones, etc. If not reused by someone else, or recycled correctly, they will likely end up in a landfill with lots of harmful chemicals.

Incorporate more plant-based meals into your diet. Reducing meat consumption can not only lower your risk of certain diseases, it can also can lower greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock farming. Livestock production is a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Additionally, plant-based diets tend to require less land and water compared to diets high in animal products. By choosing sustainable food options, you can help reduce the environmental impact of your diet. 

If you don’t recycle, consider starting. If you don’t have a recycling program in your city, collect your plastics and paper items and go to a recycling center if possible. You’ll help the environment, and you’ll make some extra change in the process.

Stay informed about environmental issues and advocate for policies that promote sustainability. Support organizations and initiatives that work to protect the environment and promote climate action. Engage with your community and policymakers to encourage the adoption of sustainable practices and regulations. By raising awareness and advocating for change, you can help drive collective action on environmental issues.

It can be even more frustrating to see large corporations cause many of the environmental issues that we have, yet take zero accountability. I encourage you to quiet that noise as much as possible…there really isn’t much we can do at the individual level to change it. If it still bothers you, try not buying things from companies that are known to be part of the issue. 

What’s crazy to me is that so many people just don’t know the gravity of the situation, or have the idea that “I won’t be here, so who cares?” Or many just feel that any extra work on their behalf is too much. Our planet is an amazing living thing, and it gives us life: water, air, food. What do we give for all that we take? We have to do better. Why should it be easy to maintain our source of life?

While the road ahead is challenging, it is not insurmountable. Every small step counts, and together, we can create a positive impact on the environment. By embracing sustainable habits and advocating for change, we can help build a world where future generations can thrive. The time to act is now, and each of us has a role to play in protecting our planet and ensuring a sustainable future for all. Don’t get overwhelmed, just try small mindful steps to begin to change things that could work better for all of us!


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