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Anytime the NWEI Outreach Team receives a Priority envelope in the mail, we experience a feeling of dread, as it usually means one of our course book shipments were undeliverable.  However, a few weeks ago, when we received such an envelope, it was thankfully a Menu for the Future book from a course participant who sent us back their book for us to reuse.  We appreciate when folks occasionally do this, as it provides an opportunity to help a few more folks participate in the courses.  However, when people outside of the Portland area ask if they can return their course book for reuse, we prefer to have them share the book with someone in their community, to help spread the courses further there and also save the book from being shipped again.  However, this is not the only good way to reuse a course book…

5 Great Ways to Reuse an NWEI Course Book:

  1. Give it to someone else in your community who is interested in organizing a discussion group
  2. Give or send it to a politician to encourage more integration of sustainability in policy-making
  3. Donate it to your local library
  4. Give it to a local sustainability awareness nonprofit, PTA, or high school
  5. Compost it–your course books are printed on 100% recycled content paper with soy-based inks.  Menu for the Future could literally help you start a garden!

We’d love to hear your ideas–submit your comments to us!

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Everyone has heard great quotes about the ability of one person to make a difference, such as Nkosi Johnson’s “Do all you can with what you have, in the time you have, in the place that you are” or Margaret Mead’s “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  As romantic as these sayings may be, I still find them inspiring and affirming, as I generally have more faith in grassroots level action than wide-spread government/corporate change. At the end of last month, Triple Pundit posted a great story about the impact of a woman in California who started the “Take Back the Filter Campaign” in an effort to address the un-recyleability of Brita water filters.  This is one of the reasons I love NWEI’s discussion courses–they provide a supportive network that brings people together and helps them take steps to make change: personal and lifestyle behavior changes and also community and larger changes.  

The first month that I worked with NWEI, I was tabling at our local Muddy Boot Organic Festival, and a man walked up to the table and told me about the discussion group he had participated in a few years ago.  What struck me most was that he said one of his group members decided to buy a smaller house after taking the course–how incredible!  This is one of many examples of powerful action people have taken after participating in a discussion course.  Other participants have made a career change, organized a community garden program, or reduced their trash production to just one small can a year.  We are always looking for inspiring stories about the actions that NWEI course participants take.  So please send us your stories by submitting a comment. You could end up being a guest blogger!  And hopefully these stories will be a good Earth Day reminder that all of us can make a positive impact on the Earth.

Happy Earth Day!

Guest contribution by Jeffrey Noethe, Ph.D., this piece was first printed in the EarthMatters print newsletter, Winter 2010

The idea of an “ecological self” may sound confusing and even contradictory, but to me, it is simple shorthand for the aspect of self that is completely interconnected and interdependent with everything and everyone that surrounds us. We humans often feel small, separate, and powerless; but that is never the ultimate truth of our existence. The truth, if we can learn to see it, is that we are part of everything, never separate, and directly “plugged-in” to all the power of life and the universe. This doesn’t mean we have super powers, but it does mean that we always have access to a wonderful resource for nurturing health and wellness.

As a Psychologist in private practice, my work frequently involves helping people reconnect with their ecological selves, even if I do not always use that language. More often, I simply talk about the value of connecting with self, others, and surroundings. Whenever I do an intake with a new client, in addition to asking about symptoms and presenting concerns, I always ask about self-care, which I see as the foundation of a person’s sense of connectedness. If this foundation is strong, then one may be better able to create and maintain a happy, healthy existence. On the other hand, if this foundation is weak in some way, then no amount of determination, personal reflection, or therapy may ever be enough to create real and lasting change.

When addressing self-care with clients, I ask questions about obvious behaviors such as nutrition, hydration, substance use, sleep, and exercise. However, I also ask questions like, “Do you make time for fun or meaningful activities? Who are your supports, and do you use them? Do you have any creative outlets? Do you place any value on getting out into nature? Do you grow anything? Do you have any pets?” Taken together, these self-care questions help me understand where a client’s foundation is strong and where it may be weak. These questions also provide an opportunity to encourage small changes that might have a significant impact on the progress of therapy. For example, in addition to attending therapy on a weekly basis, a client may agree to work on eating better, exercising, utilizing supports, or getting outside more regularly. These changes not only help the client feel better physically, but they also tend to enhance the client’s sense of self-efficacy and confidence.

It rarely surprises anyone when I suggest that getting out into nature is an important aspect of self-care. In the same way that sleep and exercise are important to our well-being, so too is having a sense of connectedness with the real world around us. After all, we are born of the earth (like all creatures) and live in a constant state of interconnectedness and interdependence, whether we realize it or not. When we are aware of that connectedness, we tend to feel more solid, stable, and secure. We tend to feel more real ourselves, just as we do when we connect more deeply with ourselves and others. With these feelings comes the possibility of symptom relief, especially in the areas of anxiety and depression. Improving a client’s sense of connectedness will not necessarily cure or even reduce symptoms, but I believe that ignoring connectedness will always make such changes more challenging than they need to be. Time and again, I have seen the healing effects of improved self-care, and on several occasions, I have seen symptom relief so profound that professional help was no longer needed.

Clients don’t always understand that connecting with nature does not require moving to the country, hiking through the wilderness, or sleeping in a tent. It can happen at any time and in any place. Read the rest of this entry »

If you are not aware of NWEI’s mission, it is Inspiring people to take responsibility for Earth. As a staff, we all try to keep this simple yet powerful goal in mind in our work, as we continually try to spread the message by starting more discussion courses.  

However, we hope that our efforts do not stop with only inspiration; the end which our discussion courses are the means for, is taking action on that responsibility–not just talking about it.  Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing this action in action.  Judy Alexander is a long-time NWEI volunteer in Port Townsend, Washington, and leads the NWEI Steering Committee there. Last fall, Judy was at a meeting of farmers at their local grange, and heard a message of “we need more local customers to support our small-scale organic farms if we are going to stay in business”.  This was the impetus for what has amounted to twenty NWEI Menu for the Future discussion groups forming over the last few months.

Judy knew that in order to get more residents to buy their food from local organic farms, people would need to be educated and inspired as to why they should do so.  And she knew that Menu for the Future would be an excellent and effective way to do so.  This was the beginning of an impressive, multi-step sustainable food system awareness effort.  The NWEI steering committee partnered with other local organizations to table outside of local Food Inc. showings, inviting viewers to attend a presentation on Menu for the Future, where attendees were encouraged to organize a discussion group.  As a way to strengthen relationships with local farmers and add a first-hand perspective, local farmers joined each discussion group, and the local Farmer’s Market association even donated course books for the farmers to use.  

Last Saturday was the Celebration event for participants from all twenty groups.  Crystie Kisler, co-owner and one of the farmer-participants, hosted the event at Finnriver Farm, an amazing organic farm in Chimacum.  Eighty course participants gathered together to partake in a local-foods potluck–highlighted by 100% local pizza (except for the yeast) made onsite in a cob oven–and enjoy tours of the farm.  However, the most incredible and inspiring part of the afternoon was when Judy invited everyone onto the hay bale “stump” to share the food-related projects they were working on.  These are just a few of the inspiring efforts:

  • Volunteering with a local Gleaners group, which delivers unharvested food from farms to food banks, which would otherwise be wasted
  • Working to get fresh farm food into local school lunchrooms Read the rest of this entry »

April 22, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. NWEI will be hosting an Earth Day Celebration, at our Southeast Portland office– and new and old friends are invited to join us for food, drink, celebration and conversation.

NWEI’s “Earth Day Happy Hour” will start at 4:30pm on Thursday, April 22nd.  Stop in after work and you’ll have the chance to find out more about NWEI and our small-group discussion courses, as well as fuel up for the hard work ahead in the sustainability arena with some snacks and Rogue Brewery beer.

All are welcome–if you have no idea what NWEI is all about, stop by and find out.  If you’re a long time volunteer- we’d love to see you on the 22nd too! And everyone else in between–stop in, say hi, and find out how you can take action this year towards a sustainable future!

What: Earth Day Celebration @ NWEI

Where: NWEI’s office, 107 SE Washington Street, Suite 235 (2nd floor, northeast corner), Portland, Oregon

When: April 22, 2010, 4:30pm-6:30pm

Who: All who are involved in or interested in creating a healthy, vibrant, sustainable future

NWEI will also be taking part in two other events on Earth Day:

  • Earth Day Celebration at the Portland Community College Cascade Campus- open to the public and we encourage you to swing by our table in the afternoon to find out more about the many ways that NWEI discussions courses can help you build a richer community and attain a more sustainable lifestyle.
  • “Green Bag” event at the downtown Duncan Building- employees from the three Federal agencies (BLM, USFS and the Corp of Engineers) are invited to listen to speaker Jeanne Roy presentation on “The Path to Zero Waste”, visit with various exhibitors and focus on individual actions people can take to improve our environment.

Denis Hayes, co-founder of Earth Day, shares his thoughts on “Earth Days past and present, environmental politics, corporate responsibility, and individual green behavior.” He is interviewed by Carsten Henningsen, long time supporter of NWEI and co-founder of Portfolio 21 (global mutual fund investing for a sustainable future and NWEI business partner).

Below is an excerpt from the interview that touches on the importance of individual behavior change and the type of actions that NWEI encourages through its course books and discussions. Click here for the full interview.

Be sure to swing by and visit our table at Portland Community College during the afternoon on Earth Day’s 40th Anniversary!

Carsten Henningsen: Environmental awareness has magnified exponentially over the past 40 years. To this end, many people have embraced “the low hanging fruit” i.e., bringing their own bags to the grocery stores, replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs, etc. While good intentioned, it seems like too little, too late. As we enter in the second decade of the 21st century, what guidance should Earth Day bring to the general public?

Denis Hayes: I agree with your general point, but I will use it to close the loop back to your very first question, rather than to criticize personal behavioral changes.

Fairly profound behavioral changes will be necessary to build a sustainable society—and for the most part these changes will be very good things for us. More physical exertion and healthier food will help combat our epidemic of obesity, for example. Even the little actions that can be seen as mostly symbolic help tie people to value systems. That’s why every religion uses them! Catholic women are supposed to cover their heads when they enter the church whereas Catholic men are supposed to take off their hats. The French l’affaire du voile over head scarves for Moslem women has been rocking that country for 15 years! Symbols can seem silly but they can be emotionally powerful. And even trivial actions, multiplied by six billion people, can make a huge collective difference.

On the policy front, we acted first on the “low-hanging fruit.” That was common sensical. It is much easier to arouse people when their children are being poisoned than it is about two lines crossing on a graph at some point in the future, even if the latter will lead to disastrous results for the planet. But now the lines on some of those charts have converged.

My hope for Earth Day, at this juncture in history, is that-through the employment of social networking, instamobs, tweets, mobile apps, and whatever the next digital connectors turn out to be, the 175 nations participating in Earth Day 2010 will make important strides toward creating a true global consciousness. We need to care passionately about the well-being of people around the world. And we need to cherish and protect all of the interrelated web of life on our home planet.”

Guest contribution by Stephanie Moret, Pacific Earth Institute. This piece first appeared in the Winter 2010 EarthMatters Newsletter. Stephanie Moret lives in Santa Barbara, California and leads the Pacific Earth Institute.

Southwesterners are bonded by our recognition that water is a precious and scarce resource.  Our climate ranges from semi-arid in the north, arid in the central and southern regions, to Mediterranean along the Southern California coast.  As a people, we share common stories shaped by our reverence of water, by living with a dynamic hydrologic regime, and by the successes and failures of our forebearers to reshape an arid landscape to include water.  The complex system of physical, biological, and social interactions influencing water resources has modified our fragile western ecosystems, where recovery from degradation can take hundreds to thousands of years; and where expectations of what is ‘normal’ change with each generation.

In spite of the parched surface that constitutes much of our region, our mountains are blessed with precipitation; and, beneath us, water that has percolated through the land for millennia moves through vast underground aquifers.  While we may only get a few inches of rainfall each year, it often comes all at once, prompting both disaster warnings and gratitude that our reservoirs and aquifers will be partly replenished and another drought staved off.  Our civilization has been created by harnessing mountain streams behind dams, pumping our limited groundwater, and conveying these waters vast distances to support expanding populations.

Mark Twain is believed to have penned the West’s signature quote, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”  The original brawls over agricultural water rights have evolved into legal challenges to balance the needs of agriculture, industry, development, and natural habitat while maintaining a clean, sustainable water source.  As we realize that many of our successes in controlling water have resulted in environmental losses, Westerners’ actions, as individuals and as a society, are beginning to focus on understanding and working with the natural system to capture, store, and safely release water to mimic natural processes as best we can.

Water awareness is a conscious and evolving dynamic in Southwesterner’s lives because our lifestyles accommodate a landscape that is characterized by drought, flood, and fire—and an ecosystem that has evolved to adapt to these conditions.  We revere water bodies as our gathering places, be they lakes, reservoirs, rivers, oceans, or swimming pools.  We share food with friends amidst the sound of splashing as we seek respite from the heat with a cool, delicious dip.  For many of us, our natural water holes are dry by June.  My childhood friends and I would rescue tadpoles from the same drying streams that we built dams and swimming holes in during the spring; and then watched swell in the winter, muddy and laden with scoured vegetation.

Water-wise Southwesterners carry water on their person, conserve water in their homes, plant drought-tolerant landscapes, and know that a storm in distant mountains can ravage a sunny plateau in seconds, easily filling an arroyo or a graffitied storm channel.  We are aware that we live in a dynamic landscape and that our ability to control Western water is tenuous.  Perhaps because of this, water is our common bond.

It would probably be a rather late to start spring training if NWEI were a baseball team, but thankfully–no reflection on staff RBIs, of course (yes I am the younger sister of a little leaguer)–we try to score runs of a different kind. 

That said, we still do need to do some practice from time to time.  If you’ve had the opportunity to participate in one of our discussion courses, and live in the Portland area or near one of our Sister organizations, your group may have been kicked off by a volunteer Presenter and/or Mentor.  These amazing folks are an important part of the NWEI community, making sure that groups know the ins & outs of the Circle Question, Opening, and how to “redirect” wayward conversation.  If you are connected with one of our affiliate organizations, I would encourage you to ask them when their next volunteer Presenter and Mentor trainings will be.  If you live near the Portland dugout, our Spring Trainings will be as follows:

Mentor Training Saturday April 24th 9-12pm, NWEI Office, 107 SE Washington, Suite 235 (NE corner)

Presenter Training Tuesday May 11th 5:30-8pm, NWEI Office

Please email Kate to register/with questions, or call 503.227.2807.  If you participated in a training in the past, but would like a refresher, you are most welcome.  And don’t worry.  We only make our volunteers do crazy training maneuvers such as these at our Volunteer Retreats.

We are very excited to announce that we have a new discussion course in the works! And it will be about a topic that we can all relate to: our health.  Knowing that our health depends on the health of the planet, we are developing a new discussion course on environmental health topics.  This new course will inspire people to take action to live healthier more sustainable lives, and we can’t wait to hear how the course inspires you personally!

We are aiming to have our new health discussion course available late this summer– and are working hard to create the course right now. Before we can “go to print” with our course books there are many steps to be taken, books and articles to be reviewed, action plans to write, and funds to raise.  Meg, our curriculum developer, has assembled a committee of health experts, and experts on the NWEI process, and they are very busy reviewing an amazing amount of material (and if you have suggestions on books and articles we should be sure to check out, leave a comment!).  Meg and the committee will compile the five (or six) sessions’ materials this spring, and we will run pilots of the program early this summer.

Once we receive feedback from the pilot groups, we’ll move into final production– course book layout, proofreading and editing, securing permissions for the readings, and another round of proofreading and editing. Read the rest of this entry »

Ever wonder if minimal character usage on social mediums will rule the world of personal interactions in the future?

Well, let’s hope not because having a deep conversation on the daily, rather than one consisting of small talk, is being hypothesized by Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, to bring about a happier life. Take a look at the full NY Times article and Dr. Mehl’s study, which was published in the Journal of Psychological Science.

“By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Dr. Mehl said. “And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness.”

If you’re interested in hosting a gathering with your friends, loved ones and/or coworkers in order to further explore values, attitudes, and actions through discussion, give us a call at 503.227.2807 or shoot us an email at contact[at]nwei.org to speak with someone about how NWEI’s discussion courses can help you “get deep” and move towards a more sustainable and enriching future for us all!!!

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