Biden Protects Environment on Day 1

If forests and flowers and frogs could shout in jubilation, the world would thunder.

Happy Inauguration Week, friends.

Four years of gloom lifted on Wednesday. Sunlight dazzled. Darkness remained only in shadows. 

Finally, hope blossomed again.

Just days later, we witness hope’s bright petals in many places across the United States. Some of the boldest among them now color forests and meadows, oceans and rivers and deserts.

Our wild spots in particular suffered during the long mantle of gloom and its manifestations: Edicts to drill for oil within long-protected environments. Orders welcoming more pollution into the atmosphere. Mockery and sabotage directed towards efforts to mitigate the mounting heat that promises to destroy life on precious, miniature Earth.

Letter From the Forest explores the the policies, projects and people devoted to healing our planet’s dizzying, complex, glorious, fragile pageant of life. Each week, we offer summaries and analysis of important news. Sometimes, too, LFTF showcases our own original reporting that touches on key themes.

We celebrate excellent nature writing, and offer a bit of our own. And we include recipes, tips and finds that help diminish our dependence on things that damage Earth. Look for DIY aftershave, toothpaste and salve directions; for crave-able recipes that lack animal products; for where to find #noplastic products like bamboo toothbrushes and how to pursue a thriving #zerowaste life. We also will spotlight glorious environmental books and films, and websites advancing wise counsel or immersive pleasure — ideally, both!

Welcome to the forest.


Hiya (again) Paris Agreement!

I craft this first Letter From the Forest on Jan. 20, 2020 — Inauguration Day for President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. 

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s I covered the White House and Capitol Hill for a variety of different publications, most of them revolving around technology. At the time, the commercial Internet was new. The first iPod had not yet been released. Email remained novel, smartphones did not exist (and neither did apps) and nobody texted.

I encountered Senator Biden in Judiciary Committee hearings, as the burgeoning and bewildering Internet compelled lawmakers to begin understanding its legal footings and ramifications. Biden’s reputation was well-established. A guy in touch with his heart. Decent. Friendly. A schmoozer. Devoted to the Senate. 

Like Biden, I often took Amtrak to Washington: my trip began in Baltimore, his in Wilmington. I always respected that this senior statesman routinely commuted by public transportation, 90 minutes each way, to be with his family.

As a Pennsylvanian, I also appreciated he was from Scranton and his wife, Jill, spent much of her life in Pennsylvania. In fact, she received one of her master’s degree from the college in my hometown: West Chester University. When I listen to Jill speak now, I hear an extremely familiar accent (Hi, Mom).

Biden’s legislative passions and work revolved around international and legal affairs, rather than the environment. But during his astute, subdued 2020 campaign for the presidency (his third attempt), Biden often talked about the climate crisis. Addressing the nation’s myriad environmental catastrophes, he promised, would rank as a priority.

On Day 1 of his presidency, he kept his word. Among his first executive actions: rejoin the Paris Agreement, rescind the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and initiate a review of Trump’s rollback of environmental policies.

The review includes examination of weakened:

  • Endangered species protections

  • Forest management practices

  • Oil and gas emissions standards

  • Pollution control standards

It also interrogates national protections stripped from national monuments, including Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments

Finally, on this first day of his presidency Biden also placed a temporary moratorium on all oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Refuge and endorsed energy efficiency standards for appliances. 

Huge! 

If forests and flowers and frogs could shout in jubilation, the world would thunder.

Welcome, President Biden. Letter From the Forest is here with you, from Day One. We’ll shout in jubilation when you compel us to do so. And we hope your actions don’t persuade us to engage too often with critique. 

One early push-back: Tom Vilsak as your Secretary of Agriculture. He’s Obama’s former Ag Secretary and a Big Ag guy, meaning he supports practices (saturating fields with pesticides and herbicides, promoting factory farms, neglecting organic farmers) that probably do more harm to the planet than anything else. We will keep a close eye on Vilsak.


Plant Yourself

If you haven’t yet engaged with this spectacle of beautiful writing and photography, now is a good time to at least bookmark the New York Times piece, it if not dig in immediately.

As a dedicated forest bather and believer in the spiritual and even health-giving properties of trees, this deep dive into their social lives moved me. A few years ago I read the wonderful book The Hidden Life of Trees, which covers similar ground. I find the topic immensely engaging, and will continue looking for science and nature writing exploring this idea that some of the living things in forests communicate with one another.

An early and colorful quote:

Her grandfather and uncles, meanwhile, worked nearby as horse loggers, using low-impact methods to selectively harvest cedar, Douglas fir and white pine. They took so few trees that Simard never noticed much of a difference. The forest seemed ageless and infinite, pillared with conifers, jeweled with raindrops and brimming with ferns and fairy bells. She experienced it as “nature in the raw” — a mythic realm, perfect as it was.


Harm-less

Reducing plastic use stands as a straightforward way to lean into #zerowaste. Do we really need disposable, plastic-shrouded razors and blades? Is soap from a plastic tub somehow preferable to old-school bar soap? Toothbrushes — the world offers myriad alternatives to ones that will end up on a beach in Malaysia and remain for 1,000 years.

Taking care of our teeth, in fact, offers a two-fer of awful: those toothpaste tubes also take 1,000 years or more to fully vanish from earth. 

About six months ago I started making my own toothpaste. I have not glanced back. Yes, it resembles wet tar. Indeed, after spitting out the toothpaste the sink looks like somebody defaced it with ash.

Big deal. The sink gets cleaned fast with a little swish of water. My teeth have not turned black or gray; they still seem ivoryish.

I bought my ingredients in 2019. All of them remain in their containers. Unfortunately, some of the ingredients were packed in plastic. When it’s time to buy more bentonite clay or activated charcoal — this might take a few years — I’ll hunt for products packed in something else.

Harm-less Charcoal Toothpaste Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup baking soda

  • 2 teaspoons bentonite clay

  • 1 teaspoon activated charcoal

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 3 teaspoons coconut oil

  • 1-2 teaspoons neutral organic vegetable oil

  • 8-12 drops of peppermint oil + flexibility to add drops of other oils

Directions:

  • Mix baking soda, clay, charcoal and salt in glass jar.

  • Melt coconut oil and mix with vegetable oil (coconut oil alone will harden without the addition of vegetable oil)

  • Mix in peppermint and other oils, if using, to taste.