But first, a funny and embarrassing story. Several years ago I had a truly terrific doctor. I mean a one-of-kind physician-that-you-only-read-about who got to know the well-being of your mind and spirit at the same time he learned of your body’s. He would call — yes call — with the results of whatever blood tests he’d ordered and before handing over the details he’d ask about my wife and kids by name. He followed my work and my writing and seemed genuinely interested in my, and indeed all of my family’s, pursuits of happiness.
Dr. Murphy is gone now, moved on to a different town and practice. Every once in a while I’m reminded of him and his interesting ways, the following of which, I’m sure, will illustrate. I was there for my annual physical and near the end, when the discussion turned to the issue of a prostate exam, he must’ve assumed because of my youth (40’s are the new 20s) and the look on my face, that I was unfamiliar with the procedure. Or maybe he was just having fun.
“You ever play flag football?” he said.
“Sure,” I replied.
“Well, you know how after the quarterback snap.” He assumed then the half-crouched position of a quarterback snapping the ball. ”He steps back and if you’re a defensive lineman on the other team you have to count to five Mississippi before you can rush?”
“With you so far.”
“Well, this will be like that. Once we start, all I need is five seconds.”
I looked at him, wondering how in the hell that was supposed to make me feel better. There’s a lot of ugly, unwanted things that can happen in five seconds or less. Accidents, pregnancies, hurtful words. Suddenly I wished he wasn’t so damn considerate, or funny.
Next, apparently questioning my honesty and experience with flag football or unsure of my ability to relate time in my head, he felt the need to further demonstrate. Holding the quarterback pose still, he hiked the imaginary ball and took a step back and started counting, “One Mississippi.”
He stepped one leg forward and counted “two Mississippi” and extended his right hand and size 12 index finger in a smooth, upward motion, from his waist to the sky. Mississippis three, four and five culminated the experience with him holding that pose and effectively sealing the deal, and quite possibly our relationship. He dropped his arms to his side and looked at me.
“Just like that,” he said with a smile.
I stared back at him, in a slightly new and different way. “I get it,” I said, “but I don’t know where you played flag football. Where I did we kept our pants on.”
I share that story today for two reasons. One, this week is Earth Day and if ever there was a need to drop our illusions (sorry, couldn’t resist) and get down to the nitty gritty (pun here is definitely not intended), it is in the unprecedented times of environmental change that our world is presently facing. Seriously. Dying rivers. Farms that don’t produce food. Climate-related illnesses. Whatever side of the myriad Earth Day debates you fall on, the facts are alarming (I encourage you to click on the links. I think you’ll find the information both remarkable and inspirational):
The need for involvement goes well beyond the three R’s of Refuse, Reuse, Recycle (these are very good places to start, however). It will take more effort, more sacrifice, and dramatic change to the way we think, how we vote (with our spending as well as our ballots), and how we live our lives, all things which, by the way, as people used to dealing with diabetes, we are already and quite effectively accustomed to doing. It calls for a collective voice and an action on each of our parts as equally unprecedented as what brought us here, because the reality is that no matter where you call home there is only this one world. One sea. One mountain. One opportunity to make it a better place for ourselves and those who follow behind us (for some ideas, see some suggestions from The Nature Conservancy below).
The second reason I shared the story of my doctor is to more directly reiterate the belief that the platform we all speak personally from — one of health and diabetes — should not be dismissed as a non-player in the challenges and struggles facing the planet. True, buying veggies grown locally may not seem related to diabetes care but every time you do so you are voting against genetically modified foods, which the American Academy or Environmental Medicine has suggested “pose a serious health risk”. I would argue that the individual and collective effort and experience of the diabetes community advocating for better care, better science, and better practices makes us perfect stewards for this call to action.
The effort you put in is up to, and it doesn’t take much to get started, a few seconds the next time you go to the grocery and choose one tomato over another. It may seem small, but like Dr. Murphy showed me: There are a lot worse things you do in those five seconds.
Easy Things You Can Do To Help Our Climate (from the Nature Conservancy):
1. TIP: Travel light. Walk or bike instead of driving a car. Cars and trucks run on fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you’ll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.
2. TIP: Teleconference instead of flying. For office meetings, if you can telephone or videoconference, you will save time, money, and carbon emissions. Airplanes pump carbon emissions high into the atmosphere, producing 12 percent of transportation sector emissions.
3. TIP: See the light. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. These energy-efficient bulbs help fight climate change because they reduce the amount of fossil fuels that utilities burn. You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent, over the life of the bulb.
4. TIP: Recycle and use recycled products. Products made from recycled paper, glass, metal and plastic reduce carbon emissions because they use less energy to manufacture than products made from completely new materials. For instance, you’ll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle. Recycling paper also saves trees and lets them continue to reduce climate change naturally as they remain in the forest, where they remove carbon from the atmosphere.
5. TIP: Inflate your tires. If you own a car, it will get better gas mileage when the tires are fully inflated, so it will burn less gas and emit less carbon. Check your automobile monthly to ensure that the tires are fully inflated. Follow this tip and save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive.
6. TIP: Plant native trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air and use it as their energy source, producing oxygen for us to breathe. A tree in the temperate zone found between the tropics and the polar circles can remove and store 700 to 7,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime. A tree that shades a house can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.
7. TIP: Turn down the heat. Heating and air conditioning draw more than half of the energy that a home uses in the United States. Turn down the heat or air conditioning when you leave the house or go to bed. You can easily install a programmable thermostat that can save up money and carbon.
8. TIP: Buy renewable energy. Electricity generation produces 40 percent of carbon emissions from the United States. A growing number of utilities generate electricity from renewable energy sources with solar panels, windmills and other technologies. If your utility offers renewable energy, buy it. If not, send them a message asking for clean energy.
9. TIP: Act globally, eat locally. If you shop at a supermarket, the food you buy may travel in a plane from the other side of the world, burning fossil fuels the entire trip. Shop at a local farmers markets and you will find fresh and healthy food, and help save our climate.