In Our Own Backyard

Kay Bolden | 6/8/2017, midnight
In Our Own Backyard is a weekly column covering environmental justice, climate change and food justice, and how these issues ...

In Our Own Backyard is a weekly column covering environmental justice, climate change and food justice, and how these issues impact our families every day. If you think food deserts, contaminated soil and toxic water pipes don’t really affect you – we want you to think again. It’s happening right here, right now, in our own backyard.

Bringing Paris to Joliet

Last week, the Trump administration announced that the United States would not honor our commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. As the world’s most industrialized and prosperous nation, we are also the world’s biggest polluter – and we should be the global leader in what will be the fundamental challenge of this century: climate change.

Despite science denial in the White House, our planet is getting warmer every year, mainly due to burning fossil fuels. We burn fossil fuels in our cars and airplanes, in power plants and factories. Oil is used in cosmetics, medicines, fabrics – and even the toothpaste you used this morning. The pollutants we release into the atmosphere act like a blanket, trapping the sun's heat and causing the planet to warm. The decade from 2000-2009 was the hottest ever recorded.

As the planet warms, we see increases in weather and climate disaster events like droughts, intense storms and flooding. Weather disasters in 2015 alone cost us more than in the previous 20 years. Droughts and flooding, in turn, lead to failed crops, food shortages and price spikes, and in developing countries, severe health risks.

In response to the heat, we’re running our air conditioners more and driving instead of walking, putting more carbon emissions into the air.

Insects we rarely see -- like mosquitoes carrying Zika – are drifting further north, unimpeded by cooler weather. Bees and butterflies -- so necessary for strong plant life and healthy food -- are losing their natural habitats. Bees are aggressively scavenging for food in trash cans and dumpsters; butterflies are dying off.

In response to the Paris pull-out, many governors, mayors, corporations and universities have stepped up to announce their commitment to reducing global warming, and we can do the same in our own backyard. Here’s some things we can do:

Plant Something Good

In your backyard or in a pot on the porch. Kids love to pick their own tomatoes; butterflies love milkweed.

Buy Locally Grown Food

Get off the fast food merry-go-round. Support restaurants and grocers that buy locally grown food. Get your veggies at farmer’s markets or local urban farms. Joliet Junior College’s market accepts SNAP/Link.

Stop Buying Single-Serve Plastic Water Bottles

Did you know it takes almost as much fuel to recycle them as it does to manufacture them? Did you know that some brands are just tap water anyway? Use a filter on your kitchen faucet instead, or a pitcher with a filter for your fridge. On the go? Buy one sturdy plastic or stainless steel water bottle for each family member, and keep it filled.

Unplug the Kids

Turn off the video games, find a patch of grass, and do some cloud gazing. Daydreaming is good for kids; it builds concentration skills, sparks creativity and reduces stress.

Active Play for Everyone

Aim for 60 minutes of active play every day. Walking, jogging, skating, basketball, biking, swimming, jumping rope or climbing the monkey bars, it all counts. Reduce dependence on electronics for entertainment.

Under the Paris Accord, we, along with 195 other nations, agreed to work together to protect our planet. If the federal government won’t do it, we’d better do it ourselves.

Do Your Kids Need Food this Summer?

No child should ever go hungry. Northern Illinois Food Bank provides free summer meals at numerous sites in Joliet. To find a site near you, text ‘FoodIL’ to 877877, or call 1-800-359-2163.

Kay Bolden is an author, Times Weekly blogger, youth advocate, community activist and urban farmer on Joliet’s southeast side. She’d love to hear your thoughts on sustainable living, economic justice, and how we can all live together on the only planet we’ve got. Follow her on Twitter @KayBolden or drop her a line at Kay@KayBolden.com