Archive for the ‘Community’ category

Climate change, home, and mental health

March 12, 2019

I’ve been thinking about home recently. The land I grew up on is still there, but the home is gone, replaced by a house that overwhelms the land. Though I didn’t live there anymore, it still makes me feel a sense of loss whenever I’m in the neighborhood.

And how much stronger would that sense of loss be if the land were gone?

The 2018 “Sea Level Rise and Climate Change” Final White Paper, prepared by the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program, is an alarming summary of the effects of climate change on Hawaii’s environment, communities, and overall well-being.

There are environmental impacts, like more frequent heat waves, worsening air and water quality, rising sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns, changing ecosystems, and more frequent weather effects.

There are corresponding health impacts, like increased respiratory illness, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and kidney disease. And climate change impacts us as neighborhoods and communities, like our ability to travel within and without the islands and our access to food and freshwater.

Beyond the environment and our physical survival, climate change affects our mental health.

How can we thrive with the threat of displacement, the threat of losing our homes and our connection to the ‘aina? How can we address mental health concerns in our disaster planning and community resilience efforts?

In 2018, 700 homes on Hawaii Island were destroyed during the Kilauea eruption, and over 2,000 people had registered to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to Pacific Business News (7/9/18).

Also in 2018, more than 100 people lost their lives, and over 17,000 homes were destroyed by California wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, reported The Weather Channel (3/11/19).

As small Pacific island nations become inhabitable due to sea level rise, lack of fresh water, or other factors, an increasing number of climate change migrants may come to Hawaii because it is similar to the home they left behind. How can we help them thrive in Hawaii? What can we learn from their experiences with the loss of place and loss of their connection to the past?

I’m feeling a little nostalgic about my childhood home. What are your thoughts about maintaining or regaining mental well-being in the face of losing a home?

How connected do you feel to your home? Do you live in a flood or tsunami zone? Are you prepared for a sudden disaster or a slow rise in sea level?

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Kindness starts with one

February 12, 2019

I’ve been immersing myself in happiness over the past few months, learning from the Greater Good Science Center, and figuring out how to make happiness practices part of everyday life.

We can become happier in many different ways, from encouraging empathy and nurturing friendships to fostering gratitude and cultivating a sense of awe. But one of the simplest ways to become happier and spread happiness is to be kind.

Being kind makes us happy, and being happy makes us kind.

Kindness is easy, and it starts with ONE. One person. One cup of coffee, one compliment, one “I love you,” one note-to-self.

On February 17, 2019, we’re celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Day, and it starts with YOU. You can be the one to write a positive note at school or work, thank someone who isn’t usually acknowledged, or volunteer to do a five-minute favor. No one else has to know about it. But you’ll know.

Kindness starts with one, but let’s aim for five. Studies have shown that doing five acts of kindness in one day can make you happier than doing single acts of kindness spread out over time.

Being kind can have a lasting impact, too. You can get a happiness boost by remembering a time when you were kind or helpful or generous… or by remembering a time when someone was kind to you.

I tried a happiness practice called “Three Good Things,” in which you write down three good things that happen to you each day. The goal is to focus on positive thoughts and feelings. I found that it really helped to put my day in perspective, and lessen any worry or stress I felt.

I’m starting to take it a step further and pay attention to whether good things happen to me (like receiving a compliment) or because of me (like giving a compliment).

What will you do on Random Acts of Kindness Day? How will you spread kindness?

Suburbs, sustainability, and selfishness

November 27, 2018

Is an urban lifestyle better, or more environmentally sustainable, than the suburban lifestyle? Are people who live in the suburbs selfish?

We have a stereotype of the suburban lifestyle: more single-family homes, larger living spaces, more green spaces, and larger shopping malls surrounded by parking lots. And in exchange for living with more, further away from the urban center, there is a heavy reliance on automobiles, more traffic, and fewer transportation options.

It’s a sharp contract with the urban lifestyle: more people, more high-rises, smaller living spaces, shared green spaces, smaller retail stories, and more transportation options.

In “Enduring Features of the North American Suburb: Built Form, Automobile Orientation, Suburban Culture and Political Motivation” (2018), Pierre Filion of the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo makes two broad claims about sustainability and political expression that made me think about urban planning in a different way.

The article is based on two Toronto, Ontario, Canada metropolitan region case studies involving attempts at creating more urban growth centers (“recentralization”) and a 2010 mayoral election campaign. It’s especially interesting in light of Hawaii’s efforts at creating a “second city” and the challenges we face with population growth and limited resources.

Sustainable communities? Filion writes that modern planning “promotes suburban transformations intended to enhance environmental sustainability, largely by reducing suburban land consumption and reliance on the automobile.” However, suburban lifestyle and culture “impede planning attempts to transform suburbs in ways that make them more environmentally sustainable.” In other words, he assumes that the urban lifestyle and “collective forms of consumption” are more environmentally sustainable than the suburban lifestyle. I don’t know if this is true, and Filion does not explain how he arrives at this conclusion.

In Hawaii, the line between urban and suburban is blurred, and the distance between communities is relatively small. In a sense, “suburban” can encompass most communities outside of urban Honolulu or rural communities (including agricultural, preservation, conservation, and resort lands). I can agree that suburban communities consume more electricity for lighting along roadways, more electricity to power larger homes, and more gas for transportation than comparable-sized urban communities. How much of this environmental impact is balanced by more parks and land devoted to recreation and greenery, less concentrated air pollution, and fewer overhead highways?

As a society, how do urban and suburban lifestyles impact the environment, as well as our physical and mental health?

Selfish communities? Filion concludes that the suburban culture influences the way that residents view environmental sustainability and the way that residents vote in elections. He mentions “mobilizations to preserve features of suburbs perceived to be under threat,” such as “NIMBY movements” and densification initiatives. In effect, he suggests that suburban communities are selfish for wanting to consume more land and resources, and then take political action by voting to protect the lifestyle. Note: he doesn’t actually use the word “selfish,” but it’s implied.

In Hawaii and in every community, political activism is not limited to suburban communities. Filion could as easily state that the urban lifestyle “can transmute into political expression.” More interesting to me is the idea of “the conservatism of the suburbs,” the suggestion that suburban communities tend to become more conservative in voting patterns. I wish that Filion would clarify what he means by “conservatism” – whether it is a commitment to traditional values and lifestyle, an opposition to change, land conservation, or a political ideology (and how this differs in Canada and the United States).

Does living in suburban communities make us more selfish by encouraging consumption of land and resources? Does urban living make us less selfish?

This is a big topic for a short post, and I don’t have any answers – only more questions. But it made me think about where we live and how we plan our communities, and I hope it gives you something to think about too.

Do you live in an urban, suburban, or rural community? What factors influenced your decision to live there? How are your voting habits influenced by where you live?

Making kindness your new normal

November 13, 2018

She seemed a little tired, so I reached out and gave her a “kindness card.” I can’t remember what I wrote on it, but I remember the big smile on her face after she read it.

It was the best moment of my day.

It happened because I accepted the Greater Good Science Center’s kindness practice challenge. Instead of doing random acts of kindness, I would do five acts of kindness in one day. The idea was to promote kindness and boost my own happiness too.

Researchers believe that random acts of kindness make you feel happier because it makes you think more highly of yourself and become more aware of positive social interactions.

I did small acts of kindness, everyday kindness, like letting cars merge into the lane, opening a door for a senior, and volunteering extra hours at my workplace.

I also made a plan to share kindness in a deliberate way, not just random acts. I decided to create “kindness cards” that my organization could give out at a local expo. I would write a kindness card for them or give them a kindness card to give to others.

I wrote things thinks like, “You are beautiful, inside and out” and “You are stronger than you know” and “You are thoughtful and kind – keep smiling!”

That day of five kindnesses really brightened my whole week.

Today, November 13, is World Kindness Day. Let’s make kindness a normal part of our day, every day.

Here are seven ways to start making kindness the norm in your daily life, from the Kind Blog on RandomActsofKindness.org:

  1. Send an uplifting text to a friend or family member.
  2. Let that guy merge into traffic with a wave and a smile.
  3. Include intentional moments of kindness, laughter and delight in your daily routine.
  4. Go slightly out of our comfort zone at least once a day to make someone smile.
  5. Share a compliment with a co-worker or friend.
  6. Reach out to a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while.
  7. Treat someone to a cup of coffee (a friend, a stranger, or even yourself).

What acts of kindness do you treasure? How can you be kind today? How can you foster kindness in children?

How would you plan for climate change?

October 30, 2018

If you have the chance, attend one of the Climate Action Plan public meetings that are happening across Oahu. Sponsored by the City and County of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency, the community events focus on the impact of climate change and how we can become more resilient.

 

Hawaii will always face disasters. The neighborhoods that bounce back from disasters are the neighborhoods that know each other, chief resiliency officer Josh Stanbro said. It starts with us.

 

Most of the meeting is spent playing the Emissions Reduction Game.

 

The game is a way for community members to think about how we should build a clean economy. It asks us to think about the long-term – what needs to happen in 2025 and 2035 to reach our goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045. Where should Honolulu focus its resources? And just as important, what can we do to reduce our carbon footprint in Hawaii?

 

We gathered around tables set up with large “game boards” and placed strategy tiles on the board. For each of the target years, we had a limited number of projects that we could choose. The projects are all pre-selected, in five sectors: electricity, on-site energy, on-road, marine/off-road/waste, and aviation. The projects include Walk/Bike/Transit, Renewable Fuels, Building Energy Efficiency, Solar Farms, and Carbon Offsets. They are achievable and can successfully lower emissions.

 

The game encourages us to think strategically – the big picture, not the details. But it doesn’t take into account the City’s finances. So we didn’t consider project costs, either in direct costs (fees and taxes) or opportunity costs (projects that may not be funded).

 

We were supposed to think of our end goals, but I found myself wondering if we can afford to reach our goal by 2045. Are there cost-savings or crucial health and safety benefits from moving aggressively? Could a slightly longer time frame save us money and allow for new technologies to be tested that could help us reach our goal, making up for the time delay? I have to believe that the Resilience Office considered this, and felt that the 2045 target date is the most effective, efficient, and affordable choice.

 

One draw-back is that the projects were all pre-determined. There were no “write-in” tiles. We couldn’t suggest our own strategies or “jump ahead” to strategies that are only available in later years. For example, one strategy that was missing is limiting the number of people who can live in or visit Hawaii. This goes against the aloha spirit, could spell economic disaster, and may even be unconstitutional. But just as there are occupancy limits set by the Fire Code and a maximum capacity at Disneyland, limiting the number of people is an option.

 

In the end, what really struck me was realizing that we have the power to influence government. We can help government set priorities and policies, instead of waiting for government to tell us what to do. Whether it’s at a community meeting, public hearing, or our polling place, we just have to show up.

 

For more information about public meetings, community events, and resources, including a meeting about the City’s Multi-Hazard Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan on November 3, 2018, visit Resilient Oahu at http://www.resilientoahu.org.

Make a Difference Day in Hawaii

October 23, 2018

Make a Difference Day continues to engage communities through Points of Light, an organization dedicated to volunteer service. On October 27, 2018, thousands of people will make a choice to give back to their local community – in Hawaii and around the world.

There are so many ways we can make a difference – through donations, time, expertise, or kindness.

You can make a difference by volunteering on Oahu on October 27:

Volunteer to help cleanup in Chinatown in Honolulu (with American Savings Bank and Kupu Hawaii), in community cleanups at Pearl Harbor Bike Path in Aiea, Lehua Avenue in Pearl City (with PCP CPO A and Nimitz Lions Club), Waipahu Depot Street in Waipahu (with Lighthouse Outreach Center), Aiea Kai Way in Aiea (with ATG MidPac), Aiea Bay State Recreation Area in Aiea (with USS CHAFFE), Neal S. Blaisdell Park and Puuloa Springs in Aiea (with The Mission Continues), Pupuole Mini Park in Waipahu (with Inspire Church and Waipahu Community Coalition), Pūpūkea-Paumalū State Park Reserve in Haleiwa, and Waimea Valley in Waimea.

You can make a difference on the Big Island on October 27:

UH Hilo students can work on various projects for a campus and community service day in Hilo.

You can make a difference by volunteering on Oahu on October 28:

Volunteer to help community cleanups at Banyan Street in Kalihi (with OceanTroller) and Palolo Stream in Palolo (with Trees to Seas).

You can make a difference on Hawaii coasts year-round:

I just learned about a Clean Swell app that lets you track the opala you collect or start your own clean up at a beach near you.

You can make a difference by forgiving someone who has harmed you – including your younger self:

I’ve been reading a little about forgiveness, I’ve learned that forgiveness does not mean condoning their actions or absolving them of guilt. Forgiveness is about you – about accepting that the transgression happened, reducing your need for punishment, and trying to feel compassion for the offender’s suffering.

How will you make a difference in Hawaii and in your life?

DNA and a culture of diversity

October 9, 2018

In Hawaii, 24% of residents are a mix of two or more races (nearly one in four people), compared to 6.9% of the US adult population, according to a 2015 Pew Research report, “Multiracial in America.”

 

My family is a blend of heritages. Growing up in Hawaii, all of my friends were from mixed ethnic backgrounds too. I learned to focus on who people are, not what they look like.

 

I came to realize that, depending on who I was with, or whether I had a tan, people would perceive me in different ways. Walking with a Japan friend, some visitors have greeted in me in Japanese. Waiting with a Chinese friend, some people have talked to me in Chinese. (I don’t speak either language).

 

It gave me a kind of freedom in who I wanted to be, and which cultural traditions I choose to draw on.

 

In the past, my parents and I would sometimes speculate about our grandparents and great-grandparents, and try to do the math with percentages and blood quantum. It was like discussing sports statistics and betting odds (but a lot less intense).

 

Speculating about our heritage didn’t affect our family. I’m comfortable with who I am and I don’t need proof of where I came from. But one day, I found myself ordering a DNA kit from AncestryDNA.com. I was curious to see the results, and whether our idle speculation was on target.

 

One Sunday morning, I received the results of the DNA test. The results didn’t surprise me; the regional breakdown was about what I expected, though I hoped for more country-specific identification.

 

I didn’t feel any different about myself or my family.

 

A few days later, there was an update to my DNA results, based on more reference samples and addition regions. The regions were refined into estimated countries. This time, the refinement surprised me.

 

But I still didn’t feel any different about myself or my family.

 

Within a few generations from today, I think that most of the people living in urban areas will have mixed ethnic backgrounds. I don’t see it as losing a heritage; I see it as being connected to multiple heritages, and embracing a new culture of diversity.

 

If you have done a DNA test, how did you react to the results? Did it affect your self-identity? And for those who haven’t done a DNA test, what would make you consider it? What would you want to know about your ancestors?