Sustainable Living in a Plague Year and Beyond
We will never stop fighting, we will never stop fighting for this planet, for ourselves, our futures and for the futures of our children and grandchildren.
Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it.
Yenka Honig and Adam Rose live in a modest house in Aramengo, a small village, pop 600, nestled in the foothills of the alps in Northern Italy. It looks and feels a lot like the western shores of the Mid-Hudson Valley. How did two Brits end up there? Both were born and raised in London; they grew up together, their doctor fathers friends since medical school. "I asked Yenka to marry me when we were both eight, but she refused," Adam tells me at the beginning of our Zoom call. Yenka, model beautiful with her long hair and make-up free face was in charge of the iPad, which worked fine, I assured her, even though they were sitting outside on their patio. I asked her to turn the camera around so I could see their vegetable garden, the hills in the background, and the darkening sky. "We're in the midst of a drought," Adam said. "Climate change, of course." I mentioned the tornado we'd had recently in the Mid-Hudson Valley, the fires in New Mexico, and the recent flooding of the Wallkill river, extreme weather events on both sides of the Atlantic. Like the pandemic, climate change is global.
It was late in the day for Yenka and Adam, early in the morning for me. I was grateful for the modern technology that enabled this visit, although it is oddly antithetical to how Adam and Yenka prefer to live each day: embedded in nature. And though Adam taught on Zoom during the locked-down days of the pandemic, it is also antithetical to his hands-on well-studied teaching method. In a video posted on You Tube, he is sitting on the ground next to a bed of wild violets explaining their sometimes poo-like odor to his invisible audience. He's a raconteur, Yenka quieter but thoughtful.
Having met both of them when I lived in London, I knew that their life journeys had taken them across the globe in opposite directions until 2012 when they found each other again. "He walked in and a lightning bolt lit up my parents' house," Yenka said, It meant a move from Los Angeles where she had been a celebrity photographer touring with rock bands, to Italy where Adam had already been living for a long time. Married to an Italian, he had two daughters, gotten divorced, and created Ecowise Italy https://www.ecowiseitaly.com/, a company dedicated to immersing school children in the natural world. Pre-pandemic the tours and classes were a constant. After a two-year hiatus, they have started up again, as have many programs iin the United States.
I thought of the move my husband and I had made from the city to upstate New York in the spring of 2018. Though our daughter and son-in-law had de-urbanized more than a decade ago, and we'd visited often, we hadn't changed our city ways. In our apartment water was plentiful and we ran it while washing dishes without thinking that it originated in the Catskill watershed, and that it might one day run dry. The words drought or scarcity—of natural resources—was not in our vocabulary. But once we moved, we quickly adapted, paying rapt attention to the cost of our utilities, the shift to solar power on our daughter's property, and the reason for it. Now when friends come to visit, we prevail upon them to take short showers and turn off lights they are not using. We hope that these admonitions will raise their awareness and that they will remain our friends.
Many city dwellers headed north as the pandemic hit, bought up houses and rented apartments. "We had the same situation here," Adam said. Will these opportunistic urban migrants return to the city with a new understanding of the amount of energy a city uses and other environmental degradations? Will cities eventually cease to exist and become artifacts of a dystopian age?
A sustainable planet begins with every individual, every family, every government, local and national. It includes universal health care, food and water supply, affordable housing, the protection of the bees that pollinate our flowering plants, and the habitat we continue to destroy with our careless disregard.