We sat down with researcher, Samantha Maher of EcoHealth Alliance to discuss how COVID-19 is providing our planet a chance to breathe – deforestation, ecological disruptions, silver linings, mental and physical health, creating a better normal, steps towards change – living sustainably, making an impact and donating to charities.
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Teka: Thanks for joining us. So, would you mind kind of just giving us a quick intro about yourself?
Samantha: I'm a research scientist at EcoHealth Alliance, which is also based in New York City. And so, I specialize in environmental economics and conservation. And so basically what we do is we use public health justifications to try to preserve nature is the short version.
Teka: Okay, awesome. And so, could you tell us a little bit more about EcoHealth Alliance?
Samantha: Sure. Yeah. So, it's actually a really neat organization because I think it fills a niche that is pretty unique, which is working right at the intersection of public health in the environment. And I think the connection between public health and the conservation of wildlife or land isn't always a really intuitive one. But I think it's a really, really important one. First, because there's a lot of resources out there that are dedicated to public health that we could use to do things that both support our own health and the health of the environment. And two, because of how interconnected those things are. And I think not all of us realize how much we get from the world around us because it's not something that we always interface with every day. So, Eco Health really focuses on that, and tries to spread that message as well as focusing on something that's really important now, which is pandemic prevention. So, a lot of diseases can come from land-use change, deforestation, and the natural environment. So, that's a big focus as well for us.
Teka: Awesome. Thanks so much for that. Could you also just tell us a little bit about your training?
Samantha: I think when we talk-- we talk about nature, we think of pristine or we think of these areas that are untouched by humans, but I'm convinced that those don't really exist. And in the case of this current, pandemic, a lot of diseases jump from animals to humans. So, some of the biggest outbreaks we've had, I think most all of them really; the Spanish flu, Ebola, SARS, and now COVID all came from a wildlife source. And so, depending on how we're interacting with our wildlife, if we interact by cutting down forests, and suddenly we're exposed to new reservoirs for diseases, or if we’re eating wildlife, we're trading it, we're capturing wildlife from caves, where that might also be diseased reservoirs. And then we're increasing the chance that this disease is going to be able to mutate and then spread amongst the human population as well. So, that's the short version of it.
Teka: Yeah. And so, could you tell us a little bit, are there any previous pandemics that are linked to deforestation?
Samantha: Yeah. So, as I said before, Ebola is a big name out there because it's a really nasty disease. And so that was linked to eating wildlife And that was because people are going deeper and deeper into the forest in a lot of areas, There's more interface between human society in the forest because of deforestation, the fragmentation of land is making a lot more space for humans to interact with wildlife where they previously didn't do that. And so that increased contact is what's been causing the spillovers ultimately.
Teka: Okay, gotcha. And then are there any studies or reports that people can check out that speak to the importance of pandemic prevention and stopping deforestation that you could tell us about or talk us through so we can learn some more facts to share?
Samantha: Sure, yeah. So, at EcoHealth we actually just finished a really cool project called Infectious Disease Emergence and the Economics of Altered Landscapes. And what that focused on is another big disease that you hear a lot about, which is malaria, which has also been linked to the fragmentation of landscapes. And so, we worked in Malaysia and we basically traced palm oil expansion in Malaysia and tied that to increases in malaria cases in Malaysian Borneo. And so what we found out from that was that malaria cases had increased so much with the deforestation for palm oil, that the cost of these diseases throughout the landscape was actually higher in some cases than the benefits they were getting from growing the palm oil in the first place. So, they actually found a threshold in which it was no longer economically efficient, continue developing land because of the disease burden that was imposing on the people. The kicker being that usually, we don't consider public costs like that when we make decisions about how to use land. Usually, we're only considering the economic rent we would get from cutting down a forest or from growing palm oil. But there's a public health burden and economic burden that's shared by the people of better working on the plantations and in the surrounding communities and they're the ones who are paying the price ultimately.
Teka: Definitely. I think that's interesting because I feel like maybe more recently, something like palm oil is one of those big ingredients that people are becoming more aware about. But I feel like it's also really difficult to kind of steer away from something like that because it's so prevalent. It's in a lot of different products. Do you find that for you just kind of maybe knowing that information about something like palm oil makes you more vigilant when you're looking for product substitutions?
Samantha: Yeah, definitely. And I'll be honest, it didn't quite hit home with me. But I knew and I think a lot of us know that it’s connected with deforestation. But it wasn't until I did my work in Malaysia and I visited the areas and I saw what had happened to the landscape that it really hit me. One thing that's really neat is there's an app and I need to look up the name of it where you can scan barcodes at the grocery store, and it will tell you whether or not there's palm oil in the product. Which I thought was really cool. I've used it, but I haven't transferred it over to my new phone yet. But that's one thing that people can do to see what's in the products they're buying, because it comes, you know, in a lot of different names. When you read the ingredients, it never says palm oil, so it can be hard to figure out.
Teka: Okay. We'll definitely want to share that later. I guess apart from other possible pandemics as a result, what are some other downsides of deforestation?
Samantha: Yeah, so there's a lot of disease regulation and the ability of forests to protect us against disease is one of 17 different categories of recognized services that forest provides for us. And so, when we did our project in Malaysia, we're just considering the health burden. But if you add up all the other services you're losing from forest, the threshold at which you should stop developing land happens a lot earlier. And so those benefits of forest land can include clean air, clean water, pharmaceutical stuff, medicine, and then there's cultural and spiritual values for the people who live in and use the forest. So, there's a lot of different things, it's a source of food. It's a source of the air we breathe, and it regulates climate. But the list goes on and on quite literally.
Teka: Yeah, definitely. And so, what are some reasons that deforestation is even still occurring? I mean, you mentioned palm oil harvesting, but are there other reasons, and where in the world is this happening?
Samantha: Yeah, so, to answer the second question first, I think the easier question is, where in the world is this not happening? Because I didn't even realize the extent to which this had already altered landscapes. And we're working right now in Liberia and West Africa. And it's one of the countries that has the most pristine, as close as you can get to pristine forest left in the world and they still don't have a lot left. So, it's happening everywhere at this point. It's happening more in places like Southeast Asia, in Indonesia and Malaysia, and then in the Brazilian Amazon; those are the places that we hear highlighted. So, the reason that it's happening is almost entirely to meet a growing demand for new products, both for food. And then the other thing is we think about food, oh, like we're growing things to eat, we're growing corn, but it's also pasture for me. So, in emerging markets that are becoming wealthier, people have more money to buy meat to eat, which is good from a nutritional standpoint, but it leads to a lot of deforestation for pasture land for the cattle to support us.
Teka: Gotcha. And so, I guess when we think about deforestation that is still happening, coming into contact with all these different species of animals and trading and eating, how likely do you think another pandemic might occur?
Samantha: So, that's the golden question, right? And I think it's hard to give an answer because if we knew, I think we'd be in a much better position than we are now, of course. But the answer is increasingly likely that it's going to happen and increasingly likely that that will be sooner rather than later. Given how we're interacting with the environment, we're exposing ourselves to more and more disease reservoirs every day. And as we could see, with COVID, it takes the wrong one once. So, that's what we call disease X is the disease that we don't know exists yet. But once it happens, it's going to be rough and one of the things Eco Health Alliance is doing is we're trying to sample all the wildlife basically in the world that we can in order to find disease X before it finds us.
Teka: Gotcha. Okay. And so shifting a little bit to kind of the result of this pandemic. Sorry, I'm moving my phone around a little. Or one of the results is what people are calling the great pause. And basically just for our viewers, it's just this idea that because of the pandemic, because of the ease with which the virus spreads, and which shelter in place is occurring, there's been this kind of great pause movement, of traffic, of travel, production even. And so, it's really, I mean, I'm sure if you look outside, if you're in an affected area, especially I'm in New Jersey, so very close to New York, you see the difference. But it's also you know people are really having a chance or some people are having a chance to kind of breathe a little bit and kind of think about how things like consumerism are affecting them. My mom, she was-- We were chatting one morning and she was telling me usually she keeps all her receipts because she's very old school. And she had two receipts, and they were from when she went grocery shopping, and she was like, “What have I been spending all my money on?” Which I thought was interesting, because I'm the same way. And so, I guess for you what are some silver linings of the great pause that you're seeing either from a personal perspective or from an ecological perspective?
Samantha: So, from a personal perspective, it's a chance to examine our daily habits, right? And so that's been really interesting. I'm like, why don't I do this every day? What am I doing? Does it make me happier or am I just doing it? So, I think that's really valuable on a personal level. And then being a scientist, what's most exciting for me is that this is a giant natural experiment. And when you study the environment, it's so hard to have experiments because you can't have control because you're not in control of the environment around you. And you just have to find opportunities to compare things that naturally arise. And in this case, we've got a new baseline against which to compare everything and that pertains to pollution, the movement of animals closer to urban settlements, pretty much every topic possible is we suddenly have this natural experiment that makes it really easy to examine our actions to see what they're actually doing.
Teka: Right. And so, are there any really positive or surprising statistics that are related to or speak to the impact that we're having on the planet? So, I know a lot of people have seen coyotes on the Golden Gate Bridge, or other wildlife returning, clear skies, but just maybe from not just a scientific perspective, but a personal perspective as well.
Samantha: Yeah, so I think you actually, you name two really important ones, because I think what's most surprising right now, to me, isn't even the statistics. It's our personal appearances that are changing. And a lot of the time we hear statistics, but they don't mean a whole lot to us, because we can't see it or feel it in the world around us. But in this case, as you pointed out, like we go outside, and we see clear skies. And I'm asthmatic, and I like to go on bike rides all the time, and it's easier for me now, which is just awesome. And I guess I hadn't realized how much it was affecting me, air quality. And in Houston especially, I'm in Houston right now though, that’s not where I usually work. But in Houston, it gets really bad and now it's been like blue skies. Yeah. It's great.
Teka: Yeah, my mom is in Houston. I grew up in Houston and so she's been talking about very similar experiences.
Samantha: She's noticed too.
Teka: Yeah. But I think that's an important point, I think when we talk about climate change, or our impact on the environment, it's not always easy to see the impact we're having. You know, it's very hard to visualize what an increase in global temperature looks like, outside of something like a really extreme natural disaster or the frequency with which they're occurring. But something like this, because we had to slow down so quickly, you really do see, I guess the change very quickly and I think that's just the timeframe difference is very stark. So, that's a good point.
Samantha: Yeah, I think you're exactly right about that. I think it's so hard to feel the difference. And that's one of the biggest impediments to us changing our behavior and now being able to see it. It can be a real game-changer.
Teka: You have to see it to believe it. And so, I guess just talking about this, what are three topics that you wish more people would Google during their extra time that kind of would help shape the state of our planet?
Samantha: Yeah, so one that I've been finding particularly interesting is the stories of environmental migrants and climate refugees. I think a lot of us, those of us who are in the United States, we are compared to a lot of people in the world a little more insulated from the effects of climate change than other people can. So, it doesn't feel as real to us. But there's already people in the world that are having to pick up everything and go somewhere else because of what's happening or their health is suffering because of it. And so, before we personally go outside, we're like, wow, it's too hot for me to handle. What we're going to see is a complete changing of the geopolitical landscape and the cultural landscape as well. And so those stories I think are really amazing to pay attention to. And then another thing is carbon offsets. They're so easy to buy, and they're so cheap compared to what I thought they would be. So, just to offset your travel, if you take a couple of flights a year to go on vacation or visit family, it's under $100, sometimes to offset that, which is, and I measure everything in the cost of a cocktail in Manhattan, and it's just a few cocktails a year. So, not that bad.
Teka: Yeah, no, that's actually, that's a good point. Actually, just kind of talking about carbon offsets, I feel like, this was kind of back in 2010, there was a lot of stigma about them almost like, “Oh, they don't really work. Oh, it's not really worth it. How can such a small amount of money offset a carbon footprint?” Or like those sorts of things. Do you have any information you could share about carbon offsets or why they're so affordable in that context?
Samantha: Yeah, and I think you're right, I think in a lot of cases and especially before there were standards for what a good carbon certificated program would do, it was hard to kind of see if what you were paying for was actually happening. But now there's a lot of certification schemes that have been made uniform so that you have a pretty good idea that what's happening is actually happening. There's also a lot of different types of carbon schemes. Now there's one that's to regrow the kelp forests along the Pacific Northwest, which I thought was really cool because they absorb carbon. Yeah, and then there's a lot that are integrated into community-based initiatives, so to help people grow trees that provide food for them in areas that have been previously used for pasture land instead. And so, there's also these large funds where they put a bunch of projects together so that they're a little more robust if one project or another doesn't quite work out as intended. But they're pretty transparent now. There's a lot of resources online that can kind of point you to the right program and make sure you're there’s follow up on the certification as well.
Teka: Very cool. And so, something that I noticed is just I think with extra free time, but also with malls being closed, movie theaters, restaurants being closed, a lot of people are trying to get outdoors more, which is a good thing and a bad thing. Obviously, with social distancing, I think it's a bit hard. And we've seen that in parks having to be closed out and nature, trails are being restricted. Are you able to speak a little bit to the importance of outdoor spaces for mental and physical health and why we should keep that in mind when we are thinking about issues like deforestation or climate change?
Samantha: Yeah, and I think a lot of us are realizing right now how important these spaces are to us. And we're learning not to take them for granted, which is a good thing. But also, it should allow us to realize that there's a lot of people who don't have access to these spaces in the same way that a middle-class American might have. And so, thinking about how we can provide those opportunities for people who don't normally have access to green space. And also, when we're going to these parks and you know, running around, we're so happy because we're in the forest, and we always stay on the path and follow all the rules. Because there's so many more people, you know, it's hard to think you're like, oh, I as an individual, if I'm, if I just walked to the edge of this pond through the reeds, I'm not going to do much damage. But the truth is, you might actually be doing a lot of damage because there's these tiny little microsystems, micro-ecosystems in these places that depend on you not walking off the path essentially. So, we should all just be careful, I know people, we're all pretty good about it.
Teka: I think that's a really good point. Yeah. I don't think people necessarily think about what's one small traversing off the path going to do, but it actually does make a big difference. That's why the paths are there. So, I think that's important. And so, this is kind of future thinking. But eventually, stay at home orders will be removed. There's talk of them being removed soon in some places, just depending on the severity of the cases. And we'll start going to our favorite spots and going back to work and everything. Do you have any thoughts or steps for reopening the economy, and what returning to work should look like?
Samantha: Yeah. So, I think this is of the utmost importance right now. And a lot of the time we've been thinking about COVID in terms of the likelihood that it's going to be transmitted or it's going to be spread to an area or an individual. But I think now that there's a good chance a large part of the country is going to be infected, we should start thinking about the risk of severity once transmission occurs. So, not just the chance of severity, rather the chance of transmission, but the chance that the disease is going to be severe in a population. So, I worked with a team at Eco Health Alliance, Colorado State, and Yale to do this analysis on the country level, and to look at individual industries and counties and populations to see which people in this country are the most at risk from being hospitalized due to the disease. And there's a lot of social risk factors that have to do with access to insurance, access to health care, people who have in the past delayed health care because of cost, more likely going to do it again this time, and also health risk factors; obesity, smoking, all of those things. And so, basically, we created this interactive map that you can see on our website that shows the areas that are hotspots for hospitalization or death. And so, what we're recommending is that people consider what populations are most vulnerable and protect them from I guess, premature return to work policies consider that as the primary determinant of who should be going back to work and when.
Teka: So, when you say I'm in this case at-risk populations, I know that kind of when we started seeing these outbreaks in the US, we talked about people with compromised immune systems, elderly folks. Are there any other groups of people that would kind of fall into that category as we look at reopening the economy and going back to work?
Samantha: Yeah. So, in terms of health risk factors, one of the big ones is actually obesity, which wasn’t coming out a lot in the beginning of this, but more recently has been shown to be very likely to lead to severe cases of the disease. A lot of it is dependent on where, basically, your job and then a lot of places like San Francisco for example, a lot of people in the tech industry and people can work from home more easily. But in a lot of rural counties, people can't work from home. And so that makes them more exposed to the virus, it also means they're probably working a lot harder and often for a lot less money. Our analysis has shown that in these areas, people have much lower wages and much lower access to insurance and to medical care. And the longer people put off going to the doctor, because they're afraid of what the cost might be, the more severe the disease is going to be. And so, we want to protect these populations. We want a system in which this doesn't happen in the first place. But given that we're responding to emergencies we want to make sure our policies are protecting these people.
Teka: Okay, very cool. And so, I guess kind of continuing with looking at steps towards change, looking at public health that you just spoke upon, and also environmental factors. What does the ideal new normal look like? Because obviously, we're not going back to normal and there are arguments that we shouldn't really go back to what we were doing before. So, what does the new normal look like to you?
Samantha: So, my new normal is, it's a big push. But I'm looking at this, a world that has a very interconnected economy. And if one thing happens, and we shut down things for a month, suddenly we're seeing in some places, half of the restaurants going out of business. We're seeing massive levels of unemployment. And we need to ask ourselves, are our systems all resilient? And so, to me, this looks like large scale structural change. We need to think about condensing supply chains, about producing and buying more locally. Because as you mentioned before, what's happening right now is a really, really quick version of what might happen when we see worsening climate change and other environmental disasters. And so, if our system wasn't resilient to the outbreak as it happened now, probably not going to be really resilient to similar events that are going to occur in the future. And so, we really need to think about how to restructure things so that it's not going to be like this in the future. And that's I know, it's a very tall order, and pretty general, but it's as you said before, I think the new normal, it should be really different.
Teka: Yeah. Well, I think that's a good point when you think about how this pandemic is kind of overexposing because it's not like they’re, we didn't-- There are things that we already knew about the systems that are in place that aren't working. And I think this just kind of highlights how broken the system is. And so, there's definitely, I think, a big system overhaul that needs to be done and it's really a matter of how to do it, and who does it and what are the means for doing it? So, I think that's really good-- Yeah, that's a good observation. So, I guess, looking at from a personal individual level, what are some everyday changes people can implement in their lives to make an impact?
Samantha: So, something I've been reading about recently is something called nudge theory in the architecture of choice. And it's basically in behavioral economics, the idea that you need to make decisions easier for yourself. So, if you want to do-- So, a lot of us are-- it’s not that we don't know what's the correct thing to do. We want to recycle, we want to buy sustainable products, we want to shop local. But when we set up our lives so that we have to make that decision over and over again, every time we go out for food, we make it hard for ourselves. And so, what we want to do is change the structure of our decisions to make it really easy to do the thing we want to do. So, I would recommend just taking one day and thinking about all your habits like whether or not you bring reusable bags and why don't you bring them? “Oh, because they're in you know, my room instead of in my car.” And change everything around really fast to make it really easy for you to do the things that you mentally want to do, but behaviorally have a little trouble getting to?
Teka: Yeah. No, I think that's a good point. I know for a Lo & Sons in our office, I feel like there are a lot of choices that I make at home that are a lot easier to make in the office because the choice is already made. We have reusable straws in the office, we have composting, we've got recycling bins in our kitchen area and I think for me at least one thing that's really difficult is remembering what goes where, what's recyclable, what's not, what I want to recycle, but actually can’t, and just having the images of what goes where is so much easier because it takes the pressure off of me to not mess that up. I know exactly what I'm doing because the information is there. The choice has been made. So, I think finding ways to translate that into home life is super important.
Samantha: Yeah, I think that's really well said. That’s exactly it.
Teka: Going off of that, if people had to choose just one thing to do differently this year for the rest of the year in their lifestyle, and something that would have a pretty big impact on the planet; what would you recommend that change be?
Samantha: Well, I think maybe give yourself one day and just devote a few hours to just making those little habit changes and moving your recycling bins around and then the other thing is, every time you think that you're going to buy something, and I've been really bad about this is the fast fashion thing.
Teka: Yeah. Yeah.
Samantha: Give it up. Give it up. And I think Lo & Sons is great because you're really transparent about what products like what materials you use, what the supply chain is, who you support, and why. And you make it fashionable. And I think that I've been trying to just invest in statement pieces and maybe spending a little more money. So, I would say give up fast fashion and do an overhaul of your architecture of choice in a given day.
Teka: Okay. Yeah, I think those are super helpful, especially with the fashion piece. I think it's really hard for a lot of reasons to give up fast fashion. It's super affordable, if you think just on a price basis and not on a who is this affecting basis. It can be maybe a little bit more accepting of certain body types. But again, even then, I think it depends on what fast fashion brand you’re looking at. So, I think it is important not only to look at those choices, but also let those brands, let brands that you know and love know that you are interested in seeing “Oh, I love this. But this doesn't fit my body shape.” I have the money that I want to spend with you guys and I want to support you guys. And I think that's important to creating changes just like reminding small businesses, especially that maybe they feel like they don't necessarily have the resources that consumers and supporters are out there and they want to see these brands succeed. And I think that's something that Lo & Sons has realized. There's always a lot of positive feedback when we talk about sustainability or you know, the choices that we make when we design the bags to make them functional, but also stylish so you want to use them. And then sustainable. So, you're not affecting yourself, you're not affecting the planet, you're not affecting your neighbor. So, I think that's a really helpful tip for sure.
Samantha: Yeah, I'm glad you said that. Because I realize it is a bit of a luxury to be able to give up fast fashion for a lot of people either because of yeah, what you're spending or because some other brands don't support your body type. And I think, yeah, giving feedback to local businesses, I'm not really good at that. I don't give feedback. I just kind of ignore it once I’m on the other end. But the fact that there's brands like Lo & Sons, and I know others like Everlane that are trying to incorporate those things. If they don't know what to do.
Teka: Right. Yeah, yeah. It's always nice to know that people are looking for what you're offering. and so, kind of, I guess to the point, I'm obviously telling small businesses what you want, it can have an impact. Does something like giving to charities make an impact?
Samantha: Yeah, and especially in a time like this and is really important, to small NGOs, especially, and NGOs like mine, were primarily funded by a couple of big grants, a lot of which we got through the federal government. And in times like this, it's very likely that your funding is either going to be interrupted or you're going to be unable to get new funding sources. If you’re a pandemic prevention organization like we are, you might be a little better off. But in the year before this, we lost our biggest source of funding, and we had a real hard time getting through it. And so, donating to charities can help provide them and be insurance, that they're going to be able to survive changes and they're major programmatic funding sources. And it's really important because it can make the difference over someone losing their job, a project didn’t finish, and helping the people that depend on these projects, whether it's for support with filing immigration forms, whether it's public health, it's any of these things really. It's economic livelihoods in other countries, donating to charities during this time is really the best time to do it.
Teka: And I guess we do explain a little bit, so I think that people don't always think about how nonprofits or non-government organizations when it comes to things like money or funding. Could you explain a little bit about what a grant is just because people don't know the process for getting a grant? I know from the grad school perspective it's very, stress-inducing. But just from an organizational perspective?
Samantha: Yeah. And this is something I had no idea how this worked until I started working in EcoHealth Alliance, is that a lot of funding, especially for-- So, bigger nonprofits and universities usually have an endowment. And they're usually-- they also have grants that support individual projects. But for the most part, they're the general logistics and salaries a lot of the time can be taken care of. For smaller organizations who don't have big endowments, most of the funding, including for individual salaries will come from grants. So, you call this programmatic funding. And so, for example, we get a lot of funding from the US Agency for International Development. and so that depends on what passes through Congress. And that depends a lot on the political climate. So, a lot of these things aren't all insulated from what's happening in the world. And so, when you have a bunch of people, depending on these grants and the renewal of these grants to their salaries, it's really scary when things change, and grants don't last that long. Some of them are one or two years, and you're applying, by the time you start your grant, you're already applying for the next one. And so, a lot of your time and energy is put towards grants because if you're not on it all the time, your salary is at stake. And it's not always easy for nonprofit employees to make it through those times.
Teka: That's crazy. Thanks for sharing a bit about that with us. And I guess you brought in this idea of the political climate and how that can affect nonprofits, but also just situations like this in general. What are some tips you have for navigating conversations with people who are climate skeptics or pandemic skeptics even?
Samantha: Yeah. So, I mean, you're from Houston, I'm from Houston, not everyone in Houston believes that climate change is a big deal. And I've been living in the northeast where people are a lot more likely to be concerned about it. So, I grew up with a lot of people who just weren't too worried about it. And so, I found that one of the most useful things was talking about it as you talk about insurance. So, we all have insurance for everything. We have insurance for our cars, well, hopefully, not all of us have a health card, but that's another issue. In theory, we all have insurance, if we can afford it. And we have insurance not because we think that the bad thing is going to happen, like most of us are pretty sure our house is not going to burn down sometime in the next few 10 years. But we have insurance anyway, based on the small probability that that will happen. And I don't see climate change is any different. It's like if you don't think it's going to happen, but there's a 1% chance, wouldn't you want to be prepared anyway, just because the consequences of not preparing are so much bigger than the risk for preparing. And so, to me from an economic perspective, from just a pure logistics effect, perspective, you could be pretty sure climate change isn't going to be a problem and you want to buy insurance for it. So, that's how I find that’s a way that makes sense to people who aren't always steeped in environmental literature and content. Because that's something that we can all relate to on an individual level.
Teka: Yeah, I actually really love that. I think that's something I'm going to keep in my back pocket for things to do, for sure.
Samantha: Yeah, use them whenever you want.
Teka: Yeah. Okay. And so those are all the questions that I have. We're going to go through a quick name-your-favorite, which is basically, like I mentioned before, the part of the chat where we just provide viewers with our favorite resources, in this case, related to sustainability. So, I'll let you take the lead and I'll respond after. So, our first “Name your Favorite” is your favorite three everyday sustainable products?
Samantha: Well, I've been doing way too much online shopping over the last few days, but I started with Lo & Sons, which I must say, I'm really impressed with just the transparency behind the whole process. It's awesome. And so that I love Reformation, kind of unaffordable but I think it’s really cool that we're making sustainability fashionable and cool. I like Everlane too. My friend the other day introduced me to Worn Wear by Patagonia which is where you can buy used Patagonia stuff because I'm a Patagonia nerd. It’s awesome even though it's expensive, but if you're Patagonia, why wouldn't you sell the same product twice? It's kind of a genius idea. You make it once and someone buys it twice. That's pretty cool. So, that's what I've been using on the internet recently.
Teka: I love that. No, I think that's a good point. Especially with Patagonia, I think something I love about that is it's such a sought-after brand because their quality is so good. And I think they were able to really capitalize on that in a way that also helps you know, their consumers as well as the environment. You can get it for maybe a more affordable price, and it's also staying out of the landfill. So, I think that's great. So, for me, I kind of was thinking about things that I use in my house on a daily basis. And so, these are a little lame, so guys bear with me. But I was thinking about my first one is dish towels, which sounds weird, but my boyfriend and I, we went grocery shopping. We were looking for paper towels. And of course, it was a struggle because paper towels, Lysol, Clarks Wipes, and toilet paper are just so hard to find up here, especially up here. And I realized, we have dish towels, we have so many rags, and you can wash them like that's just the best way to not have to worry about paper towels is just use dish rags.
Samantha: And they work better I feel like.
Teka: Yeah, they're not going to fall apart because you're scrubbing or something like that. They're just the best thing ever. I love them. So, I'm obsessed with dish towels. Also, glass jars, which is a little weird, but like when I buy jam, and or even when I get olives, I always save the glass jars, because you can use them for so much. I start seeds in them for my garden. I use them as Tupperware. I have some jam jars that I kind of want to make into candles because they're cute, like hexagonal. So, that's my other one. And then my third one is actually a composter that I asked for Christmas, like two years ago, and just decided this is the time to start. I'm at home, we have a balcony so I can keep it outside because my boyfriend thinks it's going to smell. If you do it, right, it's not supposed to smell. So, we'll see how that goes. But those are my top three sustainability products.
Samantha: I think those are all great. I don't think I own a real glass anymore. I think at this point, it's all jars.
Teka: Yeah, they’re the best. I love them. So, the second one is your favorite book sustainability wise, and why?
Samantha: So, I recently read Sapiens by Yuval Harari, and it's not about-- It's not sustainability-themed, it's about people. But I've always maintained that there's no such thing as an environmental problem. They're just symptoms of human problems. And so, his book was just so cool because it explained it in a really intuitive way why things work the way they do. And I think sometimes we sit here coming into the world and you know, the 1900s where we're like, why does this all work this way, this doesn't seem to make sense. And the reason is, because there's thousands of years of human history that by accident or on purpose-led us to have a certain societal structure. And it doesn't always make sense and good to think about where it doesn’t and how we can change it. So, I really love that book.
Teka: I love that. Yeah, that's actually on my reading list. I started the first chapter and I was like, “This is so good.” but now I don’t have to commute.
Samantha: If you ever want to talk about that book with me, I’m all ears.
Teka: Definitely. I'm going to take you upon that. So, it's funny. So, the book that I chose is actually not related to sustainability, per se, but I think in this context, it's really interesting. It kind of speaks to something you said before it's called The World Without Us. I can't remember the author, I read it-- I had to read it in undergrad for my environmental seminar. And it's basically this thought experiment as to, what would happen if humans just all of a sudden disappeared. And so, I think that's really relatable to right now, obviously, we're still around, but we are not doing all of the things that we usually do. And I just thinking back on it, I was like, this is what's happening, you're getting to see exactly what is going on, what would happen if we took a break from X, Y, Z. And I think that kind of speaks to your point earlier that usually, we don't really get to play out those sorts of thought experiments, and we're able to in a certain kind of way.
Samantha: Yeah, exactly. It’s the giant natural experiment.
Teka: Yeah. And so, the next one is your favorite podcast and why?
Samantha: So, I'm a big fan of Sci Fridays, and I just think it's science journalism at its best, it's every Friday. It's a New York something lab. But it's pretty easy to find on the podcast app. But they summarize just the science news from the week and they just do such a good job. It's just a really high-quality discussion, but it's also really understandable. So, you don't need to know anything about the topic. It'll catch you up to speed real quick. So, I like that one.
Teka: Cool. I've never heard of it. I have to check it out for sure. So, the podcast that I really like, and I actually don't listen to podcasts a lot. So, I think maybe that speaks to how much I like this one is called Conscious Chatter. And it's the sustainable fashion podcasts, but they cover so much more than that. They talk about you know, the agriculture system, they talk about racial inequality, gender inequality, they are able to just rap so much into sustainable fashion discussions. And I think that might also speak to how everything is kind of related to sustainability, and also related to fashion in a sense, it’s such an overarching factor, and it affects so many people in so many different ways. So, that's a really great one, but also super engaging, and really fun.
Samantha: I think that's a really important point. It is speaking about how interconnected everything is. Because I think humans have this tendency to silo all these different topics. And that's not how it works. So, I think, yeah, I think that's awesome. I might have to check that out, too.
Teka: It's super good. And then your favorite app, and why?
Samantha: So, my friends introduced me to this new app and I can never say it right. But it's called Upndo. It's U-P-N-D-O. It's called Upndo, share your energy. It's new. And so, what it does is it converts your physical movement during the day. So, if you have a health app, where it shows how much you run or bike or whatever, in a day, you basically get points from your activity, and then these points get turned into money that you can donate to any charity of your choosing.
Teka: Oh, wow.
Samantha: I think it's designed to promote corporate responsibility, so people sponsor their workers to get active, and then they're able to donate the money directly and choose where that goes. And I just thought that was such a cool idea because a lot of us really want to donate, but as this crisis has shown us, a lot of us can't make rent the next month. And we don't have a whole lot. We have student loans, but we want to donate and this is a way to donate with something that we have, which is our own energy. So, that’s really cool.
Teka: That's really cool. I think I love that concept. I definitely want to check that out. Because, I mean, even just walking around the house during the day, I feel like I would rack up some points. So, that's cool. I chose the Audubon Society App. This is going to sound a little nerdy. So, I live just outside of Princeton, small New Jersey Town, for those who haven't heard of it. But I moved up here with my boyfriend and I was not super excited. I'm originally from Toronto and so I’m very much a big city person. And after we exhausted all of the things that I was interested in doing, I was like, I need a hobby desperately. And ended up falling into birdwatching of all things. But I really love it because it's something you can do anywhere. You don't have to be at a national park to do it. You can be in a city, you can just sit, you know, by your window at home and it's so fun. It's like a puzzle because you see the bird then you're like, oh, I don't know that bird. I need to figure out what it's called, what it eats, what it's like. Okay, maybe not all of that. But just knowing the name of the bird I think is super fun. And it's just really exciting.
Samantha: I'm so glad you said that because I'm literally, I want to share what I'm using to prop up.
Teka: Oh, yeah.
Samantha: It's a bird guide because I do the same thing.
Teka: I love that, I love that. I have that. That’s fantastic.
Samantha: My mom and I are going birding on Friday. So I totally get it.
Teka: That's awesome. Oh, my gosh. Just a quick shout out, the Claremont is a great birding bag because it holds your binoculars and your book and some snacks. So, in case anyone was wondering.
Samantha: Everyone should get into birding. I strongly support it.
Teka: Absolutely. And then last favorites question, the most breathtaking or your favorite, most breathtaking place you visited outdoors on the planet?
Samantha: Oh my gosh. I have a mental Rolodex in my head of these places that I just go through sometimes. But I think one of the most dramatic ones I've ever seen was in Chile in Patagonia. And I was driving a bus to go see Torres del Paine and it was just like-- It was lighting that I couldn't believe that the Earth creates. It just-- I felt like I was not on the planet. It was pretty awesome. I think about it a lot.
Teka: That's so cool. This is actually a hard one for me because I realized when I travel I think a lot about maybe the cultural beauty and not so much about the surroundings. But I went to Antigua for the first time, I think last year. My mom's from there originally. So, it was going back and seeing where she grew up. But we took this boat trip around the whole island. And it was just really cool to see all the micro-ecosystems that change just depending on going a few degrees around the island. We saw the sea turtles, we got to go snorkeling. We got to swim to this island, just kind of off the coast. And we saw the pillars of Hercules which you have to look up. It's very cool. It's just, it's a geological structure, I guess. Yeah, rocks. They’re just like pillars of rocks, but just the gradation throughout is just really cool. And when you see it against the blue of the ocean, it's just, it's super stunning. Like that's the one.
Samantha: And all of us stuck in our houses that are just imagining this like “Ah I want to go there”.
Teka: Yeah! Alright just to kind of close out today, for any viewers that want to connect with you, what's the best way to get in touch?
Samantha: Well, the easiest way is just to email me. It's my last name Maher@EcoHealthAlliance.org. But if that's too much to remember, you can just direct message the Eco Health Alliance, Instagram and I will eventually get that message. I have a log in so I can check.
Interviewer: So, thank you, everyone, so much for tuning in. Thank you so much, Samantha, for taking some time out to talk with us. We really appreciate it. And also thank you, everybody, just for supporting EcoHealth Alliance. If you donate for supporting Lo & Sons if you're able to purchase. I know all the small businesses out there appreciate every single person more than usual because we already do as a small business. But yeah, thanks for taking the time out to learn some great stuff about sustainability with us.