COVID-19: Sustainability and Social Distancing

Practicing sustainable living seems somewhat trivial in the midst of a global pandemic.

For the past week, I’ve been working from home in response to my lab’s initiative in social distancing. Working from home isn’t possible for me in the long term because virtually all of our sample analysis is done in a laboratory setting. However, for a little while, I can focus on homework assignments and writing projects that I have going on. Even so, I don’t plan on using every second of available time to write. And for anyone who legitimately doesn’t have any work to do from home, Netflix binges are only fun for so long. Here are some ideas that don’t conflict with sustainable living that can help you pass the time.

1. Take an Online Class

Have you been telling yourself for years that you are going to go back and take that class that you’ve always wanted to? Whether it’s for fun or as part of professional development, now is a great time to expand your knowledge from the comfort of your own home. For budding marine scientists, I highly recommend learning a coding language such as R, MatLab, or Python, or mapping software such as GIS.

Here is a list of 450 Ivy League courses you can take online for free, as of spring 2020.

If you don’t want to formally enroll in a course, or tend to learn better when left to your own devices, Cambridge is offering free access to over 700 textbooks. This is available until May of 2020.

2. Read a Book

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten the chance to read a book for fun. If that sounds like you too, take this opportunity to do so!

The Harry Potter series is a great place to start, especially because we aren’t sure how long social distancing practices should be employed.

Some other suggestions:

How to Build a Habitable Planet – Wally Broecker and Charles Langmuir

Aquagenesis – Richard Ellis

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Silent Spring – Rachel Carson

Other Minds – Peter Godfrey-Smith

3. Garden

As of right now precautions should be taken to minimize contact with other people, but going outside, especially in the confines of your own yard or patio is okay. In fact, I’ve been rearranging my patio just as an excuse to get outside. If you’re going a little stir crazy, get your garden going! You don’t need a large outdoor space, and planting just one native plant makes a huge difference for birds and pollinators.

You can find a great database of native plants here, ranked by type of plant and in order of how many pollinators it attracts. All you have to do is put in your zip code!

4. Puzzles and Games

Not everyone’s cup of tea, but hear me out: I never feel like I want to do puzzles or play board or card games. But once I’m actually doing it, I get super invested in it. I say give it a shot, even if it’s not your normal pastime. When I was away for a research project in Sekiu, Washington studying kelp forests, I was introduced to Settlers of Catan, which I highly recommend! Games are fun with a group, but puzzles are perfect if you’re quarantining alone.

5. Do a Spring Clean

I’ve taken this time to clear out some clothes that I haven’t worn in a while. I had planned to do a big cleaning the past couple years, but hadn’t found the time. With an incredibly high proportion of clothes sent directly to the landfill, it’s ideal to give clothes a new life by selling them or donating them, or if they’re in bad shape turn them into rags for other household needs, or give them to animal rescues, which can use them to create bedding for baby animals.

To maintain social distancing without making yourself socially distant, try to participate in or start your own clothing swap. These swaps are often in person, but can be held electronically over text with images or videoconference. Clothing swaps are an awesome way to renew your wardrobe!

6. Learn a Language

Languages are a great skill to have, and can be useful in any profession and also in your personal life.  With the technology we have at our fingertips nowadays it has never been easier to learn a language by yourself. If you want to really commit yourself, Rosetta Stone is an amazing, albeit expensive, resource. There is also Duolingo, a free app that has lessons for several major languages, for those who want to learn without any strings attached. You can also take advantage of those free textbooks through Cambridge and get yourself a few books on language.

7. Try New Recipes

Cooking is a great way to keep yourself from getting too bored at home, especially if you’ve wanted to try some new recipes. If you already know what you like and have your bases covered for your weekly meals, trying a new style of cooking can be a really fun activity.

For example, we’ve been brewing kombucha off and on for a few months, but over the past week have had the time to dedicate to understanding the process and watching our scoby work. You could also try your hand at canning, which is an interesting method of food storage with recipes for both beginners and more advanced canners. Pickles are a great place to start!

8. Learn to Knit or Crochet

If you’re still interested in your shows but can’t quite keep yourself focused, knitting is a fun way to keep your hands busy while watching a good show. It’s also productive, and you just might come out of it which a few new hats or a sweater.

I, of course, will always recommend the yarn from my mom’s farm, which can be found here, but also consider supporting your local farmer, especially in what may become tumultuous economic times.

9. Watch a Documentary

If you’re motivated to learn about something in easy to digest formatting, there are a lot of fantastic documentaries out there! Here are some documentaries about our oceans that are on Netflix right now:

Disney Nature: Oceans

Chasing Coral

A Plastic Ocean

Our Planet

Mission Blue

If you have Disney+, there are also a lot of options from National Geographic. Options are more limited on Hulu. If you have cable, you may be able to access Blue Planet and Blue Planet II through BBC affiliates.

10. Participate in Citizen Science

Even if you’re cooped up in your house, you can still participate in citizen science! There are several projects you can provide data to just by looking out your window. As we get further into spring, we will have more bird and pollinator activity to observe. I suggest checking out Feeder Watch and Journey North.

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