10 Lessons From a Hurricane on How to Live Richer, Greener and Lighter

By Carla Robertson

We’ve all heard the theories about how global climate change may be leading to more storms and more extreme weather. And most of us in the metro area recently felt the impact of a very wet, very windy, very extreme (for a Category 1) hurricane. Are we ready to live on a planet where events like this may become more common?

What does it really mean to live more sustainably? I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling more and more serious about taking responsibility for and shifting my own consumptive behaviors. Surviving and thriving during a hurricane reminds me of what’s important and ways I might live more lightly without feeling deprived.

Here are ten lessons about sustainability that I learned from Hurricane Isaac.

1. Be grateful. Hurricanes always remind me to be grateful. Even though the palm tree fell down and a hundred year crape myrtle is on the ground up the block, and there was no power, I found myself repeatedly telling friends and family that we were fine. More than fine. Gratitude is one of the best antidotes to mindless consumption. When we’re grateful, we don’t need more stuff. Because, my gosh, we already have so much!

2. Embrace simplicity in entertainment. Quit distracting yourself with all your devices. During the storm did you play board games by candlelight or Flashlight Tag? Did you find original and unusual ways to entertain yourselves – ways that didn’t require any electricity? What if you retained some of that simple fun post-hurricane? If you find that members of your family retreat to separate corners, faces in phones, iPads, TVs or computers, and you’d like to bring everyone together, consider hosting a family game night, or Sunday afternoons without electronics. Take control of your devices before they take control of you.

3. Purge the excess. Stop hoarding. On the last day without power, I went through a significant purging frenzy. I went through closets, drawers and cabinets searching for excess and unnecessary items. Maybe it was being cooped up with all my stuff. Maybe it was remembering hauling other people’s flooded belongings out to the curb after Katrina. Maybe it’s my current fantasy of being a location-independent nomad. Only keeping what we need keeps us from worrying about taking care of too much or trying to figure out how to keep hundreds of dollars of frozen food from spoiling.

4. Be neighborly. Connect with your community! Did you notice how much people hung out together in the street during the storm? Folks helped each other cut tree branches or cover roofs with tarps. They gathered together to observe the energy crews. They held porch parties, pool parties, and grilling parties. I wondered, is this how things used to be before air conditioning? Before we all stayed inside with our appliances? Consider how you can stay connected with your neighbors – maybe a regular potluck or party – or a tool sharing program so everyone doesn’t need their own chain saw, weed whacker, giant ladder or mower. This is also a fabulous time to volunteer – reach out to those in the area who didn’t fare as well. Hold a canned food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank or volunteer to help in flooded areas.

5. Compost! Oh my. There were so many leaves and branches and entire trees down as a result of this storm. Where’s it all going, I wonder? If you’re not already composting your yard waste, maybe now’s the time to begin considering it. We have a rather expansive compost pile, and it’s magical watching banana leaves, bamboo branches, and all kind of assorted weeds slowly turn into rich, dark, fragrant soil.

7. Go local! New Orleans has such a great spirit of supporting local businesses, especially during a storm. Keeping your dollars in the region strengthens the community and just plain feels good. And saving all of the transportation costs of shipping helps the planet, too!

8. Value what’s priceless. Smiles. Laughter. Being together. Being awake and alive. They’re all free, green and light on the planet. They bring peace and connection and they don’t create waste, pollution, or any other kinds of messes. Studies show that happiness isn’t connected to things, beyond the basic needs for survival plus a few treats. Hurricanes always remind me to value the important things that aren’t actual physical things.

9. Shrink your carbon footprint. Did you walk or bicycle somewhere during the hurricane? Did you survive without arctic-grade AC? Did you find a way to cool your house with open windows to catch the breeze? Consider applying strategies that you used to survive Isaac to regular life. Can you bump up your AC thermostat a few degrees? Walk to the corner store? Bicycle to your friend’s house?

10. If you need to rebuild, rebuild greener! Research green building materials. Consider solar. Upgrade your windows or insulation. Check out reclaimed supplies like you can find at The Green Project. I recently heard one friend give another friend advice about his experiences rebuilding after Katrina. He said, “Slow down. Take your time and do your research to rebuild the way you want. There’s no rush.”

I think that’s tip number 11 – a little lagniappe! Slow down. Rushing doesn’t do anyone any good and leads to using more energy and creating more waste. Didn’t you love how the hurricane forced us all to slow down and just be? That may be the most sustainable tip of all.

Carla Robertson is a teacher and life coach who specializes in helping overwhelmed people come back to living their wild and precious lives. She lives in New Orleans where every day feels like vacation, and she loves to help others figure out how they can live lighter and happier. In 2009 she thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, and she revisits the woods whenever she can, taking willing and curious souls with her.Find her at livingwildandprecious.com