McPhillips: Virus sends a message: Learn to get by with less


April 22 marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Strangely, the guest of honor at this auspicious occasion is a deadly virus.

Is the COVID-19 a message for Mother Earth, a fluke, a brutal corrective biological purge, or a timely reminder that the human race is, well, only human.

Guest Writer

Before settling on his ancestral sesquicentennial family farm in McMinnville, Ramsey McPhillips traveled the world as a self-described hortivangelist, therapeutically preaching the gospel of gardening to a myriad of landed clients. He is best known locally for his advocacy to block expansion of the Riverbend Landfill — that and his pet turkey, Dave, who enjoys visiting Turkey Rama to receive his annual pardon from the mayor. Holder of degrees in environmental studies and visual arts from Bowdoin College, he is the founding president of Zero Waste McMinnville.

One thing is very sure. The novel coronavirus will change the course of human history, and it’s important that change be what’s best for the collective survival of our life on the planet.

Some will work to realign healthcare, some the economy. Others will work to perfect science. We at Zero Waste McMinnville will work to use less.

We have canceled all our direct human contact activities and events for the remainder of the spring and summer, and concentrated on examining — via Zoom videoconfererencing software, of course — the possibility COVID-19 might revise the way we view waste.

Citizens everywhere have been asked to hunker down and give up many of the trappings of our day-to-day life. That means less consumption of gasoline, less intermittent shopping and less travel by whatever means.

The economic sacrifices have been devastating. It’s forced us all to do without.

It’s emotionally hard, but consider the empirical outcome. It’s meant less pollution, less waste, less spending.

How sadly ironic.

Sometimes Zero Waste is criticized for advocating fundamental behavioral changes to help the environment. But it’s a virus, a horrible menacing scourge, that is showing us how an unintentional reduction in waste quickly regenerates and purifies our air and water.

The goal is to vanquish the virus and still come out the other side with lessons learned — lessons on being less materialist and wasteful. 

This pandemic is a test of the human spirit.

Suppose the virus travels throughout society for more than just a few rotations of the moon and sun, and we are forced to adapt our buying, living and recreating behavior for good. Suppose that behavior is best managed by producing cheap throwaway items that, once touched by a human being, will be discarded to protect one another from spreading the virus?

Well then, let’s not mass produce more plastic, synthetics and polymers. Let’s produce truly compostable products — raw, plant-based objects without wax, manipulated seaweeds or soybean extract.

Plant fiber products actually sequester carbon when spaded back into the soil. Nothing could be more Earth Day than that.

Meanwhile, as we at Zero Waste perfect our mission to make McMinnville Oregon’s first Zero Waste City, and encourage Haley Queen in her effort to launch a Zero Waste retail market we’re calling Sustainable Rituals, we also urge you to garden your tush off this summer.

Sadly, we will not have all the usual festivals, athletic events and reunions anytime soon. But we will produce rows of lettuce, trellises of beans and hoops of tomatoes throughout the city.

We encourage you to plant every inch of your yard and windowsill space, even perhaps your office complex parking lot, with an infill of food-producing plants. This is the time to step up and regain your relationship with nature.

Victory Garden of Yamhill County, a Zero Waste McMinnville offshoot managed by Bettie Egerton, is increasing its effort to encourage local food production. We’d be happy to supply you with a Victory Garden sign you can post in your yard, proudly proclaiming you are growing food to share.

Visit our respective Facebook pages for more information on gardening, composting, waste reduction and sustainable living. Maybe we can make a basket of fresh produce the new handshake. 

Fifty years ago, news anchor Walter Cronkite hosted a half-hour Earth Day special on CBS, calling for the public to heed “the unanimous voice of the scientists warning that halfway measures and business as usual cannot possibly pull us back from the edge of the precipice.”

We’ve since added 120 million people in the U.S., and still aren’t heeding his warning.

Exacerbated by a virus, a rapidly changing climate is pushing the human race off the edge. But some of us will no doubt survive to see another day, to use less and to waste less.

In the end, we are all the children of a planetary fate ruled by Mother Earth and Father Time. We’re only human.





I am so weary of people telling me what to do and how to live.

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