Sustainable Balancing Acts with Mike

“Balancing Acts” with Mike Johnson

Mike’s passion for sustainable environmental practices was inspired by his youth in Singapore where his father worked. Scuba diving as a child, he was exposed to marine environments and land reclamation projects, where they would dig up sand to deposit on coral reefs creating more land for real estate.

He then got his degree as a biologist. At 55, he is now a practicing scientist with the Habitat Conservation Commission of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in Gloucester, MA.

There, along with his colleagues, he evaluates development projects proposed or licensed by federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  If coastal development projects have the potential to adversely affect marine, estuarine, or anadromous species or their habitat, the NMFS makes recommendations on how to avoid, minimize, or compensate these impacts.

For example, Mike tells us,If the Army Corps. Of Engineers wants to dredge a harbor they have to file an EIS to notify us on the environmental impacts for fishery habitats. We answer them as to the impact on the environment.”

When climate change became an issue in non-public scientific arenas 25 years ago, Mike paid attention. The amount of articles about vanishing species and environmental degradation came to an intense level 15 years ago, which became the tipping point for him along with Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. That film seemed to galvanize all of his focus on climate change.

How does Mike Johnson define a sustainable lifestyle?

“As a biologist and scientist, every choice we make has an impact on the environment. The statistics, facts and projections for humanity’s ability to support our growing population with decent food, water, air and shelter in another 20-40 years are bleak at best and this worries me considerably. People in this affluent country are insulated from the reality of a starving, needy world that struggles daily to survive. Our footprints are substantially higher than those in China, India and Africa; however that does not deter me from continually working to decrease my environmental footprint.”

“All the energy and purchase decisions I and my family make are through the filter of how to minimize that footprint.”

“Economic sustainability is tricky. For example, if you cannot afford that electronic Chevy Volt to lower your carbon footprint, you need to weigh your [sustainable] balancing act economically, culturally, and socially as well as environmentally.”

“We walk a fine line balancing our behaviors. My wife and family are highly involved in composting, recycling, reusable shopping bags, charitably giving or repurposing items we no longer need or use. I’m the ‘lights out policeman” and have to balance energy enforcement and sustainable behaviors with having a happy, enriched family environment.”

When asked what his greatest sustainable lifestyle challenge or obstacle was and how he overcome it, he replied, ”Although as a family we have been sustainable practitioners for several decades, I am still surprised how few people I find bringing their own bags to the grocery store to decrease their footprint.”

“Folks complain that they do not want the government controlling everything they do. Well okay, then that requires an educated, responsible, committed citizenry. Today, Americans are too disconnected with the natural environment to see the effects and impacts of their behavior. As an avid cyclist and Ipswich River Watershed enthusiast, I am often connected and have become a steward of the environment. Our family regularly hikes, camps and enjoys the natural world. As parents we take the time and energy to keep that connection alive and well for our children.”

What advice does Mike have for others beginning their pursuit of a sustainable lifestyle?

“Get out into the natural world and become inspired to become a steward of the environment. Once a year take a deeper trip into a natural park, a nature reserve or your own watershed.

Try not to get overwhelmed and paralyzed by the magnitude of climate change and our environmental problems. Not all of us have the resources to have full solar array, a wind turbine, etc. Start small; small things DO matter, put up a clothes-line, start a rainwater collector, or an organic garden. These can save your energy bill and your food bill by 25-33%, not to mention your health.

Get a free energy audit for your home, educate yourself. Go online and find your own carbon footprint and then you can intelligently change your lifestyle and reduce your own footprint. For example, you could work remotely two days a week, saving gas and GHG emissions. Car pool, bike to work until you can afford an electric or hybrid car.”

Mike suggests, “Start conversations with your neighbors as you begin your projects. It’s like a domino effect.”

We agree; passion, energy and commitment can be infectious, a virus that could save the planet.  Making conscious choices will make a better world for us all. Thanks, Mike.

Below is a short 3-minute video about his sustainable water practices at home.

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