Sunday, November 30, 2008

10 Forest and Climate Change Facts

This powerful list of facts comes from Conservation International.

4 - hours in which the world loses acres of tropical forest equivalent in size to the island of Manhattan

20 - percent of all global CO2 emissions caused by deforestation

2 trillion - amount in dollars that burning and clearing forests costs the global economy every year as valued through lost fresh water, food and timber and carbon reduction

70 - number of species of South and Central American frogs that have gone extinct, likely due to climate change

95 - percent of living coral Australia’s Great Barrier Reef may lose by 2050 due to climate change

25 - percent of all land animals and plants at risk of extinction due to climate change

25 - percent of all emissions reductions called for by 2050 that could be achieved by conserving and restoring tropical forests

143 million - acres of forest Conservation International has helped conserve over the last three years

40 - number of cars, trucks and SUVs’ yearly emissions offset by conserving just one acre of threatened tropical forest

15 - the cost in dollars for protecting one acre of forest with Conservation International.

... So buy recycled paper products! Re-use and recycle writing paper! And, if you can afford it, log on to the Conservation International website to protect an acre or more of tropical rainforest from destruction at a minimum cost of U.S. $15 . I did that in lieu of giving Christmas presents this year. So far, 18,234 acres have been protected in Madagascar and Peru. (warning: the site is a little bit funky in that it appeared that I accidentally purchased more acres than I intended, but it turned out they were not actually charged to my credit card. I have lodged a complaint about this glitch.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Roundabout Way to Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

First, The Personal Stuff

I've been away from my blog for two months, having gone through, among other things a very personal economic crisis since my husband and I decided four months ago not to trade in our lives for radically different ones in L.A. While being nouveaux pauvres has put us on the cutting edge of the latest global socio-economic trend as it turns out, it hasn't been easy, let's just say. After a year of enforced joblessness, fortune suddenly smiled upon me in October, when I landed a one-year employment contract with the beneficent Heart and Stroke Foundation. And my husband's freelance business is slowly taking off. It's still early days, but it looks like the worst of the crisis might be over (here's hoping), and with it a world of stress and anxiety. So I'm breathing a tentative sigh of relief and enjoying the return of a more normal life that once again includes fun stuff like blogging!

To be fair to myself, I haven't been totally wrapped-up in my own problems these past months. Called to action by the recent federal election, I spent a fair amount of time educating and expressing myself on political issues, rallying around the anti-Harper cause and public-health care. My foray into grassroots activism (letter-writing, rallying, attending Council of Canadians meetings and a public debate, not to mention the first-ever AgendaCamp) has been enlivening, empowering and at times powerfully inspirational. And then, the outcome of the Canadian election took some of the wind out my sails, as I know it did for the actual majority (62%) of Canadians.


Attending the TVO Windsor AgendaCamp was a high point of this difficult period. The AgendaCamps are loosely-structured, yet professional-level discussion forums organized by TVO in five Ontario cities variously affected by the declining Canadian economy: Windsor, Sault St. Marie, Kingston, Thunder Bay and Waterloo. The AgendaCamp I attended was held on October 19th at the Art Gallery of Windsor. I'm still pinching myself in disbelief over how incredible the experience was! I got to meet and talk candidly with Steve Paikin, host of The Agenda! And I found out that a lot of other people, from different walks of life, yearn to participate in grassroots dialogue and leadership on a range of local and national issues, including the economy and the environment. I am still staggered by the level of community leadership and commitment shown by TVO and Steve Paikin in organizing the AgendaCamps. My AgendaCamp experience was a high point in my life as a fledgling activist.

Light Bulbs

That said, I'm easing myself back into the blog-o-sphere with an easy piece. A few months ago my cousin, a nurse, told me she'd heard that compact fluorescent bulbs were toxic. They do contain a tiny amount of mercury which is released when a bulb is broken, but my net-search turned-up only refutations from many reputable sources of this being a serious danger. I refer you to a an excellent article on MSN titled "11 Myths about Compact Fluorescents." It addresses not only the toxicity issue, but the various environmental considerations, including disposal. Thank-you, Naomi, for the topic!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why I'm Throwing My Support to The Council of Canadians

When I first started this blog in April of this year, I had vague notions about how to save the Earth from environmental disaster. I believed that government regulation would be needed to keep private industry from polluting the earth and gobbling up its resources at the rate that it has so far. And I felt that people like me would have an important role to play in terms of raising awareness of the fact that we have to put pressure on our elected officials to impose sane restrictions on the market in order to protect the environment from the destructive forces of capitalist greed. I thought that skewing my lifestyle towards practices of energy and resource conservation, and practicing the Three R's, would reinforce my own personal commitment to gain greater influence over environmental problems. One avenue of influence, I suspected, would be this blog itself. But I never expected it to end there. Since April, I have been poking around, hoping to piece together some kind of potentially effective master plan. Finally, as of last week, I think I may be onto something!

Sometimes Politics Can't be Avoided

At the same time that I've been pondering and exploring the nature of my usefulness to the struggle, I've been uncovering, through internet-based research, current political barriers that trump all broad-based efforts to protect the Canadian environment. There are quite a few, and they are formidable. In July, I expressed great relief resulting from my husband's and my decision to remain residents of Canada rather than moving to the United States. I still feel that way, given how gutted and disfunctional the U.S. government has become. But I've come to realize, painfully, that Canada is going down the same path, led by capitalist greed and American political clout. The very same neo-conservative forces that are bringing average Americans to their knees and reeking havoc on their land are about to bring the Canadian people, our environment, and our natural resources down with them, if no one stops them.

New Environmental Protection Legislation Could be Trumped by Free Trade Every Time

The political inertia that opposes active environmental stewardship is a much bigger, badder problem in my mind now, having slowly but surely educated myself to this point. The difference is that the most pressing environmental problems of the day all have a very specific political barrier in common. As a Canadian, I cannot help but see the legacy of North American Free Trade (NAFTA), and advancement of the North American Security and Prosperity Plan (SPP), as the root of a host of evils that threaten Canada's environment and natural resources. Globalization is taking hold in North America by stealth, and if allowed to spread, it will eventually undermine our best efforts to protect public health and the environment.

A Watchdog Told Me

It was a recent mailing from the Council of Canadians that brought the SPP into my sights. The Council of Canadians, founded in 1985, is a non-profit organization, with members and chapters across the country. They work to "protect Canadian independence by promoting progressive policies on fair trade, clean water, energy security, public health care, and other issues of social and economic concern to Canadians." Fair trade has been one of the Council's raisons d'être since its inception, and underpins almost every threat posed by the Security and Prosperity Plan, which the government of Canada signed in 2005. The SPP takes off where NAFTA left-off, stripping governments in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico of their rights to self-regulate in virtually all matters that could be construed as limiting trade between the three countries, including protection of the environment and national fresh water supplies. The agenda of the SPP has been developed by CEOs of private corporations and an elite group of executive level politicians, pursued in secrecy. The objectives and strategies contained in the SPP have never been open to public scrutiny or debate in Parliament. And yet, Stephen Harper committed a minimum of $29 million in the 2008 federal budget to implementing recommendations of the SPP. The only verifiable details of the SPP that Canadians have access to have been leaked. See a document called the North American Future 2025 Project (pdf), drafted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (only the preface is available on their public website), uncovered by the Council of Canadians.

Do You Know About This?

So far, their have been five "North American Leaders Summits" since 2005 dedicated to advancing the proposals of the SPP, which have been accompanied by the formation of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a neo-conservative think-tank established to develop and deploy the SPP agenda. Prime Minister Harper, American President George Bush, and Mexican President Felipe Calderón have attended each summit. The last one was held in New Orleans April 21-22 (so much for Earth Day!). The first summit on Canadian soil (the third in North America) took place in Ottawa on February 23, 2007. It was largely unpublicized by the media, but attracted protesters concerned about the secrecy surrounding the event. In August 2007, Harper hosted the fourth SPP summit, at the Chateau Montebello in Quebec, which drew a crowd of angry but peaceful Canadian protesters who met with heavy security around the hotel with provocateurs among the ranks of Quebec City police nearly starting a riot against the protesters. Understandably, but unfortunately, very few Canadians know what is going on behind closed doors. The Canadian government and media have been strangely silent in reporting on very the existence of the SPP.

Their Dirty Doings Could be Our Undoing

So? It's looking like we can kiss the Canadian environment good-bye -- along with public health care, high food and drug standards, our right to fresh drinking water, a national energy plan, and military autonomy -- if the rich, powerful, neo-conservative authors of the Security and Prosperity Partnership have their way. That's why I am now broadening my focus from environmental protection and ecological conservation to the political arena of what some are dubbing the "deep integration" of Canada with an American foreign policy that puts corporate profits before basic human rights. And I'm putting my money where my mouth is, by officially joining the Council of Canadians, and volunteering my attention and time in the service of their public education and advocacy campaigns around this pressing, far-reaching issue.

A Purposeful Hobby for Someone Like Me

This decision makes sense for me both logically and on a personal level. Being for a long time unable to find gainful employment here in this depressed economy, I have more time on my hands than most people. While my husband, fortunately, is finding ways to support us both financially through his own freelance enterprise (and I continue to look for a decent job), I am in a unique position to be able to commit a good chunk of time to understanding and supporting the Council of Canadians' social justice advocacy initiatives. I expect these to include public awareness- and letter-writing campaigns as well as peaceful public demonstrations and possibly fund-raising. I am prepared to help the Council because I understand that average Canadians don't have the time or feel the need to stay informed about all of the political issues that could negatively affect them (particularly when the greatest threats are shrouded in secrecy), while I do. I feel obliged to do what I can to make a difference in my own country, where I have (I hope) at least a modicum of political clout.

Upcoming Federal Election? A Happy Coincidence

After making a modest donation to renew my membership (sadly, the last time I had donated was 2005), I attended my first meeting of the Windsor Chapter of the CoC last Thursday. Six other members attended. They were friendly, forthcoming, and welcomed my offer of assistance. My plan is to drink their kool-aid (so to speak), having researched the Council's position on all issues, while keeping my eyes and ears open to other ways of promoting environmental stewardship. I hope to discover other promising avenues for environmental protection, in addition to fighting the SPP. For now, I find it helpful -- and hopeful -- especially now, right before a federal election, to be able to align myself with the agenda of a national organization which is itself aligned with many other organizations which I look to for leadership. These include:
Visit the CoC website for a complete list of Council of Canadians partners and alliances.

For more information on the Council of Canadians, go to the national website at Various local chapters of the CoC also have group pages on Facebook, highlighting local initiatives and events (for example "Council of Canadians----Windsor, Ontario Chapter").

For more information from various perspectives on the North American Free Trade Agreement, see:

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sample Protest Letter Against Paper Spam

I quickly worked-up a simple, generic template to use in protest of unsolicited paper spam printed on thick, glossy virgin paper pulp. It's pretty easy to look up the company's website address and find their contact information. I email them this:

Dear Executive Decision-Maker:

We've all got to change the way we do business in order to slow the rate of global warming. [insert company name] evidently doesn't understand that. If you did, you wouldn't be mass-mailing unsolicited advertising fliers on paper made from virgin paper pulp. Consider that the clear cutting of forests immediately releases large amounts of stored CO2 into the environment, while also removing a form of future CO2 storage. It's a double-whammy in terms of global warming -- and a triple whammy in terms of ecological destruction, if you consider the loss of habitat for wildlife that results.

Email is a much less wasteful and harmful way to reach potential clients. I would be willing to receive email bulletins from [insert company name] stores, provided there is an option to unsubscribe at any time, and you could assure me that my email address would not be shared with other companies.

IF, after careful consideration, you conclude that YOU MUST use unsolicited paper fliers in order to attract business, PLEASE, PLEASE HAVE THEM PRINTED ON 100% RECYCLED PAPER, and indicate this content somewhere on the flier. Doing so will show the public that [insert company name] is neither ignorant nor uncaring in the face of tremendous environmental threats to human survival that face us in the twenty-first century.

Thank you for hearing me out. The courtesy of a reply is requested.


At the bottom I include my email address, phone number, and the URL of my blog (to suggest that I may have some influence over public opinion). Notice that I've given the company permission to continue to advertise to me, but on my terms. I think it's important to give a little, while letting the seller know who's boss! These letters are pretty satisfying to toss-off. Go ahead and try writing one for yourself, and you'll see.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Carbon Neutral Wine from Chile At Your Doorstep

While shopping at my local liquor store last week, my eye was drawn to a grouping of wine bottles adorned with light green tags that read "drink green! CarbonNeutral delivery." The tags were on bottles of wine from the Chilean Cono Sur Winery, a 2007 Voignier. Being a tree-hugger, I was immediately excited. The reverse-side of the tag informed me that the Cono Sur Winery "has been a pioneer of organic wine production in Chile," and that "In order to help prevent the increase in global warming, Cono Sur has taken its environmental performance to a whole new level, by becoming the first winery in the world to obtain CarbonNeutral delivery status." I happen to be a fan of voigniers. The varietal and low price of the wine ($9.95), as well as the environmental claims of the winery easily persuaded me to purchase it. Impressed and encouraged by this discovery of environmental stewardship in the aisles of my neighbourhood LCBO, I walked around looking for more of the green tags, to see if there were any other green wine choices. At this particular LCBO outlet, there weren't, although the LCBO does offer other Cono Sur products at other outlets throughout Ontario.

The Cono Sur Voignier was only the second example of a voignier that I've tried, but it had the characteristic mix of tartness and mellowness that I now expect from that varietal, a cross between an oaky chardonnay, and a crisp, clean pinot grigio which I find to my liking. While enjoying my wine, I visited the Cono Sur winery website. Located outside of Santiago, Chile, it has only been producing wine since 1993, but has won awards and high scores for its wines since 2003. Their motto is "No family trees, no dusty bottles, just quality wine." The Winery's vision includes strong environmental stewardship. In 2002 it earned the ISO 14001 environmental audit certification, and now it has earned CarbonNeutral delivery status. According to its website:
Cono Sur becomes the first winery in the world to achieve global CarbonNeutral delivery status on all its global exports of Cono Sur and Isla Negra wines. This status means that CO2 emissions from the shipping of Cono Sur wines have been measured and balanced to net zero through high quality greenhouse gas emissions reduction projects. Cono Sur has decided to support mainly renewable energy projects.
While I am still trying to completely wrap my head around the tricky concept of carbon offsetting (a ripe topic for a future post), I am satisfied that the Cono Sur Winery is doing its best not to pollute, both through it's commitment to organic farming, and its participation in CarbonNeutral programs. Such responsibility should be applauded and rewarded; it's good for absolutely everyone! Furthermore, carbon neutral shipping is an especially shrewd strategy for a winery. Without a doubt, the progressive stewards of Cono Sur Winery are well-aware of the pressure on environmentally conscious consumers to choose local wines over imports due to the pollution associated with international shipping. Cono Sur's products arguably have potentially less harmful environmental impacts than local wines sold on the home turf of wine producing regions around the world. I predict that this benefit will give Cono Sur a huge edge in the marketplace of green consumerism, especially if all their wines are as good as the voignier that I tasted. Other wineries with ambitions to export (don't they all?) would be smart to follow suit and hop on the carbon neutral band wagon. This could be the beginning of a new green marketing trend. Let's hope so!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't Get a New Cellular Phone on My Account

A few people have told me that they read my June 8th blog post, and appreciated the insight it provided. However, some of them seemed to think I was suggesting that they upgrade their current cellular phone for a new one on the basis of their current phone not being recyclable, or else not made by an environmentally responsible company. D-oh! Somehow (I think I know how), I failed to make a clear case for waste reduction. To clarify, I'd like to review the "Three R's." In the context of environmentalism, they stand for "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle."

Reducing waste means just buying less. It's the first line of defense against creating trash. If it ain't broke, don't fix it -- and definitely don't go out and buy a new one!

Re-use means washing, repairing, modifying, giving away, selling or trading still-usable items until the usefulness has been wrung out of them in order to avoid 'wasting' objects, or in other words turning them into garbage. In the case of beer bottles for example, returning them to the beer store for the deposit money results in the bottles being re-used by the beer company. Re-using is better than recycling; that's why it's the second "R."

Recycling is the last "R" because it's the last resort before landfilling. On the production front, manufacturing plastic goods from post-consumer resin requires less fossil fuel energy to produce than making those goods from virgin resin. Glass recycling, too, is less energy- and resource-consumptive than producing glass from sand. As for paper, we all know how virgin pulp is originated -- from living trees -- so it's much better to recycle paper fibre than to 'make' more. In the case of electrical goods, which are made from a variety of materials and harmful chemicals, recycling becomes a complex matter, one which I argue should be addressed by their manufacturer at the business planning stage, and accomplished through research and development, engineering, and product life cycle management. In other words, companies need to be responsible for making electrical goods which are as recyclable as possible. I tried to make this case in my June 8th blog post. I provided links to several articles and websites, including Greenpeace's "Guide to Greener Electronics" to show how irresponsible the majority of electrical goods maker still are.

As with any consumer purchase, research should be conducted before buying. One point that I hoped to make was that with cellular phones, recyclability (as built-in by the manufacturer) should be included as part of the research criteria, along with the phone's features, price and billing plan. However, by invoking the personal satisfaction I felt from having inadvertently purchased a phone from a company that turned out to have a somewhat better track record than others for recycling (i.e. Nokia), it seems I conjured the joy of consumer satisfaction, invoking a power that holds seductive sway over us all, when what I meant to do was help counteract that very sway with an environmentalist rationale. Please, don't buy a cellular phone if you already have one that is serviceable, especially if it is not recyclable, but even if it is. Please, reduce!

I should have been more careful, knowing that the joy of consuming is a problematic and deeply ingrained impulse in consumer societies like ours which makes it difficult for people to practice the Three R's. I am certainly not immune to consumer desire. Is is a psychological threat to environmental progress. The misguided reactions which my June 8th article inspired (i.e. people wanting newer cell phones) should be proof of that. One of the many reasons why I started this blog was to raise and bolster my own environmental awareness in order to build up some resistance to the complacency and denial that prevents a person from being environmentally sensitive and responsible -- and immune to consumer desire. The latter phenomenon is a fascinating subject that I'd like to explore in a future post after further exploration and pondering. Until then, the raw desire for new things like cell phones lies in wait, ready to pounce at any moment if care is not taken.

Remaining on Canadian Soil

I mentioned in my last entry that my husband and I were in the midst of moving to California. Well, we are in that midst no more, because we decided to pass up the economic opportunity offered to us in Los Angeles and remain in Windsor, Ontario. Friends and family have been supportive of our decision, and we are relieved to remain on Canadian soil so to speak. That expression has taken on new meaning for me. I sleep easier now. It is not likely that my husband and I will ever move to the United States. California may be a fine state, it is certainly beautiful, but leaving one's country is hard, and in the end we just weren't comfortable with it. We love Canada! With global and regional economies going haywire, we are fortunate that some economic opportunities are opening up for us which make it feasible for us to stay. Ironically, in my husband's case, these opportunities come from abroad. Such is the state of the world today. With so much global change afoot, I find it more comforting than ever to live in Canada.