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.

AgendaCamp

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 www.canadians.org. 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.


[signature]

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.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Shopping Bags: One Easy Piece

Being faced with major life decisions, and now preparing for an international move from Ontario to California have kept me busy these past few months, leaving little time for blogging. My husband and I are trying to sell our house, which means open houses and surprise home inspections from potential buyers. Whenever we know that a prospect is going to come through our home, we clear and clean the house from top to bottom, sometimes frantically hurling useful everyday objects, unopened mail and stray pieces of paper into our cold cellar in order to make every surface look uncluttered and every room look spacious, which our real estate agent advised us to do.

I've been committed to using reusable cloth shopping bags for about eight months, and it's taken almost that long to get into a grove with it, but I finally did! It became my habit to either take the empty bags back out to my car immediately after unloading my purchases so that I could use them on the next shopping trip, or if I was lazy or tired after unpacking, I'd place the bags next to the front door and simply bring them out to the car the next time I went out. There was a stool next to the door that I'd temporarily place the bags on, and it looked messy but I was willing to put up with a little bit of clutter in order to ween myself off of plastic bags. I think you can see where I'm going with this. Now that we are living under a temporary ban on clutter because of our real estate situation, the way station by the door has been dismantled and half of the bags are missing. I've lost my reusable bag groove. After seeing our plastic bag caddy slowly empty, it's quickly filling up again, to my shame.

The house isn't sold, and we must start packing -- soon! I don't expect to get my cloth bag groove back until we're settled into our new apartment in California, because one thing I've learned is that the second "R" (reuse) only works in practice if there is a dedicated physical space to hold the reusable items between uses. Just as everything else that we use more than once (clean clothes, dirty clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, spice jars), are easier to find if they have their own dedicated storage spaces, so too are the cloth shopping bags between shopping trips.

During this time of disorganization and physical chaos, the cloth bags aren't the only things to have gone missing around here. Some important legal documents and would-be helpful notes have been stubbornly missing for a week. So, I'm not going to beat myself up over gaining a few plastic bags. When I wasn't in the process of moving to another country, reusing my shopping bags was easy; anyone who isn't in the middle of moving -- or for any other reason turning their life upside-down -- should be willing and able to do it. Consider how low-cost an investment the practice of reducing and re-using plastic shopping bags is, especially compared to replacing inefficient appliances, adding insulation your house, or installing solar panels. It really is a great starting point in terms of green lifestyle changes.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Cellular Phones and the Rest

A few weeks ago while I was logged into Facebook, I clicked on the I Am Green application which I had loaded months before, to explore it further since it has several tabbed sections which I haven't fully explored yet because I'm a busy person like everybody else... It's a nice little starting place for going green. The "leaves" section rewards you with symbolic leaves for embracing personal practices which either conserve resources or reduce pollution. That's the gimmick of the application as advertised on your profile page by default (as with other Facebook applications, you can choose to hide it). It was filling out this section initially that lead me to the Conservation International (CI) website, which is good because the CI site is professional, comprehensive and high profile (note: it's not good that the "carbon" section of the I Am Green application still isn't up and running yet, which necessitated the external link).

Anyway... the Home page of I Am Green features news headlines posted by other Facebook users, and that day the headline "Nokia Goes Green with Forty Biodegradable Phone Models" lead me on a little journey concerning the environmental impact of various consumer electronic devices, and measures that some organizations are recommending and steps that some businesses are taking to help the planet. Below are some of the findings of that journey.

Nokia Phones - Good

By the end of 2008 Nokia will implement a number of environmentally friendlier measures in India, the world's largest mobile phone market. They will introduce 40 phone models with biodegradable components, and provide recycling bins through Nokia dealers in India for consumers to deposit used phones in. The new phone designs will incorporate biodegradable covers, recyclable batteries that use less harmful toxic materials, and more energy efficient accessories. Currently mobile phones need to be disposed of properly because they contain non-biodegradable and toxic materials such as cadmium or lithium in their batteries which can harm the environment. It should be the responsibility of each manufacturer to collect, dismantle, and recycle or dispose of their products' component parts. Nokia is moving in the right direction, and going several steps further with its Indian environmental project. For more information, see Mobiletor.com article or visit Nokia.com.

Greenpeace Ratings on Consumer Electronics

The environmental watch-dog group publishes a "Guide to Greener Electronics" which is updated quarterly. Consumer electronic products from cellular phones to computers and audio appliances fall within its scope, with fourteen of the world's largest home electronics producers being rated on their overall, self-disclosed environmentally responsible practices. Nokia and Dell receive the highest, but not top ratings. Surprisingly, image-conscious Apple lags far behind in overall ranking, in the company of much less prestigious companies. For more information, check this link to the relevant page on the Greenpeace website.

Disposing of Consumer Electronics

According to an MSNBC article ("The 'Green' Way to Dump Electronic Junk"), most electronic gadgets contain toxic materials such as lead, beryllium, cadmium and flame retardants which if crushed or burned can seep into the environment and harm living organisms including humans. Sooner or later (much sooner if you're a trend-setter), we perceive our electronic equipment to be obsolete, and decide to upgrade. Or the stuff breaks and either isn't worth fixing or can't be revived. In the case of analog televisions, they really will be obsolete in North America starting February 2009, when broadcasters switch to digital technology. Digital converter boxes will be sold to enable people to keep their analog televisions working, but how long is that technology going to be going to be perceived as current? According to the American Environmental Protection Agency, 180 million computers sold in the United States alone between 1980 and 2004 are still in storage, waiting for someone to decide how to dispose of them.

What should we do with the phones, computers and televisions if not throw them in the trash? While the E.P.A .claims that most U.S. landfills include proper liners and groundwater testing to prevent leaching of harmful chemicals, and the Canadian Ministry of Environment states "Modern landfills are engineered to meet strict rules and standards to collect and treat leachate [contaminated water]." In any case, sending the e-junk straight to landfill obviously isn't ideal.

Forestalling the pile-up by selling operational cell phones and computers that aren't cool enough or efficient enough by some people's standards but not others is a way to make money. Donating operational equipment to poor people who can't afford to buy anything else is generous, can be done through various channels including manufacturers and sellers, and also delays the eventual toss-out. However, there will always be an end of the road for electronic gadgets, so they should all be recyclable and biodegradable! At the present time, making an effort to recycle non-biodegradable equipment requires some effort indeed. "Potentially, 100% of the materials used to manufacture consumer electronics can be recycled and diverted from land fill," according to SIMS Recycling Solutions in Ontario, a private sector company. The bottom line is someone has to pay for the recycling process. In the case of computers, data also needs to be erased.

Sellers and manufacturers of home electronics are increasingly aware of their responsibility to recycle their own products when their usefulness has been exhausted. Below is a partial list of companies willing to shoulder part or all of the recycling burden:

Dell - offers free recycling of Dell branded products with no purchase required and will recycle other branded products with the purchase of a new Dell computer.

AT&T and Best Buy - old cell phones, rechargeable batteries as well as printer ink cartridges can be dropped off at stores for recycling.

Motorola - has a recycling program that lets you print prepaid shipping labels online and send in any brand cell phone to be recycled.

Rogers - accepts old Rogers and Fido phones for recycling at their stores.

Apple - offers a free recycling program of old computers and displays with the purchase of a new Mac and a free iPod recycling program in the United States.

I think that donating anything useful to people who have a need for it, whether you are talking about cell phones, computers, or clothing, is a good idea for all sorts of reasons including ecological. However, recycling programs are a must, and biodegradable components are the next logical step. I'm glad that I have a Nokia phone, even though it's not new (and I plan to keep using it for as long as I can because it works very well) knowing that Nokia is an environmentally progressive company. I've been thinking that the next gadget I'd like to get might be an iPod. Now I know that Apple will recycle it, but that they score badly on almost all criteria monitored by Greenpeace. So, if I do decide that I need an MP3 player in my life, I'll do my homework first, not just about which brands perform well, but about which companies deserve my business based on their environmental policies.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Baby Steps and Little Crutches

I’m taking it slow and easy today. I simply want to share some of the “baby steps’ that I’ve taken lately to mend my unsustainable ways -- and some sources of inspiration that I’ve come across.

Inspiration

I really enjoyed the Earth Day quotes collected by Green Living Online for the Earth Day issue of their newsletter. I thought I might include some of them in my future environmental appeal letters, to tug at the old heart strings of corporate types. I added this one by Frank Lloyd Wright to my Facebook profile: “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” Another of my favourites is this Cree Indian proverb: “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned will we realize we cannot eat money.”

Magazines

Todd Paglia, in his April 17th article titled “No More “Green”’ Issues, Please” for the Huffington Post blog, wrote about the devastation wrought by the worldwide magazine industry, and highlighted the hypocrisy of Vanity Fair’s “Green Issue,” which is printed on virgin paper pulp. I was shocked to learn that, according to Paglia’s investigations, “every year the magazine industry destroys an area the size of Rocky Mountain National Park – at an average of 1 tree per second – to print its 12 billion magazines.” Since reading that, I have avoided purchasing magazines!

Paper Mail and Marketing Mailers

I have been emailing or calling companies about unwanted paper mail. I've found that it can take anywhere from five to fifteen minutes each time, depending on the efficiency of the communications tools.

MBNA Mastercard – I had been receiving paper statements from them even though I can find all of the account information I need online. To stop the paper deliveries I ended up calling them, because it wasn't easy to find the link to cancel paper statements once logged-in to the site. Sure enough, when I called, I was told where to find it. It should have been a more prominent feature – and you think it would be, considering that paper costs money.

Victoria’s Secret – I have probably received at least two dozen catalogues from them in the past three years, although the rate has been slowing down, probably because I haven’t placed an order in a long time. I received one last week, and took the opportunity to provide feedback. There was a note on the order page to the effect that they shared your information with select other companies, but if you didn’t want them to you could email them at the address provided and say so. You could also request to be taken off of their mailing list. That was easy enough to do. I received a courteous email reply the same day that included an apology for inconveniencing me.

Office Max – They sent me a 4"x5" hard plastic postcard with a detachable gift certificate! I was absolutely floored, and not polite in my response. My feedback, typed into a form field on their website, read “You sent me a plastic post-card in the mail that’s going to go straight to landfill!? What a stupid idea. Please don’t send me anything else. The courtesy of a reply is requested,” and I included my address and postal code. I haven’t received a response after three days.

Air Miles Membership – I occasionally receive paper packages containing my statement and promotional offers which I am no longer interested in. I went online today and sent them a quick email using their email application. As with Office Max, I requested a reply and have yet to receive one.

Shoppers Drug Mart – They send me alluring, full-colour, multiple page flyers about once a month. These promote their fancy cosmetic brands and tell me on what days I’ll receive bonus points for buying them. I will admit that I am tempted to look, and more often than not tempted to buy, since cosmetics are my weakness. If the flyers were printed on 100% recycled paper, I wouldn’t feel bad about receiving them, I’d just have to use my will power to resist the promotions! I used their website to send them an email requesting that they address the sustainability issue with in an email reply. I have been informed that a Customer Service Representative will contact me as soon as possible.

Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Autority (EWSWA) Enviro Tips Newsletter – I sent an email to the Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Authority, because the Enviro Tips Newsletter that I received in the mail did not appear to be printed on recycled paper, which seemed very wrong, not to mention hypocritical. The next day I received an email reply from the Cathie Griffin, the Coordinator of Community Relations and Advertising, stating, “The paper that Enviro Tips is printed on, has been purchased specially - it is 100% recycled, with post consumer content of above 30% (old growth forest friendly) - as all of our printed pieces are. The inks that are used are vegetable based. You're right, the issue should state that - I will ensure that the next issue of Enviro Tips indicates this.” I discovered on my own that the same information plus back issues are available on the EWSWA website.

Water

In addition to not flushing the toilet every single time I use it (my husband doesn’t mind, although I notice he is not following suit), I have started collecting the water generated by our new basement dehumidifier to flush the toilet. Our basement is very damp, and the catch basin fills up with water every day, so I pour it into a bucket and take the bucket into the downstairs bathroom. It’s enough water for one flush. I like that it’s free water. It doesn’t come from Enwin Utilities, so I hope to see a reduction on this month’s water bill. It makes me feel like a pioneer woman to collect the water each morning. Some mornings I forget, and the dehumidifier shuts off, and the basement gets moist again. I’m going to try to keep it up, though.

Fossil Fuel

I have been very careful not to drive my car if I don’t need to. I walk or bike if I can, or wait until I have more than one reason for driving out in a given direction. I’m much more conservative than I used to be. The high price of gas is certainly a factor. As my husband has often said, the high price of gasoline is a good thing for the environment, in that it should motivate auto companies to invest more aggressively in efficient and non-polluting engine technologies. We hope it does.

TV Shows

I watched two really good green shows last night on the Knowledge Network. The first was Big Ideas for a Small Planet, created and developed by the Sundance Channel. It featured an industrial designer named William McDonough and was very encouraging. His company, MBDC's “cradle to cradle” approach to product life cycle manufacturing looks very promising. The other show, Design: e2, created and developed by PBS, was about urban sustainability projects led by green designer/developer Jonathan Rose. The voice-over by Brad Pitt was icing on the cake. I get my television through Bell ExpressVu digital satellite, and both shows were on late, which is probably why I’ve never seen them before. Now I know they are also on between eight and nine p.m. on Thursday on the Knowledge Network.

I think that’s about it for now. My online research has led me to me into some dense documents which I am still digesting, including The Environmental Master Plan for the City of Windsor, Ontario (my hometown) and the Canadian Water Act. I hope to review both of these in future posts.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Old Fashioned Car Washing Isn't Kind

I never thought about the environmental impact of washing a car in the driveway, but according to the website www.cleanlakes.ca:
All the soap, scum and oily grit runs along the curb, then into the storm drain and directly into creeks, rivers and ultimately our Great Lakes. This causes pollution, which is unhealthy for fish and contaminates our drinking water sources.

Clean Lakes offers these tips to make sure you are not contributing to the problem:

The best choice is to take your car to a commercial car wash that recycles the water and sends dirty water to the sanitary sewer, especially if you plan to clean the engine or the bottom of your car. Many car washes re-use wash water several times before sending it to the sewer system for treatment.

If you must wash your car at home, use soap sparingly. Use a hose nozzle with a trigger to save water.

Pour your bucket of soapy water down the sink when you're done, not in the street.

While I haven't washed my car in my grandfather's driveway for years, I have been emptying buckets of soapy water into the street after washing my windows. Yikes! I won't be doing that again. As for knowing which car washes in fact handle soapy water properly, you'd have to make inquiries at the independent car washes and hope that you get an honest answer. I checked Sunoco's website, because I use either their EcoWash drive-through or the less costly self-wash stalls, and this is what it states:

Sunoco uses the finest and most ecologically sound products. Sunoco only uses EcoLogoM products.

A Sunoco ecowash car wash uses the same amount of water as you would washing your car at home or even less. And the water that drains to the sewer system at a Sunoco ecowash car wash is treated and contains no harmful pollutants.

Biodegradable soap and wax is used with soft, hot water.

I used to vaguely wonder about the environmental impact of using a car washing system created by an oil company, but now I can feel good about going to Sunoco. Not being familiar with EcoLogo, I googled it just to make sure that it is legitimate. It is a North American certification program run by an environmental marketing agency called TerraChoice which meets ISO 14024 standards - which is good.

The Clean Lakes website has good pictures and information about the evils of car washing, pet waste, leaky car engines and lawn fertilizer, but does not actually explain what kind of organization it is. The City of Windsor is depicted as a "partner" along with other Ontario municipalities, but nowhere does the site explain what that means. Too bad. Maybe I'll get to the bottom of that one day. For now, I'm satisfied to learn about the evils of old school car washing.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

1,001 Ways

A Review of 1,001 Ways to Save the Earth, by Joanna Yarrow

Put out by chroniclebooks.com, a San Francisco-based publisher, the soft-cover 1,001 Ways to Save the Earth is enticingly small in size (the format is 13 cm high and only 11 cm wide), yet hefty, containing 384 thick coloured pages, each one with its own unique graphic design. The cover art and illustrations are fun, representing various activities, objects, plants and outdoor spaces in a charmingly naïve style. This little book called out to me in Chapters, one of only two copies left in a prominent section of the store that was featuring new books with environmental themes. It had the title that tugged at my conscience, and the visual energy of a Labrador puppy, so I brought it home with me.


What the book does is give you 1,001 different suggestions to consider for ‘saving the Earth.’ That intimidated me, initially, and my way of coping was to start at the beginning and try to read it through to the end, page by page. I suppose I thought I was taking baby steps, but what that did was create pressure to complete the entire book, which didn't feel very good. As a result, I stopped picking it up entirely, which was a shame, because this book is an amazing resource. What got me to pick-up the book again after several months was starting this blog and needing to find specific topics to write about. My suggestion: if you get this book, don’t try to read it from cover to cover, and don’t expect to digest it all quickly.

Each of the 1,001 suggestions are numbered and concise, and it’s possible to breeze through four or five tips in a minute. They range from advice on reducing consumption and conserving natural resources to reducing pollution, replacing harmful chemicals with benign substances, gardening ecologically, advocating for change in commercial and political spheres, promoting health and enhancing beauty naturally, ecologically-friendly shopping, and new environmental technologies and community trends. Most, if not all, of the entries attempt to inspire lifestyle changes; some are just factoids. Some of the tips are indirect, yet support the overall aims of sustainability by offering a creative vision for a new way of living and experiencing the world. The author always explains the environmental benefits of taking a certain action, and points out any added personal or health benefits of trying the things that she suggests, which I think is very important.

Here are a few of my favourites.

# 55 A more seductive candlelight - Traditional paraffin-wax candles are petroleum-based. Once lit, they emit toxins such as acetone, benzene, lead, and mercury into the air. Beeswax and soy candles, by contrast, are toxin free. Not only do they provide a healthier atmosphere for romantic dinners for two , but the pleasant experience sill last longer, as these natural candles burn for 50 percent longer than synthetic ones.

#382 Use the right rocks - If you’re planning a rock garden, use local stone. Transporting stone from distant areas is a waste of energy, and local stone will look more natural in your garden anyway. Ideally, use rocks dug from your own land or rejects from local building sites. If you do need to purchase stones, make sure they haven’t been taken from an area where they’re in short supply. On a cumulative scale, such removal can damage rare habitats.

#385 Out in the cold - Write to refrigerator manufacturers to urge them to adopt “greenfreeze” technology, which cools using butane and propane rather than the ozone-munching CFCs HFCs, or HCFCs, and tends to be more energy-efficient. “Greenfreeze” fridges are popular in many parts of the world, but U.S. manufacturers have, so far, resisted making the change.

#416 Take great strides - Try strapping some springy “powerizer” stilts onto your calves to increase your stride length dramatically. Once you’ve mastered the rocking motion, you’ll be able to leap forward around 15 feet with a single bound, enabling you to make journeys on foot in a fraction of the usual time.

#606 Scald your weeds - Instead of using environmentally damaging herbicides or fungicides to keep weeds at bay, try pouring boiling water on them. The plants will shrivel and die, leaving no toxic residues. Just remember to boil only as much water as you need, and be careful not to pour it on your legs!
#930 Good tide-ings - The energy held in the oceans’ tides, waves, currents, and temperature differentials can be tapped for human use. Most such technologies are still at the experimental stage, but several sizeable and successful tidal-power installations are already in place, and Scotland and Australia are among a growing list of countries investing in ocean-energy technologies.

#986 The Great Warming - For a fast-track look at climate change and possible solutions, watch The Great Warming (2003). Filmed in eight countries on four continents, endorsed by dozens of the world’s leading scientists, this three-hour Canadian television series is one of the most factually accurate, visually stunning, and wide-ranging productions ever mounted on this complex, fascinating subject.

Most people probably wouldn’t have the time or motivation to track down as much information or as many ideas as this book contains - some of it likely isn’t even on the internet, but has come out of the author’s own work. I am mightily impressed and inspired by the passionate interest that Joanna Yarrow has exercised in the process of collecting and communicating these 1,001 suggestions for helping to save the Earth from ruin. I see them as being far more than useful, although the majority of them do indeed contribute to creating a more sustainable Earth. What comes across between tips is a practical philosophy, which argues for what I think of as cultural change on the individual level.

Do I believe cultural change alone can “save the Earth’? No; I don’t. However, I do believe that global cultural change is an important and necessary first step to slowing the rate of human development, because only an informed and empowered populace will have the will to hold the big business profiteers accountable for their unsustainable and environmentally damaging practices, which are striking body blows at the Earth’s ecosystem. That core belief is driving this blog, among other pursuits, in my own personal life. So, “thumbs up,” or “five stars,” or whatever. I recommend this book, and hope you get as much out of 1,001 Ways to Save the Earth as I am.

Icing on the Cake

In addition to it’s many textual charms, the book itself is an ‘Earth-saver.’ I was gratified and grateful to read this note by the publisher: “This book is printed using mineral oil-free vegetable-based inks on paper produced from pulp obtained from sustainably managed forests, and from paper mills that meet environmental standard ISO 14001. It is 100 percent recyclable."

Joanna Yarrow

I was intrigued about the author, whom I had not heard of. I wondered what had driven her to write such a book, and what her own lifestyle was like. She has also written another book, entitled How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint. She lives in the U.K. Her publisher describes her as “a leading expert on sustainable living and frequent media commentator on environmental issues. As a consultant, she helps individuals and corporations create action plans for eco-friendly living.” The company which she founded, Beyond Green, is impressive and has an excellent website which I’ve been looking at and will be ‘reviewing’ (if that’s the right word) in a future post.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

Is it a coincidence that I'm starting this blog on Earth Day? I had been wondering for several weeks what action to take in the spirit of Earth Day, and to be honest with you, I couldn't come up with anything that seemed both personally and practically meaningful, which is what I wanted. Not having formulated any plan of action, I completely forgot that it was Earth Day this morning when I woke up. However, I had an epiphany recently which has gotten the cogs of my brain turning, and the fireworks of my imagination lighting!

I'm reading The Artist's Way, which is a self-taught course in learning how to be more creative. It really has worked for me, in many ways, which I'm discovering gradually as I stick with it. The author and architect of the course, Julia Cameron, talks about synchronicity as being the convergence of hopes, and opportunities, and the way to cultivate it is a fascinatingly 'back-door' process. I think my starting my blog today must be what she's talking about, because there was no conscious thought of Earth Day for me in taking it. It was writing and reflecting in my 'morning pages' (aka journal)... that got me generating ideas, literally, about what to do with my life, as I've been doing since January.

You'll learn what I'm all fired up about if you read my profile. It's Earth Day, and I am very glad that I found something personally significant and practical to do in that spirit, and without really trying. I really hope to continue this momentum!