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Archive for the ‘Taking Action’ Category

Credit: Fabricio Trujillo

Okay, I know the title is going to attract some raised eyebrows, but before you conclude that I must be advocating for apathy or the status quo, read on….

I just spent Winter Break doing essentially what modern society would call “nothing”.  I originally had plans to catch up on work, declutter several rooms, get some cooking done, take my daughter to a movie, plan a ski trip, see a friend or two we haven’t seen in a while, and catch up on marking papers.  Oh, and finish my tax return.  That’s what a teacher and single Mom should be doing when she has a week off, right?

Well, that lasted for the first two days.  Then I went into “I am too uninspired to do anything” mode – a state that overcomes me sometimes when I suddenly have time off.  Now that it is the day before I go back to work, I’m trying to suppress feelings of  “you should have been more organized and gotten a few more things done but you were too lazy to.”

As I was trying to justify my “laziness” by looking up “being okay with doing nothing”, I came across this article, 10 Ways to Enjoy Doing Nothing.  Editor of the Idler magazine, Tom Hodgkinson, writes about the value of idleness, and wrote something that really resonated with me, and resonates with this blog:

“Doing nothing is profoundly healing―to yourself and to the planet. It is precisely our restless activity that has caused the environmental crisis. So do some good by taking a break from “doing” and go and lie on your back in a field. Listen to the birds and smell the grass.”

Wow, what better reason do I have to justify doing nothing than that?

And there is so much truth in that.  Our society is caught up in more, more, more, whether that is more stuff or more things we should be doing, or places that we should be.  Modern life just gets faster and faster, and keeping up is becoming impossible.  There is not much value placed on slowing down and actually being without any goals.  Imagine, no goals.  Perhaps that is what we need, fewer goals.  But that is a topic for a post in a different blog….

So, how did my lazy week reduce my environmental impact?

  1. We stayed home a lot.  And the few times we went out, we walked or used public transit.
  2.  All we did mostly was lounge around and watch t.v.; not much energy consumed by an energy-star screen.
  3.  I took a cue from the cat and I had some naps, saving myself some energy, and requiring less food.
  4. We didn’t do any long-distance travel, so no gas-guzzling car trip or flight.
  5. I didn’t feel like doing anything that cost money, so we went to the beach, which is just a 15-minute walk away.  Beaches and relaxing in nature also don’t require buildings or energy to run.
  6. We ate mostly vegetarian because I didn’t want to bother grocery shopping, so I used up what was in the fridge.  Two points for the environmental benefits of not eating meat and because it led to less food waste.
  7. I thought up a couple of things to knit up with my current stash of yarn, so I didn’t have to buy more yarn or go to the yarn store.
  8. I barely spent any time on the computer.  I think I was avoiding work, ha, ha.  So, some energy savings there.
  9. More rest and less stress mean less sickness.  Especially chronic sickness, for which the treatments can have an environmental impact.
  10. No schools open.  Imagine all the energy saved in running all those buildings and school buses!  Maybe they should shorten the school year as an environmental measure?

But seriously.  The most important way that my lazy week has had a positive impact on the environment is the bonding time I had with my daughter.  As a working only parent, I don’t often feel I can spend hours sitting with my teenage daughter, watching Netflix while eating chocolate and popcorn.  It was nice to be inspired to do nothing, and it was nice to have no goals so that I could actually give her more attention.  (That is when I could tear myself away from the great series we were watching, ha, ha.)  I did want to be a doting stay-at-home Mom after all until circumstances dictated differently and I became a working only-parent instead.  It was nice to slow down and experience that, however briefly.

So how does bonding time translate to environmental benefit?  Perhaps if we did less, we would have more quality time to spend with the people we care about.  We would develop closer relationships with others.  And instead of filling the void of our lives with material things our lives would be filled with love, and material things would not matter so much to our happiness.

I think Mr. Idler really hit the mark with his observation, and I am so glad for the excuse not to constantly be in overworked mode anymore.

Here’s to idleness and the environment!

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I felt it appropriate to post on the day of Earth Hour, but don’t read this during Earth Hour, which is 8:30pm to 9:30pm local time today!

The focus of this year’s Earth Hour is on what you are going to do beyond the Hour.  Are you planning to reduce your energy use, ride your bike to work, or recycle?  Well, I’m going to challenge you to do more.  I’m going to challenge you to eliminate as many disposable products as you can from your lifestyle.

When it comes to issues regarding reducing our personal energy use, it seems to me that there is a lot of emphasis on our direct energy use, i.e. through our use of electricity, oil and gas, etc.  But what about our indirect energy use?  I believe this issue should also be at the forefront.  That is why I started the Non-Disposable Earth Project, because I don’t think there is enough focus on how much energy use we can reduce by eliminating disposable products.

If we all turned off lights we aren’t using, that makes a significant difference collectively on our energy use.  However, if  we were all to stop using say, paper towels, that would have more impact than we realize.  That’s because all we see is the product’s end use.  We take it out of the package, wipe something up, and throw it out.  No energy use except our own, right?  We might feel guilty about adding garbage to the world, but do we stop to think about how much energy went into manufacturing that paper towel and getting it into our hands so it can be used just once and thrown away?

Let’s look at some of the benefits I can think of if we all stopped using paper towels:

  • we would save all the energy (fossil fuels and electricity) that is consumed to clear-cut trees, transport them, process them into paper, package them, transport them to the stores, transport them home, and then transport them to the garbage dump
  • we would have cleaner air by reducing the burning of fossil fuels
  • we would save millions of trees
  • we would preserve habitats for countless animals
  • we would preserve countless plant species
  • we would reduce our garbage, thus preserving the trees, plants, and habitat on land that would have been used for burying garbage
  • we would have even more clean air because we have more trees and plants
  • we would save a significant amount of water from the processing and manufacturing of the paper towels
  • we would keep the chemicals used in the processing and manufacturing of paper towels out of our water supply
  • we would save some money, and get to skip the paper towel aisle at the store, saving us some energy too!

And the list could go on.  As you can see, eliminating just one disposable product from our lifestyle not only greatly reduces our energy use, but also has other far-reaching benefits.

Earth Hour is about a global movement towards a sustainable Earth.  What better action to take than to eliminate the unsustainable practice of using disposable products?  Think about it today during Earth Hour and let’s make this a Non-Disposable Earth.  Look through your garbage and find a disposable product that you can live without.  Then live without it.  It’s that easy.

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One of the events that motivated me to start this blog was participating in the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-Up.  I have always wanted to join a group clean-up event with my daughter, but always seemed to miss them.  This year, we were able to catch the tail-end of the event.  Luckily, there was a site nearby, so we set off on the morning of September 25th to Taylor Creek Park, at Coxwell and O’Connor.  Taylor Creek is a tributary of the city’s Don River, branching east from Don Mills along O’Connor and then southeast to the golf course at Victoria Park.  It is a great spot for walking, and this was the first time we visited the park since moving into the area last year.

We met up with the organizers, who happened to be members of the Toronto Field Naturalists.  We teamed up in pairs (three for us with my daughter), equipped with a garbage bag, a recycling bag, a box for sharp objects, working gloves, and a clipboard to tally the objects found.  We decided what sections of the river we would tackle, and off we went.

I was not sure what to expect when we got to the river bank.  I was kind of picturing a lot of water bottles, food wrappers and such.  I was surprised by what we found.  A lot of plastic bags.  A lot.

Removing entangled plastic bags from roots and trees.

And they weren’t floating around or washed up on shore for us to easily pick up.  They were twisted and knotted in branches and the roots and trunks of trees everywhere.  At times, they were tangled in branches many feet above the water, probably washed ashore during higher water levels in spring  We spent a lot of time just picking away at the bags, giving up on some and some just disintegrated, becoming tiny bits that would float in the water and eventually be eaten by poor, unsuspecting fish.

We didn’t find a lot of the garbage that one would find at the beach – water bottles, cigarette butts, food wrappers, etc.  This was probably because Taylor Creek is a pretty quiet park.  So it was obvious the plastic bags did not originate there.    Seeing all those plastic bags I could really understand the message in the video, The Majestic Plastic Bag, and see how damaging a plastic bag can be.  It can fly.  It can float.  It can travel great distances from it’s origin.  And for all intents and purposes, it will break down, but never biodegrade, left forever to poison our fish.

I also found a lot of suspicious bags that had been knotted.  You guessed it, poop and scoop bags.  How ironic, that our poop and scoop laws designed to keep feces from contaminating our public spaces and water system, is actually also creating more pollution.  Since this clean-up, I’ve been noticing discarded poop and scoop bags everywhere.  Time for Toronto to rethink this bylaw.  There are other municipalities that have more effective ways to deal with dog poop problems.

Being a small park, there were only about 8 volunteers at this site.  In three hours, we didn’t even cover a kilometre of shoreline, that’s how much garbage there was.   Next year, I want to inspire my high school students to join this event.  Our youth need to see the reality of the problem of pollution for themselves, and our shorelines need all the help they can get.

I can’t express how saddened I was to see the sorry state of the river bank.  Plastic has become a permanent part of its landscape.

I’ve listed local clean-up events under Environmental Action.  Spring is coming.  Find a local event and sign up for it.  Or organize something in your area.  Involve young people.  Hopefully, t will inspire them, and us, to be more responsible.

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One Minute Left….

I feel a sense of urgency.  We all need to feel a sense of urgency.  But the needs of everyday life serve to distract us.  Most of us are aware that there is a problem.  But the illusion of abundance makes us think, there’s plenty where that came from, there’s nothing to worry about yet.  The fact that most of us don’t get to see where all our stuff is coming from or where our garbage is going to, hides the damage we are doing.  The illusion is that all systems are still go, so we’re still okay for a while yet, right?

But the truth of the matter is, there is only one minute left.  One minute from the point of no return.  One minute from the point that the Earth can no longer sustain us.  The first time I heard this and the test tube analogy from David Suzuki several years back, I knew it must be true.  He now has a video of it, One Minute Left.  It explains exponential growth, and how we don’t all see it, but we are at a very crucial moment in human history.  If there is any link on my blog that you need to see, this is the one.  Watch it now.

We are so busy consuming and consuming, we never stop to think where all our stuff comes from, or stop to appreciate that the Earth gave it all to us.  We are so busy worrying about the economy and our jobs, we never stop to think that the economy is just a system somebody made up, money is just a piece of paper that represents goods or services exchanged and shouldn’t be an ends in itself.  In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard explains how this mindset came about and how we can change.

Our human life is dependent on not only the health of the oceans and forests of the world, it is dependent on the health of every living creature on Earth.  Think of it this way.  If the population of insects on Earth were to plummet, as the population of bees is unfortunately doing right now, it would have huge ramifications for plant life, animal life, and all along the food chain to us.  However, if the population of humans were to plummet, all life on earth would flourish again.  We need them, but they don’t need us.  Food for thought.

Nature did not design anything on the Earth to be disposable.  The Earth’s abundance is renewable and plentiful – if we respect the conditions under which it flourishes.  If we continue to consume and dispose of the Earth’s resources the way we are, we are headed straight towards our own demise.

The big question is, how do we get ourselves off our butts and start doing something about it?  How do we instill a sense of urgency when we live in an illusion of abundance that tells us everything is okay for now?  How do we make changes and devote enough time and energy to the issue when we have our daily needs to meet?  Then, how do we convince others to do the same?  This is what I am exploring in this project, and I can only hope that I am making a difference.

We only have one minute left to decide what we are going to do.  What are you going to do?

I feel a sense of urgency.  We should all feel a sense of urgency.  But the needs of everyday life seem to distract us.  The illusion of abundance makes us think, there’s plenty where that came from, there’s nothing to worry about.  The fact that most of us don’t see where all our stuff is coming from or where our garbage is going to, hides the damage we are doing.  There isn’t a problem if we don’t see it, right?

But the truth of the matter is, there is only one minute left.  One minute from the point of no return.  One minute from the point that the Earth can no longer sustain us.  The first time I heard this and the test tube analogy from David Suzuki several years back, I knew it must be true.  He now has a video of it, One Minute Left.  It explains exponential growth, and how we all don’t see it, but we are at a very crucial moment in human history.  If there is any link on my blog that you need to see, this is the one.  Watch it now.

We are so busy consuming and consuming, we never stop to think where all our stuff comes from, or stop to appreciate that the Earth gave it all to us.  We are so busy worrying about the economy and our jobs, we never stop to think that the economy is just a system somebody made up, money is just a piece of paper that represents goods or services exchanged and shouldn’t be and ends in itself.

In The Story of Stuff,

It is ironic to think, that if the population of bumblebees were to plummet, it would have huge ramifications for plant life and all along the food chain.  However, if the population of humans were to plummet, all life on earth would flourish again.  Food for thought.

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As we enter a new year, I want to challenge everyone to reduce their garbage.  Reducing your garbage is really about reducing consumption – the consumption of disposable, one-time-use products – and has far-reaching benefits.  Read about the many benefits in my previous post, Disposing of Disposables.

According to Heather Rogers’ Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, , 80 percent of US products are used once and then thrown away!  Isn’t that a shocking statistic?  It means that 80% of our natural resources have been used up to make something that we will just throw away.  See a list of one-time-use products in my post, Ten Minutes or Less.  This statistic really puts a shameful light on the way our economy is based on creating a need for consumable products.  It doesn’t have to be that way….

When we take from the Earth, we also need to give back to it.  We need to return to the wisdom of ancient peoples, who understood and respected what the Earth gave us, and never took more than could be replenished. That is real sustainability.  That is one of the things I want to explore in this project.   Can I reduce my impact to the point that I am not taking away more than the Earth can give back, and how do I define that?

As the holidays approached, I have gotten busy and a little lazy.  So for the New Year, I am getting back on the bandwagon and challenging myself to reduce my garbage even further than I have.  Can I reduce my garbage down to say, just one bag a month?  How do I define what is garbage and what is not?  Others have already gone down the path to no garbage, so I’ll be looking to them for guidelines.  In the meanwhile, I’ll keep a weekly track and tally of the garbage that I produce, including compost.

And how about you?  Can you find one disposable item to reject, and start reducing your garbage?  Can you look into your garbage bag and see what kind of garbage you are producing and make a change?  Read about all the benefits in my previous post, Disposing of Disposables.  I hope you will join me in my efforts to make this a Non-Disposable Earth.

Happy New Year!

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Although I intended all my posts to have a positive slant, I feel that today must be an exception.   It is a sad day for Canada, and for more than one reason.  Not only has the government struck again by abusing the democratic process, the bill that died was Bill C-311, The Climate Change Accountability Act.  As stated at the David Suzuki Foundation‘s Website,

Last night, in a near-unprecedented move, the Canadian Senate held a surprise vote and defeated Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. The snap vote to kill the Bill in the Senate happened without notice and without debate — even though it was put before the Senate more than half a year ago. Had notice been given of the vote, more senators would have been present and the bill may have passed.

And so, just as Canada prepares to join world leaders at the UN climate change negotiations in Mexico, a group of unelected senators have decided, without any debate, that the future of Canada’s youth is not worth the bother. It’s a shame these elderly senators may not be around to face the most severe consequences of their actions.

The Bill is now dead.

Just as tens of thousands of Canadians wrote to their MPs and government to ensure the Bill’s passage through the elected House of Commons, Canadians must now let their politicians know that enough is enough. Yesterday’s decision by Conservative senators to avoid debate and call a snap vote shows disrespect for our democracy and for Canadians, who time and again have told our elected representatives that we want the federal government to act on the most serious threat facing our country and the world.

Bill C-311 passed through the House of Commons with a strong majority (NDP, Liberal, and Bloc Québécois), thanks in part to the incredible support of Canadians from across the country. It was originally introduced by federal NDP Leader Jack Layton as a private member’s bill in the last parliament and was set to go to the Senate when the election was called in 2008. After the election, the Bill was re-introduced by Bruce Hyer, NDP MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North. The Bill was debated in the House of Commons, where Conservative government members tried to obstruct it. It was then amended and sent back to the House for a final vote. It passed in the House and was sent to the Senate for the last stage in its passage through parliament before receiving Royal Assent and becoming Canadian law.

I am always stunned at how this government, knowing that they are in the minority, keep ignoring Canadians and thwarting the democratic process for their own ends.   Then I went on CBC’s blog to see what people were voting and saying.  Thankfully, more than 80% of readers agreed that this was abuse of democracy.

But in quite a number of comments I couldn’t believe that there are educated people out there who still don’t see climate change as a problem and who agreed with the underhandedness with which the government axed the bill.  I wanted to yell at them and at the government.   HELLO?  THE EARTH IS FINITE!  CLEAN AIR IS FINITE!  CLEAN WATER IS FINITE!

To my relief, the vast majority of readers didn’t agree with them.  Yeah, Canadians!

This is my real motivation for starting the Non-Disposable Earth Project.  What this latest event demonstrates is that we can’t sit on our hands and wait for government to do anything about climate change.  We have to be the change ourselves despite what the government is willing to do.  And we have to do it now.

More tomorrow….  In the meantime, if you feel so motivated, send a quick message to your MP and let them know how you feel.

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So, if we stop using disposables, we make less garbage.  But how many other benefits do we actually get from disposing of disposables?  Well, I was thinking about this question, and it seems like the benefits are… almost endless!  In fact, it excites me that every time I choose not to buy or use disposables I can pat myself on the back for a whole slew of benefits!  Some of them are similar because they are related, but each are different aspects of benefits that are interconnected.

If our society were to dispose of using disposables, we would be

  • reducing the consumption of energy to manufacture more product
  • reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing more product
  • reducing the amount of waste produced in the manufacturing of more product
  • reducing the consumption of energy to transport more product
  • reducing the environmental impact of transporting more product
  • reducing the consumption of raw materials and natural resources to make more product
  • reducing the environmental impact this has on our natural spaces and saving animal habitats
  • reducing the consumption of water to manufacture more product
  • reducing the environmental impact this has on our water resources
  • reducing the air pollution made in manufacturing more product
  • reducing the air pollution made in transporting more product
  • reducing the amount of garbage being produced
  • reducing the destruction of natural space and animal habitats needed to bury more garbage
  • reducing the consumption of energy needed to transport and bury more garbage
  • reducing the air pollution caused by the need to transport and bury more garbage
  • reducing the air pollution caused by the incinerating of garbage
  • reducing the amount of leaching of chemicals into groundwater from landfills
  • reducing the amount of products in our stores, and perhaps reducing the store sizes and their environmental footprint
  • reducing the opportunities for individuals to litter and pollute
  • reducing costs to the manufacturer and consumer in some cases
  • reducing carbon emissions
  • reducing methane emissions from landfills
  • reducing the effects of global warming and all the benefits that entails

And, most importantly, we would be much, much closer to sustainable living.

It’s so simple, yet so amazing to me!  And when I remind myself of all these benefits, it makes me want to do more because it feels so good!

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