Saturday, 22 May 2010

Oil: So Now What?

A month after yet another major oil mishap, politicians and the general public still seem to want to put the economy before life. There is little political or corporate will to change things for the better.

Are we really content to go on, business as usual, with our carbon consumptive, earth-destructive ways? Do people really believe that nature exists separately from us? Last time I checked, we are all living beings (well, I suspect some politicians might actually be androids, but that's a whole other post!), which makes us part of nature, nature being life on this planet.

Perhaps it is that mindset (of being something separate from nature) that has allowed us to become so consumptive/destructive.

I, for one, am not willing to continue this way. So what do I do? What might any of us do?

To start, try here: 6 quick ways to make a difference

I'm always looking for new ways to live a greener life. 

Some steps our family has taken (and yes, they are baby steps, I'll admit it) are:

- reducing driving and dependency on the car (but I still drive a hybrid, so I'm not in the clear there yet!)
- planting fruits and vegetables on my property, and supplementing with locally grown organic food
- buying only items made on this continent from sources from this continent whenever possible (it can be difficult to even find out where the raw materials came from and where they have travelled)
- installing photovoltaics on the house (grid-feed system) and supplementing with Bullfrog power (renewable electricity)
- planting native trees and shrubs to maximize home energy efficiency
- always carrying reusable bags and bins when shopping and refusing plastic bags
- always using a reusable water bottle
- using a rainbarrel for gardening water, and also reclaiming grey water (dish water and shower/bath water) for gardening
- washing clothing in an Energy Star front loader machine with cold water and line-drying
- replacing all incandescent lights with compact flourescents and increasingly LED lights
- continuing our vegetarian lifestyle and trying to reduce our dairy intake as well
- refusing to buy over packaged items, especially snack foods and electronics
- donating used items instead of throwing them out
- buying used items whenever practical, esp. children's clothing, CD's, DVD's, books and sports equipment
- using green cleaning products (mainly baking soda and vinegar)
- avoid habitually eating in restaurants--saving that as a very occasional treat
- avoid fast food and especially anywhere that has a drive-thru window
- research investments and put my money where I believe it will do the most towards improving the world
- ensuring that our family retains a connection with nature and wilderness
- take the time to cook rather than rely on processed convenience foods
- teach the kids to ride and appreciate public transit, teaching them to safely ride their bikes
- telecommute and teleconference whenever possible
- buying less, putting off purchases until absolutely necessary (no fashion slavery here!)
- avoiding the use of cosmetics and other unnecessary (and unhealthy!) items
- using only recycled paper products, and using whiteboards for much of the "school work" (such as math) that isn't likely to become a keepsake
- using both sides of the paper, always
- air drying our hair after washing
- hand washing dishes, and when we do resort to using the dishwasher, turning off the drying option
- using libraries and rentals for things we will only be using occasionally (some toys, books, tools, etc.)
- using VOC-free paint when redecorating
- continuing to let politicians know that the environment is important to us with emails, letters, phone calls, petitions and letters to the editor of  various newspapers

These are some ways we're starting to try and become greener. Some of them aren't practical for everyone. Going vegetarian if you live in the northern arctic would be more damaging than helpful as more of your food would need to be flown in. If you live in an apartment, you probably won't be putting solar panels on your roof anytime soon (although you might be able to convince your property owner to do so).

I'm sure there are many other excellent ideas out there. I invite you to share those here in the comments, or email them to me and I'll post them when I receive them. It is important to do all we can, and to share our ideas!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

What would it take for me to give up the car?

Apparently, Canadians are reluctant to give up driving. This does not come as a surprise. But for someone who considers herself an environmentalist, I have to say that I drive, and much more that I'd like to admit.

So what would it take for me to give it up?

First, I have to figure out when, where and why I drive. Most of my driving is as a mom's taxi service, or spent running errands.
My oldest son is now independent enough to take transit to get to his programs, so this helps reduce driving, but the younger one is still too young to do this on his own, so I need to drive him, or have all of us pile onto transit.
Why don't I do this? Occasionally I do, but usually I opt to drive. It is faster. It is cheaper than transit tickets for 2 or 3 of us (we have a Honda Insight which does 4.6 litres/100km). And it is more flexible--while the kids are in programs, I use it to run errands, usually grocery shopping and library runs.

Once ever two weeks we travel out of town for music lessons with a fantastic teacher. We have decided to stop this next year and try harder to find a compatible local teacher.

There are also inter-city trips for tournaments and meets, at times when inter-city transit doesn't work. Carpooling sometimes works, but there is no one close to us to share the daily trips.

Grocery shopping is a whole other source of inefficiency. In order to shop for local organic produce, we often make 2-3 trips a week to various stores. The travel is still less than getting produce from Mexico, Argentina, South Africa or New Zealand, but it still isn't ideal. The most reliable source is a farm that is far from local transit lines. We grow some of our own, but we have a small lot, so we still depend on others for most of our food.

We also like to do wilderness trips. True, we could rent a vehicle for those trips, and in the past when we have been car-less, we have done just that. But since we have a car, we use it for these trips.
So many people drive up to cottage country each weekend, surely we can find a way to make this more efficient. The traffic on the 400/11 should alone be incentive.

My DH cycles to work most days, and takes transit or the car on the others. We own one car, and belong to a car share which we don't tend to use very often. Since our city isn't large, transit can take an hour or more to travel 10 km. It's great for catching up on reading, but not so much if you are running late for a meeting.

My mom never drove when I was a kid, and we relied on transit for all but emergencies, in which case we took taxis. I remember having lots of free time as a kid too, so it couldn't have been as much of a time drain as it would seem on the surface. Of course, then there were strip plazas and smaller neighbourhood stores and amenities, instead of the box-store and mega-centre culture that has recently taken over. Perhaps part of the solution is to create self-sufficient neighbourhoods once again.

So, cheaper and more reliable transit, better inter-city service, better neighbourhood planning, and a calmer, less rushed mindset are what it would take for me to completely abandon the car. It's really, not much considering the environmental costs.

How about you? Could you, would you give up your car?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Historic Day for Canada's Boreal Forest

Today is a day for the history books.

From ForestEthics:
Make no mistake, this agreement is a game-changer. Logging in caribou habitat is now
on hold in more than 29 million hectares while concrete plans to protect woodland
caribou habitat and other important regions of the Boreal Forest are jointly
developed by environmental groups and the Forest Products Association of Canada
(FPAC) and presented to governments. This agreement also includes a commitment from
FPAC to minimize their carbon footprint and to jointly develop and adopt best
practices for all forestry operations.

We now have an agreement between environmental groups and forestry corporations to preserve a vast amount of Boreal forest in Canada. Who would have ever thought this would come to be?

I'll tell you who. A 20-something young woman who found the habitat of the marbled murrelet she was studying suddenly destroyed. The woman's name is Tzeporah Berman, and from that point on she became a strong voice for the rainforests of BC. Remember the huge protests at Clayoquot Sound in the 1990's, and the subsequent (however temporary) protection of those forests? It was Tzeporah who organized everyone. It was Tzeporah who started a "do not buy" campaign, taking forestry facts and statistics to the largest of the forest's consumers. It was Tzeporah who sat down with Macmillan Bloedel and worked out a forestry agreement.

This last step, of working out an agreement between the forestry corporations, the environmentalists and the first nations representatives was monumental. Nothing like this had been done before.

It can be no coincidence that now, less than 20 years later we have what is the world's largest conservation agreement signed in Canada.

Tzeporah, you are my hero, as are the many others who also saw the wisdom in working together to save the forests, the caribou, and the livelihoods of many Canadians.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Ontario's Old-Growth Forests

forest floor
I am currently reading Ontario's Old Growth Forests by Michael Henry and Peter Quimby and can't get enough of this stuff! At first glance, the book looks like a coffee-table photo book, but, as in many cases in life, looks can be misleading.

Did you know that the forests of the northern shore of Lake Superior are quite similar to those of the temperate rainforests of BC and Norway? That trees in a forest often naturally graft together at the roots and can help sustain each other from this connection? That forest fungi play multiple roles in forest ecology and may be as important to the forest's health as the trees themselves?

river guardian
This is incredibly interesting and important stuff, particularly for those who visit, work with or benefit from Ontario's forests. That's pretty much everyone who lives in Ontario, and many far beyond.

It amazes me that we can talk about "forest management" when in reality we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what we understand about forest ecosystems. Once again, when it comes to natural understanding vs. resource greed, we have gotten it backwards and moved before we can truly understand what we are doing. The good news is that there are people like Peter Quimby and Michael Henry who continue to work hard to improve our understanding, and many others who also work hard to preserve what is left of our forests.

misty morning in Barron Canyon, Algonquin Park
Thank you to my family for this wonderful Mother's Day gift!