Going Green 2: Laundry

Back to basics, back to going green. Green I tell ya, green! Let’s do it together and get some green sh*t done.

Over the years I have had a love-hate relationship with laundry. At age 10 or so my Mom used to make me help fold the odd load, and I hated it. Why do I have to fold these stupid towels, I didn’t dirty them. Why do I have to fold my sister’s clothes, when they are not mine?

Ha ha ha. If only my 10 year old self only knew the laundry mountains that awaited…

From about age 12 or so I did my own laundry. By that I mean picking up the contents of my floor, throwing it in the washer, forgetting it for a while, throwing it in the dryer, then using the dryer to find socks in the morning. Finally someone would nag me to take my laundry out of the dryer already so I would throw it in a laundry basket and continue to mine through it for socks each morning. Who needs a closet anyway?

Hey, I was twelve.

Since then I have matured somewhat and now I have a husband and two dirty darling little kids and I do all the laundry. I used to be on an “I’ll do it when I feel like it” sort of schedule. This worked for a while, until I stopped feeling like it, and then the mountains grew and grew and nobody had socks…

Then I turned all green and the laundry mountains came tumbling down. I have totally different relationship with laundry now. It has obtained a sort of zen like status. I can’t explain it. Somehow smoothing, hanging and folding clothes is very calming for me in a hectic, busy house. I do it exclusively in the laundry room, with no distractions. I have a schedule. I rock it.

How do you feel about laundry? Love or hate? At all green? How would you classify yourself on this sliding green scale:

Dabbler

You tend not to use dryer sheets. Those things are filled with chemicals anyway. That is why some people carry dryer sheets to keep bugs away. The bugs know better. You don’t want to smother everything that touches your skin with these things. You use dryer balls or tennis balls instead to cut the static. I started doing this when my first baby was born.

Intermediate

You just wear your clothes more. This is so easy. Just wear a pair a jeans, and then the next day, wear them again. Make your kids do it too. All pants get worn more than once in my house. Unless they are muddy or have food on them can’t be picked off (I am only slightly joking). Pajamas are on a three day rotation. As for shirts, you can wear it again if the following is true:

  1. it is a sweatshirt or sweater and does not lose its shape with one wearing
  2. you are a kid and therefore don’t have any concerns with BO issues, at all, ever
  3. you are me and it is a Saturday and you just don’t care what you look like and you are just cleaning up around the house anyway. Besides, who cares? Less laundry is almost always better.

Hardcore

Make your own laundry detergent. This is really easy, I have been doing it for over a year now. It takes about 10 minutes and lasts about 4 months. I don’t mess around with the liquid detergent recipes, I go straight for the dry ones. I just let the detergent dissolve in the water a bit before putting the clothes in. My clothes come out clean and I use ingredients I understand, like plain bar soap, baking soda and borax. I use recipe #4 or #9 from Tipnut. My fave is #9, here is what you need to make it:

Here it is all finished. You only need 1/8 cup per wash. It is literally pennies a wash.  Plus there is no throw-away plastic container.

If you don’t make it, then you buy the ultra greenie type of washing detergent at the store. No bleach (dioxins are bad).

Ultimate

You line dry your clothes. Most of the world does this anyway. Most of our grandparents did this. Australia does this. For some reason Canada seems to have a hardcore dryer culture. Maybe it is because it is too cold to dry our clothes outside for over the half the year. I line dry inside, it works like a charm. I would even go as far as to say that line drying INSIDE in the winter is EASIER because the clothes dry FASTER. Like in 12 hours. Dry, done, folded. But that is winter. In spring, it is more like 24 hours.

So I have not turned my dryer on in over a year. It took a few months to give it up all together. Now it just sits there but does make a very nice surface on which to fold clothes.

Sometimes I will pull sheets out of the closet that I have not used in a while and put them on the bed and smell that outside smell all around them and just close my eyes in that dreamy way those chicks in those laundry commercials do when they smell their chemically scented laundry… Ahh, freshness.

I also like folding line dried laundry. It is not all crumply. It is smooth and straight and slightly crisp. My t-shirts come out looking ironed. Everything folds up easy and fast. Also when you wear the clothes, they are crisp and fresh and I just like it better now.

The best part is the electricity savings. Here is a graph of two years of electricity use at my house (I am nerdy with a spreadsheet that way). I switched all my lightbulbs to compact fluorescent and turned off the dryer late in 2010, so the blue bars on the graph is old way of doing things, the red is new. I am not sure how much of the drop is due to light bulbs or laundry, but those are the only two big things I changed.

When you run the math (which I did, since I am an accountant and all) I saved 22% in electricity. So easy. Done. Waste not.

Bonus Points

Do you get any bonus points?

  1. You wash in cold water. I admit, I do not do this in the winter. The water here is so cold here it hurts your hands. Seriously! In summer it is a more reasonable cold. Lately I have been putting a bit of warm in, letting the soap dissolve, then switching to cold. Seems to work.
  2. You wash more often and buy less clothes. This is more related to cutting some consumerism habits vs. greening your laundry. But I thought I would just throw it there in for good measure.
  3. You have been known to pick off an unknown crusty bit from a sweater so you could wear it again without washing. Secretly.

So where do you fall on the sliding green scale – dabbler, beginner, intermediate, hardcore or ultimate? Do you get bonus points? Any change for the green is a good change, no matter how small. So take the poll, check all that apply:

Alberta’s Election & Keystone XL

For those of you who are unaware, Alberta has been governed by the Progressive Conservative party for 40 years. So same government, since before I was born.

The hard truth is that if you want to have an impact on who is elected premier in Alberta, you have to become a member of the party and vote for their leader. The first ballot was last Saturday, and I signed up and voted for Alison Redford, the most progressive of the bunch. She is the only one that says anything about sustainability, and she is the only one that agrees that we need to get more teachers back in schools (with my son’s kindergarten class at 27 kids, I agree).

In party leadership elections, if one candidate does not get over 50% of the vote in the first ballot, then the top three contenders move to a second ballot. So Alison Redford came in second, and we vote again this Saturday, October 1st.

So who came in first? Gary Mar. He is the least progressive of the bunch, but the name that most people recognize, as he has been in government for a long time.  I heard comments he made on the radio about the Keystone XL project and Alberta’s oil sands, so I decided to write him a letter:

Dear Gary Mar,

I heard your recent comments on CBC radio about the protests over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. These particular protesters (as there are many) are Albertans who feel that we should not be shipping our raw bitumen to Texas for refining, that we should be refining it here in Alberta instead, to create jobs for Albertans. Your comment was that it was not an “either/or” scenario; that we can ship the raw bitumen to Texas and refine it here in Alberta as long as we continue to increase the development of the oil sands.

I believe that this situation is an “either/or” scenario (or better, a “neither/nor” scenario), for the following reasons:

  1. The pace of development of the oil sands has already happened too quickly. Habitats are being destroyed. Certain animal populations, such as Woodland Caribou, have been put into endangered status due habitat loss directly attributable to oil sands development. We think that Alberta’s wilderness is vast and resilient. The fact is, it is not.

  2. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Fort McMurray cannot keep up with the required growth in homes, roads and schools. Communities there are fragmented with transient workers who never intend to put down roots, urban work camps are everywhere, 20% of the residents have no fixed address, and alcohol and drug addictions remain high. Will this community pay the price?

  3. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Proper water monitoring procedures and programs have not been put into place. Dr. Schindler of the University of Alberta conducted the most extensive study ever conducted in the area, and his results revealed that the current program is hugely lacking. Even former federal Environment Minister Prentice agreed that a better system is required to properly monitor the water pollution in the area.

  4. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Forests are being peeled back, faster than they can be reclaimed. Habitats are being lost forever. An ecosystem is very delicate, once you destroy it; it is unlikely to return with the same vigor. The amount of reclaimed land is a tiny percentage of the total land used by the project.

  5. The pace of development has happened too quickly. The water and air pollution are directly impacting the health of people who live downstream from the oil sands. The residents of Fort Chipewyan have abnormally high rates of cancer, cancers that are specifically linked to petrochemical exposure. Why has development charged ahead without full consideration to the lives of these people?

  6. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Tailings ponds are growing larger and larger. New technology to replace the 30 year old technology of tailings ponds is not being widely used. Tailings ponds are leaking into the river and water systems, as evidenced by Dr. Schindler’s important study. What if tailings ponds broke their containment, unleashing rivers of pollution? What is the plan for that?

  7. The pace of development has happened too quickly. The oil sands are already emitting more carbon emissions than the entire country of Switzerland. Why are we rushing to emit more? In a world where the countries of this planet are looking for cleaner and greener ways of producing energy, why is Alberta banking their future on being the supplier of the world’s dirtiest oil? What if we wake up one day and the world has moved on? Why would we put all our eggs in one dirty basket?

  8. The pace of development has happened too quickly. There are already 392 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the sky. Climate scientists agree that we need to reduce this to 350 parts per million to keep the warming at only 2 degrees. If we don’t change course, we are headed for a planetary warming of 6 degrees, which would be catastrophic for life on Earth. 97% of scientists agree that carbon must be reduced to avoid the disastrous effects of climate change. If we pump all that oil out of Alberta’s sand, and put it up into the sky, we will most certainly warm the planet past 2 degrees. We most certainly will put future generations in a dangerous position. Imagine, years from now, the world putting partial blame on Alberta, for its reckless plundering of oil sand. What will our children’s children think of us, when they inherit a hot planet?

Further, Alberta does not need more jobs. Even as the economies of the world are crumbling down around us, Alberta has jobs. We have more jobs than people. So much so that you are campaigning to change foreign worker laws to enable the oil companies to grow larger, faster. You have missed the key point. The economy is there to serve the people of Alberta, not the other way around. If we are charging ahead with growth in the oil sands, reckless in the face of the wildlife, human, community, water, ecosystem and carbon emission damage that it is causing, most surely we would not do it over and above Alberta’s need for jobs. Where is the common sense? Do you have the best interest of the people or the oil companies, at heart?

There are a growing number of Albertans, who no longer agree with being the peddler of dirty oil. There are many Albertans who want to be part of the solution to climate change, not the cause of it. There are many Albertans, regular hardworking people, who disagree that Alberta’s future must be in oil sand to be successful.

If you are elected Premier, I hope you will look into the eyes of your children, and do what is best for their future. We must think long term, for their sake. We need to invest in a better world, a cleaner and greener world, where the threat of climate change remains a threat and not a reality.

For the sake of my two young children and children everywhere, I hope you choose life and sustainability over climate change. Oil revenues are just not worth it.

Sincerely,

Sherry

Edmonton, Alberta
Wife and mother to 2 young Albertan children

 

Live in Alberta? Want to vote for Premier on October 1st? Just show up your polling station with $5 and you are good to go.

Al Gore & I

So I checked out the Climate Reality Project last night. I stayed up way to late, like until 2 am. I think they were in Hawaii or something at that point…

The whole thing ended tonight, with a presentation from Al Gore, so I had to tune in again. I wanted to hear him present on this issue after hearing him all those years ago in the Inconvenient Truth. I can honesty say that Al Gore was the one who opened my eyes to the climate change issue. I just was not aware of the importance of it before.

When I first watched the Inconvenient Truth back in 2006, it kinda hit home and I felt like I needed to change my ways a bit. So I grabbed a jiffy marker and a scrap of paper and wrote a list of 5 things that we should all do as a family, and put it up on the fridge. It went something like this:

  1. Use reusable bags
  2. Change light bulbs
  3. Recycle
  4. Turn off the lights
  5. What else???

I did some of those things from time to time. I was good about the recycling, but that was so easy since our municipality just has us throw every single thing that can be recycled into a blue bag and then toss it to the curb.  As for the other things on the list, I tried to do them, but over time, I mostly just forgot.

But still. My thoughts on the issue had changed.  I started voting for the Green Party.

So, Al Gore kinda has a special place in my greenie heart. Although I have come a long way since then, I heard it from him first. He raised awareness in a big way, not just for me, but for many people all over the world.

As part of this 24 hours of Climate Reality project, he filmed another video, titled “Grassroots”. It really resonated with me, so I need to share. Here he reminds us that the voice of the people is the strongest thing, stronger than any other special interest or power, and that when people stand together and draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough, change will happen. Look at Martin Luther King, the Berlin wall, Egypt… These are examples where people stood up for change against huge obstacles. It happened before and it will happen again.

This gives me so much hope. Please watch:

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Australia Will Lead the Way

Great, fantastic news out of Australia this week – they are set to pass historical legislation that will put a price on carbon (AUS$23 to start). Although there is still a bit of controversy over it, overall it is amazing and exciting and such a huge important first step forward. Here is how it works:

Of the total revenue the government receives from the tax:

  1. 50% is given to the people as assistance, to help them pay for lower energy technology and to help them pay for the rising cost of energy
  2. $13 billion is used to boost green clean renewable energy resources and create green jobs
  3. Some will be given to farmers to reduce carbon in farming
  4. Some will be given to project that protect wildlife and ecosystems

This is terrific! Here in North America the lack of action of climate change by our governments is can be frustrating. There are so many people still fighting the good fight for change, but it can seem almost hopeless at times. Not willing to give up on hope, many of us are making changes in how we live our lives, since our governments are not there to lead the way. All hope is not lost however, as many municipal and provincial governments are stepping up to the plate. My own city of Edmonton is about to embark on an exciting new environmental strategy, called “The Way We Green“. Ontario has an exciting feed-in-tariff system that encourages the installation of solar panels. Vancouver is doing absolutely amazing things, and aims to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. Action is being taken!

However, national leadership in both Canada and the US seems far away. 

For Australia – they have done it. National leadership, on climate change, it happened – there.

Perhaps our governments will take pause and reflect what Australia has done. Perhaps now they will see this and take a long hard look in the mirror. Perhaps they will see Australia’s lead and – dare I say – follow?

Here is hoping that Australia will lead the way!

I will leave you with an inspiring video created by Australian youth that shows the huge impact one young girl can have. My heart was bursting by the end of this one!

Let Them Know

You might have a concern for the environment. It may just be a niggling concern, a bother really, something in the back of your mind that can’t quite get rid of, can’t quite shake. It might be a deeper concern, but you have trouble making the connection between your actions and action on climate change. What can one person do, after all? Or you might have a full out concern, combined with a fear and desperation, for the world to change. So much so that you might decide to start changing that which you can control – yourself.

We all make individual choices how we live our individual lives. But we take cues from others, from society. As a result, most of us don’t do things that are considered really taboo, and we generally all act within agreed upon moral and ethical guidelines. We tend to do what those around us do – what we have learned from our family, our friends, from media and society. We start out doing things a certain way, and for the most part, we don’t change unless something pushes us. We like our habits.

Sometimes we do change our habits due to cost, hassle or convenience. But normally, it takes a lot for us to bother to change. We don’t even realize this. We don’t even think about it. We just do the things we have always done.

For some of us though, one day we suddenly “wake up”. One day we learn a bit more about the environment and climate change, and that adds to body of knowledge we held on the subject before, and before we know it, the scales have tipped. We can no longer ignore it. We can no longer rationalize being a bystander. We finally see the cold hard reality for what it is, and simultaneously, see our part in it. In that moment, we discover within ourselves – something new. We discover that the responsibility for changing the world starts with us, with our actions, and that as individuals we have a role to play. We discover that we are compelled to act.

And so, we change.

It starts small, with the little changes, and then grows bigger. Day by day, we discover new ways to change, new habits to form. We find ourselves considering in every decision – what would be best for the environment, for climate change?

At least, this is how it happened to me. But I am sure it is how it happened to you too, at least somewhat (unless you grew up as a hippy child where these kinds of things were already the norm from the start!). You would not be here, reading this, if you did not have at least some interest in being green.

So we want to change our habits, we want to change the world, make it a better place. Now what?

Well our changes are magnified ten fold, when we let others in on them. When non-greenies observe a greenie doing things that they themselves do not do, sometimes the non-greenies pause and reflect. It adds to their body of knowledge on the environment. Perhaps they think “wow, I cannot believe she does that, she must really have a concern for climate change or something. Why is she so worried about it? Should I be worried about it? Maybe I should…”

Our actions will have more of an impact, if they inspire others to change as well. We want to create a ripple effect. We want to be part of the bits and pieces in people’s lives that get them to stop and reconsider. We want to not only change ourselves, but be a catalyst for change in others. 

So when you do something green, let them know.

There is a fine line to walk here. Do not preach. Let them know through your actions, not words. If you must use words, just describe what you do, and then stop there. Don’t get into why everyone should do it, or why they should consider doing it. Nobody likes being told what to do. We don’t want to turn people off; we want to bring them in.

In doing so we discover that do not live our lives in isolation, and we start to notice all the little (and big) connections we have with others. No matter the connection, where you can, and when it makes sense to do so, try gently letting them know.

For example, when somebody asks me about where I park downtown, or how long my commute is, I tell them “oh I take the bus to work so I don’t need parking, I find it much more relaxing than driving and am trying to be more mindful of my carbon footprint.”

I just let them know.

When I meet someone at a coffee shop, I always get a ceramic mug or bring my own. I don’t say anything. If they ask me why I did not get one “to go”, I just say that I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When somebody starts talking about grocery shopping and asks me where I go for the best prices, I tell them that I try to shop mostly at Farmer’s Markets when I can, because I really enjoy eating local and plus it is fun to talk to the farmer that grew your food.

Let them know.

When a server at a restaurant asks if I would like my leftovers wrapped up, I ask her if she could put it in my reusable container if that is okay, it is just that I swore off Styrofoam and I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When I come out of a public bathroom with wet hands and my girlfriend looks at me funny, I just say that I saw the paper napkin delivery at my office building one day, and was shocked at how many pallets were used for only one week! Ever since then I feel guilty using one or something, it is weird. So, I just shake off my hands instead, or fluff my hair, or just swipe them on the back of my pants. Easy peasy.

Let them know.

When discussing the chore of laundry with other moms, I tell them that the one good thing is how they smell when you hang them to dry outside. Plus it is nice to get outside for just a few minutes, and be alone with your thoughts, listening to the birds sing as you hang wet clothes. It is amazing how much electricity a dryer uses; I can see a marked decrease on my bill. Who doesn’t like saving money?

Just let them know.

I have a saying at the bottom of my work email. I wondered at first, if I should put it there. What would people think? But I was compelled to act, compelled to share my views in a small way, in a hopefully intriguing way. I wanted to be that person that stood up for change. I wanted to be that person that didn’t hide. So at the end of every email it reads:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi

Let them know.

New Economic Model?

I attended and economic update last week.  I attend these from time to time, as it is part of my job to understand what is going on in the economy.  This one featured two economists from a large Canadian bank.  As they were talking about the forecast for the price of oil, gold, silver and copper – my mind started wandering.  The price structure of these commodities can help predict the future strength of the economy, the employment rate, interest rates.  The economist told us that the price of silver was irrationally high, and that there should be a correction.

It left me feeling conflicted.  Why will the price of silver come down?  What is the true cost of silver, the true environmental cost?  When I think of silver and gold now, I don’t see it as pretty sparkling piles.  I think of the mine, the vast amounts of earth that must be moved to pull out tiny portions of precious metals.  I think of the forest destroyed, the water used.  I feel heavy.  Why do we need all this silver and gold anyway?  What is it all used for?

Silver Nevada's nickname is the Silver State

Image via Wikipedia

So the price of silver will come down, perhaps.  Prices for gold, oil, copper, gas, food – these will also fluctuate on the global commodity markets.  But all these things came from somewhere, somewhere from our Earth.  Stuff was disturbed, even destroyed, to get them. I feel like I have an emotional investment in these things now.  I cannot just talk about them nonchalant like this economist does, without thinking about where they came from.  As he was talking, I find myself feeling sad.

He went on to say that the US economy will not be able to fuel global demand for consumer goods in the long term.  Household debt is too high.  Unlimited debt fueled spending is not sustainable.  However, to get out of the recession, that is exactly what US consumers need to do.  They need to start spending.

Sigh. 

I don’t know the answers.  Economists measure a healthy economy by growth in GDP.  But what if we have reached our limits to growth?  If the US cannot spend their way out of the recession, who is going to pick up the slack?  Who is going to buy all the gadgets and gizmos that China makes?

Walking out of that session, I wished I had asked that question.  Are there limits to growth – limits to how much consumers can spend, limits to the ability of the Earth to give up resources?

If there are limits to growth, what does the new economy look like? 

What will be the new economic model?

Clothes to Me

Once Valledupar's main economic produce; Cotton

Image via Wikipedia

I watched a show yesterday called Eco-Trip: The Real Cost of Living.  In this episode, they  followed the life of a cotton t-shirt. Apparently, cotton crops are some of the most heavily sprayed in the US agricultural industry. Cotton crops also consume a vast amount of water, over 2,700 litres (700 gallons) per pound of cotton. The heavily sprayed seeds and other plant parts are also fed to cows, which we then eat. According to this show, we are actually consuming more cotton through eating beef than through purchasing clothes. Hmmm.

After it is picked, the cotton is cleaned and shipped overseas, mostly to China, where it is woven into cloth, using more water and dyes and chemicals. In many cases the cloth is shipped again to another country where the garment is put together, and then shipped again back to North America, where it is put into stores for us to buy.

Our clothes really have an amazing journey, even before we walk around in them for the first time! Just as importantly, our clothes consume a lot of water, even before we have washed them for the first time. Finally, our clothes have been responsible for a whole lot of pesticide use, almost 1/3 of a pound per t-shirt. If you think about it, the pesticides used to produce a regular cotton t-shirt, can weigh more than the t-shirt itself. Ewww.

Before turning all green last November, I had never once thought about the impact that my clothes had on the environment. I had never considered my clothing footprint.

We have an insatiable appetite for new clothes in North America. The fashion industry feeds this frenzy, by making us feel decidedly un-cool if we don’t buy new clothes each season. Many people have racks and racks of clothes, some of which they have only worn once or twice, some still with the price tags.

If we all knew the environmental cost of making our clothes – would we still buy so many?

As part of my Nothing New challenge, I have not purchased any new clothes for myself, husband or kids since January 1st. It honestly has been very easy. We have so many clothes to begin with there is no reason to buy more. However with kids it can get a little tricky. Take my son for example – he is five years old and plays rough and tumble on the floor. The knees of his pants can take quite the beating. Since our challenge began, he has blown out the knees of 3 pairs of jeans. I still let him wear them, just not to school.

My next problem is socks – my socks. It seems like I am getting holes in all my socks all at once. The other day I had to try on 3 pairs of socks before finding one without new holes.

My community held an “I’ve Outgrown It” sale last weekend. It is an annual event where they stuff a school full of used kids clothing and toys. It is like a giant garage sale! There are great deals to be had. I purchased 4 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my son, and 2 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my daughter. I got all this for $100. Several items had never been worn and still had the tags on them. Others were high-end, brand name items that had seen very little wear. So I am now set up quite nicely for spring and summer.

I am closing in on my 3 month challenge of nothing new, with only about 2 weeks left. It has me thinking about what I will do once the challenge is over. Will I rush out and buy a bunch of new stuff? Will I continue to not buy any new stuff at all? Or will I take a hybrid approach and purchase new only when absolutely necessary?

I have not quite decided. I do know that I am very aware of the huge footprint my clothing has, and will opt to wear what I have instead of purchasing new.  If I have to purchase, I will try to purchase used whenever possible. If I have to purchase new, I will buy from stores that offer high quality fabrics that don’t wear out as fast – it may cost more but it will last longer, and someone else is more likely get some use out of it when I am done. I am also going to be on the look out for organic cotton fabrics in my area. I would like to save some pesticide poundage! I will also get out my mending skills and see what I can do about those nasty holes in my socks and my son’s jeans.

Umm… wait a minute. I think I just committed to darning my socks. Seriously?

I guess so! :)

The Age of Stupid

I just finished watching the documentary, The Age of Stupid. Again, the credits are still rolling and I am inspired to write.

My overall feeling after watching this film is WHY. Why are we doing this to ourselves? It is such a simple and honest question. What is the answer? Most people must not fully know the issue at hand. Either that or we just don’t care enough about ourselves, our humanity. We selfishly fail to focus on this issue. I feel so frustrated. This movie has lit a fire under my butt to try and do more… MORE!

We are not leaving this world a better place than what we found it, obviously. We buy so many consumer goods, we eat food from half a world away, and we burn cheap energy. We use our precious resources as if they had no end. The scary thing is that they will end. We are using them all up, saving none for future generations. Even those who don’t believe in climate change (against 97% of climate scientists) must still concede that oil will eventually run out. What then? The world will be faced with the same problem that we have now, without the added bonus of any hope of reversing catastrophic climate change and an Earth worth saving.

The movie takes place in 2055. The world has succumbed to catastrophic climate change, and most of humanity has been destroyed. Near the North Pole there is a huge tower rising out of the now-melted Arctic Ocean. It is a storage facility, housing all the important artworks of humanity, and in massive banks of computer servers, containing all the history and music and literature and scientific discoveries of all of humankind. It is a time capsule of sorts, on a massive scale. The narrator is the storage facility’s keeper. For all we know, he is all that is left of humanity. He has at his access, news and documentary footage. From this footage he creates a cautionary tale for some future non-human generation to find. All footage he uses is from current day real life, and is not fabricated or fictional.

He follows a young woman in Nigeria, age 23, who lives in a rural town where Shell Oil has moved in. The agreement was that 13% of the oil revenues were to go to community development. Here in this community, she sees nothing. No clean water, no medical facilities, no secondary schools, nothing. It is probably a case of corruption at the government level, as well as Shell not living up to its original promises and not being held accountable. There is now oil in the river, killing the fish, a key food staple for these people. Natural gas that is found alongside the oil is burned instead of stored or transported, as it is the cheapest option in this region. This country has the riches of oil and gas, but the people do not benefit, and are instead suffering with a damaged water supply and air pollution due to gas flares (emitting 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year). This young girl wants to build a better community, a better life, so she is working hard to raise funds to get admitted to college to become a doctor. In the end the only way she can raise the funds she needs is to sell diesel fuel on the black market.

Next he follows a British family, trying to reduce their carbon footprint and live off the land. Their goal is to reduce their footprint to one carbon tonne per person per year, as compared to the 10 tonnes per year on average for the UK. The father is involved in wind turbines and wants to install a wind farm on a local farm. The farmer is all for it, but the neighbours are not. The neighbours essentially, do not want their view to be ruined. One lady, who was instrumental in the protest against the wind turbines, says later that she is concerned about climate change and that everyone should do their part. Then she laughs awkwardly, knowing that her actions do not match her words. However, her actions are mostly typical, as we are all mostly, worried. But few of us are willing to give anything up of value to change. She was not willing to give up her view.

The narrator also follows a businessman in India, who is about to launch a new Indian airline. This man indicates that his overall goal and purpose in life is to work toward eliminating poverty in India, a noble goal, to be sure. However, to accomplish this, he is putting more airplanes into the sky, thereby contributing in a large way, to carbon emissions in India (airplane travel is very carbon intensive – one long haul flight would equal driving my car for 8 months).

He also follows an American man who worked for an oil company, who lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. With his small boat, he ended up saving over 100 people stranded in their homes, including a 92 year-old man and a 2 week-old baby.  Are catastrophic weather events like this going to increase in number and severity? Some would argue it is already happening.

There are two children from Iraq, now living in another country as refugees. Their father was killed in the war.  The reason for the Iraq war? The film implies that it was for oil and these two little kids are paying the price.

Then there is the mountaineering guide in France, who at age 82, has seen the landscape and climate change in the mountains significantly in his lifetime. He has watched the glaciers shrink. He has watched the summers grow hotter. He has seen car and truck traffic through his small, quiet mountain town grow exponentially. He has a love of nature and he sees the path that we are on and is physically pained by it. He has a beautiful quote near the end of the film:

I think everyone in the future will perhaps blame us for not thinking how to protect the environment. We knew how to profit but not how to protect.

These stories from around the world remind us that we are all interconnected in this thing. What goes on in India and Iraq and Nigeria and the UK impacts me here too. It impacts my children. It impacts you.  We are all here on this little planet Earth, living together on this miracle of creation. This is our only home, no other place yet discovered in all the Universe could sustain us. It is like a tiny spaceship, careening through the immense dead of space. How will we treat our precious aircraft, so that it can continue to support us? Will our personal self interests override the needs of our vessel, so key to our very survival?

If we do not change, it is not the Earth that will suffer. It is us. The Earth will continue to careen through space, whether we have a place on it or not.

The scariest thing about this movie came from Mark Lynas, who wrote Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet. He told us that we will have to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050, which is something I have also read elsewhere. However what I had not seen before, was his assertion that in order to achieve that, we have to peak on emissions by 2015. That is only 4 years away. I am so frustrated because I see this train wreck coming at us so quickly, and we are so busy squabbling about having to change our way of life that we don’t realize that before we are even done squabbling, it will be too late.

How can I accept that? In short, I can’t.

That is why I write in this space, that is why I am actively greening my life from top to bottom. But I need to do more. I need to reach out to people and get involved in the flesh, in person. I want to do more, and need to carve out time for it. There is absolutely no excuse for not doing so.

My children deserve it. You deserve it. We all do.

Bus Ride

Transit bus
Image via Wikimedia

If you have not already noticed, I am worried about climate change.  Everyday I learn more, read more, hear more; every day I am more worried.  It seems crazy that we have gotten ourselves into this situation, and even more crazy that most of us are content to sit idly by while it happens all around us.  However, I do understand why people choose to be bystanders – I was one of them only months ago.  What could I do?  How could I make a difference?  These bad things are going to happen regardless of what I did.  All I could do was just watch it unfold and hope for the best.  Right?

Well, maybe, maybe not. 

Maybe not.

I can do things to effect change in my own life.  I can inch things forward, little by little, by adding my voice to the thousands that are already on the cause.  I can “be the change you want to see in the world”.

It is pretty hard to openly complain about the BP oil spill or the Alberta oil sands, and still jump in my car every time I want to go somewhere.  But it is just so easy to jump in the car.  But how can I complain about oil and still be a rampant user of oil?  It is a double standard and I know it.

But it is hard.  I wrote before of our car culture and its hold on North American society.  I live in a city that is especially spread out, almost the worst urban spawl in Canada according to a recent study.  This makes it difficult to get around without a car.

I was thinking about it, and there are four main areas where I use my car:

  1. Work
  2. Shopping (for just groceries due to my current shopping ban)
  3. Friends and family gatherings
  4. Family activities (for example, my kid’s swimming lessons)

Where could stop using my car?  By far, the easiest to tackle is going to work.  There is a bus that goes through my neighbourhood that heads straight downtown and can deposit me one block from my office. So, beginning in 2011, I have committed to taking the bus to work.

I have not taken the bus in about 10 years, so this was a really new way of transporting myself.  After about 5 weeks, I am happy to report on my experience:

The entire trip takes about 35 minutes, as compared to about 15 minutes by car.  This includes walking 10 minutes in my neighbourhood, and another 5 minutes downtown to my office.  I am enjoying the bit of exercise this provides each day (30 minutes total).  I especially enjoy walking home at night in the quiet streets of my neighbourhood.  I reflect on my day.  I notice how the snow beneath my feet sparkles in the street lights.  I pass by houses, looking warm and cozy inside. I look up at the stars.

However, I am especially enjoying my time spent on the bus.  For the most part, I read.  I seem to never have enough time to read everything I want to read, especially now that I am greening my life from top to bottom.  I have all sorts of books out from the library right now, ranging from gardening, to preserving food to making homemade cleaners. I want to soak up as much information as possible.  My daily bus ride gives me time to do this.

I also enjoy making new connections with strangers.  This may sound odd, I know.  But I have made a commitment to strengthen my everyday connections.  I want to be part of the of glue that holds us all together; so that we can better realize our shared humanity, our shared stake in this world.  So I have conversations.  I recently talked to one man who lost his house in a fire.  I talked to another woman who I happened to work with 10 years ago.  I often talk to the people waiting at the bus stop in my neighbourhood.  I think it is healthy to connect with others, to not just live our separate lives in our separate cars. 

All in all, it has been a good experience.  I will gladly continue to take the bus.  I have even started taking it for other types of trips as well.  It does take longer, yes.

That’s okay.  It gives me more time to relax, reflect and read.

Food Friday: Moo

A Frisian Holstein cow in the Netherlands: Int...

Image via Wikipedia

Ah yes, the cow. I was familiar with these creatures at an early age. I spent childhood weekends and summers at a cottage my parents owned by a lake. Across the gravel road was a field, and in that field there were always cows. They belonged to the nearby Hutterite colony. I remember waking up in the morning, hearing them moo. One such time, I peeked out my window from my bunk bed, and saw cows everywhere. Some were walking down the gravel road, some were standing there staring. They had escaped.

All my life I have eaten beef, and enjoyed it. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I actually craved steak. When I am out at a restaurant, I often order steak as a treat. I have fond memories of eating homemade hamburgers barbequed at my parent’s cottage, under the canopy of trees and in view of the beautiful lake. My Dad would also barbeque steak, carefully purchased and lovingly prepared, for us all to enjoy.

But since then, I have learned more about the source of all this good food. Apparently cows fart, like, way too much. Their farts contain methane, which is a greenhouse gas about 20 times more potent than CO2. They also eat massive amounts of grain and corn. It takes about 15 pounds of feed to raise one pound of beef. Much of this feed is grown as mono-crops which reduces biodiversity and depletes the soil. Corn especially, is quite damaging. It creates a tremendous amount of organic waste (think of corn stalks) and when left in fields to rot, more carbon is released into the sky. Even more worrisome, the heavy use of fertilizers in corn fields is causing run off problems in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a huge dead zone in the water, devoid of life.

But cows are not meant to eat corn or grains, they are meant to feed on grass. Feeding them what they are not really meant to eat makes them more prone to disease, and as a result they need to be constantly fed antibiotics. I also don’t like hearing feedlot stories, how some cows are fed parts of other cows, and how the large amount of excrement concentrated in a such a small area creates so much pollution (it is different when they poop all spread out on a large field as it acts like compost). I also don’t like that they are given hormones. What is in all this beef we are eating anyway?

I do love the taste of it though, and the protein punch it delivers. I have happy memories eating it with friends and family. But it is just not good for emissions or the environment. Who knew that livestock was responsible for an estimated 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions? It is shocking really.

So, because my love for the world and humanity goes deeper than my love for a great barbequed steak, I will refrain from personally purchasing beef from now on. I will no longer order it at restaurants. If someone else cooks it for me at a gathering, I will eat it and be grateful for it and enjoy it. Otherwise, no beef for me!

There is a vendor at my neighbourhood farmer’s market that raises and sells bison. Bison is native to where I live, hundreds of thousands of them used to roam here and feed on the wild grasses. This local farmer lets them do the same, and has little to no contact with them until the very end. They are not finished on grains, they do not eat corn. They are not pumped full of hormones. They live outside in the winter, just as they have done for thousands of years. So I have decided that I will buy bison from time to time, as a treat, to replace beef. It is local, lean, and natural. In fact, I made my classic chilli recipe with it last month and nobody even noticed the difference.

Plus they fart, like, way less.