Kick it old school

I am going to kick it old school on this blog. Since I have been blogging for about a year now, I am going to go back to my roots, where I started with this. I am going to bring it full circle. I am going to talk about going green.

Back in the day, before I even started this blog or woke up to the climate change issue, I used to think only people who were hip and cool were going green. I am not sure why I thought that. Perhaps it was because I saw hip and cool models in magazines, showcasing their hemp dresses and organic makeup. Their hair touched only all natural hair products and their flooring was bamboo. They used artisanal soaps and drank local red wine. They were trendsetters, they were cutting edge. Could I be too?

As I flipped the magazine pages and the TV channels, I maintained a quiet indifference. The products were interesting, they were different, but they are probably more expensive. Was the expense worth it? Nah. I kept flipping.

Well it turns out that going green is not expensive, because it is not about buying new stuff. It is about using the materials and resources that pass through your hands with care. This means using less and consuming less. This means making do with what you have. You bake your own, make your own, grow your own. You live on the cheap, not to save money, but because becoming a non-consumer is about as green as you can get. Seriously.

So I didn’t rush out and buy all the new environmentally friendly products. Mostly I stayed home and learned more about my kitchen and more about the food growing potential of my yard. I slowed down and simplified. I fed my children fresh, local organic food. I baked bread. I made meals from scratch. I showered less. I stopped buying new clothes.

So what does going green mean to you? Does it mean becoming trendy and cool? Does it mean becoming a hippie? Does it mean becoming a Suzy homemaker? Does it mean having greasy hair and old clothes?

I am going to start a new series on this blog called Going Green. Each day I will pick a consumption habit, and describe it in terms of a sliding green scale. Where do you fit in the scale? Are you are dabbler, beginner or a hardcore greenie? The sliding green scale will tell all. I will include a poll with each post where you can indicate your comfortable level of green.

Our first topic will be COFFEE. Stay tuned!

Blogiversary

It is my blogiversary.

One year ago, I posted “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and it was. It was 27°C (-17°F) that night and I had just decided to turn down my thermostat. Brrr.

I wanted to go green and spread green, and thought a blog was one way to do it. I started with the easy changes, ones that require almost no extra effort – reusable coffee cups, reusable bags, turning out the lights. I switched my almost potty trained daughter to cloth diapers at night. I still get search hits on night time diapers from that post….

Then I started really noticing all the garbage around me, the stuff I was creating, the stuff I was responsible for. Toy packaging, Styrofoam, food packaging, napkins, wrapping paper – I made a commitment for each.

Next I looked at my energy consumption. I started a spreadsheet and tracked my power and gas usage. I started running the dishwasher at night, changed all my light bulbs and air dried our clothes. My power bills dropped immediately. Saving money was fun!

Then I looked at what I was consuming, in the material sense. I had a mind blowing experience in Wal-Mart. I made New Year’s resolution to buy nothing new for three months. It seemed like it would be really hard but it just… wasn’t. It felt good and I am still committed to it. I use what I have. I don’t waste. TV commercials annoy me now. My bank balance continues to grow…

Then I got started with food. At first it was to the shop the bulk bins to cut down on garbage, and to make it and bake it where possible. Then I learned about local food and the 100-Mile Diet. I was hooked.

I went to the Farmer’s market to buy local food for the first time. I was beaming on the inside. This just felt so right.

Then in the dead of winter, I started planning my first garden. I learned about tomatoes and beans and onions and carrots and how to grow them.

I bought a composter. I made a seed plan, a garden plan, and raised plant babies from seed. I built garden beds. We planted it all outside. It grew. We harvested.

I made jam. I climbed apple trees and made apple sauce. I rescued local fruit hidden in my city through OFRE. I went out to farmer’s fields with my kids and we picked strawberries and raspberries and peas. I built a cold room. I made canned pickles and peaches and strawberries and raspberries and tomato sauce and salsa. I jarred over 150 jars. I froze cherries and corn and peas. I put it all up for the winter.

While doing all this I was reading books and watching documentaries, like No Impact Man, 100-Mile Diet, Tipping Point, The Age of Stupid, Economics of Happiness, Food Inc., Dirt! and Home. They opened my eyes and continue to inspire me.

As the months went by, things started to get a bit political. I was frustrated and things got messy. I felt angry and sad, but defiantly hopeful. I got the greenie blues. I considered free hugs.

Then people all over the world started occupying squares and parks and saying that they wanted a government that did not play into the best interest of corporations before citizens. I saw this as a breakthrough for the climate change issue. We needed to Occupy Earth.

It has been a wild ride, and I thank all of you who have come along with me on this journey to go green and spread green and to build love, hope and optimism for a brighter future.

Cheers.

Home

Everyone who lives on this Earth has a responsibility to watch the film “Home” by Yann Arthus-Bertand.  It will take you for the ride of your life.

It is a breathtaking journey of the splendours our beautiful planet, covering all continents and many countries. We are awed by the images so rarely seen, taken as if from an outside observer from space. Some are so startlingly beautiful, and you can’t quite piece together what you are looking at. All of them are natural wonders, and all of them remind us of the bounty and miracle of the place we call home.

Then reality sets in, as scenes move from untouched wonders, to scarred and battered lands. Splendid wilderness gives way to industrialization, where humans have changed things. The land bears the most obvious visual changes, but we can see it also in the dwindling water. What we can’t see, but is most dangerous, is how we have changed the air.

Near the end of the film enormous weight of the problem hits home. This sacred place in the universe, teaming with life, is under threat. Is it too late?

No.

But we only have 10 years to turn it around.

And turn it around we can. There are changes that are happening in such diverse places as Denmark, Gabon, Germany, South Korea, Costa Rica and Iceland.

I start to cry.

I know the dismal state we are in. I know the hour is late. The film illustrates this with striking artistry and beauty that I have never seen before in my life. I am overjoyed and deeply saddened by it at the same time. Truly knowing what we have, and how close we are to losing it, leaves you on the precipice of hope – for where else can you be?

I cry because of the examples of hope that are provided at the end of the film. Real actions are being taken that have real impacts, big impacts. There is a way out and we have the technology and the knowledge to do it today. So I cry tears of joy, because of the affirmation that it is possible, that change is not just happening in some places, it is happening in many places.

Home.*

We all need to change. We need to act individually, by setting the example for others. But we also need to act together.

We only have one Home.

*many thanks to Only One Earth for posting this video.

I got it.

In light of the amazing protest that went down in Washington over the weekend, where 12,000 people came from all over the country to link hands together in a giant circle of love and solidarity around the Whitehouse, urging President Obama to get serious about climate change by blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, I thought I would share some thoughts on the issue in Alberta, where I live.

Here in Alberta, at the very heart of the debate, the very place where that oil will be pulled from the sand if that pipeline gets built – news of these protests is stirring media and politicians into action. Here is what I saw and heard yesterday:

 

Walking to the bus stop in the morning, listening to CBC radio on my iPod.

A business panel is questioned on the impact to Alberta if Keystone XL is blocked.

The panel agrees – if it is blocked Alberta will push for the Northern Gateway pipeline, the one to the Pacific, the one that will put the oil on boats to Asia.

Conceding that there is also immense opposition to that pipeline, one of the panel guests states that only people who live along that pipeline should have a say.

A national pipeline that ships to international markets,  creating global harm through climate change, and only a small set of people should have a say?

I don’t get it.

 

Walking to the library at lunchtime, listening to CBC radio on my iPod.

They have a guest who has just been appointed as Alberta’s ambassador to Washington.

He is going there with the Premier on Monday to advocate for Alberta’s oil sands and Keystone XL.

He keeps calling it safe, secure and sustainable. He doesn’t mention climate change.

I don’t get it.

 

Sitting in a café at lunchtime, reading the paper. The headline reads:

World needs oil sands: report

The article describes how environmental worries are set to clash with growing global demand.  The International Energy Association predicts that using carbon intensive oil will lead to a 3.5 C rise in temperatures, which is above the maximum of 2 C that will stave off the worst effects of climate change.

Ironically, the next headline right below reads:

Snowless season drifts into record books

I guess it we have always had snow in Edmonton by this time of year, for over a hundred years, since they started keeping records, since Edmonton even existed.  Snow.  By now.

I guess the warmer temperatures are starting to catch up.

I don’t get it.

 

Out walking at lunchtime, I notice a cool little building called the Reuse Centre.

I walk inside. There are bins everywhere, filled with stuff.

Paper, ribbons, binders, picture frames.

Ice cream pails, maps, greeting cards, buttons.

Books, DVDs, pine cones. Scissors, seashells, carpet.

I walk up to the guy at the desk. “How does this work?” I ask.

“You pay $5 and then take as much as you want”, he answers.

“Is this run by the City?”

“Yes, it is part of the Waste Management Branch”.

So cool.

I get it.

 

So the debate rages on, and we are all left wondering what will happen. Will America hook up to Alberta’s oil, and put it into the sky? Will Asia?

How will we get out of this mess?

Well, never underestimate the power of people. People are making changes, people are going to places like the Reuse Centre, people are thinking about eating locally, people are Occupying their cities and questioning the wisdom of letting corporations influence so much government policy.  People are talking.  Issues are being brought to light. Some people are starting to scratch their heads. Why are we doing what we are doing?

As long as that continues, we will get out. We are on our way. We are starting to wake up. We need to keep talking about it so that others wake up too.

Okay.  I got it.

Related articles

Climate for Change

Can our actions make a difference? Is the problem too vast? Do the actions of one individual count?

The film “Climate for Change” answers with a resounding yes. It plots out the actions of everyday people from around the globe, each with a passion for change, each willing to take the leap of faith, each knowing that no matter the outcome, they have to try.

The film features beautiful poetry by Simon Armitage. The poetry forms the narration of the film, and it is spoken as if by an angel, or some other being from above. The message is of caution and encouragement. It really struck me, so I have laid the words out for you here:

The Earth from above
The face of the Earth
Its range and its depth
Its scope, its breadth

The Earth itself
beyond belief
The Earth itself
an intake of breath

Such unequalled heights
Unparalleled scenes
Fantastical lands
Incredulous seas
Such extraordinary air

The Earth in fact like nothing on Earth
Inexplicably rich
Unaccountably rare

But at certain angles
In certain light
The Earth looks out with a different face
The scratches, the wounds, the burns and the scars
Apparent now in this climate of change
Now the weather has taken a turn for the worse.

The Earth is the Earth
And it seems not ours
Dauntingly massive
Out of our hands

Cart wheeling, barreling, spiraling on

Too distant to touch
And too wide to embrace
Beyond the grasp of just anyone

But here and now across the globe
There are those who think with a different mind
Who are pitching in, or drawing a line
Who are underwhelmed by the size of it all
Who are taking it on, one bit at a time

Atom by atom
Drop by drop
Little by little
Grain by grain

They are making choices that make for change.

Yes the Earth is the Earth
and it seems not ours
Dauntingly massive
Out of our hands

But the world is your world
The world right there in front of your face
The world you can hear and see and smell and touch and taste
A knowable, local, everyday place

A world you can shape by action and deed
Closer to home, belonging to each
That world at least, is within your reach

– Simon Armitage

Listen to them spoken, they are beautiful:

Dear Grocery Store

I just wanted to get some Fair Trade chocolate to hand out for Halloween. I took my two young kids with me and we visited a few stores. We came up short. Way short. We found Fair Trade chocolate at an organic specialty store, but it is was in large bars for $4.50 each, nothing smaller. We found lots of small chocolate bars at the grocery store, but nothing fair trade.

Frustrated, I gave up on chocolate, and started looking for candy instead. Gummies, lollipops, licorice…

My 5 year-old son looked up at me and asked me why. “Why can’t we buy chocolate this year mama?”

I looked down at his innocent face. My heart broke. In the middle of the candy aisle in a busy grocery store on the day before Halloween, I bent down to my knees so I could look into his eyes.

Me:  I am going to tell you something right now that you are probably too young to understand. Where we live in Canada, they don’t hurt little kids, but in other countries they make little kids work on cocoa farms, and some kids are taken from their mommies and daddies and don’t ever get to play with toys or go to school. It is not fair. It is not very nice. I do not want to buy chocolate from people who are not nice to little kids and hurt them.

My boy:  But why don’t they go to school?

Me:  Because bad people steal them and take them away from their mommies and daddies and make them work to make chocolate.

My boy:  Why do those bad people do that?

Me:  Because they are very poor and have no money so they make the kids work for free.

I was not sure if he understood. How could he? He was five years old. I don’t even understand it. We bought the sugar candy and started to head home.

My boy:  So we can never buy chocolate again?

Me:  We can buy chocolate if it is labeled fair trade. If it has the fair trade logo on it, that means that little children were not hurt to make the chocolate. So we will buy that instead.

He thought about it some more.

My boy:  But what about the normal chocolate?  What can we do about it Mommy? What can we do?

My heart broke again. Here is my little boy, so innocent, already thinking of solutions, and already thinking that there was something he could do to make a difference.

Me:  Well we could write a letter to the grocery stores and tell them that we think they should sell chocolate that isn’t made by little kids.

My boy: Yes! Let’s do that.

Me: Let’s do it together. Maybe those people at the grocery store will listen to a letter written by a little kid, more than to one written by an adult. Maybe they will understand how important it is to stand up for little kids.

My boy: But I don’t know how to write.

Me: You say the words, and I will write them down.

So we did:

Dear Grocery Store,

I am age 5. I want you to stop getting the normal chocolate. Please get more Fair Trade chocolate. I don’t want you to use the normal chocolate because they use kids to make it in Africa. Some of these kids are stolen to pick the cocoa out of the cocoa trees to make chocolate. These kids are slaves.

Please, pretty please, stop getting normal chocolate.

Thank you.

Then we emailed it to these places:

Since then we have gone to a convenience store and looked at chocolate bars together until we found one with the Fair Trade logo. He picked them up, one by one. “Mommy, no logo! This one doesn’t have a logo either! I can’t find any with a logo!” I am sure the lady at the counter thought we were nuts.

Finally he found one. It was a Cadbury, a Dairy Milk, the only Fair Trade option among dozens.

We bought it.