Tag Archives: pollution

Is Busyness the Beginning of the End of the World?

end of the world, fall of civilization, overpopulation, crowding, society, industrialization

Creative Commons: by Chris Devers, Flickr

These days everyone is busy busy busy. In fact we become so busy that we don’t have time to socialize. Let’s think back six hundred years to those good old feudal times. If you weren’t some rich noble gathering the tithes then you were either a farmer or a merchant. In either case you worked from sun-up probably near to sundown. Winters meant doing more work inside, mending and preparing for the planting season. Everyone, whether bakers or dyers or smiths, worked long hours. But they stopped in time for dinner and spending time with their families in the evening.

With the advent of industrialized society some aspects eased for a person’s life. We no longer had to tend animals, weave our own cloth, sew our own clothes, cook and prepare all of our dinners. Mass production made this easier while at the same time people began to worry about having no way to make a living as machines took over. We became a leisure society. Or did we?

We’re two to three hundred years into industrialization and we’re probably dealing with as much spare time as medieval Europe had. I’m like many people. I work a day job but I also freelance, to make ends meet, to have extra money. Our society has become so burdened by all those industrialized items that the cost of living has not equaled the everyday person’s wage. Houses (here in Vancouver at least) are astronomical in cost and two people have to work, plus have a rental suite just to afford to own one. Hockey tickets are out of the range of the average working family who might want to take the kids to see a game.

All great societies eventually fall, even Rome. In the past they often fell to invaders, but we are looking at a worldwide crisis with economy and culture. Riots happen, and many clashes still of ideologies and beliefs, overcrowding, lack of good water or food… we might be in our fall right now. So what comes next?

Unfortunately, building on a crumbling foundation will create more instability or lead us to the same problems time and again. Having a society based on always selling more, not just selling the same, means that it’s unsustainable. Soon we will not have enough space, time, money, land, food, water or merchandise. If we do continue with expanding populations, which give us more money, etc. then we risk and are already at risk of having no resources to support our planet. We will have more disease and more poverty, more pollution and more strife. You can see it happening already. Canada’s population is dropping somewhat. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If everyone person only produced one child (so a couple could have two) then they would make a stable population that stayed the same.

In the middle ages the bubonic plaque wiped out a third of the known world’s population. It’s one way Mother Nature controls overpopulation. We’ve had H1N1, TB, E. Coli, etc. By the fact that there are more people, it will mean that more will die. As China and India,with over a third of the world’s population, industrialize and crave on the cars and machines that the world already has, we will see the consuming poison many places.  I’m not sure what we can do about this but we have to change our culture and economy so that it is not built on constant growth. We cannot wait for someone else to do it but each of us must start from the ground up. Maybe’s it’s impossible and we’re doomed to implode, and start over in a smaller and simpler world devoid of much. And maybe it will change no matter what. We know for a fact that there have been civilizations (as in towns and cities) for at least 10,000 years, which is not long is the lifespan of the world or even humans for that matter (2.5 million years). But if we’re not careful we could be a small blip in breath of the planet.

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From Kyoto to Copenhagen: Will it Make a Difference?

In 1998 when I was researching fuel-efficient cars for Technocopia.com I came across the Kyoto Protocol. Already in place it was an agreement between developed countries to try and lower emissions to 20% less of 1990 standards by 2005. This amount varied depending on the country.

Each industrialized country that was initially included in the discussions was to ratify the agreement. Ratification means that they confirm their committment to or give official sanction to something. In 1997  it was adopted, and ratified in various countries over the next eight years. During that time Bush came into power and based on the advice of his Exxon comrades (that the US State Department thanked for their input into  climate change policy) did not ratify the Protocol. Uh, right. Neither did the previous Clinton government, nor Obama to date.

Once ratified the member countries would be responsible to uphold their commitment for lowering emissions and I suppose, be fined if they didn’t meet them; but by which regulating body, I’m not sure. After all, the US has gone many years without paying its United Nations dues so if there are no teeth, how do countries live up to the Protocol’s agreement? You would think because it is the right thing to do, that it could save the planet and the future health of millions.

Canada took a long time to ratify the Protocol and it took effect in February 2005. Most countries have agreed to lower their emissions by a certain percentage to below what they were in 1990. For Canada, that would be 6%. However, in the US and Canada, emissions have risen between 21-28% in recent years. That’s a whole lot more of a concern on the health of people and the continuation of many species that we depend on for nutrition and are becoming toxic to us and themselves. And that means decreasing emissions by some 30-odd percent to pre-1990 standards.

If all these countries were already aware of emission issues, then how could they let emissions rise? Because there is money in it. It is shown today that most emissions are coming from factories and agriculture. Cars actually trail behind that but they are a huge contributing factor to the overall air quality. In the past ten years we saw the advent of bigger SUVs, Hummers and trucks, which were exempt from the same emission standards as cars, because those big vehicles are farm vehicles? Right, all these people in the cities probably haven’t even seen a farm but this was a loophole for vehicle manufactures and if you buy that monster, macho status symbol, you’ll get a break in climate taxes and the manufacturers make more money. Europe’s has had tiny cars (like the Smart Car) for a very long time but the big car and oil companies were happy to have us squander money and resources.

The US being one of the most significant countries to not sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol said it was because developing countries were not being held to the same standards as the industrialized countries. So instead of making some in-roads and setting a good impression by example, they decided to play the “it’s not fair” game. They whined that China did not even have to control their emissions although China has now become the biggest greenhouse gas emitter. However, it’s not that simple. Per capita, the US still emits more per person than China. Yet China and India, which between them hold a third of the world’s population must also take some responsibility.

It’s not a matter of you go first in this though. If every country doesn’t pitch in, the world is going to go down hard and we’ll all be eating soy to the end of our days, if we’re lucky. The highest emission continent is that of North America, with Canada also showing shameful controls on emissions. The Harper government started out with a plan, when they needed the votes. That’s when they admitted the environment was in trouble. But since then a minister of the environment announced that Canada had no hope of meeting its Kyoto Protocol committment and Harper has cut the funding towards such work.

In the meantime, other governments within Canada continue to look at ways to tax the individuals when it’s the corporations (including vehicle manufacturers) who are most responsible. Individuals may need to pay a bit of tax but not the continual onslaught. The government needs to bring out other ways of helping and healing the environment and that’s lacking a great deal. Raising the climate taxes on gas guzzling vehicles more would help. Yes tax money could go towards programs but I’d like to hear more about the programs and innovations such as hybrid buses and Smart cars for government employees who use a car on the job.

And Copenhagen? Well I predict that Harper will stall and refuse to change; that the US, despite Obama’s promise of change, will continue to stall on getting involved, just as they did in WWII. But they’ll still want everyone to play by their game. Will it help? Only if the countries truly commit. This should have been started fifty years ago, let alone twenty. And here we are taking ten years to ratify an agreement and maybe get around to it in another fifteen years.

I’d like to believe we’ll see change and that we can all pull together but I have seen too much obfuscation and political maneuvering of the things that matter by various governments to believe that anyone will take it to where it needs to go. And as our children’s lifespans shorten and more people get allergies, asthma and other conditions, and as many species die or contain toxins so virulent they’ll kill us, we’ll start to live in the cautionary tale of our science fiction writers. I really hope it won’t be a reality but I’m still waiting to see real change.

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It’s a Nutty World

This is not my parent’s world and I suppose it’s not my world either. At least it’s not in the sense that when I was a child or when my mother was a child, allergies were relatively rare to unheard of. And if someone had an allergy it was asthma. There wasn’t once in my twelve years of grade school that anyone had a deadly allergy, nor that we had to not eat or wear something at school because it could kill someone. It just didn’t happen. Or it did, but it was an extremely rare thing.

I recall in art college my boyfriend developing a patchy rash on his legs. He went to the doctor wondering if it was something he had eaten. The doctor told him you couldn’t get a rash from eating anything. I said, BS, people die from food allergies. So it did exist, the deadly anaphylactic allergies, but not enough that even all doctors believed it then. So what happened? Why has the world changed so much?

My mother has often said, “You never heard of leukemia when I was a kid. It was only after the War that people started getting it.” Now, I’m not a doctor but I have several theories on the increase in allergies. I likewise never had any issues as a kid and now have food allergies.

Overall, there are several factors that I believe add to the increase in and the great number of dangerous allergies. As little as a hundred years ago, people were still mostly using horses, staying in their cities and villages and travelling rarely. It was pretty hard for the common person to taste a pineapple or even get chocolate regularly (unless they lived in countries that had these all the time). The diet was pretty much what our culture is now trying to move back to: the 100-mile diet, or don’t eat anything that isn’t grown within a hundred miles of you.  One reason is to support the local agricultural economy. The other is that if you and your ancestors grew up in one region then the flora in your belly are used to and more adapted to certain food combinations.

Another reason for the increase in allergies is what we put on or in the ground. The highest incidence of celiac disease in the world is in Italy (with Ireland coming in second). Celiac means people can’t eat gluten, the substance found in wheat and therefore pasta, bread and other such items. How could it be that at least 600 hundred years of pasta eating has caused celiac disease? If it was this bad 200 years ago I’m sure the Italians would have stopped eating pasta long ago. Someone also once told me that a friend of his, anaphylactic to peanuts, tried organic peanuts and had no reaction.

So then it’s what we’re spraying on the plants, and it’s what’s going in the ground. Altering plants through genetic modification or grafting to new strains through time might make them hardier to grow in all climates and environments, but it might also make them harder for us to digest. This also means what’s in the air, those pesticides and the exhaust of cars and factories, is changing the oxygen composition and adding other metals poisonous to the human system, not to mention other animals and plants.

I developed more allergies after having to take amoxycillin and then prednisone. None are life-threatening but they’re damn inconvenient, causing rashes, swelling, diarrhea, and palpitations. The drugs fall into the aspect of what is in the ground and the air, or what we’re creating that is artificial. Our bodies don’t have millennia of these drugs, nor does the DNA passed down by our ancestors.

So we’re looking at modified food, fabricated food and drugs, unknown elements in the air, the ground and ourselves and more food than our ancestral bodies should be used to. The highest incidence of dairy intolerance is in Asian groups. In fact, people who are able to digest milk are a minority in the world populations. Anyone who is Asian who has eczema should look at cutting out dairy. After all, their ancestors lived for centuries if not longer, without dairy.

We’ve changed our world so much that people are dying from being around nuts, not even having to ingest them, just breathing in that air. Maybe it’s Mother Nature’s way of population control but I would think it’s more humankind’s blunder into changing things without understanding the repercussions first. It’s time that we looked before we leaped. Even if we cut out one of the factors I’ve listed, it would still take time for everything to settle and there are the other issues. But if you or someone you know is starting to be affected by what they eat (let alone what they breathe), then these are a few markers to look at first.

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Solo Travels in Mexico

Many years ago, on a whim I decided to go to Mexico because it was cheap. So up I went and flew to Mexico City for a week. This was the first time I had travelled on my own and I figured it would be a safer country to try my solo travel in than farther away in Asia.

I knew pretty much no Spanish and had a little phrase book at the time with your essentials. I arrived in Mexico City, finding a hotel to stay at that was also a residence for some people. I don’t even remember if I had a guidebook but somehow I got around. Mexico City was huge, at something like 25 million people, and the pollution was so bad I could taste it. Still I went to the Zocalo (the city center or public square) to see some of the buildings. And of course to a few churches as well.

The first night I went down to a local restaurant to order something to eat. I wanted to avoid the Zona Rosa, the tourist zone, as much as possible. After all, tourist areas tend to be pricy and don’t give you a real slice of the local haunts. As I sat in the restaurant with my tiny phrase book, I looked at the menu in bewilderment. Another customer must have seen my consternation. He came over and talked to me and told me what the food was so I could order something.

I was only in Mexico a week and even before I tasted the water my stomach started to suffer from Montezuma’s revenge. The airport had actually had people giving out pamphlets saying you could be affected from the altitude and so it was with me. I also had tummy troubles in India and Nepal (from dysentery) curtailing some of my gastronomic adventures. So I don’t remember much about Mexican food but there were a few highlights.

One day I asked a street vendor for naranja–orange juice. He asked, con huevos? And I said si, not knowing what it was. I received an orange juice with a raw egg floating in it. Gah! I drank around it and left the huevo behind. I also wandered into one market in the city that had various vegetables and tortillas and cactus. I never did try cactus. But at one booth there was a basket of white nuts. When I looked closer I realized it was grubs. Thankfully I never ordered those by mistake. I did get to try pulque (pullkay) which is a fermented cactus juice, very thick but tasty. It was considered to be a drink of the gods and I guess the old kings used to imbibe.

At that time my hair was nearly to my waist, blonde and brunette. As I walked through the city of brown-skinned Mexicans I stood out with my white skin and lighter hair. The men would hiss at me and call out, “Muy buenita.” I didn’t know what this meant and I found it disconcerting. It turns out that in certain countries they don’t whistle, or wolf whistle as we call it when men whistle at women. Instead they hiss their appreciation.  And muy buenita meant very beautiful. I began to realize how latin lovers got their names.

In fact, every day some man hit on me. There was the guy living at the hotel who tried to tell me he had met me at a party in Vancouver. It didn’t work but what he had done was ask the desk manager what my name was and where I was from. There was the hotel owner in Taxco who wanted me to accompany him on his holiday to a town that had a church for every day of the year, and another young guy looking for someone to buy him dinner. There were the guys at the restaurant in Cuernavaca, and a guy at a cantina who wanted me to go to Puerta Vallarta with him, but I wasn’t about to embark on trips with strangers.

My second last night, no one hit on me except to rob me on the train as I returned from Chapultepec Park which houses the world-class anthropology museum. It was the least invasive robbery, my bag being slit with a knife and my wallet taken. Lucky for me, my passport was tucked behind my camera lenses and the wallet held only about ten dollars and my Visa card. Even my traveller’s cheques were back at the hotel. No Mexican would look like an Anderson but I cancelled the card. I ended up not eating that night as it was a Sunday and I had no cash left for dinner. Most of the places wouldn’t take the traveller’s cheques.

Then on my last night I did go for drinks at a cantina with a Mexican man, named Fernando. He tried to get me into bed, pretty much like all the other guys, except the thieves. I wouldn’t give in and he proclaimed I wasn’t like all the other American women, many of them teachers who came down for a good time with the Mexican lads. But he did give me a ride back to my hotel. Before we got there though, the cops stopped him though he wasn’t speeding.

It seems they wanted a little bribe. So Fernando came back to the car, passed me money below the view of the window and then had me hand it to him visibly in view so the cops would think we had given all our money. Then we were free to go.

Fernando and I did exchange addresses and continued to write each other for years. Now we both have email and Fernando and I still keep contact. Some day one of us might actually travel to the other’s country again. There’s a lot of Mexico I never saw.

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Sustainability and A Planet Out of Whack

We are talking more and more about sustainability, as an end to our oil resources is something almost calculable by now. As our living space will decrease with population growth and demands on usable water will increase. As our landfills overflow and seep toxic gunk into the groundwater.  As our land turns to dustbowls or swamps and arable land becomes scarce, as millions of cars belch fumes into the sky.

Right now fires are sweeping across BC, again, threatening people living in cities. In Westbank/Kelowna 11,000 people have been evacuated with another 6,000 on alert. This echoes the terrible, devastatingly traumatic fires that swept through parts of Australia earlier this year. Fires so intense and vicious that they caught people as they tried to get into their cars, that burned land to a cinder killing all living things, whether plant or animal, that stood upon the land. Australia faces the collapse of its wine industry, vines grown for years either burned to a crisp or without water to keep the crops going. Their cattle industry is also in danger. A whole country and continent without enough water.

This is not a new thing. Disasters and climatic devastation have happened throughout history but the ferocity and frequency are increasing as the planet warms and suffers under the onslaught of chemicals and fumes not meant to play with nature. The change in the planet probably began with the industrial revolution, once machines were chugging blue smoke into the sky and sluicing runoff into the streams. It began with the first car. And if we think about it, that was only about a hundred years ago. A tenth of a millennium and civilization has existed for at least twenty thousand years.

Think about it. We are exponentially increasing the danger to the planet and to ourselves, and sticking our heads in the sand won’t make it go away. So just what is sustainability? Let’s look at defining it first, from Merriam Webster: 1: capable of being sustained 2 a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture> b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society> 

So that a resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. Wow. Perhaps it’s easier to look at what is not sustainable than what is. What’s left over is what we have to work with. Let’s start with the biggest resource. Our planet. It is of a finite circumference with finite water and land. The world population is at 6.7 billion. It is expected to increase to 9 billion in 2040. That’s within a lot of our lifetimes. There will be less land to live on and the more building that happens takes away from land to grow upon. Water is already an issue in many places. What will it be like in thirty years?

This means no matter how much you love children, think they’re cute, want to be surrounded by bundles of joy or your religion has said, go forth and multiply, it is just not sustainable. Everyone can take personal responsibility and for every couple have one child. That will bring our population down. It will make the planet breathe a sigh of relief and continue a bit longer. Plagues, diseases and flus won’t spread like wildfire. And yes, businesses will have to restructure from the grow grow grow buy more mentality. But we’ll survive.

What is not sustainable is manufacturing more and cheaper cars, SUVs, Hummers and every gas guzzling monster. For sustainability they should be outlawed. And we see right now the glacial progress of moving to electric cars. Governments need to move faster on this and provide incentives to get people to change. More cars plug city thoroughfares and raise costs in maintenance, accident prevention and care. Fewer cars and bigger carpool systems will lessen the strain and road rage. Electric cars, bicycles, viable and cheap public transit will help alleviate both pollution and the sucking of the world’s limited oil and metal resources. Another unsustainable depleting resource.

Manufacturing that uses water needs to be looked at, if our water is becoming limited. Healthy, interactive systems of filtration need to be used to keep our water pure and reusable. We could end up like the people in the novel Dune, having to wear suits that recycle and sweat and urine into drinkable fluids over and over because the planet is desert. Water saving devices for taps, toilets and showers must be used. Education will help stem the tide there.

Building homes and offices, making paper all work on depleting trees. The forestry industry has been made responsible for replanting for quite a few years. But you can chop down more trees in a day than will grow in  a year. it takes years to get a big tree, centuries. Ripping out too many tress not only affects flora and fauna of an ecosystem but also affects the topsoil, the nutrients and the infrastructure of the land for both stability and water.

I could go on but every person as well as every company and government must take responsibility and look at what they use and how it’s reused or discarded. Everything from food to clothing. If we don’t start now, we should have started fifty years ago. And if you truly love children, start now and look at what you can do for sustainability because there could be no tomorrow.

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Scrapping Environmentalism

Whenever something has “ism” attached to it, it becomes a movement, a belief, a group: environmentalism, communism, Catholicism, chauvinism, a schism. Sometimes it has negative connotations and sometimes positive, but almost every ism groups something so that people will be for it or against.

So what’s the problem with environmentalism? That like many movements or beliefs the fad can wax and wane, be popular for a while and then fade away. Environmentalism shouldn’t be a fad but a way of life, if we want a sustainable and renewable world. Unfortunately, it has taken an environmental movement to get most governments to move on the abuses happening to the environment. It may already be too late in some ways for the world and people. But Ma Nature has a way of reasserting herself, even if it takes the dying off of a millions of people.

A month or so ago the federal government decided to scrap environmental reviews for any project under $10 million to bring about economic stimulus. So go ahead, you logging companies, wipe out a forested mountain. Who cares if the topsoils disappears and there are mudslides as long as it comes in at $9,999,999.00? Go ahead, you chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Toss your sewage and unrefined wastes into the river systems. Who cares if it raises the temperature and kills the fish? Who cares if our kids are getting breasts at the age of six from all the drugs?

No problem for Harper’s government. We don’t need reviews because the environment was only in the public’s mind until it was supplanted by the newest crisis–the economy. And as we’ve often seen, governments and politicians don’t always do what’s right but what will garner them the vote. Although the Conservatives still live in the shadow of a minority government, they know that most people are sick of all the elections and feel a little more secure in these proclamations though the opposition parties could still pull them down.

In fact, our government has taken these new environmental assessment regulations a step further by foregoing the constitution which requires consultation with Aboriginal groups if it could impact the various treaties. As well, they’re required to post the changes to give the public and affected groups time to comment but as has been a hallmark of Harper’s tightfisted, overcontrolling ways, none of these required steps happened. The government changed the Environmental Assessment Act without any consultation.

I’ve been critical of Harper’s late jumping onto the environmental bandwagon and only doing it to bring in votes. Unfortunately, even the previous federal governments did little as everyone ignored the impact on our environment and the Kyoto Protocol, first signed by many nations around 1998. My criticism still holds true that Harper’s minions seem to be playing the most popular game and in the smokescreen of economic concerns our natural resources could suffer.

Sad times when money and making money yet again mean letting slip the controls and level of doing things right. And worrying times when our government feels it doesn’t need to follow the rules that governments themselves have put into affect.

An assessment by U of Calgary’s Faculty of Law: http://ablawg.ca/2009/03/31/the-eviscerating-of-federal-environmental-assessment-in-canada/

http://cambridgevoice.ca/archives/prentice-confirms-cuts-planned-to-environment-reviews/

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Environmentalism & Politics

I actually wrote this last year on my other blog but I think it’s still pertinent. What often happens with government is that they focus on whatever the media starts paying attention to. And the moment the public looks away, they go off in another direction. Although the economy is of great concern, so is the environment still and always important. Moreso now when recycling companies are not making as much a profit and therefore it isn’t “economical” for them to recycle or for other places to buy the products.
There has been quite the hullabaloo in the media lately as politicians have woken up from a twenty-plus year hibernation to look around in sudden alarm and go “Oh my, we have an environmental problem.” Hello?

When I was a teenager I wouldn’t litter and a friend asked, oh why bother? I said, well it may only be me today but then tomorrow it might be me and someone else, because they saw me not littering. And the next day there could be three or four, etc. I feel vindicated that at least recycling has become more of a norm (at least in some provinces) than it was in my teens.

And at least by the time I was in my twenties I was reading about the Gaia Hypothesis (how the world is one symbiotic living organism and what you do to it in one place affects the whole) and how our pollutants were wreaking havoc with the world and if we stopped all smog causing agents, then it would take at least fifty years to see any positive results.

In 1998 I wrote for a now defunct e-magazine (victim of the dot com downfall) called technocopia.com. It looked at how new technology was changing one’s life and lifestyle, from cell phones in third world countries to robotic heart surgery. I was researching fuel cells and hybrid cars and came across the Kyoto Protocol. Governments had already signed up for it. So how is it in 2007 various governments have dropped out of fulfilling the requirements and now cry it will break the bank because there’s not enough time? That was ten years of time.

I hear Stephan Dion say on CBC that pollution has just become a problem? What!! Just? Puhleese. I’m not sure what the benefit was to Tony Blair to stand up and start waving the big green flag but it suddenly looked like the cool thing to do and Canada jumped up beside him. George Bush of course is still in right wing crusader war mode. Environmentalism might mean putting collars on his pals, the oil and car companies.

But I’m cynical enough and eyes open enough to wonder why politicians would suddenly go on about this when a lot of us have known there’s been a problem for over twenty years. Well, hmm, minority government. Who wouldn’t want to keep our country green and with air we can breathe? For Harper it’s a surefire way to garner a shiny star on his report card. But it would be much more believable if saving our resources wasn’t done because of political maneuvering and was just done because it’s the right thing to do.

And yet, the Conservatives whine and shuffle their feet and say oh we can’t meet the Kyoto Protocol. Or, maybe we could but it would cost gadzillions and all you poor Canadians that we normally only care about when you’re voting will pay the price. A few weeks ago on CBC, The Current had business leaders from various sectors and they were saying that they were on board with changing and implementing environmentally safe processes and procedures. The interesting thing here was that all of them said that it would be more cost effective and they would probably actually make more profit by switching over. So how is it that the Baird Report says we’re going to have to pay with our first born?

Perhaps I’d almost believe that maybe, just maybe, our lovely government was actually concerned with the environment and not with losing power if it wasn’t that I see this as a big smokescreen. What have polls of recent years shown is the number one priority for Canadians: universal medicare. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Because it needs a massive overhaul. And we’ve all turned to look at the shiny new green flag being waved so that we won’t notice the huge cutbacks, the ever longer waiting lists, the rampant deadly infections running amok in hospitals and killing people. Because the government can win votes easier with this lovely green beast than with the monster of medical coverage.

I was willing to let go some of my frustration, anger and disgust with the head-in-the-sand attitude various Canadian governments have had if it meant at least something was being done. But then we get the Baird Report; more stalling about actually really doing something.

I’m trying to do my part and have for years. I could do more. We all could. I’d get a hybrid car if I could afford one. What part is the government really doing? Will they put teeth into their policies or leave them to gum the ankles of corporations and groups that continue to pollute? I’ll wait and see.

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Conservation: Working on a Way of Life

I have been working on lessening my carbon footprint since I was a teenager, long before there were all the fancy catchwords that included “go green,” “eco” this and that, and “carbon footprint.” Recycling was the biggest, newest buzz word. As a teenager I had already read about the Gaia Hypothesis so I had a concern for the planet and pollution. About all I was doing at that stage was trying not to litter. It was a small start, but a start.

Over the years I never threw anything out that could be re-used. It makes me a bit of a pack-rat and I have sometimes had old computer monitors or printers on my floor for a year before I could find a home for them. I can’t bear to put working or perfectly good items into the landfill. I also stopped cleaning with abrasive, chemically enhanced cleansers. I clean with baking soda, almost exclusively, using low phosphate detergent and soaps and rags and cloth napkins instead of paper towels and napkins.

I started using cosmetics not tested on animals but I’m probably still eating/wearing my fair share of lead and other toxic chemicals, which are not yet regulated for cosmetics. That’s something I hope to work on soon. Unfortuanately I still drive, but my attempts to change that to something more fuel and energy efficient are being thwarted at the moment. (Previous blog entries cover public transportation, carbon tax and cars.)

I also try to avoid the overpackaging that supermarkets give. This includes bringing a cloth bag, or if I have just a few items, carrying them out in my hands or my purse. Also, the “buy this 24-pack of cookies/chips” prepackaging is something I studiously avoid. Instead of paying more for all that extra bagging of chips, which are then placed in a cardboard tray and shrink wrapped, I’ll buy a large bag of salad greens, or nuts or whatever, and then re-use plastic containers and bags that I do have at home. I haven’t bought a container in years, nor prepakaged thingamagooeys.

I rewash plastic cups from parties and put out bags to recycle bottles and plastic. I don’t wash my clothes or dishes until I have a full load. I don’t wear animal furs but I do wear leather. Shoes just don’t work well made of plastic or as long if made of cloth. But I do wear my shoes until they wear out, and try to fix them as long as I can.

I could compost more, but my garbage during the garbage strike was only one small grocery bag every three weeks. I don’t buy wrapping paper anymore and do re-use what people give me. But I also keep old calendars and use the pictures on those as wrapping. I also make re-usable cloth bags. I save buttons off of shirts and turn clothes into rags if they can’t be sent off to a goodwill store.

Am I perfect? Hell no. There are many ways I could improve especially when it comes to the car, though I do walk if I’m in my neighborhood. I try to keep an eye on what I do and improve it. For my own health and for my environment, I’ll look further into safe cleaners, nontoxic cosmetics and rechargeable batteries. Right now, I save batteries and take them to recycling facilities. If we all try a little bit, it can make the environment a lot better for everyone and everything. It still saddens me when people toss things because they “can’t be bothered” or are too lazy. That’s fine if you’re living on your own world, but not when you’re sharing with everyone else.

In BC, you can contact the Recycling Council of BC’s recycling hotline on what to do with various items. http://www.rcbc.bc.ca/index.htm

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Fuel Efficient Cars

This was scheduled for Technocopia, but I believe wasn’t published. It was written in 2000. It’s interesting to note that when SUVs hit the market in Canada they were allowed to have higher emissions, fitting into a little caveat that had all trucks under farm vehicles. The result was that emissions, which were on their way down, shot up again as more people bought SUVs. I was driving behind a Hummer the other day, the ultimate in conspicuous consumption. The guys in it had the nerve to open their door and drop a can to the ground. A true picture of the mindset of a Hummer driver in the city.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and the invention of the car a little over a century ago the world’s pollution has increased to unbearable levels in many cities. Places like California (which has a serious air pollution problem) have “Super-Ultra-Low-Emission-Vehicle” (SULEV) pollution standards that will require 10% of all cars sold in California to have zero tailpipe emissions by 2004. That’s no pollution whatsoever.

That may not seem like a large percentage of greener cars, but it means a lot of research, testing and cost to car manufacturers. Alternate fuels like natural gas, propane, methanol, ethanol and diesel, as well as alternative energy forms like electric batteries or fuel cells are being tested. In the forefront of alternate energy vehicles that we’ll see next are electric, hybrid gas/electric and fuel cells. California, Colorado, Arizona, Chicago and Vancouver, British Columbia are test beds for the new cars and energy as the world works toward a cleaner future.

Gasoline

Cars powered by gasoline use internal combustion engines (ICE). They average anywhere between 20-40 miles per gallon. Tailpipe emissions are high with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, lead, oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide causing human health problems, smog, global warming, acid rain and greenhouse gases. There is often government regulation on the type and quantity of emissions and new cars are being developed with lower emission standards. Gasoline, though fairly cheap in comparison to other energy sources, is a non-renewable resource and as Newsday (04/25/99) reports: “Within 50 years, or perhaps sooner, experts say, the world’s supply of fossil fuels will begin an inexorable decline.” And when those fuels decline we’ll be using lower grade, “dirtier” fuels that will be more expensive.

Gasoline-powered vehicles are the most common, therefore mass-produced and of reasonable price. There is a well-developed infrastructure of car repair centers and fuel stations across the country and throughout most developed nations.

Although not known for fuel efficiency, car manufacturers are working on lowering the emissions in their gas-powered vehicles. All of Ford’s 2000 model pickups and SUV’s will have lower emissions. The “’99 LEV Ford Explorer, for instance, is 42% cleaner in terms of carbon dioxide, hydrocarbon, and nitrous oxide production than the non-LEV ’98 version. Honda produces ULEV Accords and Civics (ultra-low-emission vehicles are 50% cleaner than LEVs), Toyota has a ULEV Camry, and DaimlerChrysler a ULEV Neon. And Nissan, Honda and Toyota all have gas engines that meet SULEV (super-ultra-low-emission vehicle) standards–one-tenth the emissions of a LEV. SULEV Sentras and Accords are expected to hit the market early next year.” Fortune Magazine, Time (10/25/99)

Combustion Process: air (oxygen), fuel and an ignition source are required for combustion. Lighting a fire or starting a car involves combustion. The spark from a spark plug ignites the gasoline and oxygen to create the energy to power cars.

Compressed Natural Gas

Cars built for gasoline can also use natural gas with some modifications to the fuel system. Government incentives help lower the cost of changing over. Refueling is relatively cheap and tailpipe emissions are reduced but not eliminated. The Arizona Republic (01/03/99) showed a comparison between a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria using compressed natural gas that “produced 66 percent fewer hydrocarbons than a comparable gas-fueled Crown Victoria,” and 40 percent less carbon monoxide with zero emissions of oxides of nitrogen. Natural gas vehicles are often used for transit or fleet vehicles.

There are many refueling stations but not as many as gas, so a cross-country trip needs planning. As well, a natural gas tank that has to be installed will take up room in the trunk. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel and a limited resource. Some natural gas cars by manufacturers are: Honda natural gas-powered Civic GX, Ford Crown Victoria and Dodge’s natural gas-powered Charger R/T.

Diesel

Diesel engines use oil, where the air is compressed and heated and oil sprayed into the chamber and ignited. Although the engine is more expensive the fuel is cheaper and used more economically. However, diesel is notorious for its black, smelly emissions. Car manufacturers believe they can make a cleaner diesel but it is still in development. (Having been in Delhi, India, where diesel was predominant, we were black with diesel and it had saturated clothing within a matter of hours.)

Electric (Battery Powered)

Electric cars have been around as long as gas-powered cars and were considered more reliable in the early days of the car industry. They cost more than a gas-powered vehicle and are not as easy to find. At present they can only be leased. However, they cost less to run and charging stations are free for the time being. At home the cord can be plugged into a regular 110 V outlet. Battery-powered cars emit no pollutants and are completely quiet while being driven. Government incentives exist and everything from a golf cartlike vehicle to a full-sized car is allowed on the road. New developments make the electric car faster than its predecessors.

Electric cars can take up to three hours to charge and in California there are over three hundred charging stations (where the cars are being tested) but still drivers are concerned with the limited range (about one hundred miles depending on vehicle type). The batteries are lead acid and disposal is still an environmental problem. New nickel metal-hydride batteries are being used which double the driving range. Though decreasing in size, batteries increase the car’s weight and can still take up a large amount of space.

Dick Thompson, director of communications for GM’s advanced-technology vehicles says that the electric car is “transitional, leading to who knows what’s next?” The Arizona Republic (01/03/99). Some electric cars include GM’s Saturn EV1 (leased since 1997), the Honda EV Plus, Toyota RAV4 EV and Ford’s TH!NK (available in Norway). (Last week–June 2008–CBC radio interviewed Alexandra Paul in California. An actress and environmental advocate, Paul said that GM had crushed all their EV cars years ago. She has done a movie called Who Killed the Electric Car? http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/223/paul-interview.html)

Hybrid Electric

Hybrid cars will be the next mass produced vehicle using a combination of gas (also diesel or natural gas) and an electric motor. Driving range is farther, the gas tank and engine are smaller and the emissions are reduced. The cars get around 55-70 mpg. Government incentives are in place for these cars, like all low emission vehicles.

The battery self-charges through a unique system that equalizes between the gas engine and the battery, using the most efficient energy for the situation, such as acceleration (electric) or driving (gas). The regenerative braking system not only slows the car down but also captures that energy to charge the battery. The battery only weighs about one hundred pounds compared with twelve hundred pounds for an all-electric vehicle. Cost for a hybrid vehicle is still higher than gas-powered cars.

Hybrid cars include the Chrysler Intrepid ESX2 (hybrid electric-diesel), Honda Insight, Toyata Prius. Ford and Nissan also hope to have hybrid electric cars in production in the next three years.

Fuel Cell

Fuel cell technology is the most revolutionary. Ballard Power Systems, Inc. in Burnaby, BC, with Ford and DaimlerChrysler are working on fuel cells for cars.

A fuel cell causes a chemical reaction between hydrogen and air, which is converted into electricity. It is similar to a battery but needs no recharging and the only emission is drinkable water or vapor. Though used in some test vehicles like DaimlerChrysler’s Necar 4 and buses in several areas, the fuel cell is still in development and researchers say we will not see fuel cell cars until 2004.

Hydrogen is highly combustible and fuel tank storage on a car, as well as refueling poses some high risks. If used with the next most likely fuel, methanol, it produces some emissions. Hydrogen can be extracted from gasoline but it is a costly process. A variety of fuels can power a fuel cell. As soon as fossil fuels are used manufacturers run into the problem of pollutants once again, although emissions would be greatly reduced compared to gas-powered vehicles. Other deterrents include the lack of infrastructure such as fueling stations. Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Toyota, Hyundai, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler are working on fuel cell cars.

Fuel cells and electric cars will lead to a cleaner, quieter run on the roads. Several problems stated by manufacturers and media holds back this future:

  • People are reluctant to change to alternate energy vehicles
  • These vehicles are too expensive to buy or lease
  • Manufacturers are losing money with each car built
  • The support infrastructure is not present for refueling
  • The cars are heavier and too slow (some top at 85-100 mph)
  • Refueling, in the case of electrics can take too long (three hours or more)
  • Some cars (GM, Nissan) use inductive charging systems while others (Honda, Ford, Toyota) use conductive—leading to a need for different charging stations

Although no one states these reasons it seems that lack of media attention, car manufacturer’s reluctance to advertise alternate energy vehichles, and the oil industry’s stranglehold on fuel may be what’s really holding back the advent of a cleaner car.

Ways to bring about the cleaner car:

  • Inform people of government incentives and make information readily accessible
  • Advertise energetically
  • Vehicles may cost more initially but they save in fuel consumption
  • Every mass-produced car started out as an expensive prototype
  • Interested people can write or call dealerships & manufacturers
  • Governments, manufacturers, communities and energy companies can make a concerted effort to build fueling stations
  • All new vehicles should have compatible fueling ports/tanks
  • Promote limited range electric cars as a good alternative for commuting and city driving

Imagine the old Pony Express—mail delivered by someone going from town to town, getting a fresh horse to move as fast as possible. Fueling stations for electric cars could supply fresh batteries, taking the used ones and recharging them for the next customer.

The future looks brighter with new energy efficient vehicles on the way. The big question is whether this race was started soon enough or will it be a case of too little too late?

 

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Not Throwing in with the Crowd: Litter

Once upon a time, in my teenage years, I used to wander around with my friends. We’d go to school, we’d stroll to the University of Calgary lands, we’d go to the mall. And like most teenagers, we would buy our share of gum and chocolate bars. I never littered and this was before “Going Green” had ever been heard of. I’d take my wrapper and put it in my pocket.

One day a friend asked, “Why bother, everyone litters?” I replied, “Just because everyone does it, doesn’t mean it’s right. Today it might just be me. But tomorrow it might be me and someone else and then it might be four people who don’t litter. And someday maybe everyone will change.”

Well, not everyone changed but as years went by it became more of a concern; recycling wasn’t just a word for the conscientious few. Green meant more than just the colour of grass. Of course, I wasn’t the pioneer, but even as a kid I valued my world and I read about the Gaia hypothesis at a young enough age. I was also reading science fiction at twelve and the possibilities of what-if were already working in my mind.

Move to 1989 when I went to India. I was there when the Berlin wall came down. For the first month I was in the tribal state of Meghalaya, one of very few white people (maybe three) in the predominantly Khasi lands. My girlfriend was from this Himalayan hill tribe and her relatives would drive us around to different sites. The Khasis are traditionally of an animist religion though Christianity is also prevalent these days.

Overlooking the town of Shillong was a high point and a sacred grove. It was sad to see tetra packs, tin cans and plastic bottles littering their protected area. One day, Hanocia’s cousins took me to see this site. We had some “take-out” from a local restaurant. This consisted of a meal wrapped in a banana leaf and then put in a plastic bag. We ate our lunch overlooking this beautiful, small waterfall. When we were done we threw our banana leaves into the bush. And then the two cousins threw their plastic bags.

I gathered them up, aghast, and said, “You can’t do that.” They looked at me, puzzled, and asked why. How to explain it. These guys weren’t stupid but just lived a different way of life. Like many Indians, they saw pictures from magazines or a few movies that revealed fairy tale glamour lives and ways. They wanted what North America had; the riches, the lifestyle. How can anyone deny what they already have? But how can you get across that it’s okay to try and achieve that life without making all the same mistakes?

I tried to explain it this way: If you throw the plastic on the ground, it will go into the plants and the water. The cows will eat it and it will make them ill and then you’ll eat the cows. (Khasis are not Hindu and do eat beef.) It was a simplified version and I didn’t have the knowledge to explain the full process but I tried.

It saddened me. India holds at least one-sixth of the world’s population. Being third world, they didn’t have all of the technology (cars, factories, etc.) as we have in N. America. But they already had their pollution problems. I received a valuable education in India and that day was just one reminder of how much work we still have to do, how far the world must go to still save itself. Like that day long ago when I put the wrapper in my pocket, I continue to try and stay green and become greener.

I have a long way to go still. But I still believe that if we try and even encourage one other person, we’ll continue to work against the tide.

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