Sunday, May 31, 2009

Toxic Butts: Part 2

These are mini-bins. They're sold in the UK for about $5.00 each. They're cute containers for cigarette butts. At many a festival, I've seen people carrying old camera film canisters for their butts. Maybe if people had an attractive alternative, it wouldn't just be old hippies keeping the ground clean.

Toronto is looking for a way to get people to stop tossing cigarette butts on the ground. Before wide-spread indoor bans on smoking, butts and packaging added up to over 17% of all litter compared to less than 2% for candy wrappers. It surprises me that candy wrappers are so low - but most of my litter awareness is from schoolyards.

TO's considering following the strategy used in San Francisco: charge an additional 33 cents per pack to offset the costs of cleaning up everyone's butts. There's an article at the Star that you can comment on directly here.

If the goal is to get more cash to pay for clean-up, then add the tax. But if the goal here is to change people's behaviour to stop littering, a tax will do nothing. People who don't litter will also be taxed, and they might even start littering knowing they're now paying for the cleaning. If they want people to stop dropping their butts, they have to fine them for each butt dropped - heavily. They don't have to catch everyone every time, just enough people to make everyone nervous.

A different strategy was tried in Britain: a bunch of naturalists staged a nude campaign on the beaches to protest the amount of cigarette butts they have to tolerate. I won't attach a photo, but you can click on the link to check it out. They also got local establishments to pledge to keep their patron's butts in a bucket outside their stores, instead of on the beach. But of course, the real problem is the butts washing up from everywhere else. Even our butts are making their way to Britain. Pollution knows no boundaries.

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And She'll Tell Two Friends, and So On, and So On...

When presented with all the problems of the world, people often feel helpless against it all. We can write letters, boycott products, take to the street in small groups to show our concerns, but will any of it have any effect? And we re-read Margaret Mead's words (that's her on the left): "Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizen can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." And that might keep us working for change for a little longer.

But here's another approach.

It's in the vein of Pay-It-Forward, called Pass It On. Jamie Oliver can cook, and he loves to teach people to cook healthy meals. Instead of just having a show and writing a few cookbooks and completely overhauling school cafeterias in Britain, he's teaching a handful of men in a community to cook. But there's a catch: they each have to teach two people how to cook, and those two are obligated to teach two more people to cook, and so on. He's hoping the entire city will change their take-out habits for the better.

Using the same strategy, think of one thing you do well that would have a positive effect on the world if more people did it. Then teach a few people and insist they have to teach just two people. Can we actually see a change in our communities?

The problem with this, however, is that people often resent being taught anything if you're not perceived as being an expert in the area. I'm good at petroleum-free gardening, but I'm not a landscape architect or a professional gardener or anything of the sort. And my lawn isn't pristine either. So scratch that one.

And it has to be something people can be convinced to want to learn. If I can be on TV with the Naked Chef teaching me how to cook, I might do it. But if a random friend offered to teach me, I'd insist I'm fully capable, thank you very much. There's a bit of a barrier here to the community education model.

But it does seem to have potential. Any thoughts on how it could work in real life?

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Story of Stuff

This is all over the internet, but just in case someone hasn't seen it yet, you really must. It's just twenty minutes, and it gives a great overview of how consumerism works.

There's nothing more today. She said it all.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Obesity, Omegas, and Organic Foods

Here's another great reason to buy only organic, grass fed, free-range meats and dairy (if you buy them at all): Factory farm produce makes you fat.

"In the United States, the mass of fatty tissue in children under one doubled between 1970 and 1990....Between 6 and 11 months of age, you can't blame McDonald's, snacking, TV, and lack of physical exercise!"

Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, in Anti-Cancer, blames milk.

Specifically he blames the changing character of milk since the 1950s. He suggests, with some convincing studies behind him, that the single largest contributor to obesity is an omega 3/omega 6 imbalance. And the leading cause of this imbalance is that farm animals are no longer eating grass, but are primarily fed corn and other grains.

In a tiny nutshell: When cows eat grass, it's full of omega-3 fatty acids which is concentrated in the milk, butter, cheese, and beef. The same is true of eggs from free-range chickens fed with forage rather than grain. But when the demand for milk, eggs, and meats increased, farmers reduced the grazing area needed, and started feeding others grains to the animals. Corn, soy and wheat contain practically no omega-3 fatty acids, but lots of omega-6. We need a balance of omega 3:6 that's close to 1:1. When animals are fed feed, they can end up with produce closer to 1:40. Eating an excess of omega-6 fatty acids makes us fat.

He also suggests we replace our oils with linseed/flaxseed rather than olive oil or corn oil or margarine. And don't eat any processed foods which are all high in omega-6 fatty acids, and avoid sugars and bleached flour.

The cancer link in the book comes with the fact that obesity is second only to smoking as having the strongest correlation to cancer that's affected by individual human behaviour (as opposed, for instance, to industrial pollution).

The book got a horrible review in the New York Times, where it was equated with a late-night infomercial, but there are many many others who site the omega 3:6 balance as imporant to good health. The review mainly takes Servan-Schreiber to task for his claim that a "Type-C" personality contributes to cancer. I have to admit that's why I picked up the book. In my very limited anecdotal experiences, it's the nice people who never yell who succum, and the angry miserable types who live to a ripe old age.

The bottom line is, factory farms are abusive to animals. We all know the horror stories of animals that aren't allowed to move and never see the light of day - at best. But if they also make us fat and contribute to the rising rates of cancer, why would anyone eat them? It's just a few minutes further to the local health food store or the farmer's market where organic meats and dairy are plentiful.

Not convinced? Watch The Meatrix. Take the red pill to learn the Truth: you, the consumer, hold the power.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Landscaping IS Art

Four random quotations came my way recently, and they all seem to connect with one issue I've been exploring. Or maybe I'm so immersed in this issue, everything seems to have to do with it. We're getting some high-rise apartments in my neighbourhood. While I'm all for high-density at the core of a city, I'm concerned with the various by-law infringements the developers are trying to bypass.

They want the set-backs from the street to be significantly less than allowed. They want a greater density, almost double, than allowed. A building closer to the downtown (further from residential areas) was denied the increase in density, but these guys seem to be untouchable.

But the one that really gets me is this: They're supposed to landscape 30% of the property. This is not only a matter of aesthetics, but a means for rainwater to become groundwater instead of rushing down concrete into the storm drains. They want to get around this bylaw by putting a garden on the roof. They don't mean a green roof; they mean some plants in containers on the roof for the guy in the penthouse to enjoy. So I wanted to write a letter to the editor and include some quotation to back up my thoughts.

The first quotation that came to mind was this line that has stayed with me for years because of the imagery: "What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?" That's from Ginsberg's Howl. Gorgeous, but a little intense for a local paper.

Then there's Henry Ford: "Change is not always progress. A fever of newness has been everywhere confused with the spirit of progress." And Frank Lloyd Wright, "The skyscraper is responsible for the congestion, and is making the city of today impossible to use. The skyscraper piles the crowd up high, dumps it on the street, stuffs it in again, and the streets are not nearly wide enough." Perhaps, but a bit mundane.

The city wants some concessions for giving in to the developer's demands. It's asking that the developer spend 1% of its budget on a piece of public art. Very nice. Landscape with concrete and add a sculpture, and you're golden.

Walking in the halls past the student art display of Ontario Greenbelt graphics, one of them had this quotation:

"I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art anybody could want to own."

-Andy Warhol.


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Monday, May 25, 2009

Wasted Paper

Schools are notorious for paper waste. Computers were supposed to decrease the amount of paper we use, but that hasn't panned out in the slightest as people print draft after draft of their work. At my school, we use more than a tree's worth of paper every day.

Much of our paper comes from the boreal forests in Canada. This is an area where many specific kinds of songbirds come to mate. We're responsible for the destruction of this habitat. And we're role models for the students, inadvertently teaching them that it's okay to use paper wastefully, that we have some kind of entitlement to it. We can't really complain about logging practices if we're wasting so much paper.

If we care about birds, or animals, or trees, or greenhouse gases, or accumulating air pollution, or hiking, or teaching sustainable living, or breathing, we have to stop using so much paper. We need to get to a place where a quarter of a page unused becomes unthinkable. Paper, like water, has to be viewed as the precious commodity it really is.

Here's some suggestions for administration, teachers, and students...

Teachers get a ton of paper from administration that could all be e-mailed to us. There are some concerns with this suggestion. Many teachers need to be e-mailed and have a paper copy. They won't pay attention otherwise because we're bombarded with messages. And if they're just e-mailed, they might print off the e-mail anyway in order to have a paper copy.

Well, we stopped people using paper plates and cups at staff meetings by no longer making them an option. Done. There was a short learning curve, then people learned to cope and started remembering their own dishware. If teachers were told they'd just be e-mailed information, and get nothing on paper, they'd learn to start paying attention to e-mails. They'd soon realize there will no longer be a back-up copy coming in their mail slots, and they'd have to start paying attention to every message. That's my theory anyway.

Perhaps to stop teachers printing every e-mail, we can tag them with "save a tree, don't print this e-mail." Do we really need to print off the entire exam schedule to record which days our exams are on? I hope not.

A big issue we have is single-sided paper. If you're only printing a single side, cut copying in half by setting the printer to double side, and on the second side, flip the page upside down. Then cut the pages in half. Other single-sided pages can be copied on re-use-it (good-one-side) paper.

There's a bigger issue here, I think. People are very proud of their handouts. They like them pretty and well-spaced and colourful. I'm not convinced pretty handouts further reading at the secondary level. My guess would be that the colourful handouts end up crumpled in the bottom of a knapsack about as fast as the handouts copied on re-use-it paper. We have to get over ourselves a bit.

Other ways to reduce use by teachers: Think twice before making a handout - consider whether this information could be understood equally well by being discussed aloud with a few points added on the board as a short note. Send lesson handouts electronically. Collect handouts at the end of each unit to use again. Copy the exact number needed and put names on handouts for absent students so you can be sure each got a copy and nobody got two. If students lose a copy, they have to make their own from a friend. Use the blackboard or overhead. Widen the margins of the page. Copy on legal size paper, both sides, rather than three standard pages. Buy hemp paper using class donations. Reduce the text size and fit four pages on one page.

Some ways to reduce use by students: Give them bonus marks if their work is double sided. Only provide re-use-it paper for quizzes or worksheet questions. Encourage projects to go on used sheets of Bristol board. Have them submit work electronically. Peer edit work in a computer lab by trading computers to edit. In my classes, I collect work at the beginning of the period, but if they send it electronically, they have until midnight that night.

How do we make sure these things happen? Dare I suggest that we each be given a limited amount of paper to use each month and/or a limited number of print credits? Currently we've had our overheads limited and that's really forced us to take greater care with our use of them. If we each had a few reams of paper to use for the term, we might think twice about that ten-paged reading assignment.

We're looking into having slightly fewer copy credits show up if the copies are all double-sided. And we're trying to get attendance reports sent electronically instead of on paper. Those issues are outside our school's control.

Other ideas?

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Words Worth Books Presents...

If you're in the area, Words Worth Books is hosting an evening of climate-changing ideas with authors, Thomas Homer Dixon and Colin Ellard Tuesday, June 2nd at 7:30 at the Waterloo Entertainment Center. (24 King North)

I haven't read either book yet, but I might try Where Am I? this weekend. I couldn't get through The Ingenuity Gap, even though it won awards, so Carbon Shift is my second choice.

Here's their blurb:

The twin crises of climate change and peaking oil production are converging on us. We need informed and decisive policies, clear-sighted innovation, and a lucid understanding of what is at stake so that our civilization is not toppled. We will need to know where we stand, and which direction we should start out in. These are the questions Carbon Shift (Hardcover $34.95) addresses. Thomas Homer-Dixon argues that the two problems are really one: a carbon problem. We depend on carbon energy to fuel our complex economies and societies, and at the same time this very carbon is fatally contaminating our atmosphere. To solve one of these problems will require solving the other at the same time. Carbon Shift brings together six of Canada’s world-class experts to investigate the question of where we stand now, and where we might be headed. Homer-Dixon was born in Victoria, B.C., and holds a Ph.D. in political science from MIT. He is currently the Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo. His first book, The Ingenuity Gap won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction

How do you get from here to there? Psychologist Colin Ellard demonstrates that navigating through space is utterly fascinating in Where Am I? (Hardcover $32.95). Beginning with the neurological and muscular coordination involved in the simple act of reaching for an object, he then investigates our interaction with space--how near and distant landmarks are used differently in navigation. From the complex behavior of insects to the epic journeys of sea turtles, to the subtle knowledge of the environment demonstrated by navigators such as the Inuit to the conceptual worlds of cyberspace, Where Am I?, reveals just how deeply our unique relationship with space defines what it means to be human. But Ellard also takes his argument a step further to show that the uniquely human ability to visualize and partition space has led to an increasing disconnection from the natural world. Ellard is an experimental psychologist at the University of Waterloo, the director of its Research Laboratory for Immersive Virtual Environments and an international expert in the psychology of navigation. The results of his research in the areas of animal behaviour, cognitive mapping, human navigation and neuroscience have been published in scientific journals for more than 20 years.

We hope that you can attend on Tuesday June 2nd at 7:30pm at the Waterloo Entertainment Centre – 24 King St N between Erb and Dupont intersections. Tickets are $10 and are available in the bookstore and at the door. If you buy a copy of Carbon Shift or Where Am I? from Words Worth books before the event starts you will receive one free ticket. This will be a great night if you have any interest in our changing planet and how we relate to it.
See you there!

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Warning: Driving is Hazardous to Your Health

A British MP, Colin Challen, proposes that warning labels be put on cars like they've done with cigarette packs. It's a good reminder, but I'm not sure warnings actually affect behaviour. I'd guess any decrease in smoking we've seen has more to do with the smaller and smaller areas permitting smoking than the black lungs on the box. I do like, however, the label's clarification of each vehicle's true environmental impact.

When I took my dog to puppy school, they always told us to tell the dog what to do, not what not to do: "down" or "on the floor" rather than "stop licking my dinner plate." It works with little kids too. Instead of warning them not to touch the candy at the checkout, I'd tell them to keep their hands on their bellies. It directed the focus elsewhere. So instead of warnings against cars, which we all know are problematic in so many ways, we need to focus people on biking and walking and public transportation. Clever ads with people walking or biking everywhere might help redirect us.

And if mainstream movies got on board, think of the impact. The French Connection with a bike chase? Okay, it won't always work. But when the 40-year-old virgin decides to grow up, get a girlfriend, get rid of his action figures, and learn to drive a car, it doesn't help the cause. Why didn't Catherine Keener take up cycling instead? Isn't love a two-way street - with bike lanes?

Watch how hazardous driving can be:

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Greenbelt Art

These pieces of art were created by students for an assignment to express what the Ontario Greenbelt means to them. The lesson was developed by Chris Bignell, a student teacher doing his practicum with Jason Panda at KCI this year. They were all made using Photoshop. The entire lesson takes one week. Modify and use as you like. (Click on a photo to see it larger.)

I (Heart) Greenbelt


Students will discuss the purposes of graphic art and begin a client based work for the Government of Ontario on the Greenbelt. Students will research the Ontario Greenbelt and environmental issues surrounding it, and create an environmental artwork in response.

Four Corners: The Purpose of Graphic Art

Have students arrange themselves into four courners of the room based on their opinion of a topic. They then have five minutes to create a compelling argument for their corner and present it to the class:
Question: What is the purpose of Graphic Design? (provide an example)
1. money and fame
2. to express yourself
3. to develop a sense of community
4. to promote a thought and influence people

Project Details

The government of Ontario wants you to express what the Ontario Greenbelt means to you. Your challenge is to make an aesthetic digital artwork using Photoshop. You have a lot of artistic freedom in this assignment. Use the techniques you've been learning, and be creative!

Artwork Specifications:

1. The dimensions must be 8.5"x 11". You are free to choose either landscape or portrait page formatting.
2. No personal markings or signatures are to be on the artwork itself.
3. All source images must be original; no images taken from the internet or elsewhere can be used. (This could impose a challenge to acquire images in our lovely Canadian weather.)
4. Use a minimum of three layers (including adjustment layers), and keep them organized and labeled.
5. On a piece of paper in one sentence summarize the purpose of your work, and hand it in upon completion.


1. Save a master/working copy of the .psd file in your own file structure.
2. Save another copy of the .psd and the .jpg file in the groupwork/greenbelt folder.
3. The file you submit should have your initials follwed by "_greenbelt.jpg"(ie. cb_greenbelt.jpg)
4. Finally, go to to submit a copy of the .jpg to the government's competition. Good luck!

Assessment: ( /20)

( /2) Purpose Statement: The purpose statement is designed to overtly specify the meaning of the piece. What specific issues is it a response to, and what position does the artist take?

( /3) Midway Critique: Halfway through the week students will submit a copy of their digital work for the class to do a peer critique. This is a collaborative activity designed to give artists some feedback and possible future directions for their piece. It also promotes a sense of community and communal learning within the classroom. Students will receive a participatory mark for contributing their work and commenting on their peers.

( /15) Final Evaluation: Students will be evaluated on the organization of layers within their psd file, the use and compatibility of their source materials, and the overall presentation and techniques used in the piece.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Toxic Butts

One big problem we have at our school and all over the city is cigarette butts being thrown everywhere. It's funny that people who wouldn't think of tossing an inert plastic wrapper on the ground think nothing of leaving a trail of butts. This isn't a smoking issue; it's a littering issue at the rate of over two billion new cigarette butts each day. Cigarette filters are the single most collected items on beach clean-ups.

On the ground, cigarette butts give off a leachate that contains a variety of toxins depending on the brand. Most common are nicotine and ethylphenol. These contaminates get into our ground water and also into the sewer systems that lead straight to the rivers. They're lethal to some organisms at the low dose of one butt per two gallons of water. There are areas around my school in which pedestrians can't avoid stepping on piles of butts - most notably where nurses from the neighbouring hospital gather to smoke. They all eventually get washed down the storm drains (the butts, not the nurses).

Filters are no longer made of cotton, but are plastic, specifically cellulose acetate. This photodegrades in sunlight (after about fifteen years) but doesn't bio-degrade. It breaks up into little bits that never disappear. Like other plastics, it's an endocrine disruptor which means it mimics or blocks some hormones which affect certain bodily functions. In some areas, male fish are becoming feminized.

Some studies suggest a returnable deposit be put on each cigarette filter. Cigarettes would cost more, but people could get some of the money back. But who would want to carry around their butts until they hit the store again? I prefer steep littering fines that specifically target cigarettes. If you were charged $1,000 every time you got caught littering (like in Calgary), you'd find a way to get your butts into a garbage can or butt bucket and out of my garden.

We're working on at least getting buckets full of sand around the school for smokers. A student in my OneEarth club insists they'll never get used. Why walk over to the bucket if you can just toss it on the ground? I don't know. Maybe we can get the message across that it's more than just their own lives at stake when they smoke. Maybe some will care more about the fish they could harm than themselves.

The problem still remains: do we put the buckets only where the students are allowed to smoke, or where the students actually do smoke?

At least with "e-cigarettes" there's no butts - see for yourself here:

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Go Further - Film Handout

At the end of the year in my CCS class, I often show the movie Go Further. It's about the environment, but it's lighthearted rather than catastrophic. And the messages are very doable ones students can easily take away with them. It stars Woody Harrelson on a cycling tour. He's entertaining and knowledgable. It does, however, have somewhat jarring shifts into musical numbers, and the students don't recognize most of the musicians. I typically point out who they are to keep them interested.

The handout I use for the film asks very general questions to get the kids to recognize some major issues as well as some very simple solutions. I included my answers here.

Go Further
(Dir: Ron Mann, 2003, 80 min.)

Woody Harrelson – actor / activist on a Solar Organic Living (SOL) Tour
Steve Clark – Production Assistant on Will & Grace; junk-food-addict
Joe Hickey – hemp activist; cycler with a bad knee
Jessica Chung – yoga instructor
Renee Loux Underkoffler – raw foods chef
Tom Ballanco – lawyer defending environmental activists
Joe Lewis – bus driver
Linda – a kidnapped college student

Musicians: Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs), Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Michael Franti (Spearhead, Hiphopricy), Dave Matthews

Ken Kesey: He wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He bought an old school bus called “Further” and took a bunch of friends, “The Merry Pranksters,” across America teaching about love, freedom, and psychedelic drugs.

1. List five concerns Harrelson has about the world.

Mass extinction of species
Monsanto – Bovine Growth Hormones – blood and pus in milk
Pesticides – increase from 91-98 – cancer, lung disease, damaged soil and water, poisoned workers
Fossil fuels are running dry.
Biotech industry – breaking into the genetic fabric of life – a giant unchecked experiment with the world

2. Which of these do you think are legitimate concerns?

3. Which are not a concern for you at all? Why not?

4. List five ideas from the film for improving our lives.

Hemp paper – “Livingtree Paper Company”
Simple organic living
Light footprint
Raw foods
Hemp clothes
Red Wigglers – composting, “worm tea” fertilizer
Cuba has solar powered schools – shift to something sustainable
4 power saving lights and 1 low-flow faucet could shut down power plants
No meat

5. Which of these ideas are useful to you, and which do you ignore? Why?

6. Comment on two of these quotations from the film:

“If I really felt we were at that stage right now, I don’t know how I’d get up in the morning.”
“The survival of the planet begins with a small, personal transformation within the grasp of every one of us….The most significant act you can make is to look at your own diet, and demand organic.”
“We think that total freedom means a choice of 20 brands of toothpaste, not knowing what you’re eating or having easy access to good foods.”
“Chocolate is like crack. It drives me crazy.”
“You can change the world by changing what you buy….Dare to feel responsible for every dollar you put down.”
“Why should I bother? It’s not about the impact of one, but collectively how enormous our impact is on the world….In the words of Margaret Mead, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has.’”
“There’s still hope for the world, but only if we stop being such dickheads.”

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Environmentalists are a Bunch of Hypocrites

Some people think most environmentalists are hypocrites. David Suzuki used a bus to tour the country. Al Gore flew around on a jet, and he's got lots of money. Somehow you're not a true or pure environmentalist unless you're penniless and live like a hermit.

I don't think it's hypocritical to try to do everything we can for the environment, but not do everything there is. A better word for it is imperfect. I suggest people bike everywhere because I do, and it feels great. And sometimes I suggest people do things I can't do, but I'm upfront about not being able to do it myself. The thought of "crunchy underwear" stops Vanessa from trashing her dryer. My stoppers are all food-related.

I used to be a vegetarian. It's clearly a more sustainable and healthier way to live. But feeding picky children broke me. They love meat and aren't as thrilled with vegetables. I caved. My partner was an even stricter vegetarian, insisting on organic everything for years. He fell off the horse on a stop at a convenience store during a long trip. Beef jerky at the cash register did him in.

And I read the 100-mile diet. Local food, unprocessed, is a fantastic idea. But throughout the book it really seemed that this kind of diet requires one person's full time services to find and prepare food. We just don't have that kind of time. And my kids barely tolerate potatoes once a week. There would be a mutiny if we ate them daily for months. This is something I might try after the kids are on their own. It would be far better if I could do it now and teach them a life lesson, but I think it's a lesson they'd fight hard to avoid learning.

In the movie Go Further, Woody Harrelson tells us that the best thing we can each do for the environment is to eat one less meat dish each week. I can do that. At dinner we actually only eat meat 2-3 times/week. I don't eat any for breakfast or lunch. I try to console my conscience about this. Yet I still fall for processed meals. I'm not up to learning to cook from scratch right now. The learning curve is too steep for me. And that's okay - for now.

I do a lot, but I don't do it all. The little bits we each do have an effect. If we do nothing because we can't do it all, then we'll have no effect at all. The former option seems infinitely wiser.

Any other stoppers to environmental perfection?

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Milgram's Wall

Today I was talking about Stanley Milgram's experiment involving volunteers shocking a subject (an unknown confederate actor) until he passed out. About 65% of people were willing to shock the confederate to the maximum voltage. But once Milgram introduced a wall in the scenario, 90% of the people tested would shock a person to the max.

This fits well with another project we recently finished. I had students compare multinational and local independent companies on various criteria. Aterwards we discussed why people continue to buy products that have a production practice that harms people or the environment. Why do we still buy Mars or Hershey or Cadbury products instead of fair trade chocolate?

It's Milgram's wall. Once that wall goes up, we're willing to do a bit more harm, shock to a bit higher degree, and it doesn't bother us as much. His experiment took place in one room with a divider. Ours takes place over the entire world. If people are harmed on the other side of the world, it simply doesn't hurt us as much to hurt them. It doesn't hurt us enough to stop, at any rate. We know, logically, that we're causing harm, but we're not feeling it.

Here's my handout:

Mini-Project: Multinationals

Topic________________________ _____ Name(s):_____________________________

“The history of luxury could more accurately be read as a record of emotional trauma.” - Alain de Botton in Status Anxiety

Alone or in a small group, research one multinational corporation or their product using the Internet, and then research a similar local company or their product. Use this worksheet to create an outline by following the steps below. You will be presenting your information to the class, and you will learn about the corporations and local businesses they studied also. (Yes, it will be on a test.) The hypothesis of this study is that multi-national corporations are more harmful in general (to the employees, producers, environment...) than independent companies. Let's find out if that's a correct assumption.

Tap and Bottle (Evian, etc.); Colgate and Tom’s of Maine

EMI and Righteous Babe Records; Lush and the Body Shop

Chapters and Wordsworth Books; McDonald's and Harmony Lunch,

Starbucks and Fair Trade Coffee; Walmart and Ten Thousand Villages,

Dominoes Pizza and City Cafe; Nike and Blackspot,

Mattel and Discovery Toys; Loblaws and Vincenzos

Nestle products and Food Co-op products; Dairy Queen and Whole Lotta Gelata

Mars and Fair Trade Chocolate; KFC and Free Range Chicken

Home Depot and Canadian Tire; Cars: Gas and Electric or Solar

American Eagle and Loop; Coke and Jones Soda

Revlon and Mary Kay; Tampax and the Keeper

Kimberly-Clarke and 7th Generation; Gap and Earthwinds clothing

Chiquita/Dole and organic bananas; Paper: Hemp and Trees

Cheese: Kraft and Pine River; Molson-Coors and Brick

or find a match for.... Nortel, Microsoft, Disney, Sprint, Shell, Sony, Mitsubishi, Time Warner, Enron, de Boers, Kraft, Philip-Morris, Tommy Hilfiger, Hanes, Sara Lee…..


1. Research the multi-national corporation on the internet - you'll have to dig!!

(Use the handout called “Useful Website for Finding Dirt on Corporations.)

2. Research the independent company by walking in or calling (or use the internet)

3. Keep all your rough notes - they will be submitted when you present (don't type them)

4. Make a handout or poster as a visual aid - include only the most important points

PRESENTATION DATE:________________________________

FOCUS on the environment, labour practices, employees, producers, etc.

** Where do the profits go? How well are people paid compared to other companies?

** Is anyone or anything (environment, animals, etc.) exploited at any stage in the production or distribution of the product?

** What’s done with wastes? Are any harmful by-products created in production?

DIG deeper than the company’s own website. This site will obviously be full of positives about the company. Research alternative news sources like Adbusters, Z Magazine, Mother Jones, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Jon Stewart, Fast Food Nation, Whitewash…


1. What other business(es) is involved with this multinational (an owner, a partner, a division of the company....)? Trace the line of linked companies as far as possible.

2. What has the multinational corporation been accused of doing? Have they been formally charge? How does the company justify or deny complaints?

3. Explore its environmental, labour and production practices in depth.


4. How long has this company been in business? How many people own it? How many locations are there?

5. Is it affiliated with any other companies? List any affiliations.

6. Do they ensure environmental responsibility in any way? Explain.

7. How do they ensure they are fair to their employees? Explain.

8. Do their producers get reasonable prices for their labour or products? Explain.

9. What are the benefits and problems of being an independent company?


10. Is your local company/product a better alternative than the multinational? Explain the benefits and problems of buying from each company.


PROCESS (ability to do research during class) ___/10:

You'll be evaluated on the thoroughness of your notes, and the effective use of class time.

EXPLANATIONS (ability to clearly teach ideas to the class) ___/10

Did you capture the essence of the ideas? Was it too wordy or too brief? Were all ideas clear and coherent?

VISUAL AID (ability to use the blackboard, overhead, poster..) ___/10

Was the visual aid clear, readable and useful?

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No Brainers

There are many things I do now that a few years ago I wouldn't have even thought about. And there are some things I started doing, and I wondered why on earth it took me so long to figure that out. These are really easy things to do, that take little effort, but really add up.

In the bathrooms of our schools, we put down recycling boxes to collect paper towels instead of collecting slightly moist paper towels in the trash bins. This diverts about two full garbage bags each day from the landfill and takes minimal effort from anyone.

I was flipping through a binder recently and came across an old assignment. There was one question at the top of a blank page. That's it. I can't believe I copied and handed that out to students instead of writing the question on the board. But at the time, even though I composted and turned off lights, I wasn't paying attention to how much paper I use.

Change the margins. It's so easy. Just format your page to widen the top, bottom, and sides, then save the formatting. Reducing margins to .75" on all side reduces paper use by almost 5%.

Re-Use-It Paper, aka GOOS (good-on-one-side) paper. My students wouldn't use the name "Goos" because it sounds silly. But regardless of the name, it's so easy to plop in a bunch of used paper in the copier or printer and use the blank side.

This is a bit more work than the others, but at the beginning of the year, I buy 10 reams of hemp paper. I ask my students if they'd donate to a paper fund in order to have a tree-free classroom. I usually get about half the cost from them. The rest comes out of my pocket. And it forces me to really use the paper carefully - no mistakes when I'm copying, no extra copies made - because I've got a limited amount of paper to work with. I think twice before I copy anything now.

And other bright ideas out there?

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

My post-shortening won't work today, so you'll have to scroll way down to see more posts.

One way I introduce environmental issues in my Challenge and Change in Society class is to survey students on what they would like to see changed in our city. At the same time, we discuss whether change needs to be legislated for it to actually happen. We look at what Monbiot says in Heat, which is, in a nutshell, that nothing will happen without legislation making it happen.

Remember the One-Tonne Challenge? Rick Mercer was the poster boy for this as he asked Canadians to each reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. Everyone said "Sure, Rick!" Then nothing changed. Actually, that's not true. Greenhouse emissions did change, but in the wrong direction. They increased.

This is what Tom Slee calls "free riding." (I'll get to his book one day soon.) People want change to happen and say they'll change, but we each rest on the notion that everyone else is changing, so if just I don't do anything, nobody will notice. And if everyone else is lowering the thermostat by one degree, then it'll be okay for me to raise mine up a little bit. Overall it should decrease emissions, right? Except that almost everyone thinks that, and then we really notice because it all gets worse. Get it?

So, if we want to change how we live, we need someone to make us change. I remember as a teenager considering joining the military because I wanted to be in shape, and I knew full well it wouldn't happen without a drill sergeant yelling at me to do more push-ups. But I never went all the way with that; the phone was too far away.

As much as we might want to change, we don't like to be told what to do. We get antsy about governmental interference in our lives. Quite a conundrum, isn't it.

Anyway, here's the survey I give the kids. I calculate the class percentages of each For/Against for each question, and then discuss it using an overhead of the results. I left spaces after each section for students to add in their own ideas. One thing that always surprises me in typical results is that they will accept an increase in bus fares, but nobody will tolerate less frequent runs. Perhaps it's because, for many of them, their bus fare is paid for by parents.

Generally students want to add anything that makes life easier (like getting hazardous waste pick-up at the door), and avoid anything that will cost them (like road tolls) - just like the general public. It's basic behaviour modification: we move towards immediate rewards and away from immediate punishments. We still don't have the foresight to see that some of the immediate punishers will lead to huge rewards in the end, and vice-versa.

Plato said it's because we lack the skill of measurement, and it's up to schools to focus on teaching this type of thinking. It seems we haven't come far in the last 2,500 years or so. Even with the knowledge of the long term problems, and even knowing that they're not so far off anymore, we still go for what feels good or is convenient right now. Maybe the concept is unteachable for many.

Just this one car ride to the store won't hurt anyone....

Global and/or Governmental Challenge

Vote on each of the following as if it was a question on a public referendum and the answer would actually impact your life:

In an effort to reverse global warming and have a positive effect on our environment, the city is considering the following measures:

For Against

___ ___ Electrical rates will increase, but if you use less than 1000 kWh/month you’ll get a rebate of $50 on your next hydro bill, and if you use less than 600 kWh/month, you’ll get a rebate of $100.

___ ___ Residents will be charged $5 per garbage bag over the limit of one bag each week. Dumping garbage illegally will be fined $500 per bag.

___ ___ Toll changes will apply to drivers on the inter-city roads between 6-10 am and 3-7 pm (like in London, England)

___ ___ A hazardous waste collection bucket will be added to weekly garbage collection to ensure paints and batteries, etc, do not end up in landfills.

___ ___ Yard waste and vegetable scraps will no longer be allowed in municipal landfills. Composting will be mandatory (like in Halifax). Bins and assistance will be available free of charge. Composted soil can be sold back to the city.

___ ___ Cereal will be sold in bags without extraneous boxboard surrounds.

___ ___
A additional 0.03% tax will be taken from incomes in order to save the habitat of endangered species.

___ ___ Residents will receive a tax credit of $200/year for each home with only one vehicle, and $500/year for each home without any vehicles (paid for with money collected from tolls).

___ ___ Buses will run more direct routes more often, but the price will go up.

___ ___ Buses will run less frequently, but the price will go down.

___ ___ All industry must use smokestack filters effectively January 2008 or face significant fines.

___ ___ All GM foods in stores must be clearly labeled.

___ ___ All grocery stores must carry at least 20% organic produce.

___ ___ All travel companies must offer and encourage eco-tourism.

___ ___ Fossil fuel and nuclear power will get a decrease in subsidies, and wind and solar energy will see increased subsidies.

___ ___ All new residences will come equipped with charge-back electric meters. Meters will be available for purchase (affordably) for existing homes.

___ ___ The amount of protected land will be increased, and it will not be possible to renegotiate this land use at a later date. Sensitive areas will be first to get governmental protection.

___ ___ At least 20% of the products carried by stationary stores and school supply stores must be tree-free (hemp or 100% post-consumer waste).

___ ___

Personal Challenge:

Which THREE of the following suggestions do you think you could actually commit to doing on a regular basis? Cross out the items you already do, and choose items you don’t already do in order to actually really challenge yourself to change!

___ Be the electricity miser of the house by constantly turning off any lights not being used, and shutting off power bars or unplugging unused appliances to reduce phantom loads, and replacing bulbs with LEDs or florescents.
___ Take all hazardous material to the dump for your family to keep it out of the landfill.
___ Have shorter low-flow showers and/or don’t flush the toilet unnecessarily.
___ Compost all yard and compostable waste for your family.
___ Eliminate one usual car ride each week by walking or bussing.
___ Give one endangered animal gift from WWF or Sierra Club or Ontario Nature Conservatory each Christmas.
___ Buy one (more) organic product each week.
___ Turn down your thermostat one degree more at night (or during the day, or both).
___ Make every other vacation an eco-tour.
___ Eat one less meat-dish each week.
___ Plant one tree every spring.
___ Only use recycled or hemp paper.
___ Read one political or social-issue article from an alternative press each week.
___ Dare to feel responsible for every dollar you lay down – buy one fewer item each week.
(There's obviously nothing below the fold here because it won't fold today!)

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Heat - the Short Version

Two years ago I saw David Suzuki speak on his tour across the country. He mentioned one book that he felt was most important for people to read: Heat by George Monbiot. Then a few weeks later, Stephen Lewis came to town. He's one not to miss. Although he was primarily talking about the AIDS crisis in Africa, he was entertaining and engaging through-out his speech. It could have been so depressing that people would have to shut down to cope, but not with Lewis' stories along the way. Then he said, if there's one book you read on environmental matters, it should be Heat by George Monbiot.

So I read it. It's full of well documented information and some brilliant ideas for stopping the problems we've caused over the last couple of centuries. It's long and dense, but very readable (at a desk, not on a beach). This synopsis includes page numbers for easier reference.

Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning by George Monbiot (2006)
(abridged to the extreme)
We inhabit the brief historical interlude between ecological constraint and ecological catastrophe….This book seeks to devise the least painful means of achieving a 90% cut in carbon emissions….Manmade global warming cannot be restrained unless we persuade the government to force us to change the way we live….Failing all that, I have one last hope: that I might make people so depressed about the state of the planet that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuel.”

Effects of Increased Carbon Emissions:
- 150,000 people a year dying as diseases spread faster at higher temperatures
- heat will sterilize pollen in rice; yields fall by 15% with every degree of warming
- diarrhea and cholera are both associated with rising temperatures
- extreme weather events of all kinds have quintupled since the 1950s
- 15-37% of species will be extinct by 2050
- the Amazonian forest is currently near its critical resiliency threshold
- “positive feedback” – by 2040 living systems will start to release more carbon dioxide than they absorb thus climate change will accelerate itself
- people and animals will die of droughts

Rationing Fuel
“The only situation where we might willingly accept a pay cut is when others are doing the same. That is why there was so little economic discontent during WWII.”
Rationing begins with a decision about the amount of carbon the world can safely emit every year. Then divide that figure by the number of people on earth. Each country would then multiply that figure by the number of people it contained, and this would become its national allocation. It would keep some for running hospitals, food transportation, etc., and the rest would be evenly distributed to citizens in the form of a new currency called “icecaps” to be used to buy personal gasoline and household heat and electricity. It might be distributed in the form of a debit card that would get icecaps added monthly. But once the monthly allotment is gone, no more gas is available. So people would be forced to conserve. If you crank the heat, you’ll have to walk to the grocery store. But if you’re careful, you should have as much fuel as you really need. A rationing system would provide a permanent incentive to seek out better equipment, etc.
It sounds scary, but along with this system will be a massively accelerated program to improve the condition of the poorest people’s homes to make them significantly more energy-efficient. And a better transit system must be created. The poorest people should not be faced with a choice between food and energy.

The Economy:
Cutting carbon emission will actually make us money, as the requirement to invest in new technologies will stimulate economic growth. In 2005, the wholesale price of natural gas rose by 75%. This is roughly 28 times greater than the rate of increase in energy costs expected by the proposal outlined in this book.
“If we in the rich nations do not act to prevent climate change, we are likely, in the next twenty years, to have more money in our pockets than if we do. We could spend that money on cars, flights, Barbie dolls, roads, and wars. In either case, it is hard to see how these delights will compensate for the damage to our lives that climate change will cause.

Electricity Creation
“We must seek, as far as possible, to break the link between carbon and energy.”
Coal (page 82):
- produces 40% more carbon dioxide than burning gas to make electricity
- coal-fired generators have an efficiency of just 40%
- the intention worldwide is to use more coal in the future
- there’s enough coal to last 200 years at present levels
- mining it often involves destroying mountains, landscapes, and habitats
- if we continue to use coal, we need to start carbon capture and storage and/or underground coal gasification (make coal into a gas on-site)
Nuclear Power (89):
- increasing nuclear material increases the chances of weapons developed
- every nuclear power station leaks radiation into the air and sea
- we only have enough uranium to last about 50 years at current usage
- it will take 20 years to build more reactors, and each reactor lasts only 20 years
- there are numerous dumping and leaking scandals and cover-ups because it’s much cheaper to handle radioactive materials badly than handle them well
- spent fuel must be set in cast iron, encased in copper, and buried in a deep hole that is then filled with a kind of clay; then it would be fine for a million years.
- it’s uninsurable – no company will cover a reactor accident
- nuclear is expensive to build and run; it’s highly subsidized – power plants receive 44 times as much government money as wind power / energy produced because big expensive schemes are more favoured with governments than small cheap ones – the bigger the project, the more powerful the lobby (large construction companies that build reactors compared to small wind operators)

Wind (100):
- the energy required to build it is a small fraction of energy produced
- produces no carbon or radiation
- only really efficient to build a cluster of turbines where the wind blows strongly and consistently; offshore, at the shore, and, to a lesser extent, on open plains
- it was difficult to get electricity from the ocean to cities, but we can now use high voltage direct current cables which will change the world because the economies of scale permitted by massive development attached to long-distance cables means its price could fall by 40% in 10 years.

Solar (105):
- there’s an inverse relationship between the best place for solar and for people, but the DC cables can make solar photovoltaic cells in the desert feasible; we’d need 3% of the desert covered to produce as much energy as the world uses, provided they use it all when the sun is shining (it’s an unreliable source)
- on a small scale, solar electricity is more expensive than any other kind
- on a small scale, solar water-heating systems can work easily for most people
- solar thermal electricity works even better than cells (a reflective dish focuses heat from the sun onto a tube of water which reaches a temperature of about 400 degrees; the steam drives an engine which generates electricity. They’ve been used in Califoria since 1980)
Wind and Solar together need to be supported by other forms of power. The variable nature of wind and waves and other renewables means that though we might build many gigawatts of renewable generating capacity, we cannot retire a corresponding amount of power stations that burn fossil fuel. We’ll have to carry the cost of maintaining them. (For every 8 GW of wind farms, we could only shut down 5 GW of an old fossil fuel plant – and there’s diminishing returns as we go.) But, even though the old plants still exist, they would only need to run a portion of the time, so they’ll burn far less fuel than currently.

Reducing Electricity Demand
- 2 -10% of electricity used is from “phantom loads” – equipment in homes and offices left in standby mode, plugged into the wall but not operating. Many appliances need to be unplugged in order to stop using electricity.
- don’t buy big appliances: plasma screen TVs use five times the energy to operate
- appliances whose power does not need to be on all the time – such as fridges – should be designed to disconnect themselves when total demand rises

Home Heating
“Regulation enhances the sum of human freedom.” (Plato said it first.)
Over 80% of the energy residences use is in heat. We must make houses that are better insulated. Germany created the passivhaus which has no active heating system. It takes advantage of the sun to passively heat the house through large south-facing windows in a well-sealed building so heat can’t escape. We need to make this type of building mandatory by strictly regulating the building codes on all new construction, and subsidizing retrofit work. They use a heat exchange system in which cold air entering the house is passed over the warm air leaving it. Houses like this save 79% in energy, and cost only 7% more to build (but are all but impossible to retro-fit).

Residential Solutions (141)
- Hydrogen can be used to create fuel cells – it’s a cheap means of generating heat and electricity while greatly reducing our carbon emissions
- Micro power systems in which every household is linked to its neighbours to form a miniature version of the national grid, connected to surrounding micro grids to offer more security. If someone’s generator fails, others can fill the gap.
- The micro-generation system using solar panels and either hydrogen boilers or hydrogen fuel cells would supply their heat and electricity.
- Half the grid-based electricity could be supplied by a few very large power stations burning methane from natural gas or underground coal gasification and burying the carbon dioxide they produce. The other half could be provided by offshore wind.

- People love the freedom of cars and find taking a bus “a dismal and humiliating experience….associated with poverty and exclusion.”
- We need dedicated bus and bike lanes to make those options more attractive.
- We need to cap and ration the road space we use.
- Some cars sold 20 years ago were 40% more efficient than today.
- Biofuel from agriculture will precipitate a global humanitarian disaster as space for food runs low. There’s a finite amount of agricultural land. (We can make biofuel from garbage.) People are cutting down trees to grow rapeseed for fuel, which is destroying habitats, and lowering carbon absorption from the trees.
- Electric cars are efficient and can be used long-distance with a battery swap program in which motorists can go to a station to swap a dying battery for a fully charged one.
- Drive less: The 40:40:20 rule – 40% of car journeys can be made by bicycle, foot or bus right now, 40% could be made if public transport and trails improved, and 20% cannot be swapped.
- People overestimate the time a bus ride takes by 70% and underestimate cars by 26%.
- Work from home more, and create a 4-day work week where possible.
- Car pool, and drive slowly.
- Don’t fly – unless there’s a family emergency. There’s no such thing as eco-tourism. A two-hour flight creates 20% of a typical Canadian’s yearly carbon emissions per passenger. A slow train is a better option, but staying within city limits is best. “If you fly, you destroy other people’s lives.”
- Shop by phone so stores turn into warehouses and fewer vehicles need to transport food.

Remember that these privations affect a tiny proportion of the world’s people. The reason they seem so harsh is that this tiny proportion almost certainly includes you….We have come to believe we can do anything;… recognize that progress now depends upon the exercise of fewer opportunities.”

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Leave Your Car At Home Week

I'm already thinking of next September's events! September 14-18th is Car Free Week. Well, for us it is because that's when, I think, WPIRG is holding their week of no cars. Internationally, World Carfree Day is September 22nd. In New Mexico, bicycle week is May 11-16! Shouldn't it just be every week?

Last year we ticketed cars with some information and a request for donations to go towards carbon offsets. Out of a three lots full of cars ticketed, one kind teacher offered a dollar. I included the ticket information below, but I'm not sure that was our best idea. However, it did work many years ago. Maybe it just needed much more advertising around it to get people willing to cough up a buck or two. Or prizes for biking and walking.

This year I'm hoping to get a bike rally off the ground. There's an imposing amount of paper work to file through for this kind of activity - because kids can get hurt and all - so I'm starting now. We have a great trail running a good length of the city. They can stick to that and then do some activities for points in designated lots off the trail.

For the activities, we're hoping to get old hideous dresses from a second hand shop, cut them short for easy biking, and have one activity be dressing up the tallest member of the team in a relay of sorts. In another activity, of course we have to get them all riding tricycles through an obstacle course. Maybe another would provide them with a few bike parts that they have to attach to a bicycle to complete it, then ride it in a lap to prove it all works. And another could be a scavenger hunt through some small independent stores they might not know about. Something like that.

Another activity could pit teams against one another with rules-of-the-road questions. How old do you have to be to stop wearing a helmet? What three things must be attached to the bike to avoid a $50 fine? That might work.

Maybe we can have the rally day focus on cycling and offer a muffin and juice to anyone that bikes to school. Ironically our bikes racks are right beside the smoking area (which isn't technically on our property because that's against board policy). It would be nice to get that moved to a handier, safer, and smoke-free location.

We get a ton of parents dropping off kids in the mornings. Granted some of them live a ways off, over five km, but many don't. We might put together a "How to get your kids off cars" pamphlet to hand to parents as their kid leave kisses them good-bye (ya right).

Any other car-free ideas?

Here's the tickets we used. I wrote the following in four columns, then copied double sided. Alter and format as necessary. I used a very small font like they have on real tickets:

Front side:


Vehicle Infraction

This form of transport incurs economic costs on the city which have not been included in the retail price of your vehicle. Your operation of this vehicle makes you personally liable for the following:

Climate Change
Conflict Over Oil
Depletion of Non-Renewable Resources
Environmental Clean-Up Costs
Time Wasted in Gridlock
Hindering Bicycle and Pedestrian Activities
Noise Pollution
Smog-Related Health Problems

The Following Was Used to Calculate Your Fine:

Each time a mid-size car travels 1,200 km, it emits one ton of carbon dioxide. The average car emits five tons each year.

To offset this amount of GHGs, you could...

Convince one person to switch from a large SUV to a hybrid for one year.
Run one small wind turbine for one year.
Plant a Douglas fir tree each year.
Or pay a carbon offsetting company to do the work for you for only $80/year.
Start by donating a few dollars to begin to offset the GHGs emitted in car travel to KCI.

Back side:


All fines (donations) are payable to the OneEarth club for the environment and social justice and can be levt in Ms. Snyder's mailbox or given directly to a OneEarth member.

Today is Internation Car-Free Day. We hope it will be a showcase for just what our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without cars.


(include logo above from the World Carfree Network or something of your own)

Note: Failure to change our transportation habits may subject us all to a grim future

Sources: All facts are from

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Turning Off the T.V.

In yesterday's Star, there's a lament by a mom, Kate Haas, hoping to live without television without other moms becoming defensive at the admission: "You think I consider myself Mother Superior, when really I'm bumbling along like anyone else - just with one less piece of furniture."

It's a similar problem with any environmental behaviour. If I tell people that I live without a dryer, they're rarely excited for me and my hydro bills. They're more likely to seem slightly annoyed. I want to share how easy it is to manage without one, that I can do it with a family of five. But people hear it as bragging with a holier-than-thou attitude. And that doesn't make them start stringing up a clothesline.

And sometimes I want to correct someone's behaviour. But that's tricky business too. A friend of mine puts all plastics in the blue bin, even those the city doesn't collect. She figures if she just shoves everything in there, then eventually they'll just start taking everything. The reality is that any piece of recycling that isn't accepted actually contaminates the recycling batch. But I didn't tell her that. She was just so pleased with her strategy, I could hardly burst her bubble.

We have to tread so carefully raising these issues without raising any hackles. Yet we have to make enough of an impact to actually alter behaviours. It's a fine line.

Adbusters started a "Turn Off The T.V. Week" fifteen years ago. It's the week around Earth Day (April 22nd). It's since changed to "Digital Detox Week" to include computers and blackberries and cellphones. I put posters around the school and announcements about it every year, but I'm not sure that has any affect at all. Some argue, what's the point? It's just a week. It's not going to have an effect on anything. A medium sized TV on for five hours a day, costs less than six dollars a month. That's nothing.

The idea is that if we can drag ourselves away from all that stuff for one week, we'll find new things to do. We'll ride our bikes to the park or play badminton on the street or learn something. And then that one week might carry on for months or longer. That's not always the reality, but it is often enough to give it a try.

And even if nobody else does, I make my family do it. At the very least it's a change of pace for us. And I like to know that we're not so addicted to technological leisure pursuits that we can't turn them off for a week. It's my experience that teenagers aren't defensive about this one as much they are amused at the insanity of the suggestion.

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