Friday, September 25, 2009

Bike Rally How-To

Monday was world Car-Free day. It's hard to organize things early in the school year, so we'll be holding a Drive Less Week next week that includes a car-free day on Friday. We'll be ticketing cars with incentives to walk like we did last year. Then we're going to start weekly eco-challenges, so watch for them here every Friday. If you're a teacher, you can stay one week behind and not have to think about what to do with your environment club this year!

On Wednesday, we might actually have a Bike Rally. But we can't call it a "bike rally" because it encourages racing, so instead it's called "Raiders Ride for the Earth" which is pretty nice anyway.* This way we can include all forms of human-powered vehicles like skateboards and roller blades too. The only problem is we haven't had anyone sign up for it yet.

I asked my class if the $5 entrance fee was the problem. Most said "no," it's the biking they don't like. I carve out time to be able to go cycling, so that's a bit baffling to me. They said they'd pay $5 NOT to bike in the not-a-rally. That conversation was juxtaposed with Terry Fox Day celebrations at the grade school next door. As I got to school, 9 and 10-year-olds were all running around the block, and they were all struggling to run. It's not a big block. Well, at least they tried. Even the olympic torch is doing more driving than running.

Along with the ticketing and the ride, we're challenging people to walk any place they need to go that's under 3 km. In our display case, we'll have a map that shows exactly how far that is by including distances from the school to various landmarks around us. I chose that limit because I made my kids walk to gymnastics when they went at 8 and 10, and that's about 3 k. So, surely high school kids can make it that far. It's just for one week, but we're hoping once people start a challenge, they'll keep with it. Once they see how short of a distance 3 k really is, and how much better they feel walking more, maybe they'll like it. Or, they'll be late for work and never try it again!

Raiders Ride for the Earth How-To

This takes several weeks of planning and several months of waiting on approval from admin. We used to run car rallys annually, but people are much more wary of letting teens bicycle. There was a recent article in the local paper about how fearful people are of cycling even though we're about twelve times more likely to die from a car crash than a bike collision. Only about 5% of cycling accidents are caused by a car trying to pass a bike. Most of the rest common causes of accidents are because cyclists don't always pay attention to the rules of the road. This is unfortunate, yet at the same time it's lucky because there's an easy fix: teach cyclists the rules and enforce them. I hate cyclists who race through stop signs; it makes me look bad. Earlier in the week, at the Ontario Cycling summit, Jim Bradley agreed. We'll see where things go from here in our province. Anyway, back to the not-a-rally:

Before we got going we had to make sure we had enough students to organize and run each event, and had enough teacher supervisors for each event and for every road crossing.

Teams of four sign up and pay $5 each to participate. All proceeds will go to charity. The winning team gets to choose the charity. That's pretty much the grand prize. They go to four different activity areas in town and do a scavenger hunt to get points. They don't get points for speed, so anyone can attend. They get points for general awesomeness.

Teams go to the activity stations in different orders so there's not a backlog. One activity has them running a relay on a variety of kid toys including tricycles, a horse, and a wagon. The get points for speed and technique. At another they have to put extra-large lingerie over their clothes and sing karaoke at the city square. They get points for collecting the most change from strangers (for charity) for their performance. Another station has them balancing a bucket of water on their heads and walking through a mine-field of garbage. And the final one is a garbage sort relay where they have to correctly separate garbage into recycling, composting, bottles, paper, and garbage.

We'll provide each contestant with a clue to the first station, a pair of gloves, and a bag. As they ride, they must collect several types of garbage on the trails. We're lucky because our school is close to a trail that leads to a park and to the uptown. On top of all this, they'll also have to do a scavenger hunt that includes getting signatures on a petition for something, like more bike racks on the main street, and getting little things from local shops that have an environmental or social justice focus (10,000 Villages, etc.).

Back at the school, students will have to use a glue gun to make a piece of art with the garbage they collected. Judges will determine the most creative entry. Then drinks and treats will be had by all as the scores are tallied. We sent out letters asking for prizes from various cycling places in the city, but none responded so far.

Some Info and Quotations for a Display:

We're hoping to encourage more walking rather than encourage alternative cars.
Electric cars still need electricity from somewhere, and it's often not from solar cells. Instead of finding new, less hazardous ways of getting around in cars, I prefer to focus on the healthiest types of transportation: cycling and walking.

Want to get healthier and save money? Walk or bike instead of driving.

Walking and biking...
slow the progression of disease
tone up your body
reduce blood pressure
improve your immune system
help maintain your mental ability
reduces stress
can relieve depression and anxiety
create safer communities
help you get to know neighbours
might make you live longer!

Cars increase...
climate change
the hole in the ozone layer
acid rain
urban sprawl
oil spills
road rage
water pollution run-off
accidental deaths!

Can we obliterate the car before it obliterates us? The longest journey begins with a single step, not with a turn of an ignition key.

A good resource for information is the book Divorce Your Car by Katie Alvord. We had several books in our info display also.

There was a critical mass held on World Car-Free Day, but I also advertised the ones held the last Friday of every month, which is today. We encouraged car pooling and car sharing. There was a proposal for bike sharing in Waterloo made over a year ago. We'll encourage students to write to our mayor to encourage that to be a reality.

After all this, let's just hope we get some takers!

*We're KCI Raiders with a pirate mascot. It used to be a horribly offensive 1st Nation mascot, so we decided to change it. That final decision was made just before the Somali pirate issue. Even before that I had hoped we could be raccoons, but I was outvoted.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Compost Update

Check out our giant pile of compost! Typically I dig out the usable compost to add to my gardens in the spring, but at school, because it all sits all summer, it seems to make the most sense to dig it out in the first week of September before more stuff is added. Our horticulture teacher had me pile it beside the composter, and he'll get to it soon. Here's the pile. It's amazing to me how well this very simple task works with minimal effort. You can see a piece of eggshell that hasn't quite turned. And there's a few sticks in there. But mainly it's just rich fertile soil that can augment any garden. At home I dig it in about an inch deep between plants, and add some to the bare patches in the lawn before I throw down a mix of grass and clover seed. It beats chemical fertilizers.

In our region there are concerns about the half a million dollars it costs to take leaves off the curb. It's such a no-brainer that people should compost. It can work in apartment complexes too. I have several gardens and five people worth of food scraps and one bin like the one I made for school can easily handle it all. Yet so many have doubts, they just won't try it at home.

More's the pity.

And in other news, KCI's green efforts were lauded in the local paper, unfortunately they didn't mention the blog!

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Abstinence Education

Riding tandem on my last post, one way to cure the population problem, which some call the number one threat to the planet, is for people to stop having sex. And now there's a new product that can help people not have sex without harming the environment! No batteries needed because it works kind of like a wind-up toy. From the website: "Batteries discarded end up in our landfills around the world. Most batteries contain heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, lead), which are the main cause for environmental concern. If waste batteries are not disposed of correctly, heavy metals may leak when the battery corrodes, and so contribute to soil and water pollution and endanger wildlife. Increased levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide act to enhance the natural greenhouse effect and accelerate irreversible changes in the climate." See, they really do care.

That's it.
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Monday, September 14, 2009

The Population Problem

I saw 9 on the weekend. It's a great apocalyptic film, a warning about the dangers of technology, but the ending isn't clearly positive. Monsters are tricked and killed, but there's still no life as we define it - the type that eats, reproduces, etc. For a real happy ending I needed a little plant to struggle up through the rubble like in Wall-E.

Both films made me think of Alan Weisman's book The World Without Us which is the subject of an article in bitch this month. The book documents the probable outcome if people suddenly ceased to be. According to this book the world will take relatively little time to regenerate without people in the way trashing the place. The visual I had in my head when I read it was the Manhattan of I Am Legend, with deer running through a forest sprouting up through asphalt, but without all the zombies. We do not need to save the planet for its own sake; it will be fine on its own. We need to save it for our survival.

I loved the book until I got to his final conclusion: to save the world, we must regulate childbirth - one child per woman, no exceptions. Now that we are considering covering assisted reproductive services under Medicare in Canada, it has become a hot issue.

The problem with limiting women to one child in order to save the planet is that many people in the western world have few children already, the Canadian average is 1.6 children, yet we produce the most greenhouse gases - far more than parts of the world with a child per woman average closer to 5 or 6.

I think if I had fewer children I might have spent my excess cash on stuff for myself. I might actually have a car. We tend to spend what we make - at least - and without RESPs taking up a chunk of my pay, I could possibly be a much larger environmental problem. I would like to think that I would use my time and money for good, buy land and plant a mixed forest for instance, but, unfortunately, I am a pretty typical human being.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009


Katie at EcoChick conducted an environmental survey to check out the attitudes of 50 people in Toronto. We teach how to conduct surveys in social science courses, and it's an easy lesson to modify for an environmental focus. She found the deal breaker for most people was cutting down consumption, and that some didn't understand the environmental concerns with meat production.

I've said it before, but food is hard for me. I don't grow my own because I forget about it, and it all withers, rots or feeds the raccoons. For some reason though, I have no problems tending to a flower garden. And I completely understand the problems with meat production, but I still eat it (organic, grass fed, and free range when I'm willing to sacrifice a bit of convenience for the world). I've been vegetarian twice, both for 2-3 years at a time, and my biggest hurdle is it doesn't seem like a meal without meat. Intellectually, I understand this is just as mindless as people preferring tap water at a blind taste test but still insisting bottled is better. But on a gut level, there it is. I've been raised on meat and potatoes, and that's a lot of years of conditioning to try to overcome. I'm still working on it.

The problem I have with some surveys like this though, and particularly with the standard eco-footprint analysis, is there's often no good answer for people who are already very environmental. Two of the questions focus on cutting down on personal consumption. I really buy nothing but food and essentials. I was at a mall yesterday buying the two required pairs of running shoes for my daughter for school (one for indoors, one for out). Having not bought clothes for myself for years, a long-sleeved shirt caught my eye. The 80s are back, and it makes me feel like a teenager again. I tried it on, and the sleeves were made for someone who doesn't canoe all summer, so I put it back. Whew, that was close.

The eco-footprint calculators (this one's really cute even though it places me in Calgary, but this one is more educational) often increase the footprint if you never ride the bus as if it means you're driving instead. Or if you don't wash your car rarely, it means you wash it often instead of the possibility of never washing it or not owning a car.

These are minor concerns but good to keep in mind when students are creating surveys.

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On Necessities and Luxuries

We got a propane fridge at the cabin this year, and when it stopped working on the one time we were up for a week, it was really hard to go back to the cooler - to smelling the questionable milk before using it every time, and trying to keep the cold cuts from swimming in the water at the bottom. At home a fridge is a luxury I'm not ready to part with, unlike this blogger who unplugged it and deals with the consequences. Up north for a week, it's possible the propane we use for a small fridge might be similar to the gas we would otherwise use to go back and forth to town for ice, so I don't feel too guilty. As a good backwoods camper, I can survive without milk on my cereal or cheese on my nachos, but the kids aren't as accommodating. After years without, the fridge has become a necessity.

It's curious to me what we can live without. The blogger I linked can live without a fridge, but still uses a dryer. I haven't used our dryer for years. It's there in the basement for an emergency (like a flood??), far from the washer two floors higher - upstairs where all the clothes are kept. Without kids, I could manage without the washer too. I hand washed in first year university - too poor to go to a laundromat - and it wasn't so bad. But I like to know my perishables are safe to eat.

I know many people who won't put a glass of water under a tap and drink it. They've been convinced that bottled water is better. Even if they tell me they understand that our municipal water is much more heavily regulated, they insist the bottled stuff just tastes better. Even after blind tastes tests at our school showed students that most of them preferred the taste of tap water, they still walked away thinking bottle is best. Advertising is some powerful stuff.

Many friends with a strong environmental bent can't believe I survive the summers without air conditioning. We close the doors and windows and curtains when it's hot out, and open them all at night IF the temperature outside is cooler than the temperature inside. In these parts, I don't remember a heat wave ever lasting more than three weeks. After that long the house might get sticky, so we sleep outside. And maybe we don't get as much done during the heavy humid days, but that's okay. My kids have acclimatized to the heat; they didn't have a choice. And relatively speaking, it's barely a heat wave. This is Canada after all.

I've actually never lived anywhere that had A/C, so it's really easy for me to do without. That's the thing, really: once we get something, we can't remember how to cope without it. Yesterday's luxuries and all. I've also never owned a car, and I manage my in-town trips easily. A colleague once saw me at a mall about 10 k from home and insisted I couldn't have biked the whole way - as if someone must have dropped me and my bike off somewhere. The city grows smaller when you walk and bike everywhere.

If we can stop adding more and more luxuries to our lives, we can stop thinking we actually need them to cope with temperature changes and distances and dirt. But all those commercials and all those TV people and neighbours and friends that have all the new stuff are very very compelling.

If covetousness is a sin (it's right there in the top ten list), and tempting people to covet is even worse, and our laws are based on judeo-christian morality, then shouldn't advertising be illegal?

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