June 30, 2013

Fracking Facts in BC

Fracking poisons massive amounts of water with a unknown toxic soup.
But you can always buy 'clean' (and expensive) water at the mall.

  • Natural gas is not and never has been a clean fuel. 
  • The government of British Columbia wants to export up to four trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year from BC. 
  • Natural gas has advantages over coal and diesel fuel. When combusted natural gas has fewer greenhouse gas emissions. But when the source is considered - shale rock - a broader view is required.
  • Hydraulic fracturing or fracking operations free gas trapped in rock. This uses tremendous amounts of water, sand and toxic chemicals to create cracks or fractures in the rock that allow the trapped gas to be released.
  • In northeast BC today, fracking operations at just one one shale gas pad with a dozen wells on it will toxify the equivalent of all the water in Saanich’s Elk and Beaver lakes, where Canada’s Olympic rowing teams train. 
  • The greenhouse gas emissions associated with natural gas produced from such water-intensive operations are poorly understood. Some models estimate that the emissions associated with shale gas production are only slightly higher than those for conventional gas, while others place them on par with coal.
  • The US Environmental Protection Agency, among others, underestimate actual emissions by as much as half.
  • Gas production in BC’s remote Horn River Basin near Fort Nelson produces unusually high amounts of CO2, which must be stripped away before the gas can be piped and used. Currently, the stripped CO2 is simply vented to the atmosphere rather than captured and stored.
  • Neither government nor industry appears keen to do field studies required to determine the impacts of this extraction method.
  • Recently, members of the Fort Nelson First Nation raised objections to a potentially massive giveaway of water rights in their traditional territory to pave the way for accelerated shale gas production. 
  • Responsible governments would acknowledge the obvious: We can’t in good conscience proceed with fracking in the absence of basic information - information that is obtainable given the will, and which they should be obliged to publish.
  • The BC government is proposing a quintupling of natural gas production in BC.

June 29, 2013

Simple Pleasures: Growing Food

Crazy growth! Yumm - organic veggies for next to nothing.

There are not many things I enjoy more than growing food. Nurturing a garden means entering into an intimate relationship with the environment. And what an amazing, loving, giving, abundant relationship it is.

Not only do I enjoy learning to work with nature in order to procure the things I need to live, but I also enjoy being able to do so without the continual exchange of money. Cash is not natural.

The exchange that we enter when we grow our own food utilizes other forms of currency, including respect, reciprocity, and romance. We enter into a love affair with the earth, and we must strive to make sure it is not an abusive relationship.

Sunflowers, beans, kale, strawberries, and one potato plant growing enthusiastically
in a chaos of edible joy

Yesterday I biked the 4 km from home to the community garden to check on the progress of our 4X8 raised bed plot. It had been a few days since my last visit and I was not sure what to expect.

When I arrived I felt like my little bit of soil was throwing a surprise party for me. It was a fiesta of growth celebrating another season of tapping the green fuse.

I harvested a big bag of kale, which allowed the chard more room to stretch out. I tended to the beans which were leaning into the sunflowers which were leaning into the sun. The potato was tamed to benefit the kale, and then everything got a good spray of cool, clean water.

This gives me a wonderful feeling I don't get in the grocery store.

After picking (and eating) some red and juicy strawberries, it was time for the pleasant 4 km ride home with the goodie bag presented to me stuffed in my back pack.

Before I left, as I gazed lovingly into the wild tangle of my garden, I sensed that it is also enjoying this mutually beneficial relationship. It shows its appreciation for my efforts by feeding me for darn near free.

Growing my own food gives me a jolt of pure simple pleasure. I can't think of a better way to spend my time, or of a better relationship to cultivate.

June 28, 2013

Forest Schools Connect Kids With Nature

If early childhood education was like this when I was small I wouldn't be a kindergarten
 drop out today. All photos: Chad Hipolito

Ask most kids and they will tell you that recess is the best part of elementary school. Why? Because it takes place in the great outdoors, free from the confines of big walls, tiny windows, and someone else's agenda. I felt this way myself as a grade 3 student waiting to go outside and play marbles with friends, and I still felt like this after becoming a teacher.

A serious student of nature records observations in a forest floor book.

There were a lot of things I liked about teaching. Being inside all the time wasn't one of them. Sure there was the occasional field trip like voyageur canoeing on a major historical river that ran through town, or going on the year end camping trip, but it was all inside all the time otherwise.

How can kids learn about and care for nature if they are never in it and haven't developed a relationship with the natural world and found their place in it? How can they save nature if they don't know what they are missing?

Not a desk, computer, or television screen to be seen.

Forest schools are one answer to nature deficit disorder which afflicts nearly all of us, students, teachers, and parents. The solution proposed in this philosophy is learning through playing in nature. It's kind of like recess all the time.

In my community, this has taken the form of a Nature Kindergarten where the children spend most of their time exploring local forests and beaches. Even in the rain. I would have loved it as a child. I would love in now - these are teaching conditions that would agree with my desire to spend as much time outside in nature as possible.

"Amid the heavy downpours of winter the kids notice the puddles, they notice the quantity of worms has gone up. No one asks when is it time to go inside." 
- The Nature Kindergarten's school principal.

The outdoor classroom is a great place to play, learn, and connect.

If I had the benefit of this style of learning when I was young I wouldn't have ended up dropping out of kindergarten. My introduction to institutionalized education did not work for me, being the wild child that I was. I found it all far too restrictive, and I resisted being forced into situations that did not feel right to me.

Being in nature is the antidote to the afflictions and restrictions of modern living. Children are just as susceptible to the ravages of a chronically artificial indoor life as the rest of us. Maybe more so.

That is why getting kids into nature more often, as in the forest schools, is so important. It is one way to inoculate our little ones, and prepare them to value, protect, and enjoy their natural surroundings. It is a way to protect them from acquiring nature deficit disorder later in life.

No blackboards or closets here. Thanks for holding that, tree.

“When they come home really dirty, that means they’ve had a good day.” 
 parent talking about her Nature Children

June 26, 2013

Taking Steps Toward Solartopia

Solar energy is becoming more efficient, and is now cheaper than nuclear energy.

You may not be hearing much about the end of the nuclear power industry, or the beginning of Solartopia, but these wonderful developments are indeed happening. Don't expect to see it in the doom and gloom MSM, though. This is far too hopeful, optimistic, and egalitarian for them to touch.

Harvey Wasserman's work, published in the alternative community-based journalism website, freepress.org, shows how Big Nuke has been put into "full retreat" by none other than good old citizen activism.

In Wasserman's home state of California, recent changes signal "an epic transition in how we get our energy". He rejoices that since June 7th, 2013, all 3 of the reactors at the San Onofre site have been permanently shut. And as great as that is, it is just the tip of the transition.

Since the Fukishima disaster, Japan has only been running 2 of 54 reactors in that country. Germany is in the process of replacing all its reactors with renewable sources of energy, and France looks likely to follow suit. South Korea has shut down 3 faulty reactors, and protests against the industry continue in many countries.

Wasserman celebrates this turn of events by saying that the demise of the nuclear power industry is "proof that citizen action makes all the difference in our world".

Indeed, in the period from 1996-2010 both wind and solar power generation far outgrew that of the more stagnant nuclear power which has thankfully remained flat. Now it is dipping even more thanks to its catastrophic failures across the years.

Nuclear is being surpassed by wind and solar electricity generation
as we continue the transition toward clean, renewable energy technologies.

Renewables are the only way to go, and it is encouraging to see that we are moving in this direction. How? Not necessarily government or business leadership in this area. No, it is happening because people like you and me are demanding it, and are taking action.

Concerted citizen action is the only answer! A small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. I believe Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, said that it is the only thing that ever has instigated meaningful change.

8 Green Steps to Solartopia

1. Ban Fossil/Nuclear Fuels
2. Convert to Renewables
3. Achieve Total Efficiency/Revive Mass Transit
4. Raise Sustainable/Organic Food
5. Transform the Corporation
6. Ban Waste and War
7. Achieve Social Justice/True Democracy
8. Empower Women

June 24, 2013

Minimal Wardrobe Monday

More like 50% cotton, 20% blood, 20% sweat, and 10% tears.

I rented a home with a walk in closet while I was a student at university. I didn't (and still don't) have much in the way of a need for a closet so large, so I did the studious thing and converted it to an office.

Even now I keep my small wardrobe (and Linda's) hanging in a tiny closet and stuffed in a few boxes on the shelves contained within it. We don't have any other clothing related furniture - no dresser, no stand alone wardrobe, no plastic bins stacked to the ceiling with unworn clothes destined for the second hand shop.

Minimizing our wardrobe has saved us a lot of money, and has made clothing decisions in the morning much more simple.

By reducing our wardrobe, and by making the clothes we do have last, we have reduced the amount of harm and suffering done on our behalf in order to cover our naked bodies.

And as the world has learned, there is a lot of harm and suffering manufactured alongside the stacks of clothing that come out of factories the likes of which we have not seen in north America since the 1900s.

Clothing Industry Issues

  • The global textiles market is huge, worth more than $400 billion per year.
  • In recent years, production has been growing by up to 25 percent.
  • The Asian region has become the highest contributor of textiles in the world.
  • Workers have long suffered in the ready made clothing industry, like the Triangle Shirt Factory fire in 1911 in New York City where 145 workers, mostly young girls, were burned to death because their tenement factory lacked adequate fire escapes.
Textile Industry 2008 - 2010
  • The textile industry has always been competitive, but from 2008 to 2010, the rapidly globalizing industry struggled to return profits - rising labor costs and the financial crisis put downward pressure on money-making.
  • Fierce competition in low-wage countries drove down what employers were willing to pay workers. 
  • Business owners in developing countries cut corners in building safety and work conditions, abetted by lax enforcement of rules and desperate workers forced to accept harsh conditions.
  • Workers often labour long hours for very low pay resulting in the worst case scenario - the infamous sweat shop populated by children.
Environmental Issues 
  • Chemical processing of fibers and textiles is known to have a far reaching impact on the environment, often poisoning local water sources. 
  • Some workers are exposed to harsh chemicals directly in manufacturing, resulting in serious health issues.
  • 2.4% of the world's arable land is planted with cotton yet it accounts for 24% of the world's insecticide market and 11% of global pesticides sales, making it the most poison-intensive crop on the planet.

Future of the Industry
  • Old methods with chemical-heavy production practices are no longer in line with environmental ideals, and the industry is being pushed toward greener methods.
  • In the past several years the sales of eco-friendly textiles have seen double-digit growth.
  • From 2006 to 2010, the sales of organic textiles in the United States alone has grown more than 600 percent. 
  • Increasingly aware customers expect the manufacturers of their clothing to place more emphasis on natural fibers, eco-friendly methods of manufacture, and ethical treatment of workers. 

June 21, 2013

Summer Solstice

I woke this fine morning and flipped through Earth Prayers From Around The World: 365 Prayers, Poems, and Invocations for Honoring the Earth. I was looking for something related to the first day of summer, and landed on an Iroquois prayer.

While reading it I thought about how the indigenous way of life, which lasted in North America for more than 10,000 years, has been replaced by invaders intent on developing an unsustainable way of life based on greed, exploitation, depletion, and a total separation from nature.

In only a couple of centuries much of this land has been rendered either unsuitable or unavailable for anyone trying to live a 'wild', free existence in partnership with local life and elements.

And yet, this time of year people that still honour the natural world celebrate the numerous gifts of Mother Earth.

And what about the people intent on destroying this way of life? How might they celebrate with a modern prayer that honours what they value, namely technology, progress, and profit?

I suggest it might look something like my adaptation of the native prayer, with apologies to the ancient authors of the original words.

We return thanks to our provider, the Economy,
which sustains us.

We return thanks to the dams, reservoirs, and bottling factories,
which supply us with water.

We return thanks to multinational pharmaceutical corporations,
which furnish medicines for the treatment of our (industrial) diseases.

We return thanks to Monsanto for GMO corn, 
and to GMO corn's siblings,
soy bean and rice,
which give us life.

We return thanks to the carbon in the atmosphere,
which, moving the air
has given us profitable, job-creating problems to solve.

We return thanks to nuclear power plants and electric lights,
which turn night to day, and make the sun and time irrelevant so we can be ceaselessly busy.

We return thanks to the fossil fuel industries,
that have looked upon a small group of people with a beneficent eye.

Lastly, we return thanks to governments and their corporate friends in the military-industrial complex,
in whom is embodied all goodness,
and who direct all things for the good of the elite... and all citizens middle class consumers.

Somehow that doesn't sound as nice as the original. It also doesn't sound as right, or as equal, respectful, or sustainable.

I try to imagine the capitalist empire engulfing all corners of the world, and then continuing to flourish for thousands and thousands of years. But all I can muster is a vision of a smouldering planet.

In order to avoid this, we would be wise to adopt the ways of our native hosts. Another prayer from my book speaks to a cooperative, life affirming approach that is crucial for our continued survival.

It makes for a good meditation on this joyous, sunny and warm day.

"Summer Solstice", by Amy Giacomelli 

Grandfather Great Spirit
All over the word the faces of living ones 
are alike.
With tenderness they have come up out 
of the ground.
Look upon your children that they may face the winds and walk the good road to 
the Day of Quiet.
Grandfather Great Spirit
Fill us with the Light.
Give us the strength to understand,
and the eyes to see.
Teach us to walk the soft Earth as relatives 
to all that live. 

- Sioux prayer

Happy Solstice.

May we remember to walk as we all once did, and can again - as relatives to all that live.

June 19, 2013

Smoothies With Garden Greens

Staging for a green smoothie with kale from our patio container garden
I have been hearing a lot about green smoothies lately. I thought the hype must have been unwarranted. Surely it was some sort of fad. Then I made one with garden greens from our patio container garden.

Both Linda and I are converts after only 2 green smoothies. We are always trying to introduce more dark green leafy vegetables into our diet since they are super foods. Putting them into a smoothie is one of the simplest and tastiest methods we have discovered yet, especially since we usually have a fruit smoothie every day already.

Our first green smoothie coincided with the first harvest from the kale container on the patio. Same thing this morning except with our first harvest from our spinach container. In both cases fresh, tender and tasty young leaves made for a fluorescent green flurry of fabulousness.

"Leafy greens are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet."

And so tasty! The greens, contrary to what I initially thought, actually enhance the flavour for my taste buds. But don't drink them just because they taste good - there are many health benefits from jacking up your smoothie with a little green.

You can throw just about anything into a green smoothie - milk, water, yogurt, juice, berries, fruit, and the leaves of just about any dark green leafy vegetable (kale, chard, spinach, lettuce...). Be adventurous, play around and experiment with different combinations.

You really can't go wrong. It is a great way to start the day, and if you can use your own organic veggies from your garden, it is even more satisfying.

The finished product looks good, tastes good, and feels good.
Grow your own organic veggies and make yourself a green smoothie. Why? First of all, because you might pay up to $6.00 dollars for one at that trendy smoothie bar. And second, because the hype is actually warranted in this case. Eating more whole, raw, organic foods is beneficial for good health and feeling great.

Try drinking a grande green smoothie and let us know how you feel afterward. We noticed a distinct sensation of having more energy and fewer cravings throughout the day. Or maybe we're just getting high on growing and eating fresh food.

June 17, 2013

Competitive Spending Monday

20% of the world population are engaging in competitive spending while consuming
80% of the earth's natural resources.

The 1998 Human Development Report investigated the 20th century's growth in consumption, unprecedented in its scale and diversity.

Competitive spending and conspicuous consumption are turning the affluence of some into the social exclusion of many.

And the pressures for competitive spending continue to mount. Keeping up with the Joneses has shifted from striving to match the consumption of a next-door neighbour to pursuing the life styles of the rich and famous depicted in movies and television shows.

Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20% of the world's people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures - the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%.

More specifically, the richest fifth:
  • Consume 45% of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5%.
  • Consume 58% of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4%.
  • Have 74% of all telephone lines, the poorest fifth 1.5%.
  • Consume 84% of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1%.
  • Own 87% of the world's vehicle fleet, the poorest fifth less than 1%.
Runaway growth in consumption in the past 50 years is putting strains on the environment never before seen.

- From:  Human Development Report 1998 Overview, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

June 16, 2013

Appreciating Fathers

Me, my dad, and my oldest brother in 1962 sharing a son/father moment

Often fathers go unrecognized and under appreciated. I know that I was guilty of this omission when I was younger. When I finally came to realize how intelligent and wise my dad really was, he was struck down by the same brain tumour that he first battled in his twenties.

My dad started as the typical 50s dad stereotype, but later in life he learned, grew and mellowed enough to look back and question the confines of the box into which society had placed him.

Within the walls dad was a very successful member of society. Married, five kids, teacher, school principal, university professor, world traveler, active community member, and all around gentle and loving human being. But what about that other box we know as happiness?

Like most of us, dad looked back on his life and saw room for improvement. In 1999 after Father's Day he wrote me a heartfelt and brutally honest letter from the South Pacific where he was working as a volunteer administrator in a high school.

Of the early years of our family he wrote that "it's all a dream now", reflecting on how quickly our short lives pass. At the time he did not know that he was a few months shy of the end of his own abbreviated existence.

Dad shared insights about learning how to be a father from one's own father, even though your father's ways "may no longer apply, if they ever did". He wrote of the shifting gender roles in the 60's and 70's, and the rigidity of those roles previously.

"The father went out and earned the bacon. The mother stayed home and took care of things there. I thought this was the model to follow. Well, it didn't work. Deep down in my stomach, I knew that something was wrong."

"Behind the mask I wore, I felt lonely, little, sick and helpless."

My father was a thinker and lifelong learner as well as a teacher. He used these capabilities to change a great deal throughout his life - he always tried to do the right thing with the knowledge he had available  at the time. When he sent the letter he was ready to make more changes.

His letter concluded that "constructive action" was what must come from self-realizations. But what direction should this action take?

"Most of my life, either I don't know what constructive action to take or I am too chicken shit to take it", my father wrote.

Wow. Every time I read this letter I am gobsmacked by it all over again. Such honesty in revealing what I consider to be a universal feeling today - that something is not quite right. Obviously people have been feeling this way for quite a while.

As a 35 year teacher and 50s-style breadwinner, my father was frequently gone from home while at work, in meetings, giving presentations to community groups, advocating for teachers and students, and doing the countless number of other things that good teachers and "providers" do.

While he was working hard to "bring home the bacon" he missed out on much of our family life. That was, as he was told, my mother's responsibility. He knew what he missed out on by fulfilling society's narrowly defined expectations. He knew something was wrong. Society was wrong.

Unfortunately, dad wasn't doing what HE wanted to do all those years ago. By the time he wrote the letter to me he had the knowledge and the time to want to improve his relationships with his children and get caught up.

He died a few months later. The lessons he taught me will continue to enrich my own existence until I reach my end.

Thanks, dad. 

June 14, 2013

Food Of The Future?

Insect delectables for sale in Thailand

For decades academics have been warning us that current lifestyles are unsustainable and put the planet's life supporting capabilities at risk. Scientists from many different disciplines have been telling us to do things differently, or be prepared for big changes ahead. Changes like eating insects.

You may think that is gross, but over 2 billion of us (not me) already include insects in our diets. Insects are important food sources in parts of Asia, South America, and Africa.

Turns out the little crawly critters are high in fiber, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, as well as energy providing protein.

A designer working with a major kitchen appliance manufacturer have obviously been listening, and have teamed together to design a bug terrarium in order to cash in on the grow-op of the future - growing edible insects at home.

The culinary product is highlighted on the inhabit.com website, and is being touted as a way to deal with the giant honkin' footprint resulting from the industrial production and over consumption of beef.

"As global populations continue to grow, our appetite for meat is likely to cause severe resource shortages in the not-so-distant future. To address the problem, a recent UN report suggested that people should be eating more insects, because they're much less harmful to the environment than traditional meat."

Raise and eat bugs instead! It would be much easier than having a cow in the yard, I guess, and the environmental impact is minimal (insect farts, for example, are much smaller) while the nutritional benefit is substantial. The UN, designer, appliance maker, and current insect eaters may be on to something with this insect ranching idea.

You wouldn't need as much land (a corner of your pantry would do fine). Your barbecue wouldn't have to be as big, and you would probably get tired or grossed out before you could eat enough insects to make you fat.

I'm not against trying a plate of nicely prepared grubs, but I usually try not to eat things with heads and faces and stuff, even if they are "just" insects. However, it would be good to know what insects are edible in my area... should it ever come to that. And it might.

Will insects be the food of the future on our stressed out planet? What do you think? Have you tried eating insects, or are they part of your current diet?

Want more information? The recent report by the UN, "Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security", is crawling with juicy downloads explaining how to raise, harvest, prepare, and preserve edible insects.  Bon Appetit!

June 13, 2013

Ideas For One Planet Living

Everyone and everything pay dearly for the five planet lifestyles of a few.

I am looking forward to the day that we are honest enough with ourselves to admit that conspicuous consumption, like the cigarette industry, is far worse than initially advertised. In both cases advertising sold them as "good for you". But now we know that both are resulting in the harm and death of millions, including innocent bystanders.

All the resources that are required to support consumer-oriented cultures have to come from somewhere. Most often they are stolen from people living where the resources are with devastating effects on the human and environmental landscape.

My country is one of the worst offenders, both in our high consumption habits, and in our resource extraction industries at home and abroad. 75% of the world’s exploration and mining companies have their headquarters in Canada.

Canadian mining companies, including some of the biggest in the world, frequently extract products against the wishes of local (often indigenous) people. About seventy five Canadian mining companies are active in Peru alone, in exploration for gold, silver, uranium, and copper. Some of these are charged with committing major human rights violations, poisoning watersheds, and destroying the way of life of people who are already experiencing poverty.

In response, more than 200 communities and civil society organizations in Peru are demanding an end to destructive mining practices and for water to be recognized as a human right.

That is why our Prime Minister visited Peru recently, the first PM to do so. Unfortunately he was representing the mining companies, and while there announced the tying of all future aid money to the South American nation to be dependent on further mining development by Canadian companies.

It would have been understandable if the PM were visiting to talk about the 15 civilians who have been killed during protests with Peruvian police forces in the past two years, the majority in conflicts related to oil, mining and gas projects lead by Canadian firms.

The people, and their environment, pay dearly for the conspicuous consumption taking place a world away.

All along the chain that extracts, then transforms raw materials into what is required to live five planet lifestyles, a similar violence is wreaked upon both humans and non-humans everywhere.

It is convenient that the consumers are often far away in both physical and mental space. But it is getting increasingly difficult to maintain the fantasy that everything is fine. Just like the cigarette industry has been exposed for their wrongdoing, it is getting harder to justify the ignorance and denial surrounding unsustainable, violence-based, high consumption lifestyles.

Now we know that the chocolate bar at the check out may contain ingredients obtained through the use of child slaves in Africa. It doesn't taste as good knowing the violence that is being perpetrated to bring the product to our taste buds. The right thing to do is stop buying slave chocolate.

When we reduce our consumption we reduce the costs of our choices, and the violence done on our behalf.

Ideas For One Planet Living

There are many things that can be done that have positive effects on your life, the lives of people everywhere, and the natural world.

  • Be mindful of what you consume. Shoot for a one planet lifestyle.
  • Avoid advertising like the plague - it will infect you with a lust for stuff and going anywhere but here. Steer clear of glossy magazines, TV, catalogs, internet content buried in ads, and commercial radio.
  • Buy less, do less. Focus on personal development - it's free, and freeing.
  • Eat low on the food chain. A plant based diet is the healthiest and has the least impact.
  • Reduce air travel. Flying increases your eco-footprint dramatically.
  • Eliminate processed food, fast food, and GMOs. Eat real food.
  • Buy local. When you buy local you support your local farmers and businesses. Money stays in the community.
  • Use alternatives to buying new stuff: Craigslist, Freecycle.org, swap with neighbours, give stuff away, borrow, share, or live without.
  • Buy Fair Trade/Organic: products that put people and the environment before profits.
  • Support cooperatives: housing, food, work, banking, other products and services.
  • Practice the most important "Rs" - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse.
  • Ride a bike, walk, and use public transportation. These are the most efficient forms of getting around.
  • Live simply. Most people on the planet live simply... and they're still happy!  It feels good to join them.

June 11, 2013

"Tell Them To Live Simply"

Consumer capitalism has far reaching effects, as the Hopi and Navajo
have discovered on their resource rich lands.

In the book Radical Simplicity Jim Merkel describes the forced relocation of 12,000 Dineh (Navajo) people from the area known as Big Mountain, Arizona. Their ancestral homeland was too resource rich to 'allow' the people to stay.

Unfortunately for them, their land contains some of the largest coal deposits in the US, and in the 1960s  the Peabody Coal Company was determined to get their hands on the black gold. It is estimated that there are 21 billion tons of coal, valued at $100 billion dollars lying just underground. Even worse, uranium is also found in the area.

The people were offered new land as compensation for leaving their sheep, corn, medicinal plants, and the bones of their ancestors. They were being forced to leave the land they had continuously occupied for 9,000 years. There was no word for "relocation" in their native language.

The new land offered to the people was the site of a major spill of millions of gallons of radioactive waste by United Nuclear. The 1979 disaster contaminated 68 miles of the Rio Puerco River. Relocating the Dineh (starting in 1974) was the largest forced removal of Native Americans since the 1880s.

By 1990 the Dineh that remained were desperate and under siege by rapacious resource companies. Merkel was becoming interested in sustainable living, and visited the people to see what he could learn, and how he could help.

He spoke to a woman who told him of the crazy capitalists trying to seize their land and destroy their ancient way of life.
"For seventeen years they slaughtered our sheep and put cement in our wells. If we fix our roof or fence, they drag us into court. Here, look at these papers they give us. 
Now they blast Mother Earth apart. Look at the cracks in my home. They drop a bomb on the Japanese people with uranium from our mountain. We are a peaceful people. 
They pump the aquifer to slurry coal. Now the plants are dying. Who is this Peabody Coal Company anyway? They make some marks on a piece of paper and come out here and push us around. 
This is our altar - we will never leave."
The people were forced off the land and the coal and uranium industries took over. Merkel saw what was happening as a "silent genocide".

He asked the woman he was interviewing, "What can I do to help?"

She responded by saying,

"Go back to your people and tell them to live simply. Then they wouldn't be out here digging up Mother Earth for coal and uranium." 

We can reduce the impact of the negative, and often unintended, side effects of our lifestyle choices by learning to live with less and be satisfied with an outwardly simple, but inwardly rich life. Perhaps we will find that we enjoy this way of life more than our past consumer-oriented focus.

We won't know until we try.

June 9, 2013

An Afternoon In The Garden

Community Food

My mom Margaret, and my sister's daughter Kayli came to visit us from the mainland for a few days. Yesterday we took them to see the community garden, and ended up staying and exploring for several hours.

Before we reluctantly departed, we all agreed that it is a magical place.

The garden is more like a park where food grows.

We found ripe strawberries... and ate some of them.Yum!

We looked at all the flowers, and Kayli took photos. Lots of great photos.

I did some gardening in our 4X8 raised bed. Half is in strawberries, the other half
currently has chard, kale, beans, potatoes, and sunflowers.

We visited the pond and watched tadpoles and bugs.

Then it was time for lunch. We sat, relaxed, and enjoyed each others company.
Linda is under the hat, Kayli is with her, and my hungry mom is in the background.

Next time we will make pizza in the cob oven.

A bald eagle came to visit before we finished lunch (look up, way up).

Before the eagle left she flew over the garden, and us.

After a great day we returned to our home, sweet, home on the beach. 
It is fun to have visitors and share our simple life with them.

June 7, 2013

Toward Zero Waste

Consumer cultures are marked by their wastefulness. In fact, the thing they are best at producing is prodigious waste.

Wastefulness serves an unfortunate purpose -  It indicates to ourselves and others that we are rich and have an abundance, extra, more than enough, a surplus. An extreme example would be lighting a cigar with a hundred dollar bill, but there are endless other less dramatic ways of being wasteful in every day life.

Using waste to elevate our status is unlikely to continue for long. It is unethical, uneconomical, inefficient and not very smart. This is where the zero waste movement comes in.

"Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. 
Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. 
Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health."
- Zero Waste International Alliance, 2004

If we want to do the right thing all we need to do is observe nature and mimic her ways. When we do this we quickly see that there is no waste in nature.

If there is no waste in nature, there can be no waste in the human world.

The current life cycle assessment of manufactured products known as 'cradle to grave' which tracks products from manufacture to disposal, must be replaced with 'cradle to cradle' which eliminates the disposal phase entirely.

Let there be a 'War on Waste' in our efforts toward becoming a Zero Waste world.

June 5, 2013

Bottled Water Is A Watery Waste

Boycott Bottled Water

One of my favourite descriptions of the human species comes from an alien on a popular TV show. The reason I like it so much is because it highlights the importance of good old H2O.

The non-humanoid creature on the show called us, "Ugly bags of mostly water."

The 'ugly' bit is subjective, but the alien was bang on about the water part of our composition. We are mostly water, the amount varying with our age.

Unsurprisingly, we dry out as we get older, destined to shrivel up and blow away in the very end.

Babies are about 75% H2O, essentially wiggly, less ugly bags of mostly water. While the amount of water contained within us varies, by old age it is somewhere between 45% and 60%.

In order to maintain peak physical and mental health we need large amounts of clean water (which is, in most places, amply provided by nature). But fresh water is under attack on all fronts.

In spite of the vital importance of this precious resource (we will not survive more than a few days without water), there are some that believe that fresh water should be privatized and commodified.

The CEO of Nestle recently said, now famously, that access to water should not be a public right, and every drop of fresh water should be owned by corporations like his. Now there is an ugly bag that should be denied water for a while.

Nestle makes billions of dollars in profit every year from bottled water alone, and depletes or destroys pristine water sources in the process.

In Canada, Nestle has been given the go-ahead to draw water from one Ontario town's public water source even during droughts when the rest of the town adheres to strict water restrictions.

In the process, the company draws water that they pay three dollars and seventy-one cents for every million litres, puts it into single use plastic bottles, and sells it back to the people for up to $2,000,000. Like most bottled water, it is essentially the same as the stuff that comes out of your tap (except that it costs 240 to 10,000 times more).

To this we can add the tidal wave of empty plastic water bottles that are landfilled, incinerated, or end up littering the planet. Only 14% of the billions of bottles are recycled.

Just as Monsanto is trying to corner the market on our food staples, the water commodification industry wishes to monopolize our access to fresh water.

If I were an ugly bag of mostly sand I wouldn't worry too much. However, 60% of my body's composition is at serious risk if we allow the corporate control of all of Earth's remaining clean, fresh water.

What You Can Do 

  • drink tap water
  • use a personal or home filter
  • use a stainless steel water bottle
  • sign petitions against water privatization
  • boycott Nestle 
  • lobby governments to protect our public water sources
  • resist the corporate takeover of everything everywhere
  • live simply

June 3, 2013

Portion Distortion And The Small Plate Movement

The average size of a sample of dinner plates showed a 23%
increase since 1900
The size of dinnerware people use to serve themselves may significantly influence how much food they consume on a day-to-day basis. Big plates - big servings - big waist (and waste).
"From a consumer welfare perspective, the effect of dinnerware size on serving behavior is significant, since the average size of a sample of dinner plates increased almost 23%, from 9.6 inches to 11.8 inches, since 1900.  
Should the size of a plate or bowl encourage a person to eat only 50 more calories a day, the resulting mathematical increase in weight would be approximately 5 pounds each year." - source
These days it is almost expected that you will want to eat too much. Look at portions in restaurants - they could provide enough calories to feed two or three people. Sharing a dish with someone is a good way to get over super-sized 'single' servings. 

There is another simple way to overcome super-sized servings - serve your food on a smaller plate. You could call it the small plate diet. The three most popular health-related websites each recommend that consumers replace larger dinnerware with smaller dinnerware to reduce consumption.

Of this approach, Brian Wansink says, "A person tends to over-serve onto larger plates, and because people consume an average of 92% of what they serve themselves, larger plates lead to larger food intake."

He points out that "a two inch difference in plate diameter - from 12" to 10" plates - would result in 22% fewer calories being served".

This method is so simple, straightforward, and effective that a Small Plate Movement has been promoted as one way to reduce over-consumption of food and the problems associated with this wasteful practice.

Research has shown that serving food on to a smaller plate does not have an effect on the diner's perceived fullness or satisfaction after the meal.

What you put on your plate is even more important than the size of your plate. Say goodbye to barbecued T-bone steaks that cover an entire large platter. About the size of a deck of cards is a more appropriate amount if you are eating meat.

Generally, a serving should consist of a 1/2 plate of fruit and vegetables, 1/4 plate of grains and starches, and 1/4 plate of protein (beans, tofu, fish, poultry, lean red meat).

Smaller plates + smaller, more balanced servings = smaller waistlines + reduced food waste.

Fight portion distortion and join the small plate movement. Switching to smaller plates, and carefully controlling what goes on to those plates, will keep you and the planet healthy and happy.