Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

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All’s not well with the world. Here’s one reason (or a few)

A few days ago I put the finishing touches on an article that brought my mood down more than many others on environmental topics I’ve written so far. The topic: ‘forever chemicals’ or PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances). 

Have you heard of them? 

They pop in the news occasionally, but alas, they do so in a space that also features ‘green’ initiatives such as new lines of disposable/non-disposable not–plastic-but-feels-like-plastic compostable bowls, cups, plates and cutlery. Many (most?) of these compostable products contain, in fact, small amounts of ‘forever chemicals’ which end up transferring to food. So do grease-resistant take-out containers and much of the fast food and take-out packaging. But I am getting ahead of myself here. I will share the article when it’s published, but in the meantime, here’s why I struggled to find my mood balance after digging deep enough into the topic. 

Firstly, because it’s hard to put a positive spin on this topic. 

Secondly, because these chemicals are everywhere, including in our bodies and the bodies of most creatures around us. They’ve been around for a few decades (since 1938 to be precise) and they accumulate in the environment (again, our bodies included), and as the name implies, they are there to stay. Yes, they do have deleterious effects on our health. But yes, they make life easier. Some are, to be fair, essential because at the moment they are the best we have for the job. As it has happened with many other chemicals throughout the modern era, we find out decades later about the damage that’s been done. When we do, there are two things that happen: the stories reach the public and make us uncomfortable, but then new stories roll in and we forget about it; or we join the ranks of those who refuse to see ‘the glass half empty’. Except it’s not empty. And the people who talk about this are not alarmists. They want to see a better future. Knowledge and action based on it can help us get there.

I know that we want the positive and the happy news, but that’s not helping our world get better. Too much positive spin on things makes us forget the ‘negative’ news when they pop up and they create false hope.

You’ve likely heard it said that the Earth will continue to exist no matter what happens to us humans. That’s great for the planet and for the bacteria, fungi and the bugs that will survive, but what about the other living creatures, humans included? 

(This reminds me of a car sticker I saw a few days ago : ‘Adults on board; we want to live too.’)

It sounds ridiculous when it’s laid out like that but seriously, let’s pause for a moment and ask the most obvious question: what the heck are we doing to our living world and to ourselves, and for what? In the case of ‘forever chemicals’, let’s agree that for certain vital applications (medical, firefighting) we have no better options at the moment. But what about the many others?? Could we let go of conveniences and reduce the scale of our consumption of all things, and particularly plastics and plastic-like but marketed as compostable? I believe we’re coming to the realization that having our cake and eating it too is simply not doable. Not if we want to see nature thrive around us, and not if we want to live without the silent threat of hidden chemicals that affect our health. 

We have taught children to be afraid of playing in the dirt but we allow them to play on sprayed lawns and stain-resistant (hence chemically treated) carpets. We have talked ourselves into trading health for every day conveniences, and finding pacifying solutions that allow us to continue to live the way we do. Plastic recycling is a joke at the moment, and also an environmental concern given the microplastics derived from the mountains of plastic garbage and ‘recyclables’ our society produces. Ditto for other forms of ‘recycling’ that encourage consumption, such as electronics. The more we do it, the more products we will be offered. The more products, the higher the risk of more and more chemicals populating our world – indoors and outdoors. 

Here’s the gist of it as I see it: when the natural world is in balance, we thrive. Nowadays, we seem to forget that.

We grow food at an unprecedented scale using chemicals of all kinds, from fertilizers (some also contain ‘forever chemicals’) to pesticides and insecticides, and then fungicides to preserve them on their way to the consumers. Almost half the food we see in stores ends up as waste. Too many people consume animal products from animals that are raised in conditions so bad we cannot stomach to watch. We destroy large areas of wild spaces to do so. And then we create waste of all kinds, which, save for what we compost, goes nowhere, and we question whether the new study about the rapid decline of nearly half the world’s wildlife species is yet another scaremongering piece of news plotted by some restless environmentalists.  

We cannot afford to look away and pretend all is well. We cannot afford to pay attention only to positive news and we certainty cannot afford any more green-washing and worse yet, ‘regrettable substitutions’, which is the term used for when an alternative compound replaces one that’s deleterious to health, but turns out to be just as bad or worse (see the case of BPA and BPS, and yes, it is also happening with the ‘forever chemicals’.) 

Bottom line: we take nature and life (our own lives included) for granted. That’s what I think. And please feel free to disagree. 

Yes, I know there are people doing good things out there. Small farms provide fresh whole foods that you find at the farmer’s market on any given Saturday or Sunday in the summer. Various professionals and activists do their best to raise awareness, challenge the status quo and inspire changes that can see us reach safer ground ahead. Research that tries to remediate the consequences of many years of doing things without thinking of consequences. We need all that done at a large scale. We need to return to a simpler way of life if we want to live.

But that’s not what makes big splashes in today’s world. Consumerism does. New things to try, new shininess to have and to hold and to get tired of shortly after, ready to try more. More. And more. 

Innovation is great and it drives progress but we ought to consider the scale of consumerism before another product hits the market. Perpetual economic growth is not possible on a planet with finite resources. Deep down, we know that, but somehow we don’t say it out loud and often enough.

But we must. And we’re at it, I think the Hippocratic oath should apply to how companies and firms, big and small, run their business: first, do no harm. 

Let’s start with that. 

The Simplicity Files: Christmas Is Better With Books

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, December 18, 2017.

Following a friend’s recommendation and because Thursday evening was a commitment-free day for the entire family, we went to see one of the movies at the Paramount theatre, ‘The man who invented Christmas.’ I did not know exactly what to expect, but because my friend warmly encouraged me to see it, I trusted that it will not contain much of the usual syrupy type of seasonal fare, as I do not care much for that.

The theatre hall was almost empty, but it made no difference. There was much to be charmed about in the visual story unfolding on the screen: the mystery and cruel roughness of times past, friendship and family values, justice, and not in the least, the struggle and beauty of creating a book. In this case, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

The book was to be not sappy, but uplifting and humbling at once. It was supposed to give you reason to see beyond the ordinary. Well, it does, and the movie did too. When the movie ended, we lingered in our seats a while longer. Our little guy had a sweet mysterious smile plastered to his face; his brother’s eyes were smiling too. The movie had none of the present-day fare; no speedy cars jumping over bridges, no product placement and no consumerism overload. It had so much more.

It was a declaration of love for books. How ironic, the cynics among us will say given that it was still a movie. Yes, but its substance thick and meaningful rather than gossamer-like and unable to hold past the doors of the theatre, which is the case with many of the fluffy productions nowadays.

We need to be reminded of books and their ability to have us spellbound. We need everyone to wish for a book come Christmas time, no matter the age. We are told that good parenting comes with lots of reading. If we are to instill a love for books in our little ones, we ought to read to them. I’d say this is but a paragraph of a larger thesis: If we are to build a good life, we must put books in it, and reading. Lots of it.

One can argue that like much else, there is an abundance of books already. True. Walk into a bookstore and you’ll be overwhelmed. Some are better than others, and it is true that some subjects are strange rabbit holes indeed. Then again, taste is a finicky beast. What a luxury though, to be able to read… What a privilege that reveals itself through reading and has the capacity to reveal so much more and thus take us to where we can see far enough to make our collective life better.

Such is the magic that books bring about. The kind of world they build inside our minds and the kind of impression they leave upon our hearts cannot be matched by anything else. They provide a place where you find your deepest sorrows resonating with others’; and you find yourself connected and you find inspiration. The same books speak differently to different people and words burrow differently into our thoughts, but they are ultimately reminders of the most basic and pure humane features we all carry around.

I know stores abound with things to buy, and the Christmas music make us move slower through the aisles and pick up one more item that seems to be the perfect match for that person in our life… Loud and colorful advertising transforms our desire to save some of our hard-earned money into pure mush. It is but once a year, we say. But is it? One after another, they lead to the sad remark the cashier at London Drugs made a couple of days ago as she was ringing the many garlands for the lady in front of me. ‘These are so nice, but I don’t like Christmas anymore. When all is done, I’ll be broke again for the next three months…’

Truly a place that was never intended for any of us to be in. Buying beyond our power, even when the gifts are intended for our loved ones. Fewer things and more presence, wouldn’t that be a better way to celebrate for all? The fewer things can maybe contain a book or two. They do not even have to be new. A book never loses its lustre even when its pages get old.

There are still a few used bookstores around in Kamloops that have mountains of books of all kinds. Tomes of magic that never deliver less than expected. Magic like the kind found in books you will snuggle to read on a snowy day (yes, we’re all hoping for a white Christmas,) magic that lights up your children’s eyes as you turn the page following yet another adventure in a read-aloud-together kind of book.

We can run towards books when in search of joy, or quiet, or solace from life unfolding too fast or too cruel at times. The stories they hold within give us hope, make us search for better ways in life, or inspire us to think and see beyond limitations. They challenge us, and they give us freedom. They deliver us from the daily grind, and give us permission to reinvent the way we experience and give joy.

Here’s to hoping you’ll make them part of your holidays.

Merry Christmas!

Why A Different Approach Is Needed This Holiday Season And Beyond

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, December 11, 2017. 

Last week, the conservation group Sea Legacy (co-founded by Canadian-born photographer and marine biologist Paul Nicklen and his partner Cristina Mittermeier, also a conservationist, photographer, and writer,) released a video of a starving polar bear, aiming to draw attention to an issue that is not new but is getting increasingly worrisome: the impact of climate change on wildlife and the environment, human life included, since we are, truly, but a piece of the big puzzle we call life.

The video was shared on social media, and the heartbreaking reality the Sea Legacy team was confronted with was discussed in the news. In a nutshell, shorter winters and the melting of the sea ice causes more polar bears to go hungry, as they are forced to spend more time on land instead of replenishing their reserves by going after seals, an activity for which they need sea ice.

Other scientists concur. Nick Lunn, a researcher with Environment and Climate Change Canada, recently warned that climate change may be wiping out the subpopulation of polar bears near Churchill, Manitoba, in 20 to 40 years. Occurrences such as a bear swimming underwater for more than three minutes (almost three times longer than normal) while stalking his prey, only points to the same issue: increased starvation, which also causes many hungry bears to walk into cities in search of food. Aside from climate change, polar bears and other Arctic creatures are affected by persistent pollutants which affect their nervous, digestive, and reproductive systems.

The reactions to the photos and video of the severely emaciated bear were diverse, and some, to be honest, rather shocking. Some called it tragic, and vowed to change their ways to reduce their carbon footprint, others said these conservationists are opportunists trying to push their own agenda (I have a hard time with the ridiculousness of such statements) spreading fake news about the climate, while this is a perfectly normal reality, i.e. wild animals starving to death or being diseased. Yes, you can shake your head.

The bleeding hearts accused the team of being cruel and filming the bear instead of feeding it (as if that would save it, or the rest of the bears threatened by the same fate.) Others went as far as to say that this kind of news ruins their weekend.

The reason I picked this topic to write about is because of the incoming reports on wildlife disappearing at a rate we are not prepared to accept. According to the WWF conservation group, we have lost approximately 60 percent of wildlife since 1970 (which is not that long ago) and by 2020 (which is too darn close) we will see two thirds of them gone. Due mostly to human activity, the WWF report said. Alarmists, some may conclude, yet other studies and direct evidence brought by scientists and conservation photographers point to the same.

Recent reports by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) draws attention to a few species that are either endangered or threatened due to human activity interfering with their natural cycles, or altering their habitat, which drastically decreases their numbers and in some cases, such as the great northern Caribou herds, pushes them closer to the tipping point (a nice way to say extinction.) Add some species of salmon to the list too, some of trout, migratory birds, and Monarch butterflies. The list is long and getting longer, and the main culprits are interrelated: climate change and human activity.

While I wholeheartedly agree that this cavalcade of troubling environmental news is upsetting (including the ever-increasing plastic and garbage issue,) more so as we approach Christmas, it is important that we not only talk about it all, but that we keep talking about it once the new news is old news.

In many retail stores the lineups are a sight to behold already and seasonal merchandise is choking the shelves. Some of it, mostly plastic, will add to the landfills, soon after the season’s over. We can hope (and help as much as we can) that those who truly are in need, such as the 18.3 percent of children who find themselves below the poverty level in British Columbia (17 percent Canada-wide), will have their needs taken care of. Past the Christmas season too, until no child is found to live in poverty – now that’s a good wish to wish and help come true.

Aside from that, if we can take the stories of our ailing world to heart and give the gifts that matter the most to our loved ones, which are time and presence, while reducing our consumption and material gift footprint to a minimum necessary (donating instead to those in need for example,) I can see that as enabling a much-needed Christmas-and-beyond miracle: our own survival in a world that needs us to pay attention to more than immediate comfort and the next thing to buy.

We can shrug or ignore reports of wildlife suffering or disappearing because of human activity and climate change, or we can start a long-awaited conversation that may see the tide turning in favour of life. Choosing the latter has no dire consequences; on the contrary. It means choosing a better future. Choosing to continue to ignore the signs we see everywhere – animals disappearing, extreme weather phenomena, severe wildfires, that is akin to playing Russian roulette at a time when playing games is not something we can afford.

The Folly Of Planned Obsolescence

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on September 16, 2016.

20160901_201806Every week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays there is a pile of newspapers which my eldest son delivers to people in the neighborhood.  Size-wise, Tuesdays are ok, Fridays are occasionally daunting and Thursdays are downright scary. The number of flyers is scary. They cover everything you could think of: food, clothing, cars and trucks, lottery, toys, appliances, furniture and much more.

20160907_135715My son aptly remarked that many people only want their Thursday paper because of the flyers. There’s an inch or so that he lugs around with each paper on his routes. It adds up. But every week that many? How much new stuff can there be on sale every week?

A while back someone shared a few stories of entire sets of furniture and all related being taken to the dump due to remodeling or after inheriting an old house with out-of-style-everything inside. I wrote on more than one occasion about thrift stores bursting at the seams with so much stuff, not to mention the merchandise that gets sent to the landfill because it is not saleable anymore.

Still, sales advertised in weekly flyers promise more and more at low prices. A basic scientific principle dictates that matter gets transformed into something else but never disappears. That we have seen it with objects around us is an understatement.

Garbage in landfills and oceans increases by the day and we put it there. The promise of new and better beats fixing the old and reusing or repurposing all that you can. Holidays have been enhanced out of proportion to make room for more saleable stuff most of us won’t even consider buying. That is not the issue though. Whether anyone buys it or not, it is on the shelves and when the season ends, it becomes garbage.

Yes, Halloween is coming with plastic carved pumpkins at a mere $23 when the fun of carving a compostable local one comes with a lower price and loads of fun. Styrofoam cadaveric heads? Let’s not even go there. From an environmental perspective, Styrofoam is evil whichever way it comes to co-exist and unfortunately outlive all of us. Because it will.

You see, I grew up in a most idyllic way that I came to appreciate even more so recently since attempting to provide my sons with a similar one. Across the street from our house lived an old Hungarian guy who fixed shoes. I don’t know if he had ever been a cobbler, all I know is that from the time I can remember he fixed shoes, lots of them and my parents always said he did an amazing job. The rows and rows of shoes in his workshop stood proof.

The room where he had his workshop was facing the street and I could see him at work all the time from our yard. Whenever I had to drop off or pick up shoes that he fixed I would take some time to sit on a little wooden stool and watch him work. His hands were moving swiftly and expertly and I remember that before starting to work on a shoe he’d always weigh the shoe in and feel it from one end to the other. Then he’d know where to start.

My Dad was keen on taking care of the family shoes. He would regularly polish them and encourage us to keep them clean. It makes for a pleasant appearance, he would say. I liked sitting and watching him apply thin layers of various shoe polish and then use one of his brushes to get a good shine going. Between my Dad’s careful maintenance and the cobbler’s expertise at fixing the soles, shoes lasted quite a while and looked good too.

There were no flyers coming our way so my parents bought things as they needed them and made good use of all that we had. Someone suggested that people who lived through the post-war era like my grandparents likely learned the value of everything and made sure to reuse and repurpose. It may be true, but just as well, many people continued past the war time memories. It made sense to not waste and not reach out for the next one-use that would become obsolete too soon.

I have read about some cell phones being sold with ‘planned obsolescence’. Ironically, that matches our rather ephemeral human existence and even more ironically (yes with a hint of conspiracy theory if you will) big companies are planning both.

The concept of lifetime warranty (sounding more cheerful than ‘cradle to grave’) is what’s becoming obsolete. It shouldn’t. Approximately 20 percent of the national methane emissions rise from our landfills. Landfills already occupy a lot of space and the materials that fill them are here to stay. Exponential growth laws be gone, it makes no sense that we still reach for the next flyer, ready to buy more and add to the mounds of garbage.

That we made it to this day with a planet that can still sustain our lifestyle (yes, I am referring to the western ways) is thanks to those before us, most of whom took what they needed, when they needed it, because their connection to the communities they lived in and the land they lived off of was strong enough for them to know what road to follow.

What’s the answer then? Perhaps a return to a simpler lifestyle, smaller spaces to fill and better connections with our own selves and our values, and more time spent with our loved ones; fewer things to buy and more time spent out of doors and getting to know the very earth we walk on. Our journey here is a short one if you look at the big picture, so making it worthwhile not based on weekly sales but on what’s actually essential to have – time and connections with people and nature – is a challenge worth pursuing.

Simplicity is where it’s at. And truth is, it doesn’t come with sacrifices but with being liberated.

Some TV Sets Have More Stories Once Unplugged…

Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, June 6, 2014

A few days ago some of our neighbours had a garage sale. A bit of a slow day, that Saturday, they did not get many customers. At the end of the day, they left a few things on the lawn with a ‘Free’ sign attached. Among them, a vacuum cleaner and a TV set.

Three days later, the TV set is still on the lawn, the ‘Free’ sign fading away as we speak. It’s in great shape but it lacks flatness (the irony…), so no one wants it. It has survived the last night’s thunderstorm and the scorching heat during the last few days.

And why would anyone want it anyway. Free is yesterday’s bargain. Worthless, or so it seems. Today an item has to be either antique-looking or brand spanking new to be taken into consideration.

Yet an uncomfortable thought surfaces as I write this. Where’s this TV set going to go now? Dump? Perhaps not yet, but a few more days of being subjected to the elements will render it broken and thus useless. And then what? Then it’s the dump.

Think of how many TV sets are there already and how many will join the ranks of broken paraphernalia soon. Unless they’re all being sent to some third world countries for the kind of recycling that we would not get close to – too many toxic chemicals and heavy metals to meddle with – but hope someone will.

New models of everything, from trucks to TV sets to children’s electronic gadgets come out every year. From one day to the next, the truck or car seems to make an odd sound and may not be worth fixing but replacing altogether, the TV screen could be a bit bigger, and the kid’s toy… well, the new games just won’t fit. So there.

Everything new is made with resources, mostly non-renewable ones.

Every few days a new mine project surfaces and location details are unsettling. Like this morning when I caught the tail end of a news piece about a new mine nearby, the Ruddock Creek Mine. To be opened, should the environmental and safety assessment deem it doable, near the headwaters of Adams River.

Yep, the one I learned about as soon as we moved to Kamloops; I learned that every four years it gets so full of spawning sockeye it turns red. Millions of them, I was told about the numbers many witnessed in 2010. So the 2014 will be another big one. What about 2018? Or 2022?

Our own Ajax conundrum takes us on a dance of back and forth that tugs at our minds mixing the needs and wants in such ways that we don’t know what’s what and whether we need it… Tailings here or there, the thing is, mines to be opened or reopened near communities need to be properly assessed. No shortcuts, no misleading information. Transparency.

It’s not paranoia or some mad environmental activism, but fear of what’s to become of this province in a few years should all the projects be freely approved. The Northern Gateway Pipeline assessment was described as ‘flawed analysis’ by 300 Canadian and US scientists in an open letter to PM Harper just days ago. The project should not be approved, they strongly urged.

Economic growth goals make sense as long as they don’t destroy the very grounds they rely on to happen. We need jobs, people need oil and copper and gold and zinc and they’ll need more because more is never enough these days. But when the goal is mainly exporting and the jobs not that numerous, is it truly worth it? For who?

Some of the above resources were used to make the TV set that sits on my neigbours’ lawn. What gives?

That we need things as we go through life is true, just like it is true that a country cannot rely solely on its own set of natural resources to mine and use. Some will come from somewhere else and some of ours will go somewhere else too.

Yet during the planning for mining, transporting and using of resources, the health of land and people cannot be dismissed or brushed over in flawed and incomplete assessments.

It comes to what we’re willing to live with. If you spill a bucket of oil in your garden, how long till you’re comfortable to let your pets or children walk around? How long till you trust that patch of land to grow your veggies in?

The TV set I pass by on my way to downtown is a sad reminder that we do live with the consequences of our actions. This one is just more visible that’s all.

Simplicity — From Choice To Necessity To ‘Only Way Out’

Originally published as a column in The Armchair Mayor News on Friday, March 21, 2014. 

AliveI start my days with browsing over news, mostly science and environmental. Some morph into feature articles, some crowd into the ‘later’ folder to be mulled over, and all of them point repeatedly to the same recurring question: is simplicity the answer?

It took having children to have it sink in fully: it’s about today and it’s about tomorrow as well. And it’s in how we live both.

The world evolves at a mind-numbing speed. Gadgets keep on sprouting. Some may rise to the ‘necessary’ status while some will stay in ‘whim’ forever. To some we add justification and thus make them ‘necessary.’ Then there are the consequences of having more.

Every gadget, appliance, new technology, and that includes the green ones, comes with an environmental price to pay. By us all, today and tomorrow.

Reports point to resources being mined to exhaustion, or being mined where they should not be because they throw things out of balance or sicken people. They point to the exploding economy as the major cause of increased global warming.

We risk tomorrow with many of today’s forays into limited resources.

At a time when news of smog-enveloped cities strengthen the request for clean air, deforestation and harming the ocean lower our planet’s ability to gulp our carbon dioxide and give us oxygen.


The impact of today’s modern lifestyle is undeniable. Just two days ago, a prestigious science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, released a report about the risks of climate change stating three things: firstly, that climate change is caused by human action and it is past the point of debatable.

Secondly, that changes are slow to happen at the moment, visible as they are, but there is a tipping point (more melting of ice sheets, more droughts, heat waves and floods, food shortages and an increase in species extinction) from where things will roll downhill at a speed that’s hard to comprehend right now. Or easy to ignore, whichever comes easier.

Thirdly, that there is still time to act. Another recent report, UN-generated, concurred.

Simplicity in living today, is that the answer?

There is letting go in simplicity. Not to say that whoever opts for simplicity can claim that it has stumbled across the truth of life, but it comes pretty darn close to that.

We need less than we have and even less than we want. Wants are immature, mostly motivated by impulse rather than rationale. Wants often come with a sense of entitlement that prevents clairvoyance at a time when it is badly needed.

It’s uncomfortable to think that some of what I have today will not be available for my sons when they grow up. Clean enough air, clean enough oceans and enough blue sky to allow joy. Not applying the doom scenario because of a case of sudden environmental drama, but because I do not know for sure which human-inflicted changes are reversible and which are not.

Our lives are dominated by fear nowadays. We buy life, home, car insurance and the word premium brings sighs with relief. The juxtaposition with the absence of the biggest fear that should be – fear of destroying our world – is striking.

Most of us know that we can do with less. It’s our choice to do with more.

The recent sublimation of snow in Kamloops – a phenomenon I deeply enjoy as it spares us the end-of-winter slush less dry areas go through every early spring – invited to gardening.

This year we will extend the garden to grow more food, with humble dreams of homesteading one day.

Growing food makes simplicity real. So does realizing that letting go of many things you don’t need makes room for what matters – time spent right. It allows for a deeper connection to the place we’re in. From the patch of land we live on, to the community, town or city and beyond.

I came to realize that ‘seeing’ the world has nothing to do with traveling, but rather with acknowledging the uniqueness and utmost beauty of a place that has been a fountain of life for millions of years, harmonious in all its details and awe-inspiring in its seamless functionality.

To think that we are interfering with it all, creating long, deep trenches of wrongs that our children might not be able to deal with is troubling.

Life’s biggest question ‘Why are we here?’ awaits an answer still. The more I think of it though, the more I am inclined to say that the answer is right in front of us, every day, if only we let ourselves see it.

Life is about living today with the awareness that we are leaving something behind, but we ought to do it with the elegance and depth of a species aware of the honour of being guardian to an entire planet and all the life that it holds.

So that plants and animals can still exist and people can still breathe. Simple. Perhaps that’s the answer after all…

Shopping Reminders

I vent. I stop. And then I vent again. It’s the season of shopping that ruffles my feathers the wrong way. So the witch in me has some more food for thought to offer. Old news you’ll say. Perhaps. Yet we’re still about to learn how to be more human than we were a few days ago. Steep learning curves deserve repeated attention. Like I said, the witch is in, read away and do as you please with it.

There is a subject I cannot chew on for too long without feeling appropriately nauseated: necessary evils. We each have our subjectively developed lists and while it is hard to place the many necessary evils in a particular order, the two that top my list are plastic and slavery/forced labor involved in making goods.

I know plastic has its uses in various objects I need or depend on, yet I am far from being at peace with it. Plastic is a classic example of a double-edged sword. With one edge sharper than the other.

Plastic has been around long enough for us to know that it is harmful to people and animals, harmful to the environment and so wickedly pervasive that it gets into places we had no idea existed. Recycle it, dump it, off it goes? Hardly. We are its ultimate destination. You, me, our children and their children to come. Plastic affects our health and it soils the planet. And maybe it’s just me, but the thought of it being around hundreds of years after I’m gone is infuriating. The irony.

As for slavery, it’s true. Many of the products we buy, and we buy a lot more during this time of the year, come with that invisible burden that we may choose to overlook but it ultimately leaves a nasty stain on who we are. Who are the slaves? Men, women and especially children, performing various low-paid or unpaid jobs, some of which are dangerous and plain hard. Think of a worker who has barely left his milk teeth behind. Modern day slaves.

I’ve heard people say “at least they make an income to feed their families.” Double-edged sword again. I am torn yet I maintain that slavery-imbued items carry a shameful imprint. ‘Tis the season to be jolly for some, unjolly for others. That kind of imprint. I choose to steer clear of it. I encourage you to do the same.

Slavery notwithstanding, there are lots of people in our own backyard who cannot think of Christmas as joyful. So it would only make sense to maybe take some of the money that we would pour into gifts that are bought just because, and put it towards making someone’s world a bit better.

Whether buying some hot meals for those hungry and cold, or hitting the thrift stores for mittens and hats and some warmer boots (it’s the lack of basic stuff that makes one’s life miserable), you’ll fill a need. That’s what the Christmas spirit is about.

Think about putting the money you would spend on a gift you’re not sure is needed into one that is: a microloan with companies such as Kiva or GlobalGiving. Your money will reach further than many of your gifts ever could. There are many options worth exploring. Stepping out the (Christmas) boxed gift.

It’s easy to forget accountability in the midst of Christmas shopping. Hurried as we are, it is understandable that we may overlook stopping to smell the rose. Understandable but hardly acceptable anymore, I’d say.

Everything we buy, whether edible or not, will shape the world around us, the environment and the community. By this I mean the immediate community and the global one. The offer reflects our habits. An image we may not feel honored about after all.

Living in a country that offers so much, and that includes unmatchable natural resources, I believe it is our responsibility to say no to things that come with an unfair environmental or denial of basic human rights. May we choose wisely and deck our halls with bows of goodness. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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