Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: plastic

Weekly column: Yes, we can do without (most) single-use plastics

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday June 10th, 2019.

I cannot tell you how many times I wished that Styrofoam food containers would disappear. Call it a pet peeve but it goes beyond that. They leach harmful (albeit slow-acting and invisible) endocrine disruptors in the food stored in them, they are non-recyclable and indestructible, and one too many can be seen lying around parks or washing on river shores once the humans that emptied them have long left the scene.

Happy Earth Day Beyond Earth Day

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on Monday April 25, 2017. 

There is an interesting realization that sneaks up on you once you spend enough time in nature to be humbled by it: that you know squat about it, other than the very basics, if that, unless you dedicate time to learn about it. It is mind-boggling to think that for the most part, our awareness of the living world is minimal. That hinders much of our chance to succeed at saving ourselves.

Children have the right idea when they start out as wee curiosity-fueled machines. Nothing is yucky in their path, nothing too disgusting to look at, smell or touch. The world is an endless array of networks to learn about, to wonder at and to return to every day.

Nothing is ugly or boring. Rain or shine, hot or cold, children want to be out and exploring. As they grow up, we qualify the living world around them using words and concepts meant to provide safe boundaries which often end up becoming the reason children’s curiosity subsides. They learn to disengage.

Moreover, that childhood nowadays comes with screens and alternative reality fast-paced games and movies that take the young minds even farther from the slow-paced real life is not helping much either.

The human brain is amazing in how it can absorb and use information, in how it can solve problems and find solutions. And puzzlingly so, it is also, especially in our young ones, easily addicted to things and activities that create pleasure loops to get lost in, all supplied by an array of marketing ploys that are, as per their intended design, overwhelming.

Such activities, toys and gadgets, provide the kind of stimulation nature cannot provide. Not because it lacks anything, but because the nature’s rhythms are not meant to create addiction of any kind, but to soothe, heal, and allow for space to find ourselves and the inside voice that suits us best. That voice is, for lack of better way to explain it, in tune with the living world around.

That kind of meaningful, life-enriching and enabling duet, is more visible in some fellow humans than others. Come Earth Day, we are invited to remember the things that matter. No economic growth plan matters much if a community is under the threat of natural disasters, often induced by improperly and abusively conducted human activities. It could be clear cutting, mining, building of dams, you name it. Not just in BC and Canada but throughout the world.

Nature’s little note, never illegible I dare add, reads the same every time: work in congruency with nature’s way, never against it. Make operations sustainable and respectful of the living world, and things can work just fine. The one caveat: there would be lower profits perhaps, though bringing ethics into it can make it fair for everyone. The reward, though, would be longer term projects and much healthier outcomes environmentally and human health-wise; common sense replacing greed and the utter conviction that nature is ours to grab from, dominate and squeeze dry.

Awareness of the earthly gifts in all of us, from the very young to the very old, can make Earth Day a culmination of sorts rather than the isolated day when we celebrate our planet. An hour of turning off the lights is a good thing, but better yet if we do it daily. Just imagine having an hour a day, at least, when you spend time with your loved ones, or rest, walk and listen to the sounds of the world around you, anything that can be done with lights off and without any devices close at hand.

The earthly gifts are many and varied, but the basic ones are the same everywhere: water, air, and food. Imagine the kind of awareness that can be created if we had days dedicated to learning about hunger and thirst for example. By experiencing them, no less. Imagine a day when we would have a limited supply of food available, or clean water.

Imagine having the kind of overwhelming marketing campaigns that promote the selling of goods, and then more goods and gadgets, promoting awareness instead, based on what we need to know of the living world, people included.

Imagine being made aware (and becoming more appreciative of your own blessings and abilities to help) of issues that can be alleviated or even mildly improved, by knowing more about: lack of food or proper food, lack of clean water (more than 80 Indigenous communities in Canada are under boiled water advisory and many other communities are plagued by industrial pollution of their drinking water), lack of proper legislation that would see natural habitats protected and thus helping restore any environmental imbalances that ultimately come to affect our lives.

Imagine a day when those in a position of power, whether in manufacturing or marketing, would come together to realize that there is already enough stuff to go around and would press for developing aggressive alternative strategies to address the surplus through reusing, repurposing and overall reducing consumption. Delivery from slavery on both sides of the spectrum you could say…

On Earth Day and beyond, remembering that we have become so used to having convenient rather than respectful to nature, is worth yet another reminder. We have become used to resealable, non-recyclable bags for everything we consume, from produce and fruit to snacks and wipes; we have become accustomed to simply grabbing our cold drinks in single-use plastic cups covered with the plastic lid (number 6, non-recyclable in most recycling facilities), with a straw planted in it, no less, and we choose to not spend too much thought on why Canadians now produce approximately 10 billion tonnes of garbage yearly (9.6 billion tonnes in 2012) while the world’s oceans receive a staggering 8 billion tonnes of plastic from all of us earthlings.

During a recent talk at TRU on the topic of the health of our oceans, Fabien Cousteau shared one of his favourite quotes by Richard Louv. ‘We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot love what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.’

Hence the need to return to the simple things: exploring nature alongside our children. Playing in the muck, sitting in the shade of old-growth trees and listening to birds, wading in streams, and growing some of the food we put on the table. Discovering more so we can live with less. Knowing. So we can love and protect.

Happy Earth Day beyond Earth Day!

A Few Issues I Am Struggling With

Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday June 27, 2014

I choose to call them blunders of our times, if you’d allow me. Here’s a sample:

Locally, the school dilemma. On Monday, the decision was made regarding Stuart Wood Elementary. It will be moved on McGill Street, starting with September 2016.

One of the main points made during the meeting was that this is done in the best interest of children. The school, being an old heritage building and such, requiring lots of costly upgrades, is not suitable for children: not safe enough, not big enough. Fair points, reiterated as a justifying monologue since a dialogue at that point was thought to create a bad precedent. Dialogues inviting to brainstorming create good precedents; democracy relies on dialogue and feedback.

The big issue of not having a community school just got bigger. Children cannot walk to school anymore, a good chunk of downtown liveliness just went out the window. I cannot help but wonder about students who might arrive at the bus stop too late because life tripped them that particular morning and about the increased pollution due to increased traffic on Columbia Street.

Air pollution has been declared a carcinogen by the World Health Organization last year. Allergies and asthma in children are at an all-time high, and particulate matter is already an ugly guest in Kamloops. Increased pollution in our city is not in the best interest of children. Clean air is.

But clean air is becoming a precious commodity, whether we like it or not. And it will only get worse if we put more cars on the road, drive more and idle more. Which we do, every day. An ‘idle-free city’ status reinforced by law is long overdue.

Locally and globally, the plastic dilemma. I see it as I walk around town, I see it when we go camping, and there are reports of oceans being covered in plastic while becoming depleted in fish.

At the same time, retail stores abound with plastic products, with even more coming whenever a holiday is approaching. We allow for the manufacturing of a plastic forest that prevents us to see the real trees…

Plastic is a great invention and incredibly useful, but not all and not in the amounts present nowadays. Much of it also affects human health, children most of all. Just to put things in perspective, approximately 280 million tonnes of plastic are produced yearly and recycling touches but a mere 15 percent.

At the same time, pipeline and mine decisions circle overhead like a bunch of hungry crows and it feels like the only thing worth doing is making a circle the way elephants do, putting our young in the middle so they’ll be protected no matter what. Are we? Are they?

Globally and locally, pesticide use. They are still around, those discreet ‘notice of pesticide use’ on lawns here and there. Desert or not, we want our lawns green and lush.

Pesticides are also used widely because that’s how you grow food for many, we’re told.

Well, food is plentiful in every grocery store, so plentiful in fact that it gets thrown out. Pesticides are known to affect human health, children in the first place (a fresh off-the-press study connected pesticide use with autism) and they are killing bees. Without bees there is no food. If we add climate change to the equation, also affecting crops, it doesn’t look pretty. Abundance has an expiration date when not backed up by sustainable agriculture.

One of my biggest dilemmas, though, is this: there are chemicals present in our world, some very toxic and many independent studies proved it.

Yet the people who are in the business of promoting their use, designing marketing schemes to dress them up and shrugging off any evidence of harm even when being thrown in front of them, I just wonder how do they live their days knowing that what they do affects people’s lives irreversibly. Self-justification is a powerful tool all people use, but it can only go so far. If a conscience is present that is.

Here’s truth that cannot be denied: the sun sets on the western horizon in everyone’s world, everyone’s crops are affected the same way when bees die, and all children eat and breathe chemicals if chemicals are present. It invites to sharing responsibility, a desirable state-of-being, able to throw off the best-designed PR justifying haze before it engulfs our brains.

As for that stubborn belief that I hold onto, it’s this: we can do better, I am sure we can.

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.

Why Half-Assed?

“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations

It’s venting day. Part of life. Before I go on, I’ll offer a disclaimer: If you expect me to be happy or calmly pensive or simply relate about things that make my heart jump and dance, well, there’s a lot of that in here, but occasionally I will rant and stomp my feet and I think my words, even though I might not put any in caps today, will be loud enough. OK, that’s done.

Today found me and the boys at the beach on a “Keep Vancouver spectacular” clean-up-the-beach mission. A mouthful, I know. Bear with me though. Rain pouring down like someone punched holes in the sky, we make our way to the beach and meet the others – kids and parents. We each get rubber gloves, tongs, giant tongs, lots of plastic bags that come individually wrapped plastic pouches and with a piece of cardboard inside to keep the good form of each of the plastic bag that have Glad written all over them. Bad form, in fact, as Captain Hook would say, and accurately so. Bad form.

After we get equipped we start our mission. The beach was clean, having been cleaned up just a couple of days ago as a lifeguard explained later on. No worries, the kids can still get a good lesson in how to care for the place they live in. Their city. A pouch in what we collectively call “the environment”. We find cigarette butts, a few pieces of old wet paper, some beer caps, two short pieces of string and a soaked and sandy tennis ball which we leave on a log for the next dog who forgets his toys at home. Barely a handful of garbage. Kids switch to a hunting mode and fight for every piece of garbage they could find. It’s a competition, you see, who collects the most.

We return to the parking lot bedraggled and rather empty-handed. At least ten bags lie on the grass. almost empty, except for two of them. One kid found a seagull skull, another a pineapple crown. It’s cold. Where will all the bags go, I ask. In the garbage bin. No, how about we dump the garbage from all in one bag and save the rest? Overruled. Too complicated or too dirty. Well, it’s garbage. The dump hates plastic, we know that by now yet we still send it that way. Come on. I’m behind a glass wall or something, no words make it through.

The kids are comparing the collected treasures, who got more – it was a competition after all – and they are given hats to remember the event. And the idea. The gratification factor? The “what’s in it for me” worm has to be satisfied or else. Now I’m bitter. They are given hot chocolate – a most welcome treat, but – GASP! in Styrofoam cups. Cruel joke (at the expense of what we collectively and absent-mindedly call “the environment”), irony, lack of proper planning, call it whatever we want but the message is the same: It’s wrong! It dirties the day, the mission and everything about it. Styrofoam is evil, one of the least biodegradable man-made materials out there, it leaks chemicals into hot drinks that happen to have a certain content of fat and the idea of drinking from them on the day when the kids fight over a small piece of biodegradable piece of wet paper like their lives depend on it, well, it’s wrong. WRONG on all levels and if you don’t think so please feel free to share your reasons. So my big fat screaming question is this: Why do we do it half-assed instead of going all the way. Why not use every opportunity to teach our kids about how to really do it the right way? Why not go for the least amount of stuff left behind, especially when you’re out to collect garbage left behind by others?

What then, you say, what can satisfy the finicky and frowning Miss Criticism? I won’t go overboard but I’ll say this:

  • There’s biodegradable plastic bags made by companies with a stellar environmental stewardship like Seventh Generation (no, no money for me here, I simply like the ideas they play with and the stuff they sell). Let’s buy those. A few only, making sure they’re fat and plump before heading to the dump.
  • There’s bring-your-own-mug-if-you-want-hot-chocolate kind of policy to enforce (an effort, I know, but are we not supposed to teach our kids that all things that are worthy come at a price. Are we not yet ready to teach them that the “have your cake and eat it too” is a lousy fallacy)
  • There’s opportunities like the one today to teach kids that it all starts with buying less, relying on less, and definitely not going for the one-use-only articles anymore. That’s so last century. A nasty joke.
  • Today was a good opportunity to teach them about plastic bags, the plague of today. We used so much plastic today it makes me gag. Why not? Why stop mid-sentence?

Rant over. Do as you please, but I invite you to leave a comment. If you feel like it of course.

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