Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: pollution

Unless, the Troublesome Beautiful Concept

It is one of those days. The air feels heavier for no particular reason yet for many reasons that have been around for a number of days, some even for months or years and most are not about to disappear or get fixed any time soon. Unless. An entire world at its mercy.

I struggle with awareness issues you see. The modern-day disease of the ones who cannot say “Oh well, it is what it is…” I am one of those who say “But why? It shouldn’t be this way…”

I often perform the dangerous activity of taking a few steps back to assess the “big picture.”

In other words, I am attempting to identify where I stand as an individual and where we stand, as fellow humans sharing a planet and the world that we impact, willingly or not (yes we do, lots.)

The latest environmental disaster, the typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, is a troubling event in more than one way. Planet-wide and humankind-wide. The typhoon has ravaged the country and will continue to do so for a long time, long after the mucky puddles have dried and the global media will have moved on to the next big event that rattles the world.

More than that though, this typhoon and many past and future similar environmental disasters, are defining a world that seems to just “roll with it” in a way that is detrimental to us all. The climate change files are getting plumper by the day with yet another discovery of what bakes us all up slowly but surely, and yet another disaster that claims lives and places and to the latter we say “thank God it did not happen here,” because we can afford the luxury of saying so, though it is solely due to luck provided by geographical location only.

There are warnings, some thin as gossamer, some thick as a sailor’s rope, but in the end neither able to tie us to the very reality we’re stepping on. As if we’re in a state of bobbing over it all helped by nothing more but the lightness of being spared (for now.)

But there is a good humane response to it all and that has to be acknowledged. Help is pouring in as we speak, and though the disaster is far from being fully assessed in all its beastliness, people are being given food and water, mobile hospitals are being set up and millions of dollars are being donated by countries around the world to help the approximately 11 million people who have been affected.

This is all an illustration of who we are in times of trouble. There is empathy, we need that. Media, the finicky mistress of terrible news, is doing its part in providing enough visuals to keep the empathy levels high enough so that help will continue to be sent to those in need. But if history is any lesson, the most diligent of us might just come across news of still unresolved disaster and ruin in the Philippines many months or even years after this. It happened in Haiti.

The reason I am saying this is not because I am trying my hand at being a nagger or a pessimist – I am neither! – but because of the discrepancy of all that our present world is displaying. I struggle with seeing the many facets of our world and wondering how on Earth (where else?) are we going to be able to deal with future disasters if their numbers and intensity will increase?

That the planet is slowly warming up is undeniable. A natural consequence of that are typhoons and hurricanes that kill, displace people and leave many without food or water for days, bringing the kind of desperation that makes people stomp and kill each other in their quest to alleviate their most basic needs, thirst and hunger.

Many environmental scientists are warning about approaching the tipping point. Many of us believe that to be the case while others roll with “It can’t be that bad, they’re just a bunch of scaremongers…”

It is rather unfortunate that human nature, empathetic as it is and a beautiful trait by all means, it can also turn severely dismissive of things that can and do alter the collective quality of our life on the planet, the only one we have.

A recent string of news pointed out to a “dream come true” kind of situation that is on its way to completion in the United States: asserting their crude-oil independence by 2020.

That means two things at least: the first is bound to affect us all because of an increase in carbon dioxide well over the projected allowed levels meant to ensure a halt in global warming, and the secondly, an extra shake-up for us Canadians, because the US oil independence, as desirable and guilt-free as it sounds (no more war-tainted oil) it may just open Pandora’s box when it comes to our oil. Someone will have to buy it and that someone might need pipelines to move it all the way to where it could be exported overseas.

Whether or not things will shape up to follow this scenario or a slightly different ones, my point is: If nothing will change, habit-wise, in the developed world and if the need for more, bigger, better (this one is questionable, yes) more typhoons and storms and climate changes will rattle us all.

We may or may not be able to help those in need when future big disasters hit, and not because we will lack empathy – that I choose to believe will never change – but because the way we treat the environment, which in turn will affect our lifestyle and our capacity to give.

We are slowly coming face to face with the consequences of increased and increasing levels of industrial, agricultural and oil/gas-derived pollution, massive deforestation done to occupy larger areas with various conventional-grown crops, ethanol-producing GM corn included, and the picture is not a pretty one.

Sad large-scale events like the typhoon Haiyan are meant to make us reassess. I strongly believe we should. A disaster of such proportions is a wake-up call that should extend beyond shocking images and heart-warming help.

As Dr. Seuss wrote in his visionary and superb illustration of an environmental crisis in The Lorax “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot/Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Unless is a powerful concept. We demonstrate often that we have what it takes to help our fellow humans when disaster hits. It is time we apply the same level of commitment to changing our ways. If we want to see things get better that is.

It starts with each of us and all as a collective made-up global mind. A matter of honor if you will…


Clean Is As Clean Does

On October 17 the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has declared outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans. It is a monumental decision that is bound to affect the future in a positive way. About time, you’d have to agree.

Outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer and increases the risk of bladder cancer, the report said.

Particulate matter, while a major component of air pollution, was analyzed separately and declared a carcinogenic substance by itself. Nothing new there.
Where is it all coming from? From transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions, and residential heating and cooking. In other words, we’re surrounded.

I have been decrying the dreadful reality of air pollution for a while now, not losing hope that things can be changed, but realizing that tweaking the minds of fellow humans is a gargantuan task.

As the cold weather approaches, idling cars make their appearance. Not significant, some might say, compared to industrial pollution. But, here’s the thing: everything adds up.

A few years ago I wrote a feature article for a health publication in Calgary on the topic of environmental allergies, asthma and diesel exhaust as a trigger for both. A new study had come out pointing to fine particulate matter such as the one derived from diesel exhaust – the new and improved diesel fuel that is – as a serious threat to human health and a cause for respiratory problems.

Scientists agonize over far-reaching air pollution that travels in all corners of the world. It’s sobering to think that polar bears walk around carrying the shortest stick of all, healthwise. Various pollutants have been found in high concentrations in their bodies; a dirty inside in stark contrast to their snow white coats.

Yet closer to home, the reality – and threat – of air pollution is impossible to ignore.
There’s countless debates over the proposed Ajax mine. Pro and cons arguments are being tossed on all sides, dressed with stinging words and put on the table again. And, to be fair, there are pro and con arguments.

But if the proposed mine becomes reality and increases the levels of air pollution in Kamloops we will all pay the price. The first ones to pay the price will be people with chronic respiratory diseases, those with a genetic predisposition to cancer, and children. The rest of us will follow swiftly.

Too apocalyptic? Not at all. Real, if anything. If A causes B and B causes C, then establishing the connection between A and C is a matter of logic and social responsibility.

Debates aside, I think we’re drawing near – on a global scale – to the point where any new industrial development should only be allowed to happen if it is vital to a community. The decision should be made based on industry and independent panel reviews, and also based on the objectively-assessed needs of the community where the project is about to be developed.

Wants versus needs has been played to death, some would say. And it is bad enough when wants take precedent over needs and affect our emotional well-being, empathy levels and general health (cheap, chemical-laden conventionally produced food.)

But when it’s about a real threat that will materialize in chronic diseases with the grimmest outcome, then we should seriously reconsider priorities.
From idling cars to big industrial projects, we have choices and responsibilities. We owe it to ourselves and our children to exercise them.

Published as a column under the same title in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on October 26, 2013

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.

Why The Big Picture Stinks

I’m reaching the end of this particular rope here. It’s the garbage, you see. I am not a big consumer but somehow I am sucked into producing garbage. I am trying to buy food that does not come in a package, I am trying to buy only what I need and I aim for items that do not come with overwhelming packaging yet somehow the future garbage material finds its way into my home and my life. And ultimately the landfill via my raccoon-loved garbage container outside. Enough then.

Why do we need our stuff packaged like it’s some explosive device? Toys come all tied up to hard to open boxes made of non-recyclable plastic. Most of the food comes packaged and overpackaged. Styrofoam trays and takeout containers are still grinning at us as we stand perplexed trying to figure out whether to put the white foamy material in the recycling box or the garbage bin. Try to imagine this: What if for a month or so everyone in your neighborhood will throw their garbage out in the street instead of of the garbage bin in the backyard? How much would that be? An itty bitty mound of nothing or a considerable sized pile of things that should not be there in the first place. Because you see, garbage trucks come and take it away every week but it only makes it to the landfill. Out of sight is out of mind but it’s not out of our world.

I remember a birthday party that Tony was invited to when he was four. At least 15 kids were invited. The gifts were all wrapped, bows and all, piled on the grass at Jericho beach, waiting to be attended to. And the time came. The wrapping came undone, ripped by impatient tiny hands. Lots of wrapping. The owner of the little hands did not care at all about the fancy wrapping. Why should he? By the time the party ended a couple of garbage bags took the place of the gifts. Everything from gift wrapping to paper plates, plastic cups, forks and dead balloons went into the black bags. The child, merely four, had a gargantuan environmental footprint after just two hours of fun. If you’re trailing back a child’s footprint from the time he/she makes it into the world… Yeah, it’s a tough one.

Not to be a party pooper (though I can hear you say just that), but all I could think was that the kid got robbed after all. And mine with him. How many birthday parties went on that day in Vancouver? See? All of a sudden you wish you did not know how to do math. The big picture stinks all of a sudden, no pun intended. The black garbage bags looked more menacing than an army of hungry crows. Should we not rethink our strategy then? Keep an eye on your garbage output for a week if you don’t believe me. Very few things should go in the garbage bin, yet you might be surprised. Not that you’re lacking good intentions. If there’s no the accommodating triangle of chasing arrows with a number in it then it’s the landfill. Think coffee lids, your kid’s latest toy and its packaging, the good old VHS and audiotapes that you have finally decided to let go off, expired carseats – yes, they have an expiration date and most municipalities do not recycle them, rubber boots and umbrellas, the broken blow dryer and toaster oven, old phone, burnt old Christmas lights, damaged decorations and all the good-for-a-bit-but-useless-overall stuff that came in the kids’ goodie bags along the years… the list goes on and on with no end in sight. Awareness is a relentless beast, isn’t it?

This story has no ending. We’re very far in the game of convenience but I’m willing to give my throwaway habits a makeover. There’s a triangle of chasing arrows here too, I’d say. Stuff we buy –> stuff we use/not use + packaging  –> stuff we throw away. If I’d connect the first and last you’d say I’m being sarcastic. But for the majority of time I’d be just pointing at the obvious. I’m ready then. Care to join?


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