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Previous Entries

» Paul Watson: Hero or terrorist?
» Moving environmentalism forward
» Food combining
» 'Oil flows south, impact flow north:' Dominion graphic
» Dominion tackles tar sands
» Is My Dad Pro Global Warming?
» Throne Speech 1.0
» U.S. Senate uses questionable results to denounce global warming
» Indexing air quality: Project Smog, week 2
» Introducing Project Smog
» Blackle aims to brighten your days by darkening your searches
» the answer, my friend
» 100-mile diet? What about the 100-mile suit?
» Holy Bottled Water
» Bottling profit, not altruism
» The Inconvenient Truth About Flying
» what if the awesome power of WalMart were used for good?
» Commitment to sustainability or smogscreen?
» Next up: Emissions restrictions on Don Cherry
» Don't worry, we're doomed

January 08, 2009

Rinky-dink ink tinkering isn't the answer

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 11:57 AM ET | Comments (0)

EcoFont alphabet

A Dutch design firm has released a new computer font, Ecofont, that they say uses less ink, and can therefore reduce the e-waste that results from depleted toner cartridges. It's a regular-looking font except that it's riddled with holes, and the firm, Spranq, claims this reduces toner use by up to 20 per cent.

Their hearts are in the right place, but this is clearly public-relations bunk. (And I realize I'm playing into it by linking to them.) There are plenty of environmental problems in the world, and technology waste is some of the most difficult to deal with. But the real effect of this font is statistically insignificant, and no one should be fooled into thinking it's a real solution to any of our pressing environmental problems.

This kind of "environmental" measure is increasingly common — easy to implement, emotionally gratifying, socially acceptable, and totally ineffectual. You would be better off turning on the ink-saving features now available in every modern printer; even better would be choosing not to print that two-line email in the first place.

This morning on Twitter I linked to a new advertisement from the World Wildlife Fund that makes a crucial point: consumers and end-users are being constantly scolded to change their behaviours and reduce their environmental footprint while government and industry continue to allow damaging beahviour to go unchecked. Individual efforts like installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs and downloading an "Ecofont" are fine, but they won't get us where we need to go unless the biggest and baddest polluters are brought to heel.

More entries on: Cultural industries | Environment | Planet Earth | Time Wasters | Visual art

January 07, 2009

Chernobyl in the Jungle

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 03:40 PM ET | Comments (4)

Amazon Rain Forest

Looking for an adventurous and educational holiday to beat the winter blues? Why not tour the chaos and misery of the mess Texaco Oil left behind in the Amazon Basin. For the last fifteen years Chevron Corp, which acquired Texaco Oil in 2001, has been in a deadlock legal battle with the citizens of Lago Agrigo, Ecuador. With the case against the oil giant is set to conclude latter this year, locals are busying themselves touring the public around the toxic waste dump they now call home.

Among the claims against Texaco Oil:
1. Soaking dirt roads with crude to keep down the dust
2. Encouraging local oilfield workers to smoother their legs and scalp with crude
3. Dumping 18 billion gallons of wastewater into unlined waste pits
4. Burning natural gas and solid waste, resulting in deadly air pollution

The result has been over 1400 deaths from cancer in the tiny community, nearly twice Ecuador’s national rate. While it’s impossible to predict who will win the legal battle, local experts believe the payout from Chevron could be as high as $27.3 billion.

For more on this story and other eco-catastrophe, check out forecast earth.

More entries on: Environment | From the intern desk | Global politics | Human rights | Planet Earth

December 16, 2008

Global plane traffic graph: like bugs devouring a corpse

Posted by Graham F. Scott at 12:20 PM ET | Comments (0)

This video, compiled by Swiss scientists, shows 24 hours of global aircraft travel in 72 seconds. I think the fact that it resembles a petri dish swarming with disease is only partly coincidental: Airplane travel is one of the largest and most damaging carbon-emitting actitivies on the planet.

[spotted on Wired, via Worldchanging]

More entries on: Planet Earth

May 04, 2008

Cormorant carnage

Posted by craig at 03:30 PM ET | Comments (0)

Cormorants are black, oily-looking birds. Some people find them beautiful. To others they're an ugly scourge. I'm rather fond of them, having grown up on Lake Ontario where you see the odd few on rocky bars in Hamilton Harbour.

But on Lake Erie, their population seems to have exploded and now may be causing some serious ecological damage. Estimates peg the population at well over 100,000 nesting pairs. And some 8000 of these live on Middle Island, a limestone outcrop that is Canada's southernmost point.

It is here, on an island reputed to have been owned by gangsters and visited by Al Capone, that Parks Canada is embarking on one of its most controversial wildlife management projects. Last week, they shot about 70 of the birds. In five years, when the cull is completed, the island's cormorant population will have been decimated. Only about 800 will remain.

I spent a good portion of last week meeting with ornithologists, anglers, wildlife experts and park staff from both sides of the border. And I met Marian Stranak, the superintendent of Point Pelee National Park, which is responsible for Middle Island. To cormorant lovers and deep ecologists, she is the harbinger of death.

It's clearly a role that makes her uncomfortable. When I ask how it feels to be in this position, as the person who makes the call for the cull, the strain is clearly visible in her eyes. There are some dark days, she says, and that's clearly an understatement. She can't even bring herself to use terms such as "shoot" or "kill," instead repeating the phrase "actively manage."

I couldn't go to Middle Island to witness the beginning of the carnage. Shooting for the day was over when I got to Pelee Island, and the "active management" program gives the island a day of rest. There are egrets and herons nesting on the island, and nobody wants the stress to get to them. It's not their fault.

Instead, we sail out to East Sister Island. It's owned by the province and I'm accompanied by a researcher from the Ministry of Natural Resources. East Sister shares Middle Island’s Carolinian forest environment. The Carolinian is a southern deciduous forest area with hackberry and black oak. It never covered a wide swath of Canada, and very little remains intact today. This forest, not the complaints of the commercial fishing industry, is the reason why the cormorants shall die.

Cormorants here nest in trees. And they're killing the trees. And their poop and vomit, which hit the forest floor in alarming and legendary quantities, are turning the soil acid and killing off the undergrowth.

East Sister used to be lush, I am told by the charter boat captain who has ferried us here. He used to bring people out for picnics. Today, nobody comes. The island has a post-holocaust look to it. The ground is white with guano. The trees are bare and will remain so despite the coming of summer. Walking among the trees, the landscape is unreal. Doctor Who has never been anywhere like this.

It is crystal clear what is happening on this island. I start to understand why Marian Stranak feels she has no choice but to make her difficult decisions. It certainly does look as though the island's ecosystem has already been destroyed, and that only ridding it of much of the cormorant population would bring it back. I start to understand why some people detest cormorants.

Then one of them drops a load of guano directly into the hood of a fellow journalist. And I start to appreciate these fishy birds all over again.

More entries on: Planet Earth

April 28, 2008

Does Lake Huron need a rubber bladder?

Posted by craig at 03:59 PM ET | Comments (0)

Water levels in Lake Huron have been low for a while. Really low. Docks are now on dry land, harbours are having to be dredged, cottagers are getting ornery. In fact, Huron and Michigan have been at "critical alert" level since 2000. One group, the Georgian Bay Association, is championing the theory that the water is rushing out the St. Clair River thanks to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging.

But is it? And will an inflatable rubber bladder be the answer?

I'm spending a Saturday morning, one sadly short on coffee, on the Pride of Michigan. Mary Muter from the GBA is on board, as is Krish, an Environment Canada researcher. There's also a retired NOAA hydrologist, someone from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a policy advisor from the IJC.

Water flows out of Lake Huron through the St. Clair River and into Lake Erie. There's a theory, which Mary explains, that dredging disturbed the river bottom, which is now being scoured out by water rushing into Lake Erie, effectively opening the drain.

A screen shows the river bottom, being filmed by a camera we're towing behind the boat. It's mostly pebbles and stones 5 cm or more in diameter. I ask Krish, the EC researcher beside me, if the river's flow could shift that. "No," he replies. At least, not without some disturbance. The river can only carry sand -- debris less than 1.3 mm in diameter. And dredging could provide that disturbance, Mary tells me as we continue up the river. Everyone agrees that cutting navigation channels through the river and extracting sand from its bottom in the 1800s has lowered Lake Huron by 14 inches. But the debate is whether dredging is letting debris flush out, futher lowering the river bottom.

There's a "scour hole" about 60 feet deep at one bend in the river. It surrounds the wreck of the Sidney Smith, a tanker that went down in 1972. As water rushed around the wreck, it does seem to have carried away a lot of riverbed material. Still, one hole shouldn't affect lake levels, since the river bottom on the other side of it is still high.

But that hole may be at a "critical juncture" in the river, Mary says. And that's why Krish is here -- to figure out just what is happening on the river bottom. The scouring theory has a lot of sceptics, and an IJC study won't be completed for another year. One solution to the problem, if it is riverbed scouring, would be to place an inflatable bladder in the hole, says Mary. Then you could pump it up with water and reduce flow at critical times.

But this idea has plenty of opponents. John Nevin, a policy advisor with the IJC, seems to be one of them. Lake level controls are controversial in the Great Lakes, and the IJC has been looking at ways to make flows more natural, particularly in Lake Ontario. Many lakes are highly regulated: Superior through locks, Erie through the Welland Canal, and Ontario through the Niagara Falls power diversion. The bladder would be one more step toward five-lake regulation, he says (he's on the boat, too).

"You can't have someone twiddling at the dials to meet one group's or two groups' -- or one very vocal group's -- needs. The lakes need to fluctuate more naturally," he says.

However, as Mary points out, critically low water levels are expensive. The U.S. is already looking at spending $100 million to dredge ports, and Ontario marina operators have asked for a similar sum. It's a problem we can't wait to solve, she says, though completing the study first is important. But she does seem quite convinced that the St. Clair River is the problem. And that the bladder is the way to go.

Others disagree. And with cause, as there are a lot of other factors at play.

Lack of winter ice might be increasing evaporation. Climate change is increasing wind speeds and both water and air temperatures, which could also speed evaporation. Lake Superior's water levels are low because of low precipitation. Lakes Huron and Michigan were at rather high levels in the 1960s, 70s and 80s when infrastructure such as docks was built. Even the Earth itself is against the lake -- isostatic rebound is raising Lake Superior, Lake Huron and much of Lake Michigan, very slowly making them shallower (not enough to account for these short-term fluctuations, but over a century, it can mean a water levels going down by a foot).

The problem might not be Lake Huron's alone. And while tossing a bladder in the St. Clair River might help in the short-term (and I didn't hear a compelling argument that it will), it won't solve what is rapidly shaping up to be a problem throughout the Great Lakes Basin.

More entries on: Planet Earth

April 14, 2008

Paul Watson: Hero or terrorist?

Posted by mason at 11:40 PM ET | Comments (1)

Those of you who are up on the news will know that Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been in a little hot water lately, first for suggesting that thousands of seal deaths are more tragic than the deaths of four seal hunters who died in a recent marine accident, and this weekend because crew members from one of his ships were arrested for aggressive behaviour toward seal hunters off the coast of Newfoundland.

With glee, the commercial media has pilloried the animal-rights crusader, and federal politicians have tripped over themselves to condemn his tactics. There is, of course, another perspective, and it's interesting to see Watson's work lauded when the target is Japanese whaling vessels, yet ridiculed when Canadian seal hunters are in his sights.

In a This profile from the summer of 2007, Dayna Boyer talks to Watson and delves a little deeper into his motivations than has been the case lately. By no means does he come across as virtuous, but the article is free of overblown reactions to Watson's tactics.


More entries on: Activism | Planet Earth

February 19, 2008

Moving environmentalism forward

Posted by mason at 11:05 AM ET | Comments (0)

Two things that have come through my life recently have me thinking about problems and solutions. The first is an incredibly well-presented online video and website called The Story of Stuff. In it, activist Annie Leonard describes her years-long investigation of the lifetime of consumer goods: where they come from, how they get in our homes and what happens when we trash them. The video is about 20 minutes long and worth a look. Its design is simple and elegant and features clever animations and plain, urgent language.

But something about it makes me feel uncomfortable. It's 19 minutes and 30 seconds about the problem at hand and roughly 30 seconds about hope for change. It appears to be aimed at the average consumer, but its educational tone comes across as a bit pedantic. It encourages viewers to stay on the site and click around for information and stories about positive change, and that's probably where the real use of the site comes in, but I expect only a small percentage of viewers take the time to stick with it -- especially if they approach the topic as skeptics.

Contrast this with a talk I went to last night by Chris Turner, journalist and author of the book The Geography of Hope: A Guided Tour of the World We Need. Through a photo slideshow and Q&A session, Turner outlined some of the amazing strides being made in sustainable living in places like Germany, Denmark, New Mexico and Thailand. Concrete examples of new ways to live, with an emphasis on renewable energy, reducing consumption and recycling. He mentioned a new wave of environmentalism, moving beyond doom-and-gloom predictions and concentrating on what is possible with the technology and willpower we already possess.

In my mind, this is the best way to reach the constituencies of people who remain doubtful about the urgency of climate change or the problems with the free market system. Enough warnings. Those who will listen to the warnings have already heard, and those who will not need a new kind of motivation for change. By getting the word out -- and Turner mentioned an activist he knows who consults for Wal-Mart, and the importance of spreading our messages through the mainstream, commercial media -- we are best positioned to inspire change in others.

More entries on: Activism | Generally Interesting | Human rights | Planet Earth

January 11, 2008

Food combining

Posted by jessica at 12:20 PM ET | Comments (0)

Tata motors of India has developed world's cheapest car, revving engines in news-land. Retailing for $2,500, the tiny, amenity-less car is being compared to the Volkswagen for putting poor folks in the driver's seat. While the vehicles are supposed to be lower-emission than North American cars, the price means there will be millions more polluters on the road, which is not a good thing. The same day the tiny car story broke, the Globe and Mail ran a less-noticed piece about two men who travelled over 7,000 km in a vehicle fuelled by biodiesel derived from chocolate.

The obvious question now is: Can these two technologies be combined? And, if so, where can I get one?

More entries on: Planet Earth

November 19, 2007

'Oil flows south, impact flow north:' Dominion graphic

Posted by mason at 02:05 AM ET | Comments (0)

regionmap.jpg As part of its continuing coverage of the Alberta tar sands, The Dominion has published a detailed map of Alberta's oil apparatus, as well as proposed and likely future hot spots for Alberta, B.C. and the North. It's an excellent graphic, and a great example of how web content need not include bells and whistles to be effective, informative and pleasing to the eye.

More entries on: Planet Earth

October 26, 2007

Dominion tackles tar sands

Posted by mason at 12:13 PM ET | Comments (5)


One of the biggest mining endeavours in the world, the tar sands development in Alberta, is changing the face of that province and raises several issues around the environment, aboriginal rights, corporate taxation and more.

Our friends at The Dominion have put together a special issue examining the tar sands development from several angles. In one article, a writer checks out Fort McMurray's work camps, while in another a local First Nations activist explains why the fossil fuel regime in Alberta is a threat. There's even a transcript of a speech the Prime Minister gave to the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce in July 2006 on the tar sands.


More entries on: Planet Earth

October 17, 2007

Is My Dad Pro Global Warming?

Posted by jesse at 05:48 PM ET | Comments (2)

So my Dad just bought an RV. I have no idea what RV actually stands for, but I have a feeling it might be something like Roaming Village. As I write this my dad is driving back from Cincinnati in his new Death Star, but alot of other things are happening too: two major wars are being fought over oil in the Middle East, the Alberta Tar Sands development is destroying a chunk of Alberta the size of Florida, polar bears could very possibly wash up at our front step any day, and Stephen Harper has said that Canada will not meet Kyoto protocols. That's fine though, my dad's retired, and he definitely deserves it, right?

But...this is no ordinary RV. I'm pretty sure it's a hybrid, so that saves gas. One part gasoline, two parts baby seal pelts. I believe two baby seal pelts and one gallon of gasoline will allow the RV to travel two kms below the speed limit in the passing lane for approximately three kms.

And the features this thing has, never mind the seals, emissions, gas, polar bears, Alberta. It has a satellite dish that picks up over 500 channels! The dish actually shoots a signal into space so strong that it rips new holes in the ozone layer as you watch Dancing with the Stars. As the small planet on wheels drives along, the signal from the dish, like a loose thread on a sweater, gradually pulls the ozone directly out of the sky, allowing us down here to get more direct sunrays. So that's good, isn't it? Winter is overrated anyways.

So why did my dad buy the traveling apocalypse?

Because he can. Now he didn't actually say this was the reason, but I know it is. And the truth is, that's the real reason behind most bad decisions made that will effect us in the future. Take any given man-made problem in the world, and somewhere there is somebody responsible for it who is candidly telling his/her son, Cus I can.

And I accept it, because he's my dad, and blood is thicker than water, even when that water buries downtown Manhattan. As long as people continue to accept this answer, until Cus I can no longer cuts it, I guess we're going to be eternally stuck behind that metaphorical 40 foot RV driving slow in the passing lane.

Jesse Kinos-Goodin is a Toronto-based journalism student and intern at This Magazine. He is counting the seconds to graduation when he can finally fill out something other than student on all those forms.
Current girlcrush: Anybody with the First name Jessica and the last name Biel or Alba.
Current boycrush: Radiohead, for figuring out how to stick to tha Man
Political compass: Economic -8.12 Social -6.00

More entries on: From the intern desk | Planet Earth

October 16, 2007

Throne Speech 1.0

Posted by calvin at 07:43 PM ET | Comments (4)

"Canada's emissions cannot be brought to the level required under the Kyoto Protocol."
Tough on crime, but apparently not tough on white collar crime.

More entries on: Planet Earth

September 05, 2007

U.S. Senate uses questionable results to denounce global warming

Posted by mason at 12:44 AM ET | Comments (3)

This entry from the U.S. Senate blog reads like an "I told you so" from climate change skeptics, when really there's nothing endorsing rejection of global warming in it.

More entries on: Planet Earth

July 26, 2007

Indexing air quality: Project Smog, week 2

Posted by mason at 01:04 PM ET | Comments (0)

How much can one little letter do to help improve air quality? In week 2 of our six-week Project Smog series, Jesse McLean asks just that. He looks at the AQHI (Air Quality Health Index), a new index that has replaced the AQI (Air Quality Index) in parts of B.C. and Toronto. What's different? From the story:

Where the existing system reflects a region's air quality in relation to provincial standards, AQHI will rate air quality based on its risk to human health--and that might make all the difference.

Click here to read the rest of the article, and remember to check back each Wednesday for the next instalment.

More entries on: Planet Earth | Project Smog | THIS matters

July 19, 2007

Introducing Project Smog

Posted by jessica at 02:22 PM ET | Comments (4)

Because it's time for some good, scary summer reading, this week This Magazine launches a six-week web feature on air quality. The first part of the in-depth series by This's own Jesse McLean is now online. Part I, "We don't need no regulation," challenges the myth of Canada as an environmental leader by looking at our air quality regulations -- or lack of them.

Future installments will explore -- among other things -- the effects of bad air on childhood asthma rates, transboundary pollution from the United States and the Aamjiwnaang people's deadly exposure to chemical plants.

So throw on that gas mask, and stay tuned.


More entries on: Planet Earth | Project Smog | THIS matters

June 04, 2007

Blackle aims to brighten your days by darkening your searches

Posted by mason at 02:27 PM ET | Comments (4)


Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. For example, April’s federal and Ontario government decisions to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs struck me as a bit of a drop in the bucket when compared with other changes that could be made to save energy, such as turning off lights in office buildings overnight.

The value of small changes is well illustrated, though, with the introduction of Blackle. According to the site’s “About” page, Blackle was inspired by a January blog post calculating the energy used by a white screen versus a black screen:

Take at look at Google, who gets about 200 million queries a day. Let’s assume each query is displayed for about 10 seconds; that means Google is running for about 550,000 hours every day on some desktop. Assuming that users run Google in full screen mode, the shift to a black background will save a total of 15 (74-59) watts. That turns into a global savings of 8.3 Megawatt-hours per day, or about 3000 Megawatt-hours a year.

Three thousand megawatt-hours a year. That’s no small amount. Motivated by this big number, Blackle was set up by Sydney, Australia’s Heap Media as a search page powered by a Google custom search.

Unfortunately, the two queries I tested it with turned up different results than the same or search. (One was “pronger suspended,” the other “incandescent light bulbs ban.”) I’m not sure what accounts for the difference. Maybe it’s the Australian factor. Nevertheless, Blackle demonstrates original thinking on the day-to-day problems of climate change.

More entries on: Interweb | Planet Earth

April 17, 2007

the answer, my friend

Posted by john_d at 09:44 AM ET | Comments (3)

(image courtesy Cape Cod Today)

We all know what happens when good and evil collide over issues that affect us all. When developers look to gentrify a run-down community with no plan in place for the displaced former residents, it's not hard for a committed lefty to pick out the good guys and the bad guys. Sean Condon writes about just such a scenario in the current issue of THIS Magazine.

But what happens when both sides in a fight can make a significant lefty-sounding claim? I wrote a while back about Sarah Harmer's campaign to block some aggregate mining on the ecologically sensitive Niagara Escarpment, and noted that the company in question was advancing environmental arguments of its own. The mere mention of NIMBYism in the discussion brought out the tried and true accusations of environmental ignorance. "Have you ever heard of a butternut tree?," I was asked, as if that had any significance in a discussion of whose backyard gets ravaged to build the roads we all use and will continue to use for the foreseeable future. Someone's backyard will be ravaged, but if NOW Magazine doesn't aim its awesome hippy-journalism power at it, we won't have to worry about whose home was ruined while we drive to the cottage in our friend's new hybrid.

Residents of Wolfe Island (near Kingston, Ontario) are dealing with just this kind of lefty YIYBYism (Yes, In Your Back Yard), as a growing environmentalism and concern for our sustainable and green energy future is pushing a windfarm project at them and tearing the community apart. Check out this article from the Kingston Whig-Standard, which shows longtime neighbours locked in an emotional debate about appropriate land use, natural sightlines and property values. "This is Hatfield and McCoy stuff," one resident says.

I am excited about the potential for wind energy. My roots are in Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany, a gusty farming lowland on the North Sea (used to belong to Denmark before that hyper-ambitious Bismarck came along) that is now home to elegant and picturesque windfarms. These modern developments blend in with the traditional humanscape very appropriately (no shortage of creaky old wooden windmills in northern Europe), and feed an awful lot of power back to the rest of Germany. I love the sight of Toronto's one wind turbine. It makes a perfect companion to the skyline and acts as a handy landmark for local sailors looking for the eastern edge of Humber Bay.

But just because I think wind power is great, and I happen to like the sight of windfarms in the distance, do I have the right to impose my chosen energy source on someone else? As much as I love my one turbine, would I be as enthusiastic if there were ten in my backyard? Robert Kennedy Jr. has some big lefty-enviro credentials, and he has worked against a windfarm project slated for his beloved Nantucket Sound.

Used to be someone had to live next to the coal-plant so the rest of us could read our books at night. If we were reading Marx & Engels, it all seemed somehow justified.

It's probably a whole lot nicer living near the turbines. Still, who's lining up to pick the short straw on this one?

More entries on: Planet Earth

April 02, 2007

100-mile diet? What about the 100-mile suit?

Posted by ron at 12:24 PM ET | Comments (16)

100mile suit.JPGThis magazine has talked about the 100-mile diet before. Ok, well, what about the 100-mile suit? If you look at the labels on your clothing you'll quickly realize that a lot of oil was burnt to ship those items to you. Factor in the cost of growing, processing and shipping the materials and it gets worse.

A team in Philadelphia did a little experiment and came up with the 100-mile suit. This man's outfit is made (almost completely) of materials grown, processed and then tailored in the 100-mile radius around Philly.

More entries on: Planet Earth

March 21, 2007

Holy Bottled Water

Posted by Ariel Troster at 11:28 AM ET | Comments (3)

Holy Water!.jpg

Does the insanity ever end? This seems like the perfect combination of corporate greed and religious whacknuttery (wow, I just invented that word).

Here's my favourite quote from their website: "WATER IS TWICE AS VALUABLE AS OIL. Now you can import this valuable commodity to your country, already bottled with your own private label or Holy Bottled Water will create an appealing label to meet any of your needs."

Or maybe: "From the River of Living Water flows 'Holy Bottled Water' Produced by man under the inspiration of God."

More entries on: Planet Earth

March 20, 2007

Bottling profit, not altruism

Posted by Ariel Troster at 10:04 AM ET | Comments (6)


This Thursday is World Water Day, and you may have read the gushing announcement from Starbucks about how the company is planning to donate 5 cents from every bottle of their new Ethos bottled water to "benefit India and Kenya." Starbucks says its goal is to donate $10 million by 2010 to organizations that "are helping to alleviate the world's water crisis."

Now, the irony of selling bottled water in an effort to "save the world's water" is so ridiculous I don't even know what to do with this ... Okay, for starters, the bottling of water has contributed directly to the crisis that the Starbucks CEOs seem so concerned about.

In India, underground aquifiers have been sucked dry, and locals are forced to buy water back in bottles for their drinking and cooking needs. In the southern state of Kerala, Coke and Pepsi use satellite imagery to locate reservoirs of groundwater and in Plachimada, bottling companies extract up to 1.5 million litres of water every day. All 260-bore wells installed by public authorities have gone dry. As well, the soil, water and air around the plant have become contaminated from a sludge by-product, made up of cadmium and other trace metals.

This same story is being told in community after community, all over the world. For more information on the devastation caused by water bottling companies, check out the Polaris Institute's Inside the Bottle project.

Now, this is not to mention Starbucks' less-than-rosy record when it comes to interactions with communities in the Global South. Oxfam recently launched a campaign targeting Starbucks for denying the rights of Ethiopian farmers by attempting to patent the names of indigenous coffee beans: Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. According to Oxfam, "Starbucks has continually rejected Ethiopia's requests to resolve the issue, and has refused to sign a royalty-free licensing agreement that would recognize Ethiopia's right to control how its own coffee names are used."

There are lots of World Water Day events going on in Canada and around the world on March 22nd, so no need to attend the ones being promoted by Starbucks (where no doubt they will encourage you to buy their branded water to help save the world's water. Ack.) Here's where you can find a list of community events all over Canada. And check out the Canadian Union of Public Employees' World Water Day online action centre here.

More entries on: Planet Earth

February 23, 2007

The Inconvenient Truth About Flying

Posted by ron at 12:20 PM ET | Comments (4)

When our elected officials get around to talking about global warming a lot gets said about reducing emissions from industry, from cars and even from our homes but little or nothing gets said about flying.

Face it whether we like or not flying contributes a lot to climate change. The Suzuki foundation puts the number at somewhere around 5% of global CO2 output while another figure has that number skyrocketing up into the double digits by 2050.

What's worse the emissions caused by all of those jets winging their way across the country or to your favourite beach spot is two-to-four times worse because they're being created in the upper atmosphere.

It gets worse. Most emissions from air travel aren't included in the Kyoto protocol and so the issue has largely flown under the radar (excuse the pun).

Let's face it this is a large country and most Canadians would rather cram onto an Air Canada flight than do a cross-country drive to Vancouver, or Halifax or Calgary in the middle of winter. Also, those nice Cuban vacations get awfully difficult when flying gets cut out of the transportation equation.

There are a few partial solutions:

1) Shift the financial burdens. Stop bailing out Air Canada and subsidising the airline industry. Instead shift the cash to rail service. Think of how many flights fly from Toronto to Montreal, or Toronto to Ottawa. Imagine if many of these flights were replaced by train trips?

2) Encourage carbon off-setting. Imagine if individuals or whole airlines decided to off-set their emissions?

3) Change your habits. Don't fly. Take the train, drive (and carpool while you're at it). Ask yourself whether that flight really is necessary.

Admittedly some of these solutions would wreak havoc on the airline industry. Those airline tickets would also get more expensive but air travel has only been commonplace for the last 30 years or so. Our grandparents lived without it maybe it's time we thought about living without it again.

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January 02, 2007

what if the awesome power of WalMart were used for good?

Posted by john_d at 10:19 AM ET | Comments (4)

From today's New York Times -- what if WalMart forced Americans to drastically reduce their energy consumption? Would we like the megacorp a little bit more than we currently do? Even just a little bit?

WalMart Pushes Energy Efficient Light Bulbs on a Reluctant Population

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December 02, 2006

Commitment to sustainability or smogscreen?

Posted by mason at 06:49 PM ET | Comments (7)


One of Andrew Potter’s comments on the Liberal convention was bang-on:

A party that did sweet bugger all about Kyoto for 13 years, despite possessing three bulletproof majorities, will now elect a leader whose overriding agenda will be to save the Earth from the CO2 depradations of Americans and Stephen Harper. I can’t imagine they’ll get away with it, but you never know. At any rate, that is pretty much all any of them talked about in any substantial manner.

And now they’ve elected Stéphane Dion. The likely next Prime Minister of the country, he was so vocal about the environment during the campaign he almost seemed like a one-issue candidate. But as environment minister under Paul Martin, he didn’t accomplish much. I don’t doubt he means what he says (and the fact that he named his husky Kyoto will probably play well in other countries, even if it means very little), but I wonder how much he can accomplish on what he calls the defining issue of our time.

I hope this time the Liberals are serious about sustainable development, I really do. If I see any proof of it, I might even consider voting for them.


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November 15, 2006

Next up: Emissions restrictions on Don Cherry

Posted by mason at 11:02 AM ET | Comments (0)


As a subscriber to The Hockey News, the last thing I expect to see is a story on global warming. But there it is, on page 51 of this week’s edition (not available online, though): a nice Adam Proteau column on NHLers whose eyes are wide open when it comes to climate change issues.

Calgary Flames defenceman Andrew Ference has to be one of the most environmentally conscious guys in pro sports—the article says he drives a hybrid car and it took one call to the hydro company to switch his home to wind power. “It shows you that all it takes is a couple minutes out of your day, or a few dollars out of your paycheque and you can have a positive effect,” he said.

Meantime, veteran forward Sami Kapanen told THN he has heard the winters aren’t as cold in his native Finland nowadays, a concern for young hockey players who develop their skills outdoors.

I fully expect to see letters in the next edition of the magazine criticizing The Hockey News for giving a forum to bleeding heart NHLers who should just shut up and play the game. The big question is, how many of those letters will be written under assumed names by Don Cherry?


More entries on: Planet Earth | Sport

October 31, 2006

Don't worry, we're doomed

Posted by mason at 11:29 AM ET | Comments (3)

Two bits of pretty scary news in the past two days:

1. World hunger ‘intolerable,’ with scant progress in decade: UN

2. Slumping Flames fall to Capitals. Er, no. Scratch that. Global warming will devastate economy: report

Not that any of us are necessarily that surprised, but the news hardly comes as a welcome reminder. I’ve often been pretty amazed at the collective optimism (ignorance?) of entire populations when things are at their worst, with no hope in sight. It’s bad enough to have to hear about it from afar, but with something as awful as abject hunger one question is never asked, let alone answered: Why aren’t more people worried? Can ignorance really be to blame when you hear warning after warning about how much trouble pollution is getting us in?

In North America there is nothing even approaching urgency toward fixing the problem of global warming. In the past, naysayers have been unwilling to sacrifice jobs and the economy to save the planet in some distant future. Now it looks like we’ll lose both. Stuff like this makes me want to banish any thought of procreating—why bring a child into a place like this?

Not that I’m writing my suicide note—I’m too inspired by the communities around me that actually care about social change—but sometimes it makes me wonder why more people aren’t giving up.

More entries on: Human rights | Planet Earth | Signs of the Apocalypse

October 06, 2006

Greening Apple

Posted by mason at 05:06 PM ET | Comments (5)

It's about time we saw a campaign like this: Greenpeace has launched an effort to organize Apple customers and demand that the company employ non-toxic materials in its hardware.

For those of us who consider themselves environmentalists and buy a lot of junk from Apple (myself included), it's time to stop turning a blind eye to the harmful impacts of e-waste on the planet, as well as on workers in developing countries.

If any constituency is suited to a campaign getting to change a company's behaviour, it's Apple users. Greenpeace has set up a few cool features on its Green My Apple site that allow creative types to design t-shirts, make videos or print stickers to slap on Apple products.

Let's do it, folks.

More entries on: Activism | Human rights | Interweb | Planet Earth

October 05, 2006

Open source research

Posted by mason at 12:21 PM ET | Comments (16)

A nice post from The Conscious Earth serves as a reminder that oftentimes, activists are working for the common good rather than personal gain. Take David Suzuki. When Liberal party leadership candidate Stéphane Dion borrowed, um, liberally from Suzuki’s research for his environmental platform, Suzuki was pleased, saying, “the whole point of conducting and publishing this research is to get people to actually use it.” Meanwhile, conservative commentators couldn’t get on Dion for “plagiarism” fast enough, completely missing the point.

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August 09, 2006

Please turn off all cellphones -- and don't throw them away

Posted by mason at 02:44 AM ET | Comments (4)

Hands up everyone who has bought a computer, cellphone, iPod or other electronic device in the past year. Pretty cool gadget you’ve got, isn’t it? Now, what happened to the item it replaced? Some of us probably threw the old device out, but others may find a growing pile of old electronics filling junk drawers, basements and garages. If you’re like me, the idea of turfing an ancient pager or CD player doesn’t sit well, what with lead, cadmium and mercury among the pollutants likely to seep into the groundwater.

Yesterday morning on CBC Radio’s The Current, guest host Terry Millewski spoke with Giles Slade, author of “Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America.” The built-in short lifespan of most devices is a massive threat to our environment, Slade said, and it’s only getting worse as consumer demand for technological gimmickry means more devices than ever are bound for the landfill.

Luckily there are recyclers who will take care of your old electronics, and if you live in Alberta there’s even a provincial program that builds the cost of recycling into the item’s price at purchase (as noted in the September/October 2005 issue of This). For these initiatives to successfully keep contaminants at bay, though, more people need to know about them and they need to be more convenient for people to take advantage of. So tell your friends.

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August 08, 2006

Indie Label Sub Pop No Eco Slacker

Posted by calvin at 06:28 PM ET | Comments (4)

The sweet irony of Sup Pop records is that the defiantly indie Seattle record label came to prominence during the era of Generation X disaffected slackerdom. Now eighteen years old and still repping some of the finest indie artists, the label has gone 100% green energy. That means that all energy consumed by the company is considered to be 100% from renewable sources (such as wind or solar) as certified by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

"I was made aware of the program by one of my co-workers. I was, quite frankly, shocked by how easy it is to support renewable energy. Green Tags are a simple way for anyone to choose wind energy, which, in turn, lowers dependence on burning fossils fuels for energy," said Jonathan Poneman, president of Sub Pop Records. "Green Tags fulfill an important commitment to both the planet and the Pacific Northwest, where Sub Pop is rooted."

Naturally, it takes an small independant business to initiate such a change. With significant entrenchment (re: investment) in fossil fuel infrastructure, Big Business must meet its quarterly shareholder profit commitments. As such, Big Business is unwilling to invest in longer term, environmentally responsible initiatives that do not provide a "tangible" value to their investors. So the question is, how to we incent Big Business to follow Sub Pop's lead? Since voting with our wallets seems to be the loudest form of consumer power, I guess we gotta go out there and buy a shitload of records.

The full press release after the jump.

Sub Pop Records Sets New Industry Standard by “Greening” Label with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation

Best Known for Representing Upcoming Artists, Label Becomes the First to Purchase Green-e Certified Green Tags

Seattle, Wash. (July 31, 2006) – Sub Pop Records, the music label that has given rise to bands ranging from Nirvana to The Shins, announced today that it has purchased enough Green-e certified Green Tags, also known as renewable energy credits, from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to equal 100 percent of the company's energy use. To date, Sub Pop records is the first Green-e certified record label company in the United States.
"I was made aware of the program by one of my co-workers. I was, quite frankly, shocked by how easy it is to support renewable energy. Green Tags are a simple way for anyone to choose wind energy, which, in turn, lowers dependence on burning fossils fuels for energy," said Jonathan Poneman, president of Sub Pop Records. "Green Tags fulfill an important commitment to both the planet and the Pacific Northwest, where Sub Pop is rooted."

Earlier this year, Sub Pop Records' recording artist Kelley Stoltz released Below the Branches as the first album to be green powered and incorporate the Green-e label on its packaging. Like Kelley Stoltz, Sub Pop Records is promoting climate recovery by supporting new renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.

"Sub Pop has been synonymous with helping talented new artists support their passion for creating music," said Patrick Nye, director of sales of Bonneville Environmental Foundation. "Now, Sub Pop Records is directing the same energy toward new, renewable sources of power."

Both Sub Pop Records and Kelley Stoltz hope to influence other artists and music fans to consider what they can do to shift our nation’s energy model to clean renewable technologies.

About Sub Pop Records

Sub Pop Records started eighteen years ago with releases from bands that were relatively unknown at the time, including Mudhoney, Nirvana and Soundgarden. The label continues to champion new artists that have quickly become part of the music lexicon including The Postal Service, The Shins, Iron and Wine, Wolf Parade, and Band of Horses. Sub Pop is based in Seattle, Washington. Visit

About the Bonneville Environmental Foundation

The Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, was established in 1998 to restore watershed ecosystems and further the development and use of new renewable energy resources. Through revenues generated from the sales of green power products such a Green Tags, BEF funds projects that restore damaged watersheds and support new renewable energy products from solar, wind and biomass. BEF pioneered the sale of Green Tags in 2000 and has helped establish national standards for certification and trading. Created by regional environmental groups and the Bonneville Power Administration, the Foundation operates collaboratively with but independent of both. or

About Green-e and the Center for Resource Solutions

Launched in 1997, the Green-e Renewable Energy Certification Program is the leading independent certification and verification program that sets standards for renewable energy options. The Green-e logo serves as the national symbol for consumer protection and "seal of approval" indicating high quality, verified renewable energy. Green-e provides an easy way for consumers to find environmentally friendly energy options that fit their budget and present much less environmental impact than electricity generated primarily by fossil fuels. To learn more about certified renewable energy available in all 50 states, visit, or call 888.63.GREEN.

Green-e is a program of the Center for Resource Solutions, a national nonprofit organization that works to make it easier for people and organizations to use renewable energy as a tool for mitigating climate change. CRS designs and operates national and international programs that support the increased supply and use of renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, low-impact hydroelectric power, and other clean energy sources. To learn more about CRS, visit:

More entries on: Ear candy | Planet Earth

July 14, 2006

to ponder on the weekend

Posted by john_d at 03:54 PM ET | Comments (0)

"Power is essential for survival, but additional power is also needed for doing anything fast and complicated, like eating your neighbour..."

From a discussion of:

Current Middle East conflict? -- No.

Iraq/Kuwait, early 90's? -- No.

North and South Korea? -- No again.

The quote is from a Times Literary Supplement review of the book Power, Sex, Suicide by Nick Lane, about the elemental symbiotic relationship that occurs between mitochondria and the larger host cells that are the building blocks of all life on this planet.

Okay, now smoke a joint and reread this posting.

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June 15, 2006

and also get one of them nifty power washers

Posted by john_d at 09:46 AM ET | Comments (3)

Ten years ago, I swear, a decade in the past, I had this conversation with a friend:

She: "Why can't I go to Canadian Tire and buy an affordable wind turbine or solar panel set for the roof of my house?"

Me: "I know. It's, like, a market crying out to be serviced by a big company-- what with the high cost of hydro, and the do-it-yourself craze."

She: "Dumb bastards. It'll probably take them a decade to figure out that people acually want to generate their own power."

Me: "Well, what do you expect? From my experience, it looks like the entire company is staffed by sullen teenagers with their first ever hangover."

Well, hats off to Canadian Tire. I got their flyer in the mail the other day, pointing me in the direction of this website:

Canadian Tire Power

Now, while I'm shopping for that great seat warmer for my four-wheel ATV, I can also pick up a planet saving, zero-emissions turbine generator.

The revolution will be suburbanized.

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June 12, 2006

Can we really turn the tide?

Posted by mason at 01:29 PM ET | Comments (5)

From Mother Jones magazine in the United States comes an innovative campaign to educate people about the threats to the world’s oceans and help them to take action. Signing up to be an Ocean Voyager means you’ll get a new message each week for five weeks featuring video episodes about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, orcas under siege and real-life pirates, among other things.

Each episode concludes with a simple action you can do to make a difference, such as participating in a letter-writing campaign for tougher legislation or making better shopping choices. The campaign is aimed at an American audience, but still the episodes are informative and, at times, even shocking.

The big question is, will the campaign actually translate into action? I’ll be interested to see how MoJo measures its success and what concrete changes, if any, come about.

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June 06, 2006

Encouraging The Public To Celebrate So The Government Doesn't Have To

Posted by ron at 12:24 PM ET | Comments (0)

I ran into this press release from Environment Minister Rona Ambrose which calls on Canadians to celebrate Canadian Environment Week which runs until June 10th.

The last quote puts things into perspective "I encourage Canadians to think about their impact on the environment and to act all year round to protect it. Let's take this week to celebrate our accomplishments."

Ok Rona, you first and don't think too hard.

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