Move over Jenny Craig -- count carbon instead of calories!

Okay, this one is just weird. Walker's Crisps (the U.K. division of Pepsi-owned Lay's Potato Chips) have just instituted another fun number to track on their packaging -- in addition to all the regular nutrition information (sort of a misnomer when you're talking about potato chips) they're now listing a "carbon label" that states, in this case, that 75 grams of carbon were emitted to bring you the tasty 35 gram bag of crisps. That number counts the amount of carbon emitted in production, in getting the bag to the store, and so on -- essentially, it's the bag's personal carbon footprint.

According to this article this move on Pepsico's part is going to initiate a new marketing war in which all manner of food products will feature similar labels, in the hopes of garnering increased sales from the green-friendly demographic. What brand of overpriced sugar water do you want to buy -- if the nutritional elements are more-or-less the same, they're hoping you'll go with the one that sports a lower carbon emission label.

Once again, I'm really big into positive change and social responsibility, but this seems like a cheap marketing ploy to me. There's no context -- clearly if there's a brand that produces less carbon emissions that's a good thing -- but really, how is the layman to know the environmental impact of five or six grams of carbon? I think it's going to be an excuse to jack up the already-inflated prices on consumer goods in the interest of pretending to be "green". Carbon is carbon, whether it's 50 grams or 30 grams.

Food For Thought

Surprise, surprise. You mess with nature, you get unintended consequences. According to this article provided by the Environmental News Network, scientists attached to the Nature Institute have begun tracking all the wild and wacky side effects associated with feeding genetically modified food to various test animals.

Am I the only one totally not shocked by this? I'm all for progress, but the idea of genetically modified food has always been kind of scary to me -- I mean, nature puts genes in order for a reason, right? Who are we to monkey with it? And what happens in the long term when we start changing the fundamental building blocks of life?

I'm by no means a traditionalist -- I believe a lot of things need to start changing if we're going to save the planet and ourselves -- I'm just not sure that playing God with our food is the right way to go.

Comments and thoughts appreciated, as always!


Not-So-Happy Feet

Sigh. Another day, another species slated for extinction thanks to our continuing squandering of our world's natural resources.

Those cute and cuddly Emperor penguins, as seen in Happy Feet and March of the Penguins, are expected to die out in the next hundred years if current trends continue. Scientists estimate by 2100 there will be no more than 600 breeding couples left in the world; that's a 95% decline in less than a century. Thanks to global warming and the decline of the polar ice caps, the fish species the Emperors feed on are dying out, resulting in a food deficit for the penguin population.

Yet another reason we need to start thinking proactively and working to stop the destruction of the ice caps. Nobody is going to speak for those penguins -- unlike the movie, it's up to us to help these poor creatures out in their hour of need.

Check out the full story here.

Steps forward!

For all those nay-sayers who don't believe in the efficacy of electricity as a viable alternative to fossil fuel, check this out.

The Westchester Airport has replaced its aging fleet of gas-powered auxiliary vehicles with green-friendly electric trucks in an effort to save overhead costs and help out the environment. In addition to saving the airport somewhere in the realm of $200,000.00 a year in fuel costs, the changeover is estimated to prevent 27,000 tons of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere over the next 14 years (the vehicles have a 14 year lifespan).

I'm thrilled to see this story come out because it supports what I've been saying all along -- despite the high initial cost of transferring to electric energy, the benefits are undeniable. Now if we can get everybody on board with this initiative, we might start seeing some significant changes in the quality of our air inside our lifetimes. Breathe easy friends!


This is a bit of a departure...

...but I think it's still an important topic in the interest of a greener future.

I read a lot of science fiction when I was a kid, and a lot of the really apocalyptic stuff dealt with population explosions and the resulting efforts made to either a) contain the problem or b) expand to allow more space for everyone.

As we near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a lot of the problems foreseen by Isaac Asimov and Kurt Vonnegut are starting to come to pass. The U.N.'s medium population projection suggests that Earth will be "supporting" a population of close to ten billion humans (maybe more) inside of forty years. I put "supporting" in quotations because realistically this planet can't take that kind of pressure. We've already stretched our natural resources to the breaking point, and that's with a little more than half the projected population.

So what do we do? Short of a disease epidemic or world war, we're not liable to see a lot of people killed off in the next few years, so it seems the only option we have is planned parenting (i.e. birth control and education). I came across this article that uses Iran as an example of a nation where population control based on planned parenting has started to turn the tides of overpopulation, and frankly -- I don't mean to be rude, but if a nation as morally opposed to birth control as Iran has been in years past can overcome that bias and embrace population control as a conscientious move to help ourselves and the planet, well, what excuse does the western world have to not follow suit?

The last thing we should be doing, in my opinion, is encouraging our children to have huge families -- why don't we teach them about sustainability instead?

If you have opinions on this charged subject, especially if they're in opposition to what I'm saying, please don't hesitate to comment -- I could use a little debate now and again!

I knew there was a reason...

...everyone was so excited about electing Barack Obama as the new President of the U.S.

According to the Environmental News Network, President Obama is planning to revisit a California proposal to impose limits on CO2 emissions produced by civilian vehicles. The proposal was (surprise surprise) turned down by the Bush administration, but Obama is interested enough in California's desire to cut their emissions by 30% over the next seven years that he's willing to give the plan another chance.

The full article is here.

I foresee only one negative out of this whole situation, and it's a bigger-picture problem. I know that Obama's policies sound great on paper, and doubtless he's a fantastic public speaker, but what his supporters both south of the border and here in Canada need to remember is that all this much-touted "change" is not going to appear overnight, or probably even in the first year. Case in point, it's going to take California until 2016 to reduce their toxic emissions by a third. At that rate, I'll be going through my midlife crisis and menopause by the time they drop their emissions to zero (if they actually could, which they can't). My point is, give the guy time to work. Change is coming, I'm sure of it, but it's not going to be as simple as some people seem to think.

Just food for thought.


Damned if we do...

It never fails. In our never-ending quest to retroactively fix all the damage we've done to our environment, humanity spends a considerable amount of time, effort and money trying to wean ourselves from non-renewable resources like oil -- we look for alternative ways to power our lives. Of course, I'm all for these initiatives, but sometimes our attempts to do right by our planet have unforeseen consequences.

Almost forty years ago, anthropologist Louis Leakey sent three female scientists into the depths of jungles worldwide, hoping to gain a better understanding of our simian ancestors. Everybody knows who Jane Goodall was (the chimp lady) and some people might remember Dian Fossey, but few -- if any -- recognize the name Birute Mary Galdikas, the woman in charge of studying orangutans. As of this writing, Galdikas is the only one still working in the field, and what she's discovered recently casts a serious shadow on our green initiatives.

Palm oil is widely regarded as an acceptable substitute for gasoline as a fuel for our internal combustion engines (the thing that powers your car), and is in high demand the world over. Unfortunately, in an effort to provide for this increasing demand, Indonesian forests are being clear-cut to make way for palm oil plantations, resulting in serious damage to the ecosystem of the native red apes. This noble creature is now on the verge of extinction because their habitat is being destroyed to make way for the "green" fuel of the future.

I guess this is the result of our consistent abuse of our natural environment over the last several thousand years -- now, even when we learn from our mistakes and try to fix them, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. If we can't come up with an alternative source of power, we risk further deteriorating the ozone layer and putting life as we know in jeopardy. But palm oil requirements are also destroying precious elements of the global ecosystem. So what do we do next?

Read the article for more information on this important issue.


Power Up!

For those of us (like me) whose knowledge of nuclear power is woefully outdated, I happened upon an informative video that helps explain it from the ground up. We all know it's a good idea -- now here's why.


The Answer Is Blowin' In The Wind...?

Anybody who reads this blog knows very well how staunch a supporter I am of green initiatives and environmentally-conscious thinking. The idea of green power supplies makes me fairly tingle with delight. But sometimes I'll read an article like this one and I start to question the validity of some of these technologies.

Wind power makes a certain amount of sense to me -- it's about as clean as you get, and from what I understand there's a lot of energy to be had by tapping into air movement -- but on the same token, it seems like there's an awful lot of work involved for very little payoff. Now, obviously, there's work involved in saving the world, and I'm the first person to step up to that plate. But it seems to me that we're going to do more harm than good in building, as the article suggests, a wind turbine for every rooftop...I mean, in order for these turbines to be effective they have to be constantly fed, well, wind. And if you figure you clog up an entire neighbourhood with giant fans on every rooftop...won't that sort of cause a mass drop in efficiency for each individual turbine? Wind resistance and all that? I'm not a physicist, so I don't really know how this works...maybe one of you can enlighten me?

Rather than propping up giant fans all over the place, I'd be more interested to see a larger initiative that would place several large (very large) turbines about 20,000 feet up where the wind activity is severe all the time, and have those turbines power generators on the ground. I know, me and Isaac Asimov, right? But it's food for thought, and to me, makes more sense than millions of tiny generators all over suburbia. What are your thoughts on this issue?


Out of sight, out of mind??

You know, I thought we were past the point in this culture that we figured water resources could serve as bottomless pits for our toxic waste, but apparently not everybody is on the same page.

A mining company in Alaska has petitioned the Supreme Court for permission to dump toxic mining tailings into a nearby lake, even though that action would kill every living thing in the whole body of water. Their reasoning is that, when they're done, they could just restock the lake with "no harm done". Apparently Justice Antonin Scalia is down with this proposal, going on record with this gem: "Isn't it arguable that the best place for really toxic stuff is at the bottom of a lake so long as it stays there?"

No, Mr. Scalia. I would argue there isn't really a "best place" to put toxic waste to begin with. Leaving all our crap at the bottom of some lake in Alaska doesn't make it go away. For reference, I'd point you in the direction of the Great Lakes -- supposedly the biggest freshwater deposit in the world -- and you can't even swim in them anymore, thanks to people like you who figure that out of sight equals out of mind.

Thankfully, some level heads have recognized the importance of this issue -- a positive ruling in favour of the miners would set a precedent throughout the United States basically saying it's fine to use lakes, streams and rivers as industrial dumping grounds. But the overwhelming ignorance of some of the top minds on this case give me pause. Justice John Roberts, for example, seems to think that as long as the fish in question aren't on the endangered list, it's no big loss -- "[t]here are millions of them somewhere else, right?"

Yeah, there are, but if this motion gets passed, it won't be for long. To my American readers -- if you have any interest at all in making sure your drinking water isn't full of mining material, you might want to contact your local government representative and show a little support for the environmental initiative here. Let's try to keep our water clean and our fish alive and swimming, shall we?

See the story here.

Huzzah for Green Schools!

Remember back when you were in grade school, when every other week there was either a choir performance, a really bad play featuring half the kindergarten class dressed up as trees or something, a community bake sale, or any of a host of other extracurricular activities your parents ostensibly wanted to know about?

Right, so do I, but at the time, for some reason I never remembered to tell my mom that I needed a home-made tree costume until the night before the play, and come to think of it, none of the other kids ever bothered telling their parents about any of these functions either. So the schools would send home newsletters with us in our already-cluttered backpacks so our parents would be kept in the know.

Of course, that never really happened either -- those newsletters would either be mixed in with the local paper, junk mail from the pizza place, and the ever-present pile of bills on the kitchen table, and therefore lost until two months after the tree-costume-debacle, or else they would never make it out of my backpack and I wouldn't find them again until it came time to throw out all my leftover homework at the end of the school year. Pretty wasteful, and very inefficient all around.

Luckily, school boards in Illinois have gotten the hint and decided to kill two birds with one stone, by opting to provide an online school newsletter in place of the old paper variety. Their reasoning was twofold. First, the online newsletter is a far greener option as it cuts down on what I can only assume are millions of tons of waste paper every year that never actually get to the parents anyway. Second is related to the first -- having an online option in this day and age is actually a far more reliable way to get information to parents when their kids (like me) drop the ball and forget to hand off the newsletter.

It's a simple but effective idea, and I'm actually surprised that more schools haven't gotten on this bandwagon. If you have kids in a public school, bring up this idea at your next PTA meeting. Every little bit counts, folks!

Check out the original story here.


Indoor Gardening Tips!

Gardening as a source of food, to anyone without access to a couple square feet of fertile soil, may seem like a bit of a stretch. This is especially in the case of an apartment dweller, with little room (or money) for large hydroponics systems. If you can't invest in something like the AeroGarden, a unit that makes growing tomatoes indoors a reality, herb gardening is probably the best option for you.

To begin you'll need to choose possible containers, here are some options but a visit to your local home and garden center and an assessment of the space you wish your garden to occupy will probably give you some ideas as well. Make sure to choose a location with lots of light and which will largely be undisturbed by drafts during the colder months or any heating vents.

Container Options:
  • Window box
  • Hanging baskets
  • Terracotta pots
  • Plastic pots
  • Empty plastic containers (food containers are typically best, even yogurt cups)
  • Foam cups (reminds me of elementary school when we would plant beans)
Other required items:
  • Potting soil (sterile)
  • Gravel
  • Herb seeds (pick them depending on your diet, the location of the garden and your skill level)
  • Sunlight (or grow lamps/fluorescent lighting)
  • Organic bug repellent to keep bugs off your plants (several homemade recipes available on the web, such as cayenne pepper or soap)
Beginners can start with something as simple as mint or basil, before growing a large garden.

Certain herbs benefit from being dried (concentrating the flavor) however ensure the following:
  • Harvest herbs before they flower in the early morning after dew has dried
  • Cut annuals at ground level, perennials three quarters of the way down
  • Rinse in cold water
  • Depending on the herb, drying times and method can vary however it is possible for mold to form on certain plants such as mint
It is possible to freeze herbs, but make sure to clean and blanch them before doing so.

There are several kits available for indoor gardening, including deluxe aeroponics units like AeroGarden that cost upwards of $150 with seed kits priced at $19.95. That being said, its hardly a cost-effective option however it is a very convenient one that appears to yield great results.


Environmentally Friendly Products: Bamboo Yarn and Bamboo Needles

I love how my interests outside of environmentalism can lead me to interesting new environmentally-friendly products. What are these amazing products? Bamboo yarn and bamboo knitting needles!

Source: themissiah (Creative Commons License)

Taking up the art of knitting has been no easy task...I have been combing downtown Toronto for the perfect wool and the perfect needles. It was in one of the first stores I stepped in that I encountered bamboo yarn beyond a simple hank. I found it beside well-organized cubbies of skeins; a scarf made out of bamboo yarn in three differen colors. As I stroked the garment I was absolutely shocked to discover that it was smooth and cool to the touch, nothing at all like the stereotypically itchy woolen garments. You know...the ones grandmothers would knit with good intentions and grandkids begrudgingly put on, all the while complaining about a possible rash? This was nothing like it...this was actually rather luxurious in comparison.

I wondered if this bamboo yarn would be an inexpensive (but very comfortable) alternative to the $10 hanks that I was recommended to use with my chosen pattern. At present I am not sure however my research has come up with the following facts quoted from About.com:
  • Bamboo is a renewable resource. Bamboo can be harvested without killing the plant, and it only takes a few months before the plant is ready to be harvested again. That makes it an environmentally friendly choice.
  • Bamboo yarn, when not mixed with unnatural fibers, is biodegradable.
  • Bamboo yarn is often dyed with more natural dyes that are safer for the environment.
  • Bamboo fabric is naturally antibacterial.
  • Bamboo also has ultra-violet protective properties.
  • Fabric knitted with bamboo is quite breathable and cool and has great drape.
  • Bamboo has a good luster, similar to mercerized cotton.
  • Bamboo is strong, flexible, and can be softer than silk when spun into yarn.
Make sure to read the article for more information on bamboo yarn.

When it comes to bamboo needles however, although they share many benefits as bamboo yarn they are also great for the following:
  • Warm feeling, does not hurt your hands like metal needles
  • Oils from your hands naturally lubricate wooden needles
  • Inexpensive in comparison to regular wooden or metal needles
  • Strong and durable, although tip sharpness may vary and it is possible that some needles will require sanding if used frequently
  • Tends to avoid splitting yarn (bamboo needles are likely best for bamboo yarn, which splits depending on the cohesiveness of yarn)
So if you're like me and you're a bit crafty, bamboo yarn and its needle counterpart may be your best bet for your next knitting/crocheting project.

Interesting Link Alert: Energy Environment Forum

My dear readers as much as I love to blog and share my ideas, interesting articles and experiences with you all I'm well aware that blogger is not the best forum in the world for commenting so I present to you:


The admins actually posted a comment in one of my earlier posts and after perusing their content I can't help but oblige. There are several discussions going on right now, so I invite you to join in (make sure to come back to my blog though). You'll find it listed under my favorite links in the right column. Enjoy!

Oh and I have been listed under the supporters of the forum here:

Hope everyone enjoys this new link!

What was once Helpful may now be Harmful

Source: Jeff and Annabel of Digging_for_Fire (Creative Commons License)

This news article comes from the Chicago Tribune and highlights the unfortunate turn of events affecting Canada's vast forests. Once touted as "carbon storage sink", our forests have in recent years experienced so much stress that it has caused them to begin to emit carbon rather than store it. This quote from the article sums it up well:

Earth's lungs have come down with emphysema. Canada's forests are no longer our friends.

It is unfortunate but environmentalists cite that logging should be cut back in order to stem any further carbon emissions (or worse, "carbon bombs"). Government scientists contradict this, stating that reducing logging would cause wood-dependent products to be constructed with the much more environmentally damaging production materials such as concrete, plastic or metals. Both parties have valid points however I would really like to look at what we can do to heal our forests. I hope to see a followup of this article soon, I'll try to keep everyone posted!


New Year's Resolutions Can Keep You Green (Part Two)

Here are some more resolutions!

5. Keep yourself informed and be proactive

Make it a weekly habit to at least scan articles on the environment and important environmental issues affecting your city, province/state and country. Examples of key topics to keep an eye on are daily green tips, local legislation regarding laws that impact the environment (such as the recent plastic bag/bottle law in Toronto). Also keep yourself up to date on projects that impact the environment that are being proposed to your government, for example anything to do with clean coal or nuclear energy (the latest of which is something called A Better Energy Plan, you may have seen advertisements in the Globe & Mail) or the recent Metrolinx proposal for the TTC extension. Research each topic and make sure you discuss it with others as well as contribute to public forums which can determine whether the proposal succeeds or not.

6. Turn It Off! Unplug Yourself Daily (Or Weekly)

Alright, new readers may not be familiar with my blogpost on unplugging your electrical appliances and finding sustainable ways to entertain yourself. Basically, in order to make this a New Year's resolution, make a conscious effort to unplug yourself daily or weekly for a certain amount of time. This may sound really simple but you can make a conscious effort to away from the biggest electrical entertainment devices by going outside. For example, limit your electrical consumption for certain activities to a couple hours a week. It's understandable when you want to level up your character on WoW or in COD5 on XBox Live but to be honest...there's more to life than video games, the Internet and TV. I've suggested many unplugged activities but here are some more:

- Knitting/crocheting or any other arts and crafts
- Volunteering for charity or other organizations
- Card or board games (old school gaming is definitely my favorite kind), suggestions are Cribbage or Texas Hold 'Em (gambling not necessary or recommended for fun of course)
- Participating in sports leagues or other clubs
- Go back to school for...anything you choose! Learn a new instrument or a new skill, however the unplugged rule is iffy here. Choosing to learn a skill with technology may go against the unplugged concept, when the activity is done in a group that is conscious of the environmental effects, it is possible to forgo the unplugged rule. Use your judgment!

That's all for now...I wish all my readers a green and happy 2009!

New Year's Resolutions Can Keep You Green (Part One)

An article from the http://sierraclub.typepad.com/ has inspired myself to write an article of my own on New Year's Resolutions that can keep you green. This will be a two part series (or longer). Please post suggestions of resolutions or comments!

1. Eat less meat

This was the tip suggested by the original article. Check out the link for more details but here's a choice quote:
Producing 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef emits more carbon dioxide than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home. (Sierra Club: The Green Life)
Keep track of your eating habits using a journal and make a specific goal of how many meals and snacks you want to keep meat-free. Remember, one serving of meat should be the size of your palm. It is more often than not we eat portions much large than this. Eat according to your age and what is recommended by your doctor or nutritionist. This chart is from the Canada Food Guide (from this helpful article):

Children Teens Adults
Age in Years 2-3 4-8 9-13 14-18 years 19-50 years 51 + years
Sex Girls and Boys F
Vegetables and Fruit 4 5 6 7 8 7-8 8-10 7 7
Grain Products 3 4 6 6 7 6-7 8 6 7
Milk and Alternatives 2 2 3-4 3-4 3-4 2 2 3 3
Meat and Alternatives 1 1 1-2 2 3 2 3 2 3

This tip likely coincides with many resolutions to eat healthier or lose weight! Two (or three) birds with one stone. Wow, you might as well eat locally grown vegetables. Speaking of which...

2. Eat locally grown produce

I have previously written an article on the importance of buying local but I feel this is even more important with the struggling economic times. Buying local means you also support the local economy and invest in the future of where you live. Remember, the power of your dollar goes a long way...so vote with it! Here is quote from the article on a great way to implement this tip:
When you support your local farmer, you also support the local economy and foster a stronger sense of local community when you can actually talk to those who grew your food. You can also make a family outing of it, and teach your kids the importance of buying local, knowing where the products you consume come from, as well as teach them to be more environmentally aware! There are always things to do at the market!
3. Grow your own garden (and maintain it!)

Indoor or outdoor, growing your own garden is the ultimate way to eat locally! If you have your own backyard (or its okay with your landlord if you're renting a home) begin to plot a possible garden in your backyard as well as what herbs or vegetables will grow well in your future garden patch. Start a gardening book to keep track of your progress as well as when you should begin to plant seeds and transfer seedlings to the warm ground outside. If you live indoors, you can begin to grow your own herbs on your window sill if there is enough sunlight available. Kits are available at home and garden centers as well as stores like Canadian tire (Look out for an upcoming article on indoor gardening soon!). Remember...for research purposes, the library, Internet and local home and garden center (like Reeves for example) are great resources.

4. Walk More, Bike More, Bus More, Drive Less!

Lower gas prices may tempt you to drive to the corner store, but don't give in. Reduce your carbon footprint by making footprints with your own two feet (haha, bad joke I know)! Again this tip goes hand in hand with other resolutions such as exercising more or losing weight. Don't let the cold winter deter you from biking either! This is one of the best articles I have read on biking in the winter (although it is Chicago-centric, the tips can still apply to typical urban centers). When the weather is particularly bad, biking/walking would be foolhardy but a heated city bus is still an alternative. Just make sure to dress for the weather!

So completes part one...part two will be posted soon!

Happy New Year from Green me up, Scotty!

Good morning/afternoon/evening!
I've looked back and found so many good comments! Thanks for all the support. School had to take priority over the blog so I sincerely apologize for the radio silence. Perhaps I should make it one of my New Year's resolutions to blog more. I hope everyone had a safe and green holiday!

Keeping It Green!
Christina M.