Squeaky clean

I live in an apartment building whose pipes have a long-standing and intense hatred of the tenants, which causes them (the pipes, not the tenants) to leak, explode, make banging noises at night, spontaneously come to life and smash through the walls, that sort of thing. It’s lovely.

We’d just finished a round of repairs taking several months and involving the replacement of several walls, so naturally, it was about time for the drains to spontaneously fail again. So I thought, “Well, this is okay; I’ll try out one of these ecologically friendly cleansers I keep seeing.”

As y’all probably know, chemicals poured into municipal water systems have a way of turning up in neighbouring rivers and lakes and getting back into the drinking water supply. So I want to avoid pouring unnecessary chemicals down my drains. I also want my drains to actually function, though.

So I went to the nearest natural products store and asked about non-toxic drain cleaners, which I was sure I’d seen there. They told me they didn’t carry them but could order them specially if needed. This didn’t seem terribly useful to me, since in my experience, ninety-
nine percent of drain problems are of a moderately urgent nature. I know maybe two people (my mother is one) who are sufficiently foresighted that they would actually pre-order a cleaning product they might use once in five years. (She’s also worryingly well-prepared for tornadoes, considering that she lives in southern Ontario. I think she may know something the rest of us don’t.)

The second natural products store I tried was closed for renovations and the third and fourth didn’t carry this stuff either, although one of them had at least heard of it. While walking through the city from one store to another, I probably passed a dozen or so chain-store pharmacies, all of whom, I’m quite sure, were well-stocked with Draino and the like.

I finally found what I was looking for (NatureClean Drain Cleaner) at Jardins Sauvage on Monkland Avenue. Elated, I took it home, tried it overnight, and found absolutely no result.

This is the most common complaint about ecologically safe cleansers: that they’re less effective than the toxic kinds. So I was actually kind of pleased when the Liquid Plumr failed to work either. I mean, yes, now we have to get the landlord to fix this (which, to his credit, he’s usually pretty quick about doing) but at least I don’t have to write a disappointed post about the ineffectiveness of trying to do one’s bit for the water supply.

Instead, I can write a disappointed post about how hard it is to find the stuff in the first place.

To their credit, pharmacies have been doing a much better job in the past few years of stocking recycled-fibre toilet paper, phosphate-free dishwashing liquid and the like. But the less common corners of the cleaning product world remain the domain of scary liquids that can burn through your eyeballs and so forth. It’s something I can see changing, but pretty slowly.

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Good news for a change

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
_______________________________________________________________________________________
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 13, 2010

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

WASHINGTON – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key administration posts:

· Thomas R. Acevedo, Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
· Derek J. Bailey, Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
· Robin A. Butterfield, Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
· Robert B. Cook, Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
· Deborah Jackson-Dennison, Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
· Alyce Spotted Bear, Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
· Irasema Coronado, Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
· Geoffrey Garver, Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
· Felicia Marcus, Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
· Diane Takvorian, Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
· Jonathan Waterhouse, Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation

President Obama said, “The expertise and commitment these men and women bring to their roles will make them tremendous assets to my administration, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”

President Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key administration posts:

Thomas R. Acevedo, Appointee for Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
Thomas Acevedo is the CEO for S&K Technologies, Inc. a company wholly owned by the Salish & Kootenai Tribes, of which he is a member. Mr. Acevedo previously served as the Chief of Staff for the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut and the Chief of Staff for the National Indian Gaming Commission. He has served on the boards of several national Indian organizations throughout his career. Mr. Acevedo is a graduate of the University of Montana and of the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Derek J. Bailey, Appointee for Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
Derek J. Bailey was sworn in as Tribal Chairman of the Grand Traverse Band on December 11, 2008. Chairman Bailey is the fifth Chairman since the Grand Traverse Band was federally reaffirmed in May 1980, and the youngest in the Tribe’s history. He is currently the Chairman of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, and most recently selected as the Chairman of CORA (Chippewa/Ottawa Resource Authority). He holds a Master’s degree in Social Work, graduating from Grand Valley State University in 1998.

Robin A. Butterfield, Appointee for Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
Robin Butterfield is a Senior Liaison within the Minority Community Outreach Department of the National Education Association. Before working at NEA, Ms Butterfield was the Professional Development Specialist at the Center for School Improvement within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ms. Butterfield worked at the classroom level in tribal and public schools in Wisconsin; coordinated the Salem-Keizer Indian Education Program at the district level in Oregon; served in the position of Indian Education/Civil Rights Specialist for the Oregon Department of Education for nine years; and worked at two different regional educational technical assistance centers, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory and the Gonzaga University Indian Education Technical Assistance Center III. She is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska with ancestry from the White Earth Ojibwa Tribe of Minnesota. Ms. Butterfield received her B.A in English/Secondary Education from the University of Puget Sound, her M.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Wisconsin/Madison, and her Administrative Certification from Portland State University.

Robert B. Cook, Appointee for Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
Robert B. Cook is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe (Oglala Lakota) and serves as the Principal of Pine Ridge High School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Mr. Cook has over twenty years of teaching and administrative experience in American Indian education, serving in both tribal and public schools. He is a member of the Technical Review Panel of the National Indian Education Study, a member of the South Dakota Indian Education Advisory Council and recently completed his term as President of the National Indian Education Association. Mr. Cook graduated from Black Hills State University with a degree in Secondary Education and received his master’s degree in Education Administration from Oglala Lakota College.

Deborah Jackson-Dennison, Appointee for Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
Dr. Deborah Jackson-Dennison is the Superintendent of Window Rock Unified School District No. 8 located in the Navajo Indian Nation and is an enrolled member of the Navajo Tribe. She has also served as Superintendent of Schools for Ganado Unified School District No. 20 also located on the Navajo Indian Nation. Dr. Jackson-Dennison has provided over 24 years of service as an educator, 11 as a classroom teacher at both at the high school and college levels, and 13 as a school administrator, including 8 as a school district superintendent. She earned an Associates degree from Dine College in 1981, a B.A. in Education from the University of New Mexico in 1986, and both her Masters and Ed.D. degrees in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Arizona State University in 1997 and 2001.

Alyce Spotted Bear, Appointee for Member, National Advisory Council on Indian Education
Alyce Spotted Bear is an enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Tribes of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Spotted Bear, a former Tribal Chairman, has worked at all levels of Indian education, including as a teacher, principal, school superintendent, federal programs administrator, and college instructor/administrator. Ms. Spotted Bear is currently the Vice President for Native American Studies at the Fort Berthold Community College in North Dakota. She earned her bachelor and master degrees in education from Dickinson State College, and Pennsylvania State College, respectively, and completed coursework for a Ph.D. in Education at Cornell University.

Irasema Coronado, Appointee for Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
Irasema Coronado, Ph.D. currently serves as an Associate Provost of The University of Texas at El Paso. Dr. Coronado is also an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department and a faculty member in the Environmental Science and Engineering Ph.D. program. Dr. Coronado has served as Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts (2006-2008), chair of the Political Science Department (2005- 2006), and Assistant Professor of the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies (1999-2003) at The University of Texas at El Paso. Dr. Coronado was also a Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez in Mexico (2004-2005), and a faculty member at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas (1995-1999). Dr. Coronado has held other academic and visiting scholar positions at the University of Texas at San Antonio (1998-1999), the University of Arizona (1997 and 2001), El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Sonora, Mexico (1992-1995), and Cochise College (1991). Dr. Coronado is currently a Board member of Frontera Women’s Foundation, the Coalition Against Violence Toward Women and Children on the Border, and FEMAP (Mexican Federation of Private Associations). Dr. Coronado holds a B.A. from the University of South Florida and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.

Geoffrey Garver, Appointee for Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
Geoffrey Garver is currently an Adjunct Law Professor at the University of Montreal in Montreal, Canada. Mr. Garver also serves as an independent environmental consultant for the Organization of American States and the Secretariat for Environmental Matters for the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement region. From 2000 to 2007, Mr. Garver served as Director of Submissions on Enforcement Matters at the Commission for Environmental Cooperation for North America. From 1989 to 1993 and 1995 to 2000, Mr. Garver was a trial attorney and then became Acting Assistant Chief in the U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division. From 1993 to 1995, Mr. Garver served as a Special Assistant and Senior Policy Counsel to the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And from 1987 to 1989, Mr. Garver was a Law Clerk to then Chief Judge Conrad K. Cyr in the United States District Court for the District of Maine. Mr. Garver holds a B.S. from Cornell University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. Mr. Garver is currently pursuing an L.L.M. and a Ph.D. at McGill University.

Felicia Marcus, Appointee for Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
Felicia Marcus is currently Western Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). From 2001 to 2008, Ms. Marcus served as Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of the Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit devoted to conserving land for people. From 1993 to 2001, Ms. Marcus was appointed by President Clinton as Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for Region IX, which encompasses California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, former trust territories in the Pacific, and over 140 federally-recognized Indian Tribes. From 1989 to 1991, Ms. Marcus was appointed to the Board of Public Works for the City of Los Angeles. Earlier in her career, Ms. Marcus served as a Law Clerk to Judge Harry Pregerson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Ms. Marcus is a member of many non-profit Boards and Advisory Councils, including the Public Policy Institute of California, the Metropolitan Water District – Blue Ribbon Committee, Urban Habitat, Natural Heritage Institute, and the Center for Diversity and the Environment. Ms. Marcus has an A.B. from Harvard College and a J.D. from New York University School of Law.

Diane Takvorian, Appointee for Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
Diane Takvorian is currently the Executive Director and a Founder of Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), where over the past 30 years she has built grassroots campaigns to address toxic pollution, discriminatory land use, and unsustainable energy policies in the San Diego/Tijuana region. Ms. Takvorian is also a co-founder of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, a coalition working to address environmental justice issues throughout California. Prior to founding the EHC, Ms. Takvorian managed programs at Community Congress of San Diego (1978-1981), Social Advocates for Youth (1976-1978), and the HELP Center of San Diego (1974-1976). From 1984 to 2001, Ms. Takvorian served as a faculty member in the School of Social Work at San Diego State University. Ms. Takvorian currently serves on the California Global Warming Environmental Justice Advisory Committee of the California Environmental Protection Agency. In 1998, President Clinton appointed Ms. Takvorian to the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission. In 2008, Ms. Takvorian received the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award and the Environment Section of the American Public Health Association Calver Award. Ms. Takvorian holds a B.S. and an M.A. in Social Work from San Diego State University.

Jonathan Waterhouse, Appointee for Member, Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
Jonathan Waterhouse is the Director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC), a non-profit organization made up of 70 Tribes and First Nations, created to preserve and protect the Yukon Watershed and Native cultures. During his tenure at YRITWC, Mr. Waterhouse worked to develop the BackHaul Program that removed millions of pounds of recyclables and hazardous waste from the Yukon watershed. Prior to joining YRITWC, Mr. Waterhouse had oversight over management, operations, and financial matters for Green Connection (2003-2004), Alaska Airlines (2000-2003), and Pavlof Services, Inc. (1995-2000). From 1997-2000, Mr. Waterhouse served as City Councilman for the City of Cold Bay, Alaska. In 1995, Mr. Waterhouse retired from a twenty year career in the United States Navy as a decorated Chief Petty Officer. Mr. Waterhouse is an Advisory Board Member and Community Development Director for the Alaska-Sudan Medical Project, which focuses on building medical clinics and installing clean water systems in Southern Sudan.

Pride and…?

Those of you who know me, know that I am a huge Jane Austen fan. (No, this is relevant, I swear!) Recently I finished reading a book about the laws and customs of nineteenth-century England, with the cumbersome title of “What Jane Austen Ate And Charles Dickens Knew”, by Daniel Pool. It’s a fun read if you like that sort of thing, as well as being a really good resource for looking things up in.

Not to mention, it was a good distraction from the news this week, since I would otherwise have pretty much spent every evening glued to the television watching the progress of the Gulf oil slick. (Someone explain to me why newscasters persist in referring to it as a “spill”. It’s not like it spilled out of a tanker. If it were a spill, we’d know how much oil there was, for one thing. Okay, pedantic linguist hat off.)

Anyway, here’s an interesting fact from this book: “[e]xcept for railway shares, no one would have had stocks or bonds from private companies until the second half of the century, for the excellent reason that even the smallest shareholders were 100 percent liable to the extent of all their goods and land for any debt incurred by the business of which they were part owners”.

In other words, if a company did something like, oh, let’s say, caused an entirely avoidable disaster due to not putting in failsafe machinery that they had promised they were going to and wiped out a large chunk of the fisheries industry to the tune of several billion dollars a year, then anybody who owned stock in this hypothetical company, which I expect would include all of its upper management, could have everything they owned seized to pay off their debt. No claiming that the corporation is somehow a separate entity; your creditors could come in and take your fancy cars and your million-dollar house and your big fat bonuses that you “earned” at the same time as working people everywhere were losing their jobs and their homes.

I’m not necessarily advocating this (well, not really). There are very good reasons why stocks don’t work this way anymore. Mostly it seems to have to do with encouraging innovation and helping new companies raise capital; also a lot of people’s savings are in stock investments, and they’d be as hard hit as petroleum executives, or more so, by having to be on the hook for this. But at the same time, I can’t help thinking that it would be really good to bring some personal responsibility back into the system. Because I guarantee you, in five years the management at BP are still going to be in cushy jobs (whether there or elsewhere) and the people whose livelihoods they made collapse aren’t going to see much if anything in the way of assistance from them.

There are people who are working on this. (There are people working on everything!) There are municipalities that have already abolished corporate personhood and others that are working on it.

I’m not without hope on this issue. I don’t expect the oil leak to be the wake-up call that some people are hoping it will, because I’m pretty sure that a lot of major corporations are run by sociopaths (ecopaths?). But I do think it’s something visible enough (unlike climate change) that people will get together on it. Most people are not scientists, and the climate change “debate” is murky and unclear to them. Oil washing ashore in Louisiana is pretty damn clear. Maybe we’ll be able to stop new offshore drilling because of this, maybe it’ll convince more people to buy electric cars, maybe maybe maybe. Maybe this will finally be enough.

Added value

Well, it’s the end of April, which means that if you’re like me, you’ve left your taxes until the last minute and are now staring at a screen full of incomprehensible formulae and sweating tiny drops of blood from your forehead. Outside the sun is shining and people with more organizational skills, or possibly their own accountants, are playing frisbee in the park. I am strongly tempted to just go back to bed and give up this whole “responsible adult” thing as a bad idea.

So, in a futile effort at procrastination, here are some interesting tax-related links for y’all:

You probably already know about Conscience Canada, which supports a Peace Tax Trust Fund, allowing people “to divert the military portion of their taxes, to be held in trust until there is a law respecting conscientious objection to military taxation.” They have things you can send in with your taxes if you just want to make a symbolic objection, or if you actually want to withhold money from the government. Either way, a good cause.

Here’s a breakdown of the US Federal Budget for 2009 from PhD Comics, for those Americans who are interested in where their money actually goes. (For instance, some of it goes to the National Helium Reserve, which is $1.6 billion in debt. Feel proud!)

The Green Party explains how a carbon tax would work. This is a lot clearer than most explanations I’ve run across.

I tried to find something amusing to end with, but you know what, all the tax jokes on the internet are deeply sad, so never mind.

Earth Days

So I was going to do an Earth Day post, but spent the day planting lettuces and turning over the dirt instead. Probably not a bad thing overall.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the whole idea of Earth Day anyway; I suspect it falls into the same consciousness-area as the rationalization of buying green products giving you a license to be ecologically lazy in other areas. I had this conversation with friends of mine during Earth Hour (the “turn off your lights for an hour” thing) where one of them actually said that since she was doing this, she didn’t feel so bad about driving to Kingston the next day. Repeat after me: that’s not the point that’s not the point that’s not the point.

Which is one thing I really like about 350.org’s current Global Work Party campaign; they make it clear that it’s not about “changing the world one solar panel at a time”, but rather about raising awareness and getting other people, especially politicians, on board. And meanwhile it does still accomplish something concrete as well, without which there would probably be fewer people getting involved in the first place.

They don’t yet seem to have a function on their website to find or join existing work parties, so you can’t tell what’s going on in your community, but that’s probably going to be added. I don’t know if I’ll have the ability to organize something, but we’ll see.

This.

Just read an excellent article over on AlterNet, discussing what impact Bill Gates’ big speech of a few days ago might have. Gates just announced that he’s putting his massive resources and personal clout behind the target of getting to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Globally. Zero.

From the AlterNet article:

Gates spoke about his commitment to using his massive philanthropic resources (the Gates Foundation is the world’s largest) to make life better for people through public health and poverty alleviation (“vaccines and seeds” as he put it). Then he said something he’s never said before: that is it because he’s committed to improving life for the world’s vulnerable people that he now believes that climate change is the most important challenge on the planet.

Even more importantly, he acknowledged the only sensible goal, when it comes to climate emissions, is to eliminate them: we should be aiming for a civilization that produces no net emissions, and we should be aiming to live in that civilization here in the developed world by 2050.

I don’t think most of us even let ourselves dream about that kind of goal. Successes in the environmental movement, especially at the global level, are so depressingly few and far between that we have a tendency to define our goals very narrowly, to try to insulate ourselves a little from the cascade of disaster that would otherwise bury us. I can imagine and work towards a bike lane on Ste-Catherine Street. That’s a goal I can see reaching. I don’t think I could honestly focus on the goal of a zero-carbon-emissions world without falling into despair.

Maybe that’s just me. Maybe I give up too easily. But I think a lot of us would be daunted by this scale of work; because we don’t normally work on that scale. And the people who do work on a global scale readily, the CEOs of international corporations and the politicians of nation-states and the generally super-rich, they aren’t thinking this way. (I’m going to define “they” in a very reductionist way here as “anybody who has access to their very own airplane”.)

That’s why everyone’s buzzing so much about this: because Gates isn’t David Suzuki, he isn’t George Monbiot; he’s one of them. And now we’ve got one of them on our side.

Is his goal realistic? I don’t know. Is he, even with all the resources of his foundation, going to be able to have much of an impact here? Maybe, maybe not. But it sure is one heck of a morale boost that he’s decided to try.

Bike there!

I got all excited this morning when I found out that Google maps is now supporting biking directions. Then, of course, I discovered that it’s not available in Canada yet. Boo! Had a lot of fun playing around with it though, as I’m planning a cycling trip through Vermont in a couple of months. It looks like they are assuming a cycling speed of about 10 miles an hour, which at first I was thinking was pretty slow, but of course I’m used to thinking in kilometers anyway and actually 16 km/h is probably very reasonable for that kind of hilly area. (I’m planning my route to go through as many state parks, national forests, bird sanctuaries, etc as I can manage, and those all seem to be centred around mountains.) So I’m for sure looking forward to using this tool. Can’t wait for it to be available in Canada too.

It’s really impressive the ripples this has made. It’s hard to separate cause and effect in something like this, but just a few days after Google launched the new bike options, the US Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced a new policy toward bicycling:

“Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized. We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.”

About time, is all I can say. If only our government could follow suit. Come on, Harper, you’ve been tagging along after the US on all kinds of bizarre policies for the last few years; how about following them on something worthwhile?