Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

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.

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.

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’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.


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.


So I’m watching the hockey game the other night (go Habs!) and a commercial comes on for the Conservative government’s “Economic Action Plan”. (They’ve decided to spend our tax money making ads telling us how wonderful they are, you see.) So the announcer’s listing off all the ways the Conservatives are helping the economy, and one of the things he mentioned was “We’re improving roads and bridges!”

Sorry…roads and bridges? You’re bragging about that? Isn’t that, I don’t know, one of the absolute basic things the government is supposed to take care of? That’s like me expecting to be congratulated for showing up at the office in the morning and opening my mail. When did fulfilling the minimum expectations of your job become something to be singled out for special praise?

Of course, the sad part is, given the catastrophic failure of foresight that the Conservatives’ “environmental policy”, maybe this really is the best they can manage.

In other news, check out this article from mentioning Right Relationship!

Oh, and the STM (the Montreal public transit authority) has just announced that it will now be announcing service outages via Twitter. So if you get a tweet saying “Attention a tous les voyageurs: Mmph mrph mrmble mrph mph” you’ll know why.

Rights of Nature

From the Towards an Eco-Economy blog comes an interesting referral to UK environmental lawyer Polly Higgins and her proposal to expand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to all life forms.

60 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the devastation of the humanitarian crisis of the Second World War. Now we have a planetary crisis. Over the past 35 years there has been an ever increasingly loud voice of those calling for proper protection of the planet. There are over 500 pieces of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ law, social documents and individual manifestos that refer to the environment, but until now there has not yet been a comprehensive codification of the Rights of the planet, nor a recognition of our role as trustees and the responsibilities that brings with it.

Go there and watch the video; it’s well worth it.


Found a great article today by journalist Gwynne Dyer, Climategate and Disbelief. Y’all know how much I love recommending things for you to read, but this is a good one, and quite short.

The weight of the evidence rests overwhelmingly on the side of those who argue that climate change is real and dangerous. Ninety-seven or ninety-eight percent of scientists active in the relevant fields are convinced of it; all but a couple of the world’s two hundred governments have been persuaded of it; public opinion accepts it almost everywhere except in parts of the “Anglosphere.” The United States, and to a lesser extent Australia, Britain and Canada, are the last bastions of denial.

From being the least ideological countries fifty years ago, when much of the rest of the planet was drunk on Marxist theories, these countries have become the most ideological today. Disbelief in climate change has been turned into an ideological badge worn by the right, and evidence is no longer relevant.

This wouldn’t matter much if the countries in question were Bolivia, Belgium and Burma, but one of them is really important.