Posts Tagged ‘environment’

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.


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?


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.

Live from the centre of the Earth

I’m pretty sure we’re all watching the Copenhagen summit as closely as we can, so in the hope that this is useful to y’all, here’s a rundown of some official and unofficial live TV feeds from the proceedings.

World Wildlife Federation: Live broadcast every weekday at 7pm CET.

Oxfam: Daily videos. 24-hour streaming feed. Does not always come through very well though. Recorded video reports too, better quality.

Al Gore’s Lots of videos, some of them only tangentially related, but well worth sifting through.

Vimeo vlogs at random. Not live, but they might as well be, considering how fast they’re going up. Many non-English videos here.

TckTckTck: Also non-live but frequently updated. Scroll down for videos.

Eco-economics For Dinosaurs


Three hours’ sleep last night and there’s a road crew banging a bloody jackhammer outside my office window. Don’t ask me how the middle of a rainstorm is a good time to do roadwork. Also, the average temperature for December 3 is supposed to be -3 C, in which case it would be snowing and I would be happy; it is currently +5 and raining. If my future biographers decide someday to chronicle my descent into madness, this would be a good place to start.

So, I feel a roundup of environmental humour is in order today, seeing as the alternative is me banging my head against my desk to stay awake. Let’s see what my entirely work-related web-surfing has turned up that I am finding hilarious in my current exhausted state:

Dinosaur comics woohoo! “Can we scientifically prove that people are wrong for getting mad at me for saying life is worth like twenty bucks? It grows in crusty milk, it is like the most free thing ever!”

The Stephen Harper “Anywhere But Copenhagen” Photo Challenge! Where would Stephen Harper rather be than Copenhagen? User-submitted photos; not as rude as you might expect! (Although I have a feeling the Liberals may be censoring NSFW entries.)

Captain Planet! Remember Captain Planet? It’s almost not worth making fun of, really. The thing that bothered me about it when I was a kid (well, one of the things, aside from LeVar Burton’s Extremely Variable Accent and the fact that the South American kid never got to do anything) was that the evil polluters never seemed to have any actual motive beyond just wanting to destroy stuff. Because they were eeeevil. If the point was to teach kids about environmentalism, then their utter failure to link pollution to the lifestyle choices probably being made by most of their viewers’ families was unhelpful at best. Granted, it was a kids’ show, but so was Batman (I mean the Paul Dini and Bruce Timm series, obviously) and they managed to have some pretty nuanced villains.

– By which I mean, of course, noted eco-terrorist Ra’s al-Ghul (does that apostrophe look misplaced to anyone else? cause it’s not, actually) and if there’s anyone you’d think I could find some sort of humourous website about, it’d be him, but apparently I can’t. Although he does have a LinkedIn profile. “View Ra’s al-Ghul’s professional profile on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the world’s largest business network, helping professionals like Ra’s al-Ghul discover each other.” Huh.

This right here is the kind of thing that made me decide not to go into science.

Biodegradable balls – whatever, this is a blog I rather like in general.

– And finally, You Might Be An Economist If… at StandUpEconomist.

Now I’m going to take a nap under my desk.