How are you celebrating Earth Day®?

How does one celebrate Earth Day®? It’s not a national holiday but this year April 22 coincides with Good Friday and the Easter weekend.  In Canada, it’s protected from becoming a commercialized event heralded with advertisements, cards, and special gifts,because its name and leaf symbol can only be used with the permission of Earth Day Canada.  This makes sense, particularly because consumerism is one of the activities that contribute to waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and consumption of natural resources.

So how does one celebrate Earth Day®?  The possibilities are abundant.  For me, talking, blogging, tweeting and being aware of it is a start.  If the weather is nice, I’ll get outside and enjoy nature in the yard or perhaps by the lake. On the weekend I’ll be taking a vegetarian dish to a family Easter gathering.

For some folks, this time of year, with Earth Hour in March and Earth Week in April, is a time to think of new initiatives.  For example, I’ll be opting into the Hydro One Peaksaver® program (it will be offered by Kingston Hydro in the second half of 2011), checking for opportunities to seal and caulk for energy efficiency, and using any extra
water, such as bath water, in the garden. I also recently joined the David Suzuki Foundation online book club—as soon as I can get my hands on the current book I’ll be off to the races with that project.

For inspiration, here are some ideas I’ve gathered in honour of Earth Day 2011:

*SIGN UP FOR AN ECO E-NEWSLETTER — read environmental news and tips as they are conveniently delivered to your email inbox.  Perhaps try a newsletter from one of these organizations:

*JOIN A LOCAL ORGANIZATION WITH EARTH-POSITIVE GOALS–ideas for Kingston Ontario residents include:

*GIVE UP SOMETHING–Respond to the 2011 Earth Day® slogan “Give it up for Earth Day” and give something up:  for example, refuse plastic bags, eat less meat, give up chlorine bleach, give up garden products with chemicals, have shorter showers, avoid idling in drive-throughs, walk or ride a bike more often, buy secondhand more often, and so on.

*PLAN AN EVENT–It may be too late  to plan an Earth Day® event for this year, but it could be time to get talking about a  2012 special event  with a community group you’re involved with.  Official Earth Day® events are registered with Earth Day Canada and listed on the website, earthday.ca. This year the one registered Kingston event (at time of writing) is a used clothing and household goods drive by the Clothesline project of the Canadian Diabetes Association (Thursday April 21, 8am to 12pm, 541 Days Rd, Unit 10).  Near Kingston there is a community clean-up and tree plant in Napanee (April 30) and community clean-up in Yarker (April 23).

* SIGN UP FOR THE GREENEST CANADIAN CITY CHALLENGE, it’s a registered  Earth Day® event, listed under “Several Cities in Ontario”.  Go to
greengrouch.com to find out more. Participants agree to fill out a weekly questionnaire, which tracks eco habits, such as using reusable beverage containers,
cloth shopping bags, and cold water for washing. Points are tabulated by city.  Currently,  Grande Prairie Alberta is winning with 13088 points and Kingston participants have tallied 151 points—if we have more participants, we’ll do much better!  About 50 cities across Canada are involved—in Ontario, residents from about 19 cities are signed up.  The competition started on March 2 and goes to April 22, 2012.

*READ THE YELLOW PAGES—I bet many people are not aware that Earth Day Canada in partnership with Green Communities Canada have published an ecoGuide in Yellow Pages phone books across Canada.  If you don’t have the Yellow Pages it’s possible to access your local guide at: http://eco.yellowpages.ca/.  The Eco Guide includes a directory for responsibly discarding hundreds of different items, a guide to eco-certification labels,  and Earth Day Canada’s 15 step challenge that offers 15 recommended eco actions backed up with references and quantification of benefits.

I hope this information is useful and not overwhelming. Each of us has different lives and priorities.  The idea is to celebrate and cherish our planet.  On special occasions such as Earth Day® we are prompted to review our contributions and inspired to find new ways to take part in this century’s green revolution.

Join the Canadian Environmental Inter-City Challenge

I was browsing the Earth Day® Canada events listing today, when I came across a competition for individuals in their daily lives.  It looks like it could be fun, especially as more people become involved. Points are tabulated weekly and your “team” is your home town. On April 22 next year, one city will be declared the winner.  So far, about 50 cities across Canada have participants, and in Ontario, 19 communities, including Kingston, have representatives.

In the lead is Grande Prairie Alberta, with 13,152 points and Red Deer Alberta, with 10,827.  Everywhere else has a lot of catching up to do.  Ottawa is at 1523, Toronto has earned 1416, Vancouver has 1217, and Kingston is at 151 points.

So how do you earn points?  Every week an email prompts you to complete a short survey of eco-positive activities over the past week.  Points are earned for each of these actions and added to your city score:

  • Using own coffee mug (on the road)
  • Checking tire pressures and inflating, if necessary
  • Turning off a light that is not in use
  • Walking or cycling (when driving is an option)
  • Washing clothes in cold water
  • Using a cloth grocery bag
  • Having a vegetarian dinner
  • Using  a reusable drink container
  • Doing any of the above actions more than once.

In Grande Prairie a citizen went to her city council, asking them to support the challenge—they not only endorsed it, but put out a challenge to the Mayors of Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, and Lethbridge.   Red Deer responded, and probably due to leadership and competitive enthusiasm,  became second only to Grande Prairie.    Grande Prairie has a population of over 50,000 and Red Deer  has over 90,000 people–so their high scores are quite admirable.

The competition is hosted from a website called thegreengrouch.com–when you sign up, you can listen to a video of the Green Grouch, who describes himself as an Eco comedian  aiming to encourage people to do simple things to help the environment without being a “nag”.

Why not pull out your travel mug, cloth shopping bag, and stainless steel water bottle and get involved?  And if you decide to sign up, feel free to use my greengrouch referral code: 3457, to give Kingston extra points (smile).

What is Nature Worth?

I have to share this video: “Big Question What is Nature Worth” from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment.  It ties in with my previous blog about the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, in that it addresses how nature–our land, water, air, and ecosystems–have value.  The Wellbeing Index takes into account the status of our natural world as well as other socio-economic indicators of quality of life.

The Natural Capital Project is creating methods of quantifying and calculating the value of biodiversity.  The underlying idea, presented in the video is that nature provides “goods and services” that have economic value and are essential for human life. Beyond the economic message is a basic introduction to ecology–great for young and old.

Environment Report of Canadian Index of Wellbeing–Reminder that we need national energy and environment strategies

 

On April 7, 2011 the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) released its first Report on the Environment, bringing together statistics on the wellbeing of Canada’s air, water, and natural resources.  They concluded that, as Canadians, we need to do more to protect our natural home–we need a national energy plan and an environmental conservation strategy.

If you’re anything like me, you’re concerned about climate change and the general health of our natural environment; you have an understanding of causes and effects—that everything is interconnected, and that human activities affect water, soil, air, forests and climatic conditions.  Some impacts are fairly obvious and others are more subtle.  Thousands of scientists and citizen researchers keep us informed by studying trends, such as:

  • Receding glaciers,
  • Rising temperatures,
  • Disappearing animal species, and
  • High smog indexes.

However, in national leadership debates we hear very little real discussion about the future of our resources, air, water, and land—there may be passing references, but no substantive talk about how we are doing. Many citizens are concerned and making changes at home and at work, but what about the bigger picture?   The Canadian Index of Wellbeing Environment Report attempts to provide a snapshot using available environmental data.

WHO AND WHAT IS THE CANADIAN INDEX OF WELLBEING (CIW)?

Publicly launched in 2009, the CIW network recently made its home at the University of Waterloo, Ontario.  It is an independent, non-partisan think-tank aiming to produce a numeric indicator of national wellbeing by the fall of 2011.  Participants include researchers, organizations, and individuals.   The Chair of the advisory board is Roy Romanow, former Premier of Saskatchewan, and the Director is Bryan Smale, professor of recreation and leisure studies at the University of Waterloo.

While a traditional economic progress indicator, such as GDP, measures production, an index of wellbeing measures social and environmental factors.  The wellbeing approach challenges the assumption that  economic indicators, such as GDP or TSX, can truly reveal a nation’s quality of life, progress, and future potential.

The Wellbeing Index uses 64 indicators under the following 8 categories:

  1. Environment—measures resource use,   resource stocks, damage control efforts, and sustainability practices–the preliminary report is summarized below.
  2. Community Vitality—measures inclusiveness and participation of residents in private and public sectors.
  3. Democratic Engagement—measures involvement of citizens in government and Canadian global participation.
  4. Education—measures literacy and skill levels.
  5. Population Health—measures life expectancy; physical, mental, spiritual and social indicators of health; health care quality and access.
  6. Leisure and Culture—measures recreational and cultural activity.
  7. Living Standards—measures levels and distribution of  income and wealth; poverty rates; and sustainability.
  8. Time Use—measures how people experience and manage time during different life stages.

WELL BEING INDEX IS ABOUT COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY

Sustainability and quality of life are not new ideas, but part of current policy in many quarters.  For example, Kingston, Ontario, has an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan—based on holistic notions of progress and endorsed by local government.   Plan partners agree to promote four pillars of Kingston’s sustainability:   cultural vitality, economic health, environmental responsibility, and social equity.  We need a similar type of plan at the national level.

SUMMARY OF CIW ENVIRONMENT REPORT

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing environment report findings are mixed. One reason is that across Canada there are distinct differences in large cities and  other regions—these differences are concealed in national statistics.  Nevertheless, we  need to evaluate and dialogue at a national level, especially at federal election time.

Air quality has shown some improvements, but, in some areas, air quality is still negatively affecting respiratory health. Ground-level ozone exposure is increasing.  There has been some success in reducing industrial emissions of toxic air contaminants.

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) grew 24% since 1990 even though our Kyoto commitment was to reach 6% below 1990 levels by 2012—this is not news, but still a frightening statistic.  Per capita GHG emissions are increasing—only the United States emits more per capita. The breakdown of emissions shows that the highest contributors are fossil fuel industries, transportation, and electricity production.

The Canadian Arctic is warmer, according to the report, more than 1.7 degrees.  This is expected to continue.

Consumption of non-renewable energy sources–Consumption of non-renewable energy resources, such as crude oil, natural gas and nuclear energy, continues to be high.  We have a strong conflict of interest, as the energy sector accounts for 4% of GDP, with 90% attributable to fossil fuels.   Canadians are major producers, consumers, and exporters of fossil fuels.  Dollars that could be used to promote clean energy alternatives are being used to subsidize resources that will not last forever and that increase GHG emissions.

Water supplies are diminishing in some parts of the country—in southern Canada, by about 3.5 cubic km per year (equivalent to our annual residential water use).  Climate change is predicted to cause water supply fluctuations– from scarcity caused by drought to disastrous abundance in times of flooding.  Residential water use has declined somewhat, but we continue to be among the highest water users in the world.

Consumption of goods and waste production are high—there are some signs of reduced consumption and increased recycling, but these efforts need to increase as landfill sites continue to grow.

Reptiles, birds and fish–Native frog, toad, salamander, freshwater fish, grassland bird, shorebird, and seabird populations are endangered or declining. Predatory large fish, such as swordfish, are also at risk.

Depletion of forest ecosystems is exceeding growth–caused by harvesting and industrial development, as well as natural causes.

More environmental monitoring is needed to assess the status of our natural environment and resources.  Most of the data used in the report is 2 to 4 years old.  This may be one of the most profound conclusions of the study.   While economic indicators are available quarterly, indicators of health, quality of life, and natural environment are not available on a regular basis.  Trillions of GDP dollars may be a sign of wellbeing, but does not reveal activities that reduce quality of life, such as pollution, frantic lifestyles, and underfunded healthcare facilities.

When I started this blog, I thought it was about an environment report, but on reflection it may be more about the need for us to think more deeply and farther ahead.  In difficult times it is tempting to think purely in “economic” terms– in reality we are at a juncture in history when we should be asking a broader question: “What do we need to do to protect our quality of life and our environment?”.  National monitoring and strategic planning is the way to begin.

Related Resources:

Earth Day®, April 22, is Approaching

Spring is a natural time of year to feel close to nature as we emerge out of the cold into the pleasure of milder temperatures, chirping birds, and new growth.  It’s a time to clean, air out the home, and tidy up parks and yards.  April is Earth Month and April 22 is Earth Day®.

Twenty-one years ago Canada launched its first annual celebration of International Earth Day on April 22, 1990.  The following year, Earth Day Canada (1991) Inc, a charitable organization, was established to coordinate Earth Month activities and promote Canadian environmental awareness  all year round.  It acquired trademarks for use of “Earth Day” , “Jour de la Terre”, and the Leaf & Twirl design so that they may only be used under licence.  This step was taken to prevent commercialization and greenwashing in the name of Earth Day.

The slogan for 2011 is “Give it up for Earth Day” and the question is “Are you giving it up for Earth Day?”  If you have children, you might ask them what they have been learning at school about Earth Month and Earth Day.  Have they been thinking about giving something up for the environment?  Does their class have any special projects planned?  A kindergarten teacher, Kimberly Clark, states why she feels environmental education in the classroom is important:

Earth Day Canada offers ways for children, youth, adults, and community groups to get involved.  The EcoKids program offers online eco-games, a colourful calendar with environmental facts and ideas, and resources for teachers.  The EcoMentors program caters to youth from ages 15 to 24, offering resources and environmental leadership training.  The EcoActions team program is for individuals and groups, providing ideas for conserving energy and water; and reducing waste and fuel consumption.  

What can you do?

Keep a lookout for local Earth Day® events—official events are registered at www.Earthday.ca— get out to a local park or conservation area, and think of an action pledge for yourself or your family. What’s one  thing you could give up?—perhaps meat for one dinner a week, plastic bags at the grocery store, or a few degrees of heating or cooling?  For more ideas, check out Earth Day Canada’s “Top Ten Actions to help the Environment” and  the EcoAction Calculator.

This year Earth Day’s April 22 falls on Good Friday, so community events will probably be held earlier in the week or on Saturday April 23.  This video,“Give it up for Earth Day”, was recently uploaded onto YouTube  by Earth Day Canada:

Looking for a Clean Energy Solar Barbecue

Searching for a solar barbecue, I discovered the COOKUP200 from France–check out the videos below.

 I’ve been spending the last few days looking for a  propane gas barbecue alternative.  Having recently moved to a house, I don’t have a barbecue– so I’m open to considering alternatives that don’t burn fossil fuel.  It’s wonderful to cook and eat outdoors, but do I want to buy into a barbecue that burns a non-renewable resource and increases carbon emissions? 

Finding an option is easier said than done.   I’ve discovered  that  products are written about but hard to track down.  Many resourceful people have been making their own solar cooking gadgets—they’ve even published instructions and videos on how to make your own.  However I’m not a techy type. 

Finally I found some videos for a product that looks like it might be what I’m looking for.  I’m not sure if it’s available in North America, but hopefully it is, or something similar will be manufactured soon.  (Update: it’s distributed in Canada!–see March 28, 2011 blog at  http://wp.me/p15xmB-7Y).  

The Solar Cooker that I “discovered” (along with thousands of others browsing YouTube)

Who could not enjoy the shiny optics of this COOKUP200, made in France, and sold from http://idcook.com?  I am looking into whether it is available in North America.  In the meantime, it’s an example of what I’m looking for–a solar barbecue.  The specs state that it heats to over 2oo degrees C. (about 400 F)  and has the capacity to cook a meal for 5.  It can be used for grilling, simmering, and steaming, using a black grill, pot, or wok.  The price is 499.95 Euros, which is about $691 CDN.

 The founder of IDCook,  manufacturer of the Cookup200, was at the International Home and Housewares Show, 2011 in Chicago.  He demonstrates a solar barbecue in the following clip:

What are you doing for Earth Hour?—Saturday March 26 8:30 PM

Earth Hour is how many days away?  As of this morning, there are eight days to go.  

What are you doing for Earth Hour?  Are you planning activities at home with lights and TV switched off, or will you be out at a community event?  If you haven’t thought of what you’ll do to participate in this global demonstration of support for sustainable energy use, look over the ideas and information below.

Community Events

Many communities have special events–to find out what is going on, check your local Earth Hour website (in Canada, EarthHourCanad.org),  look in a community newspaper, or at an online classified ad site, such as Craigslist or Kijiji.

I hope to go to the Kingston Unplugged event at Springer Market Square in downtown Kingston, ON.  This event, in its 4th year, starts at 6:30 PM and goes to 9:30.  There will be sustainability displays and vendor booths to browse, speakers, and free entertainment.  At 8PM, the Drummer’s Guild and  Fire Circus Show open the entertainment.  At 8:30 (the official launch of Earth Hour) there will be an off-the-grid concert of THE GERTRUDES—powered by wind and solar energized batteries. (Check out a sample of their talent below.)

Another event in Eastern Ontario will be held at the Redtail Vineyard, a solar-powered organic winery in Prince Edward County. The vineyard has invited people to visit and sip wine under solar-powered lighting during Earth Hour  (reservations are required).

Businesses and Organizations

If you are involved in running a business or organization, it may not be too late to organize a show of support—by turning off non-essential lights and letting people, such as members, customers, and employees, know that your organization is behind Earth Hour 2011.  For ideas, take a look at the How to Guides provided under the Take Action tab on the Global Earth Hour website.  There are guides for businesses, schools, community groups, sports associations, religious organizations, hotels, bars, and landlords.

Celebrating at Home with Family and Friends

Here are some ideas for private celebrations:

  • Go for a walk around your neighbourhood or downtown; see how many lights are out—enjoy the spring air!
  • Plan a hot bath with candles and relax for an hour.
  • Have a candlelight dinner.
  • Have nibbles and share about how you plan to promote sustainable energy use over the next year.
  • Meditate for the welfare of the planet.
  • Play board games, card games, or party games, such as charades, by candlelight.
  • Have a party with snacks and singing, acoustic music making, and dancing.
  • Relax, chat, and walk under the stars.
  • Get children involved in an active game, such as tag with glow sticks.
  • Tell stories or read stories out loud.
  • Do some star gazing.

 Earth Hour is a global inspirational and educational event with millions of people taking part–don’t miss it!

The YouTube video below gives a sample of THE GERTRUDES, who will be performing in Kingston Market Square during Earth Hour.