Saturday, November 25, 2006

Manufactured Landscapes

I went to see this documentary at Princess Cinema here in Waterloo. In my movie review this movie gets a 9/10 (very high in my books). It was more than I expected to see. To be honest, there aren't many films which I can sit through, especially when in the theatre, but throughout this film I couldn't even blink.The impact humans have on this earth is immense. At some of the scenes I was close to vomiting... crying... and in most I was in complete awe at the force and ability we have to alter our surroundings and landscapes. As Jesse noted, even though the pictures were of such horrible things, the way in which Edward Burtynski shot them made them see so beautiful.

I was most excited about the Three Gorges Dam images. I learned about it in a geography course a couple years ago, but seeing pictures that displayed its true size was powerful. And of course all the labour that is going into building it. The amount of people who have been displaced due to the construction of the dam is six cities worth.

Edward Burtynski just presents the pictures of the impact the industrialisation has on China. Even though they he doesn't make any political statement or addresses our social conscience, the pictures do that themselves.

Manufactured Landscapes

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dont Feed Corporate Greed, Find Alternatives When you Bleed


I think it is fair to say that in this culture it is taboo to discuss a women’s monthly menstruation openly. After all, it’s sad but true but it would be inappropriate for me to write this article without providing a disclaimer to ward off squeamish males. But why does it have to be this way?

I blame the makers of maxi pads and tampons and their clever marketing ploys which began in the late 1940’s after the tampon was invented in 1936 ( They pushed the notion that a women’s period was meant to be kept as a secret and that the worst thing that she could ever face was a leak. Today, this is still the primary idea behind most Always or Tampax advertisements. Commercials show how girls can conceal their compact tampons as sugar packets so their guy friends will be none the wiser that it’s that time of the month. These ads and products also tell us that menstrual blood is something that is dirty and that we should never have to touch it or let anyone else smell it. Scented maxi pads are designed to leave us fresh and daisy smelling. These products are designed to leave us believing that white = sanitary, and that there isn’t any other clean option for us, when truly, it is often the alternative solutions which are healthier for our bodies and the environment.

In regards to our health, the way in which maxi pads and tampons are made is potentially very harmful to our bodies. According to a top selling natural personal care products company,, the plastic undercoating of pads, and the chlorine and bleach used to whiten the cotton are full of toxins. Using pads every month exposes women to low levels of dioxins, a carcinogen found in most plastics and paper pulp products. These dioxins build up in our bodies and leave us at an increased risk of cancer. Also, a previously mentioned, the fragrance used to mask the socially unacceptable odour our blood, leads to rashes and infections in some sensitive women, I know this from personal experience. Tampons are perhaps the deadliest way to deal with menstrual blood. Cotton and artificial fibres such as rayon are used to make them. Even the FDA writes about how these abrasive fibres cause tiny cuts/ulcerations in this vaginal wall and this has been traced at the likely cause of TTS (Toxic Shock Syndrome), which can be lethal if not properly dealt with immediately.

In regards to the environment, pads and tampons are absolutely terrible. Firstly, cotton, a very heavy pesticide and insecticide crop, is used to make these products. A US wide student driven campaign to raise awareness of menstrual sustainability,, claims that 25% of all insecticides in the US are used on cotton.

Secondly, the use of these paper products (cardboard applicator, tampon box etc.) place further stress on our endangered forests, wildlife habitats and leads to erosion of our landscapes. Also, the quantity of waste created by one woman alone is enough, but times that by all her family, and friends, and their family and friends and you have an incredible amount sanitary waste contaminating our waters. The National Women’s Health Network states every year over 12 billion, 7 million tampons are used once and disposed of to wait around for hundreds of years before biodegrading.

When I decided to take on a sustainable lifestyle, tampons were one of the first things to change. I researched alternatives and found that the menstrual cup (AKA Diva Cup or The Keeper) was what I needed. This isn’t a new invention; in fact these have been around since at least the 1930s in North America ( It’s a little cup made of surgical silicone which fits right inside me like a tampon does only I can use it for up to ten years. The cup collects the blood that you dump into the toilet and then clean it. It can be sterilized at the beginning and end of your cycle by boiling it. You can wear the cup for up to 12 hours, which means going an entire day without worrying about your period issues. There are tonnes of advantages. It’s economical - it has the one time cost of $40, but when you add up the price of disposables month after month it way cheaper to buy a cup. It’s environmental - by using this instead of pads you are reducing your contribution to landfills. It’s hygienic – the cup is made of smooth silicon, there is less opportunity for bacteria to grow on it, which means significantly less risk of TTS ( It’s convenient – no more running to the store in the middle of the night for more pads. And when travelling it so nice to always have the cup with you. Don’t be afraid of touching your own blood, or let societal taboos inhibit you from trying out the cup.

For more information about the cup, click here

When I don’t feel like using the Diva Cup, I rely on reusable organic cotton pads. I know what you’re thinking - “Ewww, that’s gross, and must be so unsanitary!” Well, wait for one minute, think about your underwear and tell me how that so much different? Its not, so relax and open your mind. Women used cloth rags for centuries before the “wonderful” invention of the convenient tampon came about. Being the blonde that I am, it wasn’t until recently that I finally made the connection of the term “being on the rag” and women actually using rags during menstruation. But then again, I was never exposed to any other options.

Click here for list of why cotton pads are ok!

When it comes to cleaning my cotton pads, I find it easiest to keep a small bowl under my bathroom sink to soak the used pads in cold water to help get the blood stains out. Thanks to a tip from a lovely Filipino family doctor, I now sometimes use that blood soaked water to water my plants. Again, the power of women! I am telling you! We have it in us to give nutrients which benefit a beautiful, air purifying house plant. It makes sense though. You can pay for high priced blood meal fertilizer in the garden centres, or use what nature provides us with every month.

There is also another alternative which uses a sea sponge in a similar manner to a tampon to catch the flow of blood. Although I have heard of sea sponges before, I didn’t really research them until I decided to write this column. I check out the Sea Pearls Company. There is concern that they are harvested from an already fragile ocean ecology, and since they are technically a animal by-product, they may not be suitable for vegans. But in many other ways, sea sponges are great. They are an affordable natural solution which comes form the earth and because of this they are much gentler to the vagina than bleached cotton tampons. They can be trimmed to fit your needs, and can last up to four months. After that the sponge can be composted. Isn’t that wonderful? What humanity needs nature answers with whispers. We have the solutions without the need for excess pollution and chemicals. But sadly it is our cultural barriers that are inhibiting us from using anything than products which reinforce our reliance on consumerism.

In the end if you’re still not comfortable with using anything else but tampons or pads, for yourself and Mother Earth, choose organic, chlorine free, unbleached products available in health food stores.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Electric Car Makes a Sexy Comeback

The Tesla Motor Company has recently "sold out" their 2007 stock of their new electric car. I went to see Who Killed the Electric Car a couple months ago, and it just made me realise how much actual power oil companies have. Every single electric car was destroyed in hopes that the world would forget the electric car and all its glory. Well, thankfully, this brave and innovative car company has revived the car. I'm not saying this this is our only alternative to the gas powered vehicle, but its nice to see a company bringing about ideas that go against the fossil fuel currents. Hopefully they get further than the other electric cars did.

Check it out... its sexy, sleek, albeit expensive, and emissions free.

Tesla Motors

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Upcoming Conference

If you're interested in studying or are already researching sustainable agriculture, consider entering an abstract for a presentation at this upcoming conference - Agriculture at the Metropolitan Edge: New Ruralism and other Strategies for Sustainable Development at Berkley, CA, April 5-6, 2007.

Abstracts are due DECEMBER 1, 2006.
check out the site!

I wrote a 250 word abstract about this time last year and got a trip to Vancouver out of the deal. Maybe you could go to California! Sustainable agriculture is a pertinent issue which demands attention. I learned so much from the Planners for Tomorrow Forum 2006, I could only imagine how informative this conference is going to be. Write the abstract - is more than worth a shot.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Find a Green Job!

Now that a lot of my university colleagues are graduating shortly, search this site for "good jobs". Don't give up your values just for the money. With all those brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can go in whatever direction you choose (i think Dr. Seuss wrote that).


Sustainability Beyond Sterotypes

The current impact that the global population has on this earth is undoubtedly unsustainable. There are too many indicators telling us that this is true such as global warming, soil degradation, deforestation, war, species extinction, increasing number of forest fires, declining fisheries, massive economic polarization and social inequalities. The international drive to become “westernized” or a developed first world nation has led to environmentally and socially destructive patterns of development, extreme over-consumption, pollution and deepened the dependence on non-renewable resources.

It’s obvious that this mess the world is in right now is a complex issue. Complex issues generally require a complex answer. Because of these complexities many of us believe that we have no control in pushing for a sustainable tomorrow and that it is up to big business and government to solve the problems. But in reality, we all have the power to make change, and I personally believe that we all have the responsibility to do so.

Becoming more sustainable in everything that we do is very important and an imperative aspect to creating this needed change. The term itself - sustainability - is becoming such a buzz word in the media, in businesses and in academic literature, that in many cases it is losing its true meaning. So then what exactly does the term sustainability mean?

The more commonly used definition was put out in 1987 when the World Commission on Environment and Development formed the Brundtland Report which stated “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs”. This is a comprehensive definition, but doesn’t explain how to go about doing this.

So then there are other definitions that use the three legged stool analogy for explaining sustainability and the importance of balancing the triple bottom line. The three legs represent the 3 E’s of sustainability – the Environment, the Economy and social Equity, and the top of the stool is a governing body making sure all this balancing happens. These are only two quick examples of how to define this term, there are many other approaches.

But the fact is you can’t really define sustainability as anything more than a principle. What is a principle? A principle is just a point of departure, a place to start. Sustainability is a place for us to start examining our lives and trying to improving the vast problems our planet faces. Sustainable principles could be seen as the values your parents instilled in you growing up. These principles should guide you in your everyday life.

Also, I think it is important to note that sustainability shouldn’t be associated with stereotypes. Since writing this column I have run into many individuals who label me just because I advocate sustainability. I am not a hippy, or a vegan, or a communist, and I am especially not a tree hugger. All these labels carry a negative connotation for some people in society, making the principle of sustainability unattractive to them. Sustainability is more than just environmentalism; it’s about understanding that there are consequences to our actions which we will face together. Sustainability isn’t just simply shutting off the lights when you leave a room, or buying only organic food, it is about so much more, like promoting peace, living a healthy lifestyle, striving for an equilibrium, or avoiding consumerist urges.

As you can tell, there isn’t one answer or one set definition on what sustainability is, or how one goes about reaching it. It has to be defined and used within its context. I urge you to sit down and thoroughly think of how you would define sustainability and what it means for you and then act to incorporate these values and principles into your lifestyle.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Your Vote Against Climate Change

Last Saturday, 25,000 protestors took to the streets of London, England demanding firm action on climate change from all political leaders. The marchers included people of all ages, social groups, ethnical backgrounds and religions. This vast range in diversity is unlike the young hippy crowd of the 1960’s. Climate change is becoming more than just a green issue, it’s also a global peace and economic issue.

The Kyoto Protocol Conference currently underway in Nairobi, Kenya, has put out several reports stating Africa is most vulnerable to climate change. Global climate change is already impacting the very poor through increase floods, droughts and hurricanes. African governments and humanitarian organizations are screaming for international governments to take action to mitigate the effects of global warming. But not much is changing. The single-minded pursuit of economic growth is rendering the international community incapable of tackling climate change. However, according to economists, addressing climate change is the only way to preserve our ability for economic growth.

New studies are saying that we only have a 10-15 year window to take the action needed to avoid crossing a catastrophic turning point in regards to climate change. The students here at Waterloo understand how important it is to make changes in our everyday lives. Recently, the UW Sustainability Project held a Climate Change Fair to raise awareness here on campus. There were guest speakers, information booths and movie showings.

If you feel you would like to take greater action on climate change but can’t seem to find time to attend protests or organize events, or don’t think you have a loud enough voice in this global issue, well, you’re wrong. One way to make your voice heard is by partaking in a fundamental act of democracy – voting.

As some of you may know, the municipal elections are this Monday, November 13th. I urge you, plead with you, and am willing to peer pressure you into voting. It is crucial to vote for who you think is going to do the best job. In the past, voter turnout for the municipal elections in Ontario has been deplorable. In 2003, only 40.18% of Ontarians voted in the municipal election.

To change this – vote, and ask your friends, family and neighbours to vote as well. Investigate the people who want to be your mayor and local ward councillors. They make decisions that affect your roads, sewers services, by-laws and recreation services. Also, be sure to investigate those people who are running for your regional chair and regional councillor positions. These people want to be part of your municipal government responsible for things such as garbage, housing and development, public transit and public health. If you want to push for a much needed green agenda, vote for the candidates you think will take serious steps to achieve environmental sustainability. If we hope to be environmentally sustainable globally, we must act locally to stop climate change.

After voting in the elections, stay informed on local issues. Hold your newly elected representatives accountable. Participate in your local governments green initiatives. Write letters to your local government pushing for change. You can crank up the volume of your issue by writing an informative letter and mass emailing it out to others asking them to sign it and mail it to the appropriate representative. If your representative is sluggish in responding to your environmental concerns, tell your neighbours, flyer your neighbourhood or write to the editors of your local news sources. If they are still not listening to you, vote for someone else next election or better yet, make yourself a candidate.

This Monday, be sure to get out and vote. It’s as easy as visiting the SLC Great Room between 10am and 8pm.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

IMPRINT: Fill the Bag, Not the Environment... A new BYOB

There are anywhere between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags consumed every year. And I believe it. I work in a health food store and I am shocked at how many people don’t remember their reusable bags. But then of course there are the customers that always remember and even re-use old bread bags for their bulk flour and oat purchases.

A person's use of a plastic check-out bag can sometimes be counted in minutes - however long it takes to get groceries from the shops to their homes. These bags, however, can last for hundreds of years in a landfill when not recycled. Overall, plastic bags are bad for the environment.

Most are made of polypropylene, a byproduct of oil refining. There is an emerging science of manufacturing “plastic bags” from corn starch and soy, but I have yet to come across any stores that carry them. Also, most plastic bags are also made in China and then shipped all over the world consuming even more fossil fuels.

In the marine environment, plastic bag litter is lethal, killing thousands of sea life every year. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and then die of starvation because the plastic blocks their stomach. In 2002 a whale washed up on a beach at Normandy and was found to have 800 grams of plastic and other packaging in its stomach.

In cities, they litter the sides of highways, allow for stagnant water breeding grounds for mosquitoes to populate your neighbourhood and largely contribute to the city dump. Overall, in the urban environment they’re a pain in the ass. Just ask Bangladesh. In 2002 the city reduced the number of plastic bag use after drains blocked by bags contributed to widespread monsoon flooding in 1998.

At the grocery store you’re often offered the paper alternative to plastic. Although the paper bag is recyclable, and decomposes rather quickly, it’s still not good enough. Making paper bags uses even more trees and since they are heavier and larger than plastic, paper bags produce more carbon emissions from the added transport they require.

It’s obvious for an environmentalist to rant about the importance of using reusable bags, but they’re so much more. In addition to helping the environment, reusable bags are kinder to hands and fingers, can hold twice as many items as conventional plastic carrier bags and have handle straps that can go over the shoulder, leaving both our hands free. They can carry more and will not bust under the weight of heavy items. They’re inexpensive, can be washed and used for years. Furthermore, reusable bags can actually be quite fashionable.

I was visiting Sydney in fall 2004 and the most interesting fashion phenomenon was taking hold of the city and was shared by all classes of society - rich or poor, young or old. This bright green bag was seen everywhere. This reusable bag was the tangible product of the campaign to cut plastic bag use put on by the Australian Government in partnership Australia’s largest grocery chain, Woolworths. By the end of 2004, 5 million green bags were sold nation wide at $0.99 a piece. Although the store continued to provide free plastic bags, when you didn’t remember your green bag, you would get a look of disapproval from the clerk that was almost as scary as the judgmental girls in high school.

There was some controversy over the green bag campaign since they were made using woven plastic fibers and that it was just a scam for the grocery stores to make money. But environmentalists argued that they’re a better option because they can be reused for up to two years, after which they can be recycled. Mine is almost two years old and still going strong.
So the next time you go for groceries or errands, don’t forget to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags). If you’re in a pinch, using the odd bag is alright just as long as you re-use or recycle it. And remember, when using a plastic bag as waste liner, make sure you fully fill the bag before throwing it away.

Friday, November 03, 2006

UW Climate Change Fair

Host: UW Sustainability Project
Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 2:00pm
Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 11:00pm
Venue: SLC Great Room - UW Campus


Fun games and prizes, speakers and movies to help you learn about climate change and what you can do about it.

Speakers and games run from 2-6pm each day with back-to-back

"An Inconvenient Truth" on Wednesday at 7 and 9pm.