Tag Archives: Carbon Footprint

Going Green, this Halloween

Goblins beware! Halloween isn’t only scary for the kids—it’s a scary time for the environment too. Between plastic bags, plenty of candy wrappers, and a huge onslaught of garbage, we have a lot to get scared about.
With a few, simple shifts in our Halloween activities, we can help Mother Nature enjoy the spooktacular events, without worrying about our footprint. Here are some tips:

  • Make Your Own Costumes: Rather than buy a costume and throw away after just one use, make your own using old clothing, mom’s 80’s make-up (BOO!), and plenty of hair spray. Not only will your children enjoy masquerading in ancient heels, you’ll have a chance to critically ask yourself, “What was I thinking?”
  • Use Reusable Bags: North Americans use over 420 million bags a year, littering our waste sites, killing marine life, and leaching into our soil for generations to come. Not to mention the millions of gallons of dirty fossil fuels needed to create the plastic bags in the first place. Reach instead for a durable, re-usable bag, or better yet, an old pillowcase or cloth.
  • Walk, walk, walk: Kids don’t need 40 pounds of candy. Really. Instead of taking them all over town in a car, keep the car parked at home, and walk your kids around your neighbourhood, collecting candy and saving yourself the gas and emissions. Who knows, you may even lose an inch around the waist.
  • Hand Out Eco-Friendly Treats: Notice I said treats, not just candy. If you are going for candy, buy locally (Wal-Mart doesn’t count), keeping in mind the smaller shops that help keep your local economy strong, and stick to organic candies as much as possible. If you’re thinking of being avant-garde, you can opt to throw in neat little gizmos, such as stickers, keychains, erasers, or a scientific calculator. Ok, maybe not the calculator.
  • Keep a Trash Can by the Door: Not only can you pretend there’s a ghoul inside it, but many children will have eaten a handful of candy from door to door.  Encourage them to throw their garbage in there, versus your driveway or front lawn. If you’re a parent walking with the kids, bring a bag with you and pick up candy litter along the way.
  • Use Your Pumpkins: There are a variety of pies, muffins, and desserts you can make with your leftover pumpkins. Don’t just throw them out when Halloween is over—use whatever you can, including the seeds, and toss the rest into your composter. Don’t have a composter? Now’s the perfect time to get one before the cold sets in. Contrary to popular belief, food does continue to break down in the cold.
  • Lead by Example: The best way to keep the green movement growing is through leading by example. Gather some friends and neighbours, and have them join you on your Green Halloween. Tell everyone what you’re doing, and if not this year, perhaps next year they’ll decide to partake in your ghoulishly green mission.

Happy Halloween!

The Meat-Lover’s Sustainability Dilemma

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is set to announce that “The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. So I want to highlight the fact that among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider.”

By contrast, transportation contributes 13% of our greenhouse gas footprint.

Greenhouse gases are released throughout the meat production cycle, during land clearing, making and transporting fertilizer, feed antibiotics and hormones, burning fossil fuels in farm vehicles, and emissions from the animals themselves, which is a major proportion of gases emitted. Refrigeration and transportation of the meat for processing, packaging, distribution, retailing and to the consumer are also huge contributers.

Population growth and changing consumption patterns in developing countries will continue to increase pressure on global food supplies and food security. Livestock production has increased all over the world as demand for meat rises. The resulting increase in water scarcity, land degradation and soil erosion are key threats to productivity of farmland, not to mention the effects of loss of biodiversity associated with deforestation for high-maintenance agricultural land. Recent scientific studies have demonstrated that increases in global temperature adversely affects soil fertility, reducing crop yield. Water runoff from livestock farming can cause significant contamination and eutrophication of surface and ground water if the solid waste generated is not managed properly. Farming subisidies (like other poorly applied subsidy programs) tend to create an uneven playing field, further exacerbating the problem.

Possibilities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with farming animals include genetically engineering strains of animals that produce less methane and ammonia. Organic farming is not a feasible option globally, due to the comparatively low productivity and yield.

We all know by now that eating less meat is better for your health. A price on carbon could cause the price of meat to rise, people would eat less, and, at the same time, reduce associated emissions of greenhouse gases and other adverse environmental impacts. This might just be the added incentive that ardent meat-lovers like me need to make another personal choice that contributes to the sustainability of our planet. Given the magnitude of the impacts, reluctantly, I’m adding eating less meat to my list of simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Alberta’s Tar Sands—the Perfect Vacation Spot!

The Alberta Oil Sands Project is a contentious issue, and it isn’t going anywhere. On one hand, we know it is polluting the environment in ways we practically thought impossible (way to go, Canada!), and on another hand, it’s providing liquid black gold that we’ve become so excruciatingly dependent on. In light of this, what is stopping Canada from becoming a beacon to the world when it comes to our renewable energy resources? After all, with a land mass equivalent to Russia’s and less than 1/10th the population of the U.S., why haven’t we figured out a way of taking advantage of our vast, empty land for the betterment of the environment, instead of financing disastrous projects like the Alberta Oil Sands?

Let’s just think for a moment how Canada could set an example. We could erect wind turbines in the moderate-north, where no human wants to live, but energy sources abound. We could plaster our suburban and rural lands with field after field, or roof after roof, of solar panels. We could make it mandatory to install rain barrels outside our 2000 sq ft, homogeneous, suburban row housing. We could mandate the use of water efficient products in our residential and commercial communities, and demand to see green roofs on our buildings, instead of ugly concrete facades and HVAC devices.

The truth is, our government is still very much devoted to oil and fossil fuels, no matter what Mr. Harper dictates in his speeches to the world. We are dependent on oil, and sadly, will continue to be until we see every acre of our environment completely destroyed, or Mr. Suzuki develops an aneurism—whichever comes first. But there is hope!

Sustainability is a growing grassroots movement, and it will continue to grow in leaps and bounds as people like you and I become more educated about sustainable practices and our impact on the world. This is why we need to act now, from the ground up, and not wait for the government to tell us what’s “good” or “bad”, especially since so many government “policies” are aimed at helping corporate cronies make more money (check this out), and are not necessarily based on sound, logical principles (ethanol, anyone?).

This brings me to GreenPeace, and a rather tongue-in-cheek Tourism site they’ve created, aptly titled “Explore Alberta”. Watch and marvel at today’s bustling Albertan skyline, and relish in the thought of taking your next trip out to Alberta instead of sunny Punta Cana or Florida. Bon Voyage!

Making sustainable food choices

Granted, the global food supply is not one of the most significant contributors to climate change and emissions of greenhouse gases. However, in the spirit of maintaining awareness and doing what we can as individuals to mitigate the impacts of climate change, becoming aware of more sustainable food choices is a relatively easy action to take. I don’t believe in randomly curbing consumer choices (I love having access to the most exotic foods from around the world!), but just knowing about the factors that impact those choices can help to shift our mindset in meaningful ways.

It seems perfectly logical to start with organic, in-season, locally grown food. This addresses the importance of reducing the transportation distance from the farm to your supermarket and minimizing or eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. However, foods grown in climates and soils that are naturally most suited for their production can have a much lower environmental impact than local products grown under artificially enhanced conditions, even if they’re shipped across great distances. There are other factors to keep in mind to ensure that you’re reducing the carbon footprint of the food you consume:

  • irrigation requirements
  • methods of harvesting, processing, preservation and storage
  • minimal packaging, or at least reusable and recyclable packaging
  • climate and growing season
  • mode of transportation (air, water, rail, etc.)
  • fair trade and sustainable agriculture practices

Your method of cooking can negate all the effort you put into sourcing your food, if you’re not conscious of the energy and water consumed in its preparation.

Finally, coming soon to a supermarket near you— a carbon label for your food products.

Simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint

It’s hard to avoid the buzz all over the place these days about reducing your carbon footprint. Once you quantify your carbon footprint using one of the calculators available on the web, you can buy carbon offsets to “neutralize” your impact. The money gets invested in renewable energy technologies, planting trees or other initiatives designed to reduce the overall carbon emissions impact to the planet. There are good and bad (legit and questionable) ways to do this and still have a real impact. We won’t get into the challenges here.

You can have a more direct, real impact on reducing your carbon footprint by implementing simple changes to your daily life that can really add up. When we all start embracing these simple changes to our
lifestyles, the cumulative effect can be significant. Here are just a few (there are many more):

  • Use those reusable bags for your groceries (usually available in a variety of funky shades of green), instead of plastic grocery bags
  • Buy stuff with less packaging, and packaging that is reusable or recyclable
  • Buy in bulk if possible
  • Buy stuff produced locally or within short transportation distances whenever possible
  • Plant a garden, trees and grow some vegetables and herbs right in your own yard
  • Minimize watering and fertilizing by careful selection of plants and trees for your soil and climate type
  • Try replacing your lawn with a native groundcover
  • Plan your route to do your daily errands most efficiently if driving
  • Be conscious of how much time you spend in the shower
  • Don’t just leave the water running while you’re brushing your teeth
  • Reuse towels at home at least 2-3 times, not just in hotel rooms
  • Air dry your clothes outside on warm, sunny days
  • Replace some of your incandescent light bulbs with CFLs or LED lights
  • Think twice about how often you feel you need to replace your car, electronics and household items
  • And my favourite— work from home at least one day a week!