Trees: We grow them, we depend on them, we even hug them. But have you ever wondered why? This short, humorous, fantasy story will make you see them in a whole new light.
Available at Amazon and other book retailers:
You’ll have to excuse us newly minted hybrid car drivers. We’re both slightly distracted and a bit smug.
Earlier this year, my husband and decided to get a Prius. We’ve only had it a few months, but already the changes it’s produced in us are remarkable.
First, you must understand that never in a million years did I see myself driving a sedan. The word “sedan” is entirely too close to the word “sedate” for my liking. Second, in spite of a brief, but meaningful relationship with a red Tiburon back in the (pre-motherhood) day, I’ve never really liked driving much. Driving is incredibly boring, but it requires your full attention — or at least, that’s what the officer who caught me trying to catch up on the latest issue of New Scientist told me.
Meanwhile, my husband, who’s never met a train he didn’t like, has an innate suspicion of anything that doesn’t blow steam or require a third rail.
So it comes as a great surprise to find that we really enjoy piloting our hybrid. I say “piloting” because it feels like you’re on board a starship. The regenerative braking sounds like you’re dropping out of warp, and it’s completely silent at stop lights and stealthy in parking lots. As it comes with push button controls and digital readouts, plus a way to pipe your cell phone calls through the dash hands-free (“Scotty! Are you there?”), my husband is seriously debating getting new plates that read NCC-1701.
Thus far, we’ve only discovered two drawbacks to our new car. One is that the feedback system encourages you to play a ‘video game’ of sorts with yourself while driving, by scoring you on your consumption. You find yourself constantly watching the fuel use meter, trying to drive with a feather-light foot, and thinking of more efficient routes to work. Do not be alarmed if you see me doing a little victory dance in the driver’s seat when I rate an “Excellent!”
That’s the distracted part I mentioned earlier. The smug part is when you silently glide up beside the big, noisy, fuel sucking SUV driver who impatiently pulled out and around you two blocks ago. You see him jump in surprise, and then watch him realize he’s no further ahead than you in traffic but about $20 poorer to boot. I think I may have to develop a special dance for those occasions too.
The second drawback is that now entirely too easy to rationalize a trip into a Tim Horton’s drive through because you don’t have the carbon footprint induce- guilt associated with idling as you wait. If we’re not careful, our doughnut weight gain will more than offset our fuel efficiency.
Chocolate glazed overdoses aside, what really strikes me about the hybrid and other more environmentally friendly products is that the market is finally getting it. It used to be that the only way to be kinder to the Earth was to be a Certified Hippie. You know, the people who actually wore those coats made out of recycled plastic bottle pieces, could find time to make all their own cleaning products and who lived in reclaimed transport containers.
These days there are all kinds of choices out there. Want to reduce electricity use? Store shelves are full of low energy, long life bulbs. (Bonus: Fewer trips up the ladder.) Worm composting to reduce your kitchen waste not your thing? (And let’s face it, worms should not be present in any kitchen that also has toddlers). Get a low wattage electric composter. (Bonus: In two weeks you’ll have enough soil to re-pot the petunias your toddlers discovered).
Tired of the energy drain that is the ironing pile? Behold and hallelujah, we’ve invented no-iron shirts and pants. (Oh c’mon, tell me you don’t think that ironing is toxic to *your* environment.) And I don’t know about you, but I’ve already picked out my mid-life crisis car: the all-electric Tesla.
Not easy being green? That was so twentieth century. There are all kinds of easy to implement changes that can make a difference right now.
Let’s hop to it.
Photo Credit: Chandra Clarke
It’s tough trying to be an environmentally conscious consumer. Hybrid cars? They are still pretty pricey; get on the waiting list. Biodegradeable disposable diapers? Not at your local grocery store. Phosphate-free soaps? Only at expensive, hard-to-get-to health boutiques.
Promising solutions seem to drop out of sight. For years, I’ve heard of alternative fuel sources — everything from vegetable oil to hydrogen. These things seem to be in perpetual development; none of them ever make it to the market.
Blame Big Oil, you say? Well, maybe. Certainly there’s a lot of money to be made in oil, and the players aren’t going to leave the field without a fight. But it has to be said that sometimes, environmentalists aren’t doing us any favours either. Consider:
PRODUCT DEVELOPER: Right, so we want to talk about this amazing new technology that can convert discarded chicken parts – straight from the poultry-processing plant – into clean fuel.
ENVIRONMENTALIST: Did the chickens lead happy lives?
PD: Er, they were free-range, I think…
EN: But did they get a chance to self-actualize? Realize their full potential?
PD: Right, perhaps you’d like to see our proposal for these wind generators…
EN: Too noisy.
PD: Oh, but these are located along coastlines and more remote areas, and they’re practically silent-running.
EN: Underground, I mean. Vibration, etc. Disturbs the woodchucks.
PD: Disturbs… the… woodchucks. Okay, so, how about we talk about solar panels?
EN: Nope. Bad for bugs.
EN: They get hot. Bugs land on them, and …ffft!
PD: Ffft? Ffft?!!
EN: You okay? You seem to be getting a bit hot under the collar.
PD: Must be that global warming thing.
Of course, economists are no better. Many an enthusiastic proposal has been squashed by an economist with a calculator and too much time on his hands. Inevitably they forecast that the new energy system will cost billions, even trillions, and that its benefits are doubtful. One wonders what would have been said if our current situation had been put forward as a proposal, back in the late 1800s.
FUTURIST1: Gentlemen! We must do something to replace the horse. They eat too much. They leave horse… stuff all over the place. They kick. People fall off them and break their necks. Suggestions?
FUTURIST2: I know! First, let’s drill large holes in random places until we find pockets of the liquid, rotten remains of long-dead animals and plants. Then we’ll set up expensive, smelly refineries to convert this goo into a wide variety of toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, we’ll begin paving over millions of acres of green landscape with a hard, but nevertheless non-durable, substance that will be prone to crack, break up, or develop something called “potholes” on a weekly basis and require repair. Finally we will have to find a way to transport the refined goo to distribution stations; this will occasionally result in an accident — you know, dropping several million litres in the ocean, or having something blow up now and then. All this will be to fuel the horseless carriage.
FUTURIST1: Sounds good! Where do I invest?
The point is, of course, that things are in a bit of a mess, and so, yes, it’s going to cost money to fix or replace it. The solutions are not going to be perfect either — short of us leaving the planet, there is never going to be a time when we’re not disturbing something, consuming a resource, or both. So let’s just get on with whatever system will cause less damage than the one we’ve got, and we’ll figure it out from there.
I’m sure the woodchucks would agree — even the ones that are somewhat disturbed.*
* And to prove my commitment to the environment, let me just say this: No woodchucks were actually disturbed in the process of writing this column.
Photo credit: Alexander Blecher via Wikimedia Commons
People tell me things.
Sometimes I think it’s because I must have been born with a “you can trust me” aura. Maybe I look empathetic. Whatever the reason, the upshot is that strangers have always felt comfortable talking to me, sharing opinions or intimate details about their lives. Usually within about a minute of meeting me. This means that 1) I never had the “embarrassed” phase as a teenager. I’d heard it all by age nine. 2) Every time I travel it’s an exercise in sociological research.
Take the gruff fellow I met at the gas station yesterday. He was filling up his quad cab pickup, and very incensed over the cost. Bent my ear for fifteen minutes, on all things related to gas prices. “Global warming is a crock,” he huffed, “it’s effing freezing out here!”
That, for me, neatly summed up how scientists and environmentalists have blown the climate change debate.
The message for the past 20 odd years, you see, has been that we need to reduce pollution because it’s one of the chief causes of climate change. This message has failed for the following reasons:
The Scientific Method – Scientists fight amongst themselves, in public, over details. This would be fine if we had a scientifically literate public. This problem isn’t helped by the fact that this week’s science reporter was last week’s lifestyles editor. Consider the following scientific discovery headline cycle:
* Researchers suggest guar gum may possibly improve blood circulation if ingested on Sundays
* Studies link guar gum to improved blood circulation
* Better blood with guar?
* Chewing gum: Does it make you live longer?
* Major chewing gum manufacturers investigating guar, debating new product lines
* Cola bottlers announce plans for guar supplements in your favourite fizzy
* Nation gone guar crazy!
* Scientist at another institute says original guar study flawed; author forgot to carry the one
* Guar.com launched
* Original guar study author claims critic’s mother wore army boots. Did not forget to carry one
* Guar industry analysts worried
* Guar critic says did too, did too forget to carry the one
* Another new study: Guar linked to heart disease?
* Guar.com folds, 3500 IT employees now seeking work in India
* Year in review — Remember guar?
Vested Interests — The people concerned about climate change are researchers, volunteers, and environmentalists — you know, people who are happy to have enough spare change to be able to afford a fair-trade coffee sometimes. Critics of climate change research tend to be car makers, oil companies, and manufacturers – you know, people who are happy to have enough spare change to be able to afford a coffee producing country now and then.
Whither the weather? – The average non-scientific Joe on the street has difficulty believing long term predictions about climate, when we still can’t reliably predict if it will rain in Philadelphia next Thursday.
So what *should* the message have been? Air quality.
It’s personal: We all breathe. It’s scientific: We’ve got instruments that can tell us exactly what we’re breathing in. It’s immediate and health related: What was that about asthma rates again? It’s tangible: Even guys in pickup trucks know when they can see, smell, and practically chew the smog.
Plus it’s really, really tough to spin the benefits of smog: “Just look at that brown sky! Doesn’t it just make you want to… to… oh, never mind.”
One last ponderable: In most of North America, it’s now socially unacceptable to light up a cigarette. But it’s still okay to fire up a smoke stack.
I suppose I should be careful. Without these kinds of strange contrasts, I wouldn’t have any material for a column. And then I’d have to… ARGH!
Work for a living. Forget everything I just said! No, really…