Monday, April 23, 2007

Buying Sustainability

If there’s a problem, throw a little money at it.

At least that seems to be the common thread among some of the biggest celebrities and business moguls in America.

Virgin Group chairman Sir Richard “Money Bags” Branson recently dug deep into his pocket to offer $25-million to the first person who can create a workable plan for reversing the effects of climate change.

Who ever said that throwing a little capitalistic spirit into saving the world was a bad thing?

Internet tycoons like Bill Gates, Steve Case and John Doer are also giving millions to finance “green technology,” “sustainable lifestyles” and “ethanol bio-refineries.”

But, wouldn’t it be easier to just pay people to conserve energy and drive less?

And isn’t there always a tinge of irony when millionaires donate to environmental causes?

Bill Gate’s mansion in Medina, Washington alone takes up 48,000 square feet. That’s more than 30 times the size of an average American home, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Adding over-consumptive insult to injury, his garage houses an estimated 30 cars.

That’s a lot of wasted materials, fuel and energy for one family.

Then there’s the politician/celebrity/environmentalist Al Gore whose Nashville mansion “consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year.”

So what kind of message are ‘environaires’ sending?

If you’re rich enough, you don’t have to change your lifestyle to save the world from pollution and climate change. You just have to spend some money and demand that others save the world for you.

Sure it’s nice to see these guys giving some cash and props to environmental causes instead of oil companies. But it would be even nicer if their generosity wasn’t seasoned with a fist-full of hypocrisy.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Put Your Hands Together for 'Eco-Faith'

The looming threats to our natural world – global warming, resource depletion, etc. – demand a unified voice.

Perhaps a new religious ideology isn’t such a bad idea.

Enter ‘Eco-Faith,’ a green religion that “discusses different religions and their perspectives on the importance of the environment.”

Right now, there are various fellowships, groups and congregations attempting to unify “different people with different religious backgrounds to discuss the importance of the environment and what they can do to protect it.”

The idea is to take the values associated with environmentalism and sustainability and apply them to religious ideologies.

Eco-Faith is in the developing stages, but already you can find examples of a widespread movement gaining force.

Carleton University student, Kristina Mellway, established ‘Faith and the Common Good.’ The group explores how “faith can play a role in correcting the damage that a consumption based lifestyle has done to nature.”

Faith and the Common Good plans to bring together as many as 20 local faith communities – including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh - to follow in the path of praying and caring for environmental wellbeing.

After all, religions have the power to shape social and political values.

Just look at the ‘Eco-Faith Worship Community,’ led by Reverend Dr. Jason John.

According to John, “many religions have adopted an extremely human-centered view of our relationship with the Earth.”

In contrast, John’s fellowship has adopted a 'bio-centric' approach: a belief that humans are stewards, not dominators, of the Earth. Following this approach, humanity is only one piece of this complicated puzzle called life.

And Reverend John doesn’t need to think up a religious holiday to honour this new found faith.

Eco-Faith has its own religious holiday: Earth Day. And, some groups are already using Earth Day to reaffirm “a commitment to protecting the environment.”

The fight against global warming will demand a unified voice and unified action. Perhaps Eco-Faith will be the common ideological thread which ties many different religions together in the spirit and pursuit of co-operation.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Declining Birthrates Equal “Loss of Hope”?

According to Pope Benedict, Europe’s "declining birthrate is an indication of humanity’s loss of hope in its future, and is a form of dangerous individualism."

But, is this is true?

One of the biggest challenges facing humanity in the dawn of the 21st century is overpopulation.

The realities of overpopulation and the pressing need to curb procreation, however, is a touchy subject for many.

Especially since the concept of population control often butts heads with the doctrines of the religious right. In their view, the propagation of the human race is an "essential component" of human existence.

True, if people stopped making babies, the human race would cease to exist in another hundred years.

However, the Earth’s resources are finite and these finite resources, such as clean water, are essential for humanity’s survival.

If we keep expanding at a rate of approximately "1.7 per cent per annum," there could be some serious problems and resource shortages in the near future.

Some people even go so far as to say that if we don’t curb population growth now, humanity faces certain "extinction."

This begs the question: Is continuous population growth sustainable?

Not if we consider that the Earth has a carrying capacity: The maximum population size of a given species that an area can support without reducing its ability to support the same species in the future.

In other words, there’s a limit to how many people the Earth can support without humans resorting to drastic measures, like growing protein in a Petri dish for human consumption.

There are many reasons why people choose to have fewer children: cost, lifestyle choices, level of education, etc.

And, increasingly, people are choosing to have fewer children to reduce humanity’s impact on the world. Rightly so, considering it’s the only world we’ve got.

Maybe having fewer children isn’t indicative of "humanity’s loss of hope in its future." Maybe the decline in Europe’s birthrate is a sign of humanity’s plan to have a future worth looking forward to.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Efficient and Green: It’s Easy to Be Kind to the Environment

It’s time for home owners to latch on to sustainable energy sources. No excuses.

Coal and other non-renewable resources have damaging impacts on our Earth.

It’s obvious that as Canadians we have come to rely on fossil fuels and non-renewable resources for our survival. Since 1693, when the first Canadian coal mine opened at Grand Lake, New Brunswick, people have been using coal for energy.

So, it’s been three centuries of using non-renewable and polluting energy sources. Maybe it’s about time we make the switch to environmentally friendly energy.

It’s really not that hard.

There is a widespread market availability of sustainable energy sources.

Google ‘solar panels + purchase’ to track down your local solar panel supplier. And don't worry, you'll have made back the money you invested in this green technology in four years. Well worth it to save the world from smog-causing coal exhaust.

Just punch ‘wind turbines + purchase’ into Google and you’ll be bombarded with a list of commercial wind turbine suppliers.

Plus, investing in wind turbines can actually lower your electricity bill by 50 to 90 per cent.

For enviro-friendly companies, planting a wind farm can recoup the energy used in manufacturing within six to eight months.

Going green isn’t as difficult as many people think.

True, investing in sustainable housing technology can be costly.

But, the initial cost of installing wind turbines and solar panels, for instance, are offset by what you save in the long run.


It’s easy and cost effective to go green.

So, why aren’t more people jumping on board? Perhaps they’re still stuck in 1693.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

'Banking' on a Sustainable Future

Ever wonder how banks make their big bucks? Banks invest the investments you make in them. That’s right; banks make money off your hard earned cash!

But are all of the banks' investment ventures environmentally friendly?

That’s something ethically-conscious investors and environmentalists are wondering.

With billions of dollars at their disposal, banks have a significant influence over economic growth and activity. They can decide whether a business sinks or swims.

Equally, they can invest in ‘green’ or ‘dirty’ technology.

That’s why this coming June 7th the Financial Times and the International Finance Corporation are holding a “Sustainable Banking Conference and Awards” in London, UK.

It’s going to be a big boost towards sustainability, as more than 100 financial institutions form 51 countries are expected to attend.

The awards will “act as a catalyst for further innovation in sustainability banking, helping to encourage best practice and transparency in the way banks approach sustainability and stimulate debate on the role banks can or should play in the area of sustainability.”

Several online networks are jumping on the bandwagon to offer investors online sustainable investment assistance. They help companies cater to the environment when making investment decisions.

Banks and other investment institutions need our cash to generate profit. They operate just like any other run-of-the-mill business.

As consumers we can choose to put our money in banks that take a proactive approach to sustainable investing – investing in technologies with little environmental impact.

The truth is ‘we consumers’ have an enormous amount of power and can pressure banks to make environmentally-friendly decisions.

And it looks like the banks are catching on…let’s hope.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Curb Your Appetite...for Non-Sustainable Products

Many of us live under the illusion that our wide, expansive Canadian oceans contain an infinite amount of aquatic life. This, however, is far from the truth.

Recently, David Suzuki hosted a discussion about sustainable seafood and the state of Canada’s oceans. The symposium’s underlying message: 'We should try to choose sustainable options for the good of our oceans and ourselves'.

Loblaws or Safeway may have food, but they certainly aren’t spawning fish in their stores.

Our major seafood supplier isn’t supermarkets. It’s the ocean. And the ocean is being jeopardized by deep-sea trolling and over-fishing.

The solution? Make sustainable food choices.

Not sure where to start? There are various organizations and websites available on the internet pushing sustainable fish picks.

For example, 'Ocean Wise', a Vancouver based Aquarium conservation program, promotes sustainable eating by helping the public make environmentally-friendly seafood choices.

Also, 'Seafood Watch', Monterey Bay Aquarium program, provides consumers with a colour-coded online guide that contains the “latest information on seafood choices.” They also suggest which seafoods to avoid.

Want to adopt a local-only food source policy? Visit ‘Sustainable Table’ where users track down a list of local food suppliers by entering their dwelling coordinates.

So don’t clam up about sustainable seafood. Splash a dash of Worchester on that filet of cod. But make sure that main dish comes from a sustainable fish.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Would a Sustainable Expo Work in Vancouver?

Vancouver isn’t exactly making a big step towards sustainable development with its expanding commuter culture.

So having an expo that teaches Vancouver residents about sustainable development may well be in order.

The Globe Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping firms “capitalize" on the environmental movement, is planning on hosting a Sustainable Living Exposition.

Globe Foundation Vice President Nancy Wright said that she “never thought the market was quite right for” a sustainable expo in Vancouver. That is until climate change became “so important to the public.”

Saying both these statements in the same breath as: “people that live in Vancouver are inclined to be proactive in protecting the environment,” demonstrates the disconnection between the perceived and actual reality in Vancouver.

Were or were not Vancouver residents concerned about protecting the environment when the Globe Foundation decided not to host the event?

A Sustainable Living Expo sounds great. But the Globe Foundation seems to be missing the point with its Ethical, Progressive, Intelligent, Consumer Exposition (EPIC) under the guise of a sustainable expo.

EPIC is nothing but another forum where businesses learn how to tailor their products to a market. Instead of buying more ‘green’ stuff, consumers should be buying less. Period.

I know, it’s better to buy green than not. What’s missing from EPIC, however, is the ‘learning about living sustainably’ part that many Vancouver residents need.