Tuesday, November 30, 2010

From Waste Generation to Waste Reduction This Holiday Season

As promised, here are some tips for greening the holidays just a day shy of December - hope I'm not already too late to curb some bad habits! In the spirit of the 4Rs (that's the standard 3Rs, with Refuse added to the front as the best waste reduction / energy conservation method), I've provided four options for each topic.

  1. Create your own decorations - refuse to buy more each year. These days you can easily find DIY instructions with a quick internet search.
  2. As I mentioned in my post about the light exchange, be selective about how many seasonal lights you use - reduce. Cheerful holiday design doesn't have to involve large amounts of decorations.
  3. Focus on decorations that can be easily stored for many years to come - reuse.
  4. Popcorn and cranberry garlands belong in your green bin/compost, not the trash - recycle food waste back into the soil it came from.

  1. Buy local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients - refuse to contribute to our unjust food system.
  2. Turn down the thermostat just before guests arrive - reduce. It's amazing how warm a room gets when people get together in good spirits.
  3. Invest in cloth napkins - reuse. If you must use disposable ones, compost them.
  4. Feed those wine bottles to your blue bin - recycle.

Greeting Cards
  1. Send electronic greetings - refuse to waste paper. In this digital age, it is completely acceptable to choose e-cards over their paper counterparts.
  2. Send cards only to your closest family and friends - reduce. One year I received a card addressed to the previous tenants who moved out almost one and a half years earlier! If you never talk to 'em, don't send 'em a card.
  3. Cut off the image side of cards to make your own for next year, and use any blank sides as note paper - reuse.
  4. Don't trash cards and envelopes, they go in the blue bin - recycle.

(Not) Buying Gifts
  1. Make something - refuse to buy more stuff. A selection of holiday cookies (provided you're a half-decent baker) would be appreciated by pretty much anyone on your list.
  2. Pick gifts with less or no packaging - reduce. If you know someone is really passionate about a certain cause, make a charitable donation towards that cause in their name. Or why not give "two tickets to that thing you love", like the Old Spice man on a horse says?**
  3. One person's trash is another's treasure - reuse. Let's face the ugly truth: our planet is drowning in garbage, so there is no shame in regifting items you just don't want.
  4. Got a fancy tech gadget a few years ago that is now broken/obsolete? Dispose of it properly - recycle electronic waste according to your municipality's guidelines.

Wrapping Gifts
  1. Not all gifts need to be wrapped - refuse to waste gift wrap. Place small items inside of larger ones, or if you're gifting fabrics (tea towels, clothing), use those as wrapping for other gifts.
  2. Find creative alternatives to use less gift wrap - reduce. For example, large items or those too cumbersome to wrap look just fine with a bow on top instead of a mess of wrapping.
  3. Choose sturdier wrapping options - reuse. Years ago my mom invested in cloth gift wrap that she has been using within the family ever since. Gift bags are useful, too, but make sure to reuse the tissue paper as well!
  4. Your blue bin is happy to accept paper-based gift wrap and cardboard packaging - recycle.

At this time of year I urge you to remember what's important about the holidays: the people. No unnecessary packaging there. Unless you indulge in too many sweets...

**NB: While I love that commercial, I do not endorse Old Spice products because they are full of toxins and other harmful chemicals!

Photo credits: string of popcorn and cranberries - Gare and Kitty; greeting card - hartboy; gift bags - jmackinnell (all via flickr)

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Botox Apple: Coming Soon to a Store Near You

By now you, my dear readers, are quite familiar with my stance on genetic modification. I've written not once, but twice about Enviropig™, and I've introduce you to its cousin, AquAdvantage™ salmon, so let's keep the momentum going and spend some time pondering that most important of all questions: how do we keep sliced apples from browning?

Hopefully, like me, you're already groaning. I opened the link to the Associated Press article after reading someone's message on Twitter about news related to GMOs and apples. What I expected to read about was some researcher's quest to lower the number of pesticides necessary to yield a healthy apple crop - wait, I think that's an oxymoron ("pesticides" and "healthy" in the same sentence?). If not, it's a terrible pun. To my surprise, the drive behind introducing foreign genes into apples is, as I mentioned above, unrelated to solving the problem of apples' susceptibility to infestation. That's right, a Canadian biotechnology company hopes to gain USDA approval of genetically modified apples that won't brown when cut open. Benefits include making producers and distributors of ready-to-eat bagged apple snacks richer, making that Canadian biotechnology company richer, and... nothing else.

Drawbacks include:
  • cross-pollination of traditional apple trees with genetically modified ones
  • trashing entire orchards' worth of apple trees to start over with the GMO variety
  • human health and other environmental effects that we can't even predict and often don't research
  • if sales of apple snacks go up, a greater use of energy and water in processing the fruit, larger greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, and an increase in waste generation due to packaging, to name a few
  • no benefit to consumers, unless you believe the market actually wants botox apples and will therefore increase their daily intake of fruit
  • teaching the public, especially children, that white apples are natural and good for you - because it's not like there will be a big, bright label on the package that identifies the GMO contents

Can you think of any more? You guys are smart. I bet you can.

What researchers ought to be spending their time and money on is developing more efficient and more effective pest management strategies that don't require pesticides or other toxic chemicals. I've written about this issue before, but what I failed to draw your attention to was the fact that apples ranked fourth in the Environmental Working Group's list of "Dirty Dozen" produce, based on how many pesticides are typically involved in their cultivation. That's why this is so important, way more important than the colour of an apple's flesh once you slice into it.

Armed with this knowledge, and knowing we can't really influence the USDA, I suggest the following simple actions:
  • buy whole apples instead of processed, packaged slices - you'll be getting more bang for your buck because you can eat all the way through to the core (factory slices are tiny), and as a bonus, the experience of biting into a whole apple is more satisfying, and juice running down your chin will make you laugh
  • buy apples grown locally to support the farmers in your region
  • source an apple orchard that uses alternatives to pesticides to keep yourself healthy
  • if they don't know it, teach your family and friends that browning is natural and does not indicate that the apple has gone bad

Oh, and don't forget to read the article while crunching into that apple you're having a craving for!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pushing Forward with 100 Hands

This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on developing a career in the sustainable food movement. "Pushing Forward" was organized by Food Forward Advocacy Alliance, a food system advocacy group based out of Toronto working with the public, politicians, and those involved in the food sector to strengthen the city's food movement. The workshop doubled as a fundraiser, with proceeds supporting Food Forward's work and programming.

Eglinton Park Heritage Garden

The goal of the event was to provide interactive sessions for people interested in getting a meaningful job or starting a social enterprise in the food or environmental sector. The day was structured around a series of educational talks delivered by speakers whose enthusiasm for their work was infectious. The 50 workshop participants (that's where the 100 hands in my title came from) heard four great success stories:

Chris Wong, co-founder of Young Urban Farmers (helping residents grow their own food in the city) and its non-profit sibling CSA, told us about the importance of being passionate and having a can-do spirit when trying to make it as an entrepreneur. He pointed out that starting a business often brings about a fear of failure, but that this fear can be transformed into motivation because the worst case scenario is spending the rest of one's life regretting never having tried.

Anne Freeman, coordinator of the Dufferin Grove Farmers' Market and the Greenbelt Farmers' Market Network, explained the myriad of details involved in creating and operating farmers' markets and other small food business start-ups. In addition to passion and drive, she underscored the need for planning and cost analysis before venturing into business. Anne also provided great tips and directed us to useful resources, including the Toronto Food Strategy project / Food Connections and Toronto Public Health food handler training courses.

Melissa Shin, Managing Editor for Corporate Knights Magazine (a.k.a. the "magazine for clean capitalism", showcasing the leaders and losers of the corporate world with respect to their environmental and social impacts), spoke about facing adversity with passion and being gutsy enough to do what you love. She remarked that while we may not want corporations to run the world, they current do; so it's necessary to work with them to achieve our goals.

Nogah Kornberg, Executive Director of Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada (a hub for connections, education, and support for young people in social enterprise), remarked that as a high school teacher, she has often been asked by students how to choose between pursuing a career that interests them vs. one that pays the bills. Outraged that youth are convinced these are mutually exclusive concepts, Nogah became a big proponent of social enterprise: working towards meeting social and economic goals simultaneously.

Riverdale Farm Farmers' Market

After these four informative talks, we moved on to the more interactive portion of the day. In order to take advantage of the great wealth of knowledge present in the room, Nogah invited five workshop participants to briefly outline their ideas for pushing the sustainable food movement forward. The rest of us created little groups around these "masterminds" and furthered their ideas through feedback, questions, and the raising of problems that needed solving. It was incredible how in ten short minutes, one person's vision was boosted by eight brains coming at the idea from a variety of perspectives. I sat with a driver for FoodShare's Good Food Box program who wants to distribute healthy snack packs to convenience stores in food deserts, and our group came up with lots of suggestions to improve the feasibility of his idea.

Finally, although I could not stay for the post-event social at a nearby pub (serving local beers, naturally), I had a chance to chat with Food Forward volunteer Michelle Gruda (whose blog you should read). We talked about how exciting it was to hear from people who have been able to pursue careers they love, but agreed that the missing piece is knowing how to turn an idea into a successful business. Between the two of us, we were easily able to identify areas that desperately need change and come up with half a dozen objectives, but how do these concepts become detailed proposals?

In the coming weeks and months I hope to devote more time and energy to answering this question, and with some luck I will find myself working on a project and keeping you up to speed on my progress through this blog!

Photo credit: Eglinton Park Heritage Garden - Toronto Community Garden Network ; Riverdale Farm Farmers' Market - The Friends of Riverdale Farm.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Update on Enviropig™

About a month ago, I told you about the genetically modified pig, misleadingly named Enviropig™, created at the University of Guelph and currently awaiting approval from Health Canada for human consumption. If you're unfamiliar with the story, read my post to get the facts and my opinion.

Sock Pig is certified GMO-free

The Globe and Mail finally caught wind of this story and wrote about it in a way that suggests, nay, implies the authors have no beef (pork?) with GMOs and neither should the readers. Focusing mainly on the potential for feeding our ever-increasing world population, we are told that "the market may soon need Enviropig™", ignoring the plethora of issues that plague our food system which must be addressed first before resorting to extreme measures such as genetic modification.

Something new I actually learned about through this article was the GM predecessor to Enviropig™: AquAdvantage™ salmon, owned by Massachusetts-based biotech firm AquaBounty but created by researchers at Memorial University in Newfoundland and pioneered on Prince Edward Island. The GM salmon offer a faster rate of growth over their non-GM counterparts, and a few months ago the FDA deemed them safe to eat, though they have not yet been fully approved for the US market.

GM salmon aren't immune to sea lice.

Once again, another opportunity is lost to educate readers on concerns with industrial aquaculture (especially the fact that faster-growing salmon won't solve any of the associated problems), and instead the authors distract us with the totally irrelevant issue of worrying that the Canadian origins of these GM animals may be forgotten when regulators in other countries approve of them first. I don't know about you, but I'd be happy to forget that my fellow Canadians are responsible for potential GM-related health and environmental effects in the long run.

To be honest, I'm glad the Enviropig™ issue is getting some media attention, I'm just disappointed with the Globe and Mail's coverage. Dissenting voices should get more than one paragraph at the end of a long article.

You can read the full story here.

Photo credit (sea lice on salmon): 7Barrym0re on Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Watch This and Feel Better!

In celebration of my 50th blog post, and because we could all use something to lift our spirits after last week's democratic disaster (you know, that thing about the Senate killing the climate bill?), watch this great spoof video narrated by Jeremy Irons about the life of the plastic bag:

Thanks to Jen from the Clean Bin Project blog for advertising it!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Senate Simultaneously Kills Climate Act and Breaks My Heart

A few years ago, Jack Layton introduced Bill C-311, otherwise known as the Climate Change Accountability Act: reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by the year 2050 and establishing plans to meet that target. After the country voted in a new government two years ago, the bill was re-introduced by the MP for Thunder Bay, debated and passed in the House of Commons, and sent to the Senate for the last stage in the process of becoming Canadian law. While emissions targets are great in theory but often disappointing in practice because the government is a perpetual climate change reduction under-achiever, passing this bill would have been a step in the right direction. At the very least, it would show the world that Canada is trying to be responsible and recognize its impact on global climate change.

Instead, the Senate took everyone by surprise and voted on Bill C-311 this week on a day when the Conservatives outnumbered their colleagues because 15 Liberals were not present. They didn't pause for debate, they just defeated the bill. That's right, people we did not elect killed policy that people we actually voted for agreed to, i.e., this was an undemocratic act. Apparently Prime Minister Harper agrees with the defeat of the bill (many believe he encouraged his Senator friends to make this happen) because it would be "irresponsible" to put people out of work. In other words, Harper doesn't want to upset his best friend, Big Industry. The irony of how irresponsible it is to kill a bill that could help keep us alive in the long term seems to be lost on him.

 The range of emotions I have felt since hearing this news has included anger, sadness, disgust, outrage, shock, and as I mentioned in the title, heartache. Worst of all, I feel ashamed to be Canadian if this is what the government can get away with.

For more details, please read this article from the Globe and Mail and this blog post from the David Suzuki Foundation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Light Up the Neighbourhood with Free LEDs!

November is here, and that means Toronto Hydro and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas are collaborating to bring you 22 events around town over the next few weeks where you can trade incandescent lights for LEDs! It's the yearly Festive Light Exchange, and it's coming to a neighbourhood near you.

The cat isn't part of the deal, unfortunately.

The math is really easy: bring two sets of old incandescent lights and you'll get one free string of LEDs! In other words, get rid of those shabby-looking, energy-guzzling lights with chipped paint and muted colours that leave you with broken glass every time one of the bulbs break. Instead, bring home a string of lights that use 90% less electricity, produce less heat (so you're not paying to melt snow on your trees, and you don't run the risk of fire indoors), and shine brighter than the traditional ones. Personally, I find some of the LED colours, especially that blueish white hue, to be much more festive than alternating reddish-orange and palm tree green.

But wait, it gets better: the average lifespan of LED lights is in the 20 to 30 year range, and they won't die on you prematurely due to breakage because there are no fragile filaments or glass bulbs. There are so many advantages to this technology that you can rest assured this is no passing fad!

Looking for an event close to home? Most take place outdoors on weekend afternoons in parks/parkettes and at community centres and schools. Click here for the full schedule.

Please keep in mind that while seasonal lights are pretty and LEDs are energy-efficient, conservation and moderation are still encouraged. Try placing lights only outdoors and using other types of decorations for your living room. Also, buy a timer and set your outdoor lights to automatically turn off at midnight. If you've lit up your front porch or back patio, make sure the standard lighting in those areas is turned off.

Please don't do this.

Happy lighting!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Go Green with the Grinch Video Contest

Feeling creative? Then grab your video camera, digital camera, or cell phone, make a 1-minute video about how to green the holiday season, and submit it into the Go Green with the Grinch Video Contest for a chance to win some great prizes!

I'm too much of a perfectionist and would end up missing the deadline while recording version after version of my own video, but if any of you participate in the contest I would be happy to vote for your submission!

Here's what you need to know:

The Basics: the contest runs from November 15th to December 13th, 2010. Your video must be a maximum of 60 seconds long and relate to the "Go Green with the Grinch" theme of making the holiday season more environmentally friendly. You can show one activity in great detail or try to cover as many greening tips as possible.

Eligibility: you must live in the GTA (incl. Toronto, Durham, York, Halton, and Peel regions) to be eligible to participate, and if you are under 18 years of age, an adult needs to submit your video on your behalf. Obviously, the content must be original, and you may not use clips from existing videos! Note that the submissions will be reviewed and approved by the contest organizers before being posted on the contest website.

Voting: tell all your friends about your video because the winners are decided by popular vote! Hopefully your friends are a bit obsessive and glued to their computers because voters are allowed to cast their virtual ballots as often as once an hour for the full four-week duration of the contest! Naturally, social networking media are quite useful for spreading the word about your 60-second masterpiece.

Prizes: first prize is a one-night stay at One King Hotel, second prize is a Batavas Old Dutch bike, and third prize is a Sony 3D/2D Blue Ray Player with an assortment of Blue Ray discs. Not bad at all! All winners, including five honourable mentions, will also receive two tickets to the "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" musical, as well as prize packs from Live Green Toronto and Toronto Hydro.

Winners will be notified via e-mail on December 14th and must complete a declaration form by December 17th in order to be declared a winner on December 20th.

For full contest rules, and to submit your video and vote, go to the contest website. There you will also find holiday greening tips, and in the coming week I will be posting some of own.

The contest is already on, so get to it!

Photo credits: 1940's video camera - turkeychik; string of popcorn and cranberries - Gare and Kitty; social networking cloud - davidking; grinch ornament - garlandcannon (all via flickr)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Put Food in the Budget Campaign

Let's make a quick switch from environmental to social justice today.

One of my favourite blogs, 52 Projects, recently educated me on the Put Food in the Budget provincial campaign, sponsored in part by one of my favourite local food organizations, The Stop Community Food Centre. The campaign demands that the Ontario Government immediately increase by $100 per month the social assistance received by adults in this province. Why? Because currently, the government believes $585/mth is enough. In a city like Toronto with expensive rent, I don't see how that's fair. The second campaign demand is about creating a fair and transparent way of setting social assistance rates so that people can meet their basic needs.

How can you get involved?

1. Complete the Do the Math Survey, which asks you to calculate the minimum that a single person needs to afford housing, food, and everything else.

2. Attend the Put Food in the Budget Rally tonight at Wychwood Barns.

3. Take part in a public act of solidarity with people on social assistance by accept the Do the Math Challenge, which asks you to rely on a diet that a person on social assistance might receive from a food bank from three days to a week. Elizabeth (from 52 Projects) is participating and has listed on her blog what a single person's food bank hamper typically consists of:

  • 2 boxes Kraft Dinner (or substitute extra rice if gluten-intolerant)
  • 3 juice boxes
  • 3 single-serving-size scoops dry rice
  • 2 small cans soup
  • box of dry cereal or 3 packages instant oatmeal
  • any 2 of: 175 g can of tuna, chicken, or turkey; small jar peanut butter; 3 eggs
  • 2 small cans of tinned vegetables; or 1 tin vegetables and 1 fruit
  • 1 potato
  • 1 onion
  • 1 can plain beans or chickpeas; or 1 can pork and beans
  • 3 granola bars or 3 fruit chews
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 loaf bread (or substitute extra rice)

Would that fill you for three days? One week?

If you'd like to find out how Elizabeth is doing, check out her blog and follow Put Food in the Budget on Twitter. In fact, she just tweeted about starting off the day with instant oatmeal and instant coffee on Day 1 of the challenge.

Images from Put Food in the Budget

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Call for Submissions: How to Reduce Traffic Congestion?

I've been publishing posts on this blog for a few months and am grateful that I have a loyal, if somewhat small, group of followers out there. Keeping a fairly consistent writing pace is rewarding, and I'm always excited to reply to some of your comments, but what I feel is missing is a greater degree of interaction. Granted, I'm usually the first to say that online communication is a poor substitute for a real conversation, let alone a live debate. However, today I am willing to experiment with the series of tubes we like to call the internet. After all, if I have become capable of embracing the chaos that is Twitter, why not attempt to moderate a discussion via the comment section of my own blog? Easy as pie.

Here's the question: how do we reduce traffic congestion?

Hwy 401 traffic on the Saturday of a long weekend (photo credit: Bicycle Bob - Flickr)

This assumes, of course, that clogged roads are something we would like to eliminate. From wasting time to causing road rage to sickening us by polluting the air we breathe, it is an unwanted yet complacently accepted symptom of large urban areas. For the sake of this discussion, we must take for granted that everyone wants away with traffic jams. And, if you're like me, you also hope to get rid of slower-than-normal speeds on highways due to a high volume of vehicles outside of rush hour, on weekends. (This past Saturday, I found myself carpooling en route to a small town about two hours from where I live, and was appalled but not shocked at how many others were doing the same. Next time I will take the train.)

Instead of entertaining the fantasy of completely overhauling our North American public transit systems so they closely resemble those in places like Copenhagen, Munich, and Tokyo, let's focus on less resource-intensive and therefore more realistic strategies. Here are a few to start you off:

1. Implementing Toll Roads. The initial setup brings some costs, but these are offset by toll revenues before too long, and only those who drive are "penalized". Check out the current debate on this very issue between the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and a car-lover.

2. Eliminating Subsidies to Oil Companies. Here's a thought: instead of giving billions of dollars to fossil fuel producing corporations via tax breaks, spend the money on the fantasy transit systems I mentioned above and watch as drivers find more affordable methods of transportation! For a summary of the Climate Action Network report on this controversy, go here.

3. Bringing back Chevrons. Remember the white blazes on the 401 near Whitby? They were meant to remind drivers to keep a safe distance from each other. I believe they are equally useful, at least in theory, to move traffic along more smoothly during times of congestion. At least one of my friends agrees that educating the public about the futility and inefficiency of staying close behind the car ahead (causing stop-and-go movement) is part of the solution.

There you have it: only three ideas, but still they indicate how wide the range of possibilities may be. Please share your thoughts on these, feel free to add other suggestions, and comment on what others are saying. To keep track of the discussion, subscribe to receive updates on new messages via e-mail with the link at the bottom of the comments section.

And... go!

The Story of Electronics

It's finally up! Annie Leonard's Story of Electronics video has been posted to her website. Watch it, tell others about it, leave comments at the bottom of this post, then watch it again!

Also check out here other videos if you haven't already:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Winterize Your Home

The Merriam-Webster dictionary claims that the word "winterize" (verb: to make ready for winter or winter use and especially resistant or proof against winter weather) was first used in 1934. I bet it was a Canadian who said it! Today's winter temperatures may not be as low or last as long as they once did (thanks to our good friend, climate change), but since it's now consistently at or below zero overnight where I live, I've started thinking about about how best to keep my home warm without breaking the bank or the planet.

Snow in Montreal last December. It's coming back!
Luckily, you don't have to make any big purchases or embark on complicated renovation adventures to enjoy big energy savings this year. Unless you're just itching to do so, in which case I'd ask you to please contact me and I'll happily do the research to support your project! For the rest of us, consider these tips:

Turn your thermostat down! This is really simple and very effective, even if you're not willing to make a big change. To make things even easier, invest in a programmable thermostat and punch in the warmest temperature for your mornings, evenings, and weekends, program slightly cooler air for the hours you spend under a warm duvet, and save the uncomfortably cool setting for longer stays away from home.

Bulk up on insulation! As you probably remember from science class, hot air rises, so the first place you need to pad with the pink stuff (does it come in other colours these days?) is your attic. Other insulation-deprived areas are unfinished basement walls and crawlspaces.

Give your furnace some TLC! The filters on your furnace should be cleaned every few months to ensure optimal efficiency, and eventually they need to be replaced, too. If you want to go all out, call in an expert and have your furnace professionally serviced.

Share your blankets! Air ducts like to be cozy, too, so make sure all of the ones carrying hot air are insulated in areas where they pass through spaces you keep unheated in your home. You can do the same to your hot water heater. Don't forget the teddy bear and bedtime story...

Learn how to use a caulking gun! Sorry, I'm running out of fun titles. Applying weather-stripping or caulking to windows and doorways is another really inexpensive yet highly effective method of keeping cold air out of your home. Even if three out of the four sides of a window are well-sealed, you could be losing a lot of heat to the fourth.

Knit a snake! I'm not sure what these are supposed to be called, door runners maybe? Draft stoppers? Even without crafty skills you can avoid drafts under doorways with a towel, or, in a pinch, a couple of sweaters! There are also many sewing/knitting/crocheting guides online, if you're so inclined.

Dress your windows! In the world of shutters and drapes, there are more and less insulating ones. Look for blinds that trap air and curtains made of heavy fabrics. Remember to close all window coverings once it's dark out.

Wear an ugly sweater! You're at home, who's going to see you? Put on an extra layer of clothing rather than turning on an electric space heater. Heat yourself, not the room! Warm blankets and throws are not only cozy on the couch, they add style - not that you, the energy-saving superhero, need any.

Let it snow! This isn't a tip, and snow can lose its romanticism after the holidays are over, but why not keep your fingers crossed for a sustained cover of snow on your roof? Take advantage of Mother Nature's environmentally-friendly, local, sustainable, organic insulation.


Compiled from tips on the Live Green Toronto and Toronto Hydro websites, as well as a few of my own brain cells. You may also want to check out this interactive guide from CBC.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nagoya Biodiversity Meeting a Success

After two weeks of negotiations, the delegates at the UN conference on biological diversity agreed on targets for slowing species extinction and ecosystem destruction, although methods to enforce these laws and ensuring funding for poor nations are still in question.

Meanwhile, the representatives signed off on a landmark agreement known as the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits (ABS). As one journalist put it, "under the new protocol, 193 parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will be legally obliged to follow rules designed to prevent biopiracy and provide benefits, including financial ones, to other parties when their genetic resources are accessed." In other words, when knowledge of the healing properties of certain plants would end up in the hands of pharmaceutical companies, it used to be the case that these corporations would turn the plant extracts into medicine, enjoy large profits, and share nothing with the people who initially provided the access to the plants. Often, it is developing countries and aboriginal peoples who lose out in this equation. The new protocol outlines a system for sharing the profits and benefits more equitably.

Hopefully during the next meeting in 2012, more ambitious biodiversity protection targets can be set, and we can convince the United States to participate in (rather than just observe) the proceedings.

More details can be found here and here.