Thursday, January 19, 2012

Signing Off

Well, there's no point beating around the bush, so here it is: I'm going to stop writing new content for this blog. Originally I thought it was a good idea to cut back from bi-weekly posts to much less frequent updates, writing only when something comes across my virtual desk that really gets to me. Now I realize that even that doesn't quite fit with the direction I'm heading in for this year, so it's time to call it quits. Thanks for sticking with me for 209 posts and for sharing your opinions in the comments!

It's a nice planet - can we keep it?

Photo of earth as seen from space used under Creative Commons from NASA Goddard Photo and Video (Flickr).

Friday, January 13, 2012


Last week I saw an interesting documentary about the burgeoning environmental movement in China, and to start with, let me say that I never thought the words "environmental movement" and "China" would go together, not in my lifetime, at least.

Gary Marcuse's Waking the Green Tiger film follows the efforts of activists, journalists, filmmakers, and former politicians as they strive to preserve China's natural wonders, educate their neighbours, and encourage public debate, made possible by the passing of a new environmental law. The documentary focuses on a grassroots campaign, led by environmental activists, farmers, and journalists, to stop a huge dam project on the Upper Yangtze river in the mountains of southwest China. What's so bad about dams? While the country needs the power that would be generated by the hydroelectric plants, equally important is the food grown in the rich soil on the river's shores. This prime agricultural land will be lost when the dams back up the water and flood the valley - and thousands of farmers and villagers will be forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods.

The film also explores Chairman Mao's infamous "war against nature" in the late 50s and early 60s. Mao was determined to conquer nature in the name of progress, mobilizing millions of citizens in campaigns that reshaped the Chinese landscape, destroyed ecosystems, and triggered a famine of epic proportions. That's what you get for wiping out sparrows because they eat grain! There was a sick sort of ingenuity to the process of eradicating the birds: citizens would bang pots and pans and beat on drums to force the sparrows to keep flying until they fell from the sky out of exhaustion. Where did they fall? On open patches of soil that had been strewn with poison, which the birds gorged themselves on, in the hopes of regaining their strength. Eventually the birds were driven to near-extinction, and that's when the locust population exploded and wreaked havoc on China's food supply. 30 million people died of starvation.

Back to the documentary. What struck me was how in a relatively short time span, thousands of farmers and villagers, just average members of the public, were educated on the dam projects and its repercussions. By and large, this was due to the efforts of a really small number of people. To be completely honest, the campaign would never have gotten off the ground without the hard work and dedication of one man and his vision. He was a well-respected community member who everyone knew and looked up to. He was intelligent, articulate, friendly, and engaging. He was a natural born leader! Which is great for those living in the Upper Yangtze river valleys, who managed to halt the construction of the dams (at least temporarily) despite having to move forward with the campaign after losing their great leader to a fatal heart attack. It's not so great for the rest of us: those of us living in cities that are too large for any one person to organize a movement that the majority will support; who do we turn to?

These days in the developed world, any one person's lifestyle is so different from the next that we don't necessarily feel a sense of community, of having shared needs, of wanting to join together to protect something we all value equally. Our modern lives are so complex, there are so many problems and causes fighting for our attention and support, and with every passing generation, our neighbours grow more and more to be strangers rather than friends. What kind of leadership is necessary in this context? What type of person does it take to bring together big city residents? How can we push important environmental campaigns while everyone already has so much on their plate?

Something to think about for 2012.

Waking the Green Tiger posters used under Creative Commons from Face to Face Media.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Do you make New Year's resolutions? Do you challenge yourself to try new things in January? Do you commit to lifestyle changes, maybe in your home or at work, or the places in between?

I'm not a huge fan of resolutions because I think January is a pretty crummy time of year to make big changes. It's cold out, the days are still quite short, and it's hard enough to re-establish your previous routine after going on vacation over the holidays - let alone make changes to that routine. Let's all agree: it's an uphill battle all the way! Instead of resolutions, I tend to choose a few big goals that I hope to achieve in small doses over the course of the year, gradually, gently. One of these is to slow down, and I expect to accomplish this by making bite-sized changes to various aspects of my life.

So it is with some sadness, but also conviction, that I am announcing an adjustment to my relationship with this blog: at the risk of losing followers who enjoy regular updates, I am going to write posts only when I feel the need to share information and/or opinions about topics that are very important to me. You might be wondering how that differs from what I've been doing so far! Obviously I cared about what I wrote in 2010 and 2011, but too often did I put pressure on myself to keep up the twice weekly pace of updates... for no justifiable reason! In order to write posts every three or four days, I sometimes had to sit down in front of the computer when I didn't really want to, or suffered from writer's block, or worst of all, didn't actually have enough time to commit to the task! Now that a brand new year is upon, I'm being more mindful of how I fill my days, and if I want to reach my goal of slowing down, I have to do away with writing blog posts under pressure, or under some sort of time/pace constraint. I am going to stop doing things because I have to and start doing things because I want to!

When I began thinking about this post, I wondered if I would provide an estimate of how (in)frequently I might be writing in 2012... then I realized that even that would create unnecessary stress for me. So instead I'll say this: I look forward to telling more stories (good and bad), sharing more of my strong opinions, and challenging you to challenge yourselves, and I hope you'll keep reading despite a slow pace of updates.

Photo of new year snowman used under Creative Commons from Ruth Flickr (flickr).
Photo of street art used under Creative Commons from Cubby (Stickerthing blog).