How to stay informed in an information-overload world

If you’re sincerely interested in knowing more about climate change and the solutions we need, getting information you can rely on (without being overwhelmed) can be tough.  Here are a few sources I hope may be of help.

(And: important note: don’t overdo it; one or at most two of these would meet most people’s needs!!)

  • Subscribe to The Guardian’s Green Light weekly email for a roundup of stories, debate and analysis from around the world every Friday. The Guardian is probably the UK’s most committed, credible media outlet on climate.
  • Sign up to The Energy Mix for summaries of top stories about climate, renewable energy, electric vehicles and more. Canadian!  (Or bookmark the page if three emails per week are too many; all stories are filed in an excellent searchable archive.)
  • Subscribe to What On Earth, sent by the CBC every Thursday. The content?  Kind of reminds me of Green Ideas, actually: tips and news…
  • Set up a Google Alert, to get regular emails (at an interval you specify) with top links from around the world on a topic you specify. My daily Google Alert set to ‘climate change’ has been keeping me informed for over a decade.  (Some questionable sources do creep in periodically, so be discerning.)

Do you have a favourite source not listed here?  Why not hit reply and let me know!

Pause, just for a moment

October 9, 2019

In Thanksgiving

One of the highlights of my year has been meeting Jim Merkel and reading his book, “Radical Simplicity: Small footprints on a finite Earth”. It’s a gentle, thought-provoking guide for living lightly on our fragile, limited planet.

Jim’s take on Radical Simplicity goes far beyond just living with less stuff. It’s also about learning to clear our over-stimulated minds of much of the clutter and anxiety of today’s frantic lifestyles, and instead focussing our mental energy on our core values. It’s about reconnecting with what truly sustains us: this planet and its beautiful, complex web of life. Jim describes once being on a team retreat where everyone, regardless of their personal faith tradition, paused for a moment of gratitude, silent or otherwise, before each meal.

On this Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, perhaps that’s one of the best things we can do: pause before we eat for just a moment to ponder the people, plants, animals and planet that make our existence and nourishment possible. We live in a privileged part of the world, and it’s good to be conscious of that. Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Thanks

First prevent, then cure (or adapt)

“We’ll just adapt.”  It’s a commonly-heard response to climate change from individuals and politicians – and for me, a frustrating one.  True, the sad reality is that we’ve procrastinated so long on emission reduction that we now face some unavoidable consequences.

But “We’ll just adapt” frustrates me for two reasons.  First, because it’s typically a thinly disguised excuse for business as usual, and continued procrastination on climate action.

Secondly, and much more critically, because it implies the speaker actually understands what we’re adapting to, and actually believes there will be a new stability we can hang our hats onto.

It’s my experience that the larger consequences of climate change, such as water shortages, crop failures, food insecurity, political instability, climate refugees and sea level rise (this new report was released just this morning), are poorly understand by most people.  Climate change is not just a few degrees of temperature.

And climate change will accelerate, not stabilize, until we eliminate the emissions that are driving it.  So how can we even think about adapting to something that continues to change and deteriorate?

Perhaps the quote in this meme may be helpful in building understanding of why reducing emissions needs to be our priority.

Faucet

First, we need to stop the source of climate change, emissions.  Then we can think about adapting to our new reality.

(PS Have an idea for a better analogy?  If so, please share!)

Join a Climate Strike Friday, September 20

One of my favourite music lyrics is from the song You’ve got to stand for something on John Mellencamp’s 1985 album Scarecrow: “You’ve got to stand for somethin’ / or you’re gonna fall for anything.”

If you’re like me, the thought of taking a stand on something – whether by calling a politician, writing a letter or joining a protest march – makes you uneasy.  But what makes me even more uneasy is the prospect of admitting to my sons (and all youth) that I did less than my best in fighting climate change, the defining issue of our time.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterrez has challenged world leaders to come to New York September 23 and pledge more aggressive actions to fight climate change.  Climate Strikes are being held in communities around the world for a week starting September 20 to demand strong action from our political leaders.

Will you be there, even if it’s not comfortable? 

Slide1

For a map of planned strikes, click here or here (it’s worth checking both because some events are only listed on one).

For all you need to organize your own event, click here (and then register it at the above sites).

And for a zillion reasons why you need to be a climate activist, take a few minutes to check out this compelling TED talk by Luisa Neubauer.

Hope to see you out there!

(PS: Prophesy? The last line of You’ve got to stand for something goes, “We’ve got to start respectin’ this world / or it’s gonna turn around and bite our face off.”)

Make climate change your Front Door Issue this election

I recall reading a piece some time ago in which a young campaign strategist was asking the candidate he was working for why he wasn’t taking a stronger stand on environmental issues.  “Because,” replied the candidate, “nobody’s talking about it when I’m out knocking on doors.”

It’s gratifying to read that the environment was the #1 concern of respondents in a recent poll (ahead of the economy even). But will that translate into strong climate action by whoever wins this fall’s federal election?

Here’s one simple thing you can do to help: tell every single candidate who knocks on your door that climate change is the #1 issue that will determine who you vote for, and ask them what they plan to do about it.  Don’t be afraid to challenge anything that sounds like jargon or gobbledygook.  Ask about emission reduction targets and how they are to be achieved; ask for specifics and examples.  Ask about renewable energy, electric vehicles, biodiversity, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and more.

Election Issue

Need a quick primer on key climate change facts? Here you go.

Need a few sample questions to ask?  Here you go.

An emissions target made real

Last October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority, declared that global emissions need to drop by 45% by 2030 – just 11 years from now – if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C.  (Quick primer here.)

Sadly, global reaction was underwhelming – perhaps because any target given in years can sound like a long time.

Recently, I heard a speaker reframe those numbers in this different, more impactful way:

          “Emissions need to drop by 1% every three months.”

Emissions

For me, it was simple math, and suddenly it was real.  Reductions need to start now, and the longer we stall, the more daunting the challenge.

So, something to ponder as you relax and sip this summer: where will your 1% between now and November 14 come from?

  • Will you drive less? Will you bike, carpool or take public transit, even just a few times?  Will you stop idling or using drive-throughs?  Will you get a more efficient vehicle?  Will you take one less flight?  (Quick tip: transportation is ‘low-hanging fruit’, with significant savings readily available to anyone willing to make a few simple habit changes.)
  • Will you use less air conditioning now, or less heating in the fall?
  • Will you eat a little less meat and a few more veggies? Will you choose more local produce this fall?
  • Will you take shorter or fewer showers?
  • Something else? (Please hit reply and let me know, so I can share in a future Green Ideas.)

And once you’ve decided, why not start thinking about where your next 1% will come from, by Valentine’s Day?

(PS: 11 years isn’t that long – remember the global financial crisis and the election of Barack Obama in 2008?)

One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint: work less, relax more!

Remember June 5th’s Green Ideas tip, about the benefits of letting at least a part of your lawn grow into a meadow? Here’s a true summer story to help reaffirm that.

My wife and I have let our back lawn grow this summer, as an experiment. Bees and fireflies are loving it, and we’re enjoying skipping the mowing. Yet we’ve also been a tad uneasy about being perceived as… well, a bit weird or crazy. But last week we were sitting out on the deck enjoying a cool beverage when the peaceful silence was interrupted by someone firing up their lawn mower for the weekly drudge. We looked at each other, clinked our glasses and agreed, “Crazy? Not us!!”

There’s a larger message here too. In today’s world, it seems so many of us work too much, drive too much and consume too much. That’s hard on us, and hard on the environment. A growing body of research suggests that working less can reduce our carbon footprint disproportionately (IE working 25% fewer hours can reduce our carbon footprint by more than 25%). This Guardian columnist makes that point convincingly, going so far as to suggest that a four-day work week could be one of our best strategies for fighting climate change and improving our quality of life (provided our fifth day doesn’t become a drive-and-shop day).

Relaxing

So why not explore ways you can work less and enjoy non-carbon relaxation more? Something to raise a toast to on these hot summer days.

How to limit the impacts of your summer (or winter) break

Vacations help us relax, clear our minds and rejuvenate – essential in today’s complex, dizzying world.

Unfortunately, vacations can be hard on the environment – but we can greatly reduce the environmental impacts of our vacation with a few simple choices:

  • Travel in the lightest way you can. Flying has a huge carbon footprint (to the point where one progressive airline is even encouraging people to fly less); trucks and SUVs guzzle a lot of fuel (especially at higher speeds and AC blasting).  An electric vehicle can reduce your footprint by half.  Taking the train is even better.  Bicycling is best of all (and arguably best for clearing your mind too).
  • Seek out high-quality small scale, family-run hotels and traditional accommodation, if possible with renewable energy sources. Camping is even better, and less expensive too.
  • Eat as much local food as you can, leaning as much as you can toward a plant-based diet – and don’t leave anything on your plate!

Enjoy low-impact activities like hiking, canoeing or kayaking – excellent ways to reconnect with the natural world we are part of, depend on and need to protect.

Bicycling

Happy vacationing, and see you on the trails!

Thanks to the Global Footprint Network for their ongoing excellent work and for much of the information above.

Top tips for limiting how much trash your household produces

Six months ago, I shared my 2019 sustainability goals.  One of them was that our family would produce no more than 10 bags of trash this year.  (Hey, what’s the point of a goal if it’s easy?…)

Halfway through, I’m pleasantly surprised to share that we’re actually on track: we’re working on bag number five.

So what’s the trick?  Here are six keys to our success so far:

  1. Choosing less packaging: limiting trash is top-of-mind when we shop, so we actively choose products with little to no packaging, and actively avoid heavily packaged products. It’s meant the odd sacrifice, but we’re okay with that; our purchase decisions are one of the best ways we can influence the market.  This has probably been the biggest single factor in reducing our trash this year.  (Some people think the three Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – should be preceded by a fourth, most important one: Refuse.  My experience would seem to validate that idea.)
  2. No single-use plastic bags, ever: it’s meant a few walks back to the car, but we’re now comfortably in the habit of using alternatives that include reusable produce bags or collapsible boxes (no endorsement intended).
  3. No disposable coffee cups, ever: that means I skip that coffee if I’ve forgotten my mug. The upside: I now remember my mug.
  4. No disposable cutlery: alas, still working on this one as I sometimes still forget my spork (no endorsement intended).
  5. Composting: organics make up a big part of household waste, so diverting them to a compost heap greatly reduces trash. A bonus: you end up with fertilizer for next year’s garden. Another bonus: your remaining trash is less smelly and less attractive to pests.  (Unsure about composting?  Here’s a simple guide.)
  6. Recycling rigorously: our recycling systems are far from ideal (carbon footprint of collection; mixed materials; offshore ‘processing’), but recycling is still better than trashing.

So – nothing magic here; it’s more been a matter of commitment and habit.

So why not try it yourself?  And please let me know if you have any tips or secrets to add to the above list!

Please, no more trucks!

June 18, 2019

Make efficiency the number one issue when you buy a vehicle

I’ll confess to periodically talking back to my television.  And in recent months, nothing has provoked me more than that ad with the line, “Introducing eight all-new 2019 Chevrolet Silverados”.

Why?  Because trucks are horrendous gas guzzlers.  They, along with SUVs, are THE reason why Canadian vehicles are the very least efficient in the world.

I get that trucks are powerful, comfortable, luxurious and work-ready – except that most rarely work; they’re used for commuting.   Over a 300,000 KM lifetime, a truck averaging 14 litres/100 KM will emit 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide.  That sure seems out of touch with reducing our emissions by 45% by 2030 if we plan to cap global warming at 1.5°C.  Perhaps trucks are our generation’s irresponsibility.

So hey Chevy – for power, comfort, luxury and mind-blowing efficiency, why not instead give us eight new models of your magnificent Bolt EV, with an incredible 2.0 litres equivalent/100 KM, or seven times as efficient as a truck?  (Like all EVs, the Bolt is eligible for a $5000 rebate anywhere in Canada.)

For those rare few who really do need a truck for work, check out Rivian, Workhorse or – soon – Tesla.

For the rest of us, why not get familiar with NRCan’s fuel efficiency guide, where you can compare the fuel efficiency of every vehicle available for sale in Canada?  Then make efficiency your top priority the next time you buy.