Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Buy Nothing Day 2006

The game is on. With less than one month to go before Christmas Eve, retailers are gearing up for what they hope will be their biggest holiday season ever. If the financial wizards at Ernst & Young are right, they won't be disappointed. According to Ernst & Young's Canadian Holiday Sales Forecast, lower energy prices and the strong housing market will translate into a 6 to 7 percent increase over 2005 holiday sales of $ 55 billion. It's worth noting that 2005 holiday sales were 5.9 percent higher than 2004.

If you find yourself asking, "Where does it all end?", Adbusters has an answer for you. November 24 is Buy Nothing Day (BND. Timed to coincide with the day after American Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, Buy Nothing Day is a Canadian concept that has grown into a global phenomenon. This year, activists in 65 countries will take part in what is being billed a consumer detox.

According to the Adbusters website, creators of BND, "Every November, for 24 hours, we remember that no one was born to shop, we make a small choice to participate by not participating. If you've never taken part in Buy Nothing Day, or if you've taken part in the past but haven't really committed to doing it again, consider this: 2006 will go down as the year in which mainstream dialogue about global warming finally reached its critical mass. What better way to bring the Year of Global Warming to a close than to point people in the direction of real and effective alternatives to the unbridled consumption that has created this quagmire?"

Since the average consumer has yet to make the direct connection between driving their cars and the looming climate crisis, making the link between holiday shopping and saving the planet clearly requires a paradigm shift.

"Our headlong plunge into ecological collapse requires a profound shift in the way we see things. Driving hybrid cars and limiting industrial emissions is great, but they are band-aid solutions if we don't address the core problem: we have to consume less," said Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the Adbusters Media Foundation. "This is the message of Buy Nothing Day."

As simple as it sounds, we are so hard-wired into the idea of gift giving, that the question then becomes, in this season of pressured gift giving, how do we find a saner, less costly way to let those we love, know that we love them?

We could of course, start by simply telling them. Or we could show them. For me, that could be something as simple as somebody bringing me a cup of tea in bed before my crazy day begins. For children, whose parents are way too busy working to make money to buy stuff for their children, how about a day of undivided Mommy-time or Daddy-time? For a harried single parent, how about a week's worth of pre-made dinners to stock the freezer? For a disorganized friend, a coupon for a free closet cleaning; for a lonely senior, a month of Sunday afternoons playing cards; for struggling new parents, an offer to babysit; for the photographer on your list, an afternoon helping them to sort and catalogue their photographs. Once you start thinking about it, it gets easier and easier to come up with creative ideas.

Thanks to an abundant supply of cheap consumer goods, we are losing our ability to be self-sustaining. Wonderful skills like knitting, crocheting, woodworking and other handicrafts are disappearing at an astounding rate. For those who posses these marvelous skills, what better way to pass your love from generation to generation than by teaching these skills to your children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren?

Regardless of your age or stage in life, there is a way to express your love and connection to friends and family without costing the Earth, or your credit rating. Thoughtful gifts of yourself can also makes the lives of our loved ones a little bit easier. All we need to do is take the time to think, rather than shop our way through the holidays.

And that's the real spirit behind BND. It's an opportunity to stop consuming and broaden our humanity instead. After all, isn't that the true spirit of the season?


For more on Buy Nothing Day, visit

For more on Ernst & Young's 2006 Canadian Holiday Sales Forecast, and other fascinating financial facts, visit

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Fast Forward

In the Adam Sandler film, "Click", an overworked architect is given a magical universal remote control that allows him to fast forward through the awkward and stressful moments of his life. At first this seems like a great idea, until Sandler's character finds himself at the end of his life without really having experienced any of it. The old man who gave Sandler the remote explains that it is the hard stuff that we try to fast forward through, like dinners with our parents and fights with our spouse, that actually gives substance and meaning to our lives.

"Remember that old cereal commercial where the leprechaun was always trying to get the Lucky Charms so he could have the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," the old man asks. "Well guess what, when he finally gets to the bottom, it's just cornflakes."

Although billed as comedy, "Click" is a cautionary tale for our times. Its message is clear - the end of the journey is just that - the end. The magic comes from the journey and our willingness to consciously and responsibly live each and every moment.

Unfortunately our entire culture is based on the buy now pay later idea. Why put off having anything that you want or desire when you don't have to pay a cent until 2008? As a result, we live in a constant state of indebtedness. Nowhere is that more evident than in how we treat our environment. We all know that we are using up resources at an unsustainable rate, and that global warming threatens to reshape life on this planet, but we really don't do anything because there's always tomorrow.

The Harper government's new Clean Air Act is a frightening example of this mentality. The Act, if passed, won't significantly reduce greenhouse gases until 2050. The Act would be truly laughable if it wasn't so dangerous. By 2050, most of today's politicians will be dead - the ultimate fast forward. The polar caps will probably have melted; global coastlines will have been redefined by rising sea levels, inundating most coastal cities in the process. Those who survive the flooding, droughts, hurricanes, and other severe weather events, will do so in a vastly different and undoubtedly seriously challenging environment.

Our fast forward mentality is precisely why two very important new studies will likely get little more than passing headlines. The first study, prepared by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist for the World Bank, was released on October 30th.

"There is still time to avoid the worse impacts of climate, if we act now and act internationally. Governments, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge. Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change," said Sir Nicholas. "But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity close."

Stern estimates that unchecked, global climate change will cost the world economy a staggering $ 7 trillion and displace 200 million people. His conclusion is that contrary to popular belief, tackling climate change now is a pro-growth strategy and will support, not undermine the global economy.

The second study, published in the respected journal, "Science" on November 3rd, warns that if current trends continue, the commercial fish and seafood industry may collapse by 2048. Dr. Erik Stokstad of Dalhousie University headed the scientific team that conducted the study. The team found that thanks to human activity, "rates of resource collapse increased and recovery potential, stability, and water quality decreased exponentially with declining diversity. We conclude that marine biodiversity loss is increasingly impairing the ocean's capacity to provide food, maintain water quality, and recover from perturbations."

The good news is that according to the study, these trends are still reversible, once again, but only if we take immediate action.

But we won't. To the contrary, this week at the global conference on climate change in Kenya, Canada's Environment Minister, Rona Ambrose, told reporters that Canada is making progress and that critics should stop picking on us.

"There should be no bad guy," said Ambrose. Perhaps not, but what there will be is catastrophic climate change, dead fisheries, and the potential for global economic collapse if action is not taken.

And so when they come, these empty, violent oceans and burning angry skies we will be shocked. We will wonder what happened. How did we get to this end, to this bowl of corn flakes? Sadly, unlike Sandler's character, there will be no magical remote control. This isn't Hollywood. There is no "reset" button.


Voice your concern to Prime Minister Harper and Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. Visit for email and postal addresses.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is available at

The report, "Global Loss of Biodiversity Harming Ocean Bounty", by Dr. Erik Stokstad, is available on a pay-per-view basis at

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Creating Safe School Environments

When we talk about creating a safe environment for our children, the things that immediately come to mind are clean air, safe drinking water, and chemical-free places to grow, learn and play. But as the terrible shootings at Dawson College, Platte Canyon High School and the Amish schoolhouse so tragically demonstrated earlier this fall, we must learn to redefine what it means to create a truly safe environment for our children. These recent tragedies were also terrible reminders of other school shootings: the Columbine High School massacre of April 20, 1999, that left 15 dead and 24 wounded, and the fatal school shooting of a student in Taber, Alberta, only days later.

In every case unsuspecting students had gone to school on those fateful days assuming that they would be safe. Their parents had all made the same assumption. The true terror of each of those events was that they are painful reminders that no matter how hard we try, our children are vulnerable.

From the initial shock of the events came disbelief, grief and rage. We memorialized the victims and we analyzed the perpetrators with an effort to understand why they did such terrible things. As time has passed and the evidence has mounted, perhaps the hardest part of these tragedies is acknowledging that each of the perpetrators was also once a victim. Like their victims, each had a family, friends and loved ones who mourn their loss and also wonder why.

"We are devastated by the final act of violence," wrote parenting expert and author Barbara Coloroso, "but are rarely outraged by the events that led to the final act." She cautions that in every case, the perpetrators involved had both what she describes as, "a disposition and a situation." In other words, an individual's inherent tendencies (nature) can be shaped, positively or negatively, by his or her environment (nurture).

"In the wake of tragedies like these school shootings, the first thing that we have to do is be willing and open not to demonize the perpetrators," said Coloroso. "If we allow ourselves to demonize them, it removes us from having to take any responsibility for what happened." Coloroso uses Eric and Dylan, the two students that killed at Columbine High School as an example. She points out they had been targeted and bullied as younger students. The mother of the Taber shooter said he too had endured incessant bullying and was depressed before the shooting. Fellow students described him as someone who was unpopular and the frequent subject of name-calling and teasing.

"This doesn't justify what they did, but it helps explain some of their rage," Coloroso said. "We've got to get back to taking a critical look at creating an environment that is conducive to kids caring about each other."

"I feel sorry for the poor kids who perpetrate these horrible crimes," said school trustee Cathy Abraham. "How awful to get to a place in your life where this is the best you can do. What must it be like to be inside these children's heads?"

In order to protect all of our children, we must learn to be diligent. We need to watch for early warning signs that indicate a child is feeling bullied or isolated. These include:

- Children who don't have anything nice to say about other kids, their teachers or school.
- Children who isolate themselves socially and don't have any close friends.
- Children who are always plugged in to video games, particularly violent ones.
- Children who complain, "Kids are being mean to me."
- Children who spend a disproportionate amount of time of the Internet, in chat rooms or using messenging programs.

Coloroso says that the antidote to isolation is to teach our children to care deeply, share generously, and help willingly. We also need to teach our kids the difference between "tattling" and "telling". If a child is being bullied, he or she needs to be reassured that it's important to talk about it with a caring adult.

"Keep an open dialogue, pay attention, get involved, and never, ever look away," advises Coloroso. That's a tall order, but one that must be accomplished if we have any hope of breaking the escalating cycle of violence and preventing today's isolated and troubled child from becoming tomorrow's murderer.


Coloroso's website, has excellent downloadable resources for parents and teachers, including her essay, "The Bully, The Bullied, and The Bystander: Breaking the Cycle of Violence."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Burning Issue

With Ontario's municipal elections only a week away, garbage has once again become a burning issue - literally. According to a recent survey conducted by Decima Research, 91 percent of Greater Toronto Area (GTA) residents favour garbage incineration. York, Durham and Niagara regions have already begun the process of getting the necessary approvals to build one. In response, political candidates are lining up to support what many consider a practical solution to an otherwise irresolvable problem. The only notable exception is Toronto's current mayor, David Miller, who opposes any plans to torch Toronto's trash.

Regardless of what side of the debate you stand on, incineration is arguably one of the most emotionally charged environmental issues ever put on the discussion table. It is also one of the least understood. On the list of things that should be considered too good to be true, incineration tops the list. Here's a list of facts and fallacies:

Myth #1 - Incinerators eliminate the need for garbage dumps.

Wrong. Incinerators don't eliminate waste; they simply reduce the volume, historically to 20 percent of the original volume and 10 percent of the original mass.

Myth #2 - At least incinerator ash is safe and doesn't stink like regular garbage.

It may not stink, but place an incineration in your community and be prepared to host a toxic ash dump as well. That's because when you burn garbage, it produces toxic ash. This ash ends up in one of two places: the atmosphere or in a toxic waste facility.

Myth #3 - New technology prevents incinerators from releasing toxic waste into the atmosphere.

Wrong again. Thanks to improved scrubbers and filters, most of the toxins are caught by scrubbers and filters and end up being dumped. However, what they can't eliminate are dioxins from flying up the stack. Dioxins are so toxic that have no known threshold. In other words, there is no level - ever - at which dioxins are no longer considered toxic. According to Environment Canada, incinerators are the single greatest source of dioxins in this country. It is precisely because of dioxins that David Miller has taken his stand against incineration.

Myth # 4 - Incinerators will only burn trash that can't otherwise be recycled.

Perhaps in a perfect universe. But if we were living in a perfect universe, we wouldn't be up to our eyeballs in garbage. In reality, incinerators are counter-productive to waste recycling and reduction initiatives, because they compete for the same materials, most notably paper and plastics. These produce the highest levels of heat (or BTUs), which are needed to keep the trash burning as cleanly as possible, and therefore help control the amount of stack emissions (see Myth #3).

Myth #5 - Having a waste incinerator means we don't have to worry about trucking our garbage around (and hence increase air pollution and smog).

Host communities will likely end up importing garbage from other communities to keep temperatures burning high enough to ensure proper combustion. Without a critical mass of garbage, fires need to be supplemented with an alternative fuel, usually natural gas, which further increases the cost.

Myth #6 - Incinerators are a cheap way to get rid of garbage.

"Energy from waste is not a cheap way to produce power, it is an expensive way to get rid of garbage," said Nigel Guildford, a board member of the Ontario Waste Management Association. The cost of burning garbage is roughly $ 50 a tonne more than landfilling, and that's without taking into consideration all the associated environmental costs.

Myth #7 - Energy from waste facilities will at least provide much needed electricity.

Wrong again. By burning materials that could otherwise be recovered or recycled, we have to factor in the amount of energy required to replace those materials with new products. For example, the amount of energy that it takes to produce a single aluminum can could power a laptop computer for two hours, or the family television for three hours. Energy saving? No.

Make no mistake - this will be a burning issue for the next four years in Ontario. On November 13th we need to elect educated politicians who fully understand the true environmental, economic and social costs of incineration, and are willing to take a courageous and likely unpopular stand against them.

As voters, we also have a responsibility to find out where local candidates stand on this and other important issues and then make our vote count to minimize the impact on your Earth.


Fore more on the hazards of incineration, visit

For a copy of the 2006 Municipal Elections Guide visit Ministry
of Municipal Affairs and Housing.