Monday, June 30, 2008


In a world of instant access to virtually every kind of information imaginable, it is increasingly difficult to find true wisdom. We find our communities in chat rooms, poetry in text messages, and art in tags sprayed across public places. Great literature is printed on t-shirts and great ideas are reduced to quotes on the bottom of email messages, reverently forwarded to everyone on our mailing list in the hope that some of their brilliance with reflect back upon us from the sterile glow of our computer screens.

McLuhan was right, but not in the way I think he intended. The medium is the message – but the increasingly volatile nature of all media makes that message as insubstantial as the electrons that deliver it.

I’m just as guilty as the next. I scan email messages, flit across my 800 channel digital universe and practice speeding reading so I can take in more and more, while taking less and less to heart.

All of this leads me to one particularly brilliant afternoon last month. The occasion was a celebration of the work of Dr. Rosalie Bertell in her Jubilee Year as a Grey Nun. Anyone who has read this column regularly over the years will know that Dr. Bertell has been my friend, mentor and source of great inspiration. Her advanced age and failing health are no match for the incredible spirit that still burns within. She is truly one of the great spirits of our age.

Dr. Ursula Franklin, Rosalie’s dear friend and equally indomitable spirit was among the hundred or so people who gathered in a dusty old church in downtown Toronto for the celebration. Revered in her own right, Dr. Franklin is an experimental physicist, University Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto, the recipient of the Pearson Medal of Peace, and a companion of the Order of Canada.

In the face of so much despair about the world we live in, and the state of our ailing planet, this pair of wonderfully wise, extraordinary women delivered words of great hope that must be shared.

Dr. Bertell began by telling the spellbound audience that we struggle because we don’t know what the Earth is trying to teach us.

“If we don’t learn and listen, then the future looks pretty bleak,” she said. But then her message turned to hope. “I think that life is stronger than death. Life is struggling to be – to exist. This is the most amazing thing that life does.”

Our role, according to Dr. Bertell, is to use the gifts we have given to contribute what we can. “We don’t have the power to do everything,” she said, “but we have the power to influence. We all have gifts - words, music, art. We go wrong when we forget about the big picture.” Bertell reminded us that we can always do just a little bit more.

Dr. Franklin’s German accent is still strong after almost 60 years in Canada, and her voice thin and crackles with age. And yet her message, is crystal clear. She responded to Dr. Bertell’s words by reminding us of,“ The harmful conceit of secular power that tries to rearrange the world for the benefit of the few.”

Dr. Franklin said that we must rejoice in the presence of each other and live as a counterbalance to this conceit of power.

“We have to live respectfully, gracefully and humbly and draw our strength from two great pillars of truth,” she said, “The first is a pillar of faith – faith that we are part of this benign Cosmos. The second pillar is that as a species we have been given the greatest sense of discernment that enables us to tell right from wrong.”

In honoring her dear friend, Dr. Franklin said that Rosalie brings the clarity of mind and faith that enables her to know this difference. After many decades of struggling herself, Dr. Franklin acknowledged that this isn’t an easy path.

“How in the face of evident stupidity – how do we keep on doing that which has to be done?” she asked. “Given our endowment of discernment there is no option. There is no difference between those we can do without and those we hold dear.”

And then with a gentle smile she added, “Once your eyes are opened, you cannot close them again.”


Much of the world of Dr. Rosalie Bertell can be found on the International Institute of Concern for Public Health’s website.

While there is no single website dedicated the to the work of Dr. Ursula Franklin, Google her name for a list of publications, international awards and even a school named in her honor.

Catch the Fever

An interesting new company has combined environmental sustainability, fashion and affordability into an exciting line of women’s clothing. In keeping with the theme, “Helping to sustain the world in which we love to travel,” Fever Resort and Cruisewear has officially launched its line of environmentally friendly resort wear just in time for summer.

Partners Erika Mullings and Colleen Elston bring a shared passion for the environment, decades of experience and creativity to their new company. Erika is the former head designer for Paula Lishman and winner of the Recycling Council of Ontario’s Revamp Fashion Design Award. Revamp invites young designers to create one-of-a-kind fashions from recycled materials. Colleen has run a successful custom design business for three decades, specializing in athletic sportswear.

“We wanted to use fabrics that are sustainable – both in their production and their maintenance,” said Colleen. “That’s why we’re delighted to feature a bamboo/spandex blend in many of our designs. Items can be washed at cool temperatures; air dried very quickly and require no ironing. No chemicals are used in the production of the fabric.”

Together the team has created a line of clothing that’s luxurious, yet doesn’t compromise comfort or ease of wear. The garments are designed to be completely interchangeable. As an added bonus, several of the pieces can be worn in a variety of ways. For example, thanks to its innovative design, the “unlimited top” can literally be worn in a dozen different ways. The designers also recognize that not everyone is a perfect size 8 and have created clothing that works for virtually every body type and size.

“All you need for a week in the sun is five basic pieces,” said Colleen. “Which essentially means you can pack your entire wardrobe in a carry-on bag!” With prices ranging from $32 to $125, Fever Resort and Cruisewear is also very affordable.

“Our garments are made mostly with fabrics that are designed to breathe and wick moisture away which is a must have for any humid climate,” added Erika. Garments made from the bamboo/spandex blend are also anti-bacterial and biodegradable.

Print copies of the Fever Resort and Cruisewear catalogue are produced on Forestry Stewardship Council certified paper using vegetable inks. The catalogue is also available online for anyone who wants to avoid paper altogether. In addition, a portion from every sale is being donated to the Conservation Council of Ontario’s We Conserve program.

“We looked at a lot of environmental groups and we decided on the We Conserve program because it’s all about setting your own goals for continuous improvement,” said Colleen. “And that’s what we’re all about.”

Fever Resort and Cruisewear is sold through home parties. A fashion stylist attends each party and provides valuable tips on how to dress for your body type and how to maximize the Fever designs. As one final bonus, each sale comes complete with an eco-friendly travel guide full of great packing tips and simple ways we can all become better conservers.


Here’s We Conserve’s Top Ten list of things we can all do to minimize our impact on the environment. Rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 and then set your own personal goals for improvement.

1. Save Energy - Change your lights, turn things off, get an energy audit, air dry your clothes.

2. Use Green Power - Buy green power, install solar panels, join a green power co-op.

3. Help nature - Grow native species, use a rain-barrel, help with community gardens and local habitat.

4. Drive less - Walk, ride a bike, or take transit, join a car-sharing network, buy a hybrid or fuel-efficient car.

5. Live local - Live, work, shop and play within a walkable, mixed-use community. For rural homes, be self-reliant.

6. Eat local - Eat local and/or organic food, try the 100-mile diet, eat more vegetarian meals.

7. Buy green - Buy environmentally-friendly products, invest responsibly.

8. Waste less - Practice the 3Rs, avoid excess packaging and plastic bags, compost food waste.

9. Prevent pollution - Make your home and yard toxic-free, dispose of hazardous materials safely, use a green dry cleaner.

10. Support conservation - Donate to conservation, support community projects, volunteer.

RELATED WEBSITES is loaded with tips, links, suggestions and resources.

For more information about Fever Resort and Cruisewear, visit or call 905-623-7873.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Summertime, and the breathin' ain't easy...

Summer hasn't officially started yet, and we've already suffered through one record-breaking heat wave. The bad news is that the most recent soaring temperatures are likely only a sample of things to come.

Winter used to be the time of peak energy demand, but thanks to our ever-increasing need for air conditioning, we now reach our peak during the summer months. Peak demand means that the province must rely on coal and oil fired generation to supplement the base load of electricity supplied by Ontario's hydroelectric and nuclear power stations. It's these fossil fuel plants that contribute dramatically to air pollution and smog.

Last week, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) released new data that shows that air pollution is a contributing factor in an estimated 9,500 premature deaths in Ontario every year.

"The health impacts from smog range anywhere from itchy eyes and sore throats to respiratory and cardiac illnesses and even premature death," said Dr. Ken Arnold, President of the OMA. The OMA's Illness Costs of Air Pollution (ICAP) model found that 1,000 deaths occurred immediately after increased pollution, while the remaining deaths were attributed to longer term exposure to air pollution.

While smog conditions used to be reserved for large cities and industrial centers, the OMA also found that an increasing number of deaths were found across the province in more rural areas. Risk factors include asthma and other respiratory conditions, heart disease and related conditions. The most vulnerable are the very young and the aged.

To protect yourself and your loved ones, the OMA advises you to reduce strenuous outdoor activities, stay cool and hydrated and know your limits on smoggy days.

"The air we breathe is one of our most important resources and we all have a role to play in reducing the amount of smog that we are exposed to," said Dr. Arnold. Reducing electricity consumption during the summer months helps to directly reduce the incidents of smog, and grid instability, which can lead to brown outs and black outs.

A whopping 40 percent of the electricity generated in Ontario is used to run air conditioners on peak summer days, so targeting their use is a good place to start. Last year, the Peak Buster Program was launched to encourage Ontario's energy consumers to reduce their load. Consumers who managed to reduce their electricity consumption by 10 percent compared with 2006 consumption were given an additional 10 percent rebate on their energy bills in the fall.

According to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA), the result was that Ontario's peak demand fell by 4.7 percent during the summer of 2007, when compared with 2006 figures. This translated into a 2007 peak demand of 25,737 megawatts (MW) on June 26th, as compared to an August 1 peak of 27,005 MW in 2006.

Based on the success of last year's program, the OCAA is once again encouraging electricity consumers to pledge to be Peak Busters by ensuring that air conditioners are equipped with a peaksaver device. Essentially, peaksavers temporarily turn control of air conditioners over to local utilities when demand starts to peak. The device doesn't run on weekends and holidays and subscribers can also specify certain days when they don't want to have their air conditioner's demand reduced. To encourage participations, subscribers are automatically entered in a Chillin' Without Coal contest that is awarding more than $ 10,000 in prizes.

While this all may seem more promotion that benefit, according to the Peak Saver website, "If everyone with a central air conditioner in Ontario installed a free peaksaver device that allows their utility to temporarily reduce their air conditioner's energy demands, but not home comfort in peak periods, we could eliminate the need for four of Nanticoke's eight dirty coal boilers."

In other words, being a Peak Buster helps everyone in the province breathe a little easier.


You don't have to have a central A/C to join in the fun. Visit to find out more or to sign up for the program.

The Ministry of the Environment’s Air Quality Ontario website provides daily updates on air quality, weather forecasts and hosts a smog alert network. To sign up, visit

For more on the Ontario Medical Association’s report about premature deaths and air pollution, visit

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bobby's Legacy

Last Sunday morning I indulged in the rare treat of sleeping in. The sun had filled our bedroom with its warming rays by the time I finally started moving toward consciousness. Hot, sweaty and almost awake, I was swept into a memory of another steamy June morning long ago. It was unusually warm for late spring. Sometime during the night I had launched the bulk of the covers off my bed and onto the floor. The single sheet that remained was tangled around my feet and I was wrestling with my growing consciousness to stay in the land of slumber for a few minutes more.

The battle ended when my mother poked her head into my bedroom.

"I'm afraid I have some terrible news." she said. "Robert Kennedy was shot last night."

I shuddered with a sudden chill and grabbed the sheet at my feet and wrapped it around me. I turned on my clock radio only to hear that Kennedy had died. I lay on my bed, swaddled in my white sheet, crying like an angel who had fallen to earth. It was June 6th, 1968.

It was too much to bear. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated only a few months earlier. As a young Canadian teenager I had idolized both of them. They had brought hope to the turbulent adolescent world of the 60s and suddenly they were gone, along with the innocence of the Flower Power generation.

It has been 40 years since that fateful June day. That idealistic teenage girl has become a middle-aged woman. The hopes and dreams of my youth have been replaced by the more mundane goals that maturity brings. And then I hear Dr. Martin Luther King's voice, or see images of Bobby on the campaign trail, and I realize that it is perfectly appropriate that I should recall their deaths in a memory of heat and restlessness.

Kennedy and King brought a new fire and energy into our world. They both played an integral part in ending an era of blind prejudice and injustice that was the status quo in the early 1960s. They made us believe that one individual can make a difference and that the world is only as good as we choose to make it.

Today we face another crisis. In Bobby's day, it was about social and economic justice. Today, it's about the survival of the planet. And yet there are very uncomfortable similarities. We are at the root of the problem. To borrow a slogan from the 60s, "We are the people our parents warned us about."

Climate change threatens all life as we know it. Even as our resources dwindle, we clamor for more, better and different stuff. It is our greed, not our need, which brings us ever closer to ecological collapse. According to the United Nations, a mere 20 percent of the world's population consumes 86 percent of the world's resources. Canadians are a part of that privileged 20 percent minority. We've become so comfortable that we don't even feel the heat anymore. Central air conditioning in our homes, our offices and our cars keeps us cool and calm. Steamy, restless nights have been replaced by climate-controlled comfort. It doesn't matter that the energy we use to create this comfort comes at great cost to the environment and to the vast majority of the people on this planet.

Earlier this week, several news programs recalled the beauty of Robert Kennedy's dream and that old restlessness began to stir. Despite all that we have lost, I am reminded that where there is life there is hope. Being inspired to action by his words now, even 40 years later, keeps his memory and his dream alive.

In recent years, his remarkable son and namesake, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has emerged as a strong environmental leader who was recently named, "Hero for the Planet." Bobby's spirit is with us still.

40 years ago on the campaign trail, Bobby Kennedy's rallying cry was a quote from George Bernard Shaw who wrote, "Some men see things the way that they are and ask, 'Why?' I see thing the way they could be and ask, 'Why not?'"

Why indeed.


King and Kennedy are so much more than fallen heroes of another era. Their words are as inspiring today as when then first spoke them. To find out more about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visit For more on the life of Robert Kennedy, visit

Check out

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

E-bike, or bust!

In last week's column about alternative transportation, I mentioned my own amazing little e-bike. In response I received a number of enquiries about the availability and functionality of e-bikes. Clearly this is an idea that needs greater exploration.

To reiterate, e-bikes fall somewhere between bicycles and motorized scooters. They are propelled by rechargeable batteries and can reach speeds of up to 32 km/hr. While they are relatively new to Canada, e-bikes make up a significant portion of the transportation mix in Europe (where there are an estimated 3 million e-bikes on the road) and China (where a reported 80 million e-bikes are in use).

E-bikes are part of a group of low-speed alternative transportation vehicles that includes Segways, mopeds and other personal mobility devices that are emerging in the marketplace faster than governments can regulate them. In an attempt to encourage these new technologies and allow time to assess them, several provinces have introduced legislation exempting them from certain regulations, including Ontario. To quote Ontario's Ministry of Transportation,

"New types of vehicles arrive in the marketplace everyday. The province realizes the importance of these new market innovations as they expand the mobility for Ontarians and provide an environmentally friendly way to travel."

As a result, the province exempted e-bikes from licensing and insurance requirements for three years, effective October 2006. This translates into an immediate saving of about $500 per year, to say nothing of eliminating the hassle of getting a motorcycle licence.

My own e-bike runs on two rechargeable batteries than take approximately 8 hours to recharge. Given that this is done overnight, when electricity demand is the lowest, recharging my e-bike generates little or no greenhouse gas emissions.

I initially purchased an e-bike for my daily commute back and forth to work, a round trip of approximately 16 km. In my car, the trip takes approximately 12 minutes. My e-bike can do the same distance in less than 20 minutes. Adding approximately 15 minutes to my day seems worth it for an emission-free and fun commute.

However, I recognize that my 8 km commute is the exception, rather than the norm. With that in mind, I decided to push my e-bike to see exactly how far it would go on a single charge. I drove to work in the morning (8 km) and then took a scenic drive at lunch (12 km). An after work appointment added another 11 kms, and the return trip home was 15 kms, brining my daily total to 46 kms.

According to my e-bike manual, it has a maximize range of 85 km, but given my bikes sluggish performance over the last couple of kms, it's my guess that this is based on flat roads and a much lighter passenger. By the time I limped into our driveway, my e-bike and I were just about done.

My sojourn took me onto major thoroughfares during peak hours, which proved to be an unnerving experience. I utilized my e-bike's designation as a bicycle to travel on sidewalks whenever possible, which kept me safely out of the stream of rush hour traffic. Bumping up and down on sidewalks provided an interesting test of my balancing abilities and probably contributed to my decreased mileage. A strong headwind didn't help either.

The conclusion of my experiment is that e-bikes are a great way to travel short distances when the weather is warm and dry. They are easy to park, fun to drive, produce zero tailpipe emissions and almost no noise. Their light weight also means less wear and tear on our roads.

But e-bikes only provide part of the transportation mix, and maybe that's the point. We have to move beyond the idea of a "one-size-fits-all" solution. My e-bike is as unsuited for rush hour traffic as a 7-seat crossover vehicle is for driving to the corner store for a newspaper. The best solution is a variety of solutions, including walking, cycling or even staying home once in a while, carpooling whenever possible, renting larger vehicles as needed and taking public transit when it's convenient. And for the rest of the time there’s always the e-bike!


For more information about e-bikes, check out:

Segways are another very interesting, non-car way to get around. Check out