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Archive for the ‘Resolutions’ Category

With this great spring weather we’ve been having here in the frozen north, it was time to get the bikes back out and try to get back to leaving the car at home for short trips.

Yesterday was sunny, warm and all the streets were clear for a quick six-minute trip to one kids’ preschool. It was so nice to be back out on the bike with a baby who actually likes riding in the back (unlike last summer with the non-stop screaming.)

I was happy to see that the city of Montreal estimates that leaving your bike at home one day a week instead of commuting to work will reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 232kg per year.  You can read more here.

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For the first time since we got our outdoor compost bins, we are adding green waste like fruit and vegetable peels to it all winter long. It has kept the family of squirrels living in the maple tree in our back yard very happy as they have everything from canteloupe rinds to avocado skins to munch on in the cold dead of winter.

But this is what the bins look like now:

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We had decided just to shut down the bins for the rest of the winter and start composting again in the spring once everything thaws and we can take out the new compost from the bottom of the bins and spread it over our garden. But after three days of throwing out egg shells, used Kleenexes, apple cores and banana peels, we had to stop. The guilt was overwhelming – we couldn’t believe how many bags of garbage were leaving the house.

So we decided to bring in the big guns — a pound of worms. We picked them up from our local Eco-quartier office where a couple of hours after I called they had them waiting for us in a plastic yogurt container. The little wigglers cost us $15 and provided no end of  amusement for our kids, who were making up songs about their new pets on the trip to pick them up.

We had an indoor worm composting system years ago when we lived in an apartment, and still had the bin that the worms used to live in. We filled it up with shredded newspaper and moistened it with water:

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Then, we unleashed the worms. You can watch the worms arrive in their new home here. Click on the picture below or here.

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We’ve fed them once and it seems some of the worms are smarter than others. The smart ones are already eating the fresh worm food, the no-so-smart ones are still in the little pile of compost they came in. 

We’ve yet to see if the worms can handle all our green waste. We’re saving some of it to take to my parents’ place in the country this weekend. They have a big compost pile in their back yard, so we’ll dump a few plastic containers of green waste on theirs and let the worms do their magic on the rest here.

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I’ve been reading a couple of interesting things recently about the oil sands projects in Alberta.

The first is this series, published earlier this year in the Globe and Mail. The eight-day series looks at the development of the oil sands, and the environmental and social cost of the projects, which are estimated to have a worth of $90 billion.

The second is the book Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn’t Seem to Care) by William Marsden, a colleague of mine at the Montreal Gazette. Marsden, who is an investigative reporter, spins a great yarn about the development of the oil sands, from a loony plan to blast the oil from the sand with a nuclear bomb to the boom/bust/boom experience of a Calgary oil man.

Reading the book left me with an impending sense of doom. The amount of fossil fuels left on the planet is finite, yet we seem not to care, building more roads, buying more cars, and ignoring the environmental costs of harvesting energy this way.

Reading about the oil sands has been making me think about what our family can do to conserve fuel and oil around our house.

We switched to an electric furnace a couple of years ago to reduce our fossil-fuel consumption. Now our biggest fossil-fuel user is our minivan, and I’ve been trying to use it less. It has been more challenging than I thought.  I’m hoping once the weather warms up and I can get my bicycle and kids’ trailer back out on the road I’ll truly be able to reduce the amount of time we use our van.

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The winds are howling, it’s a cool  -6C (-14 with the wind chill) outside and all I can think about is a plan I cooked up to grow a big garden this summer at my parents’ house in the country.

A couple of months I ago I read Barbara Kingsolver‘s excellent book Animal, Vegetable Miracle, the tale of her family’s year-long experiment to eat locally. They moved to a farm in Virginia and decided to eat only food that was produced near them – either on their farm or by local farmers. Bananas were out but there was much excitement during asparagus season.

It’s a great story about food production, the changing seasons, agriculture and modern food production. It made me want to plant a big garden that would feed our family for at least a few months of the year. But we don’t have the soil for it — our city back yard is small and shaded by an enormous decades-old maple that keeps our house so nice and cool all summer long. But my parents, on the other hand, have a few acres of land in the country where they say we can plant a big garden.

Soon, once this neverending snow melts and the ground starts to thaw, we’ll be heading out there to get our hands dirty. I can’t wait.

You can whet your appetite for summer’s vegetable bounty with this recipe, designed to use up an overflow of zucchini in the Kingsolver’s garden. And you can dance around your warm cosy house while the wonderful Arlo Guthrie sings the Garden Song.

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Now that we’ve been thinking greener for a while, I thought it would be interesting to find out what kind of an impact our lifestyle has on the planet. Using a carbon footprint calculator, I plugged in all sorts of information about our family from the number of kilowatt hours of electricity we use every year to whether we own a motorcycle or if we’re vegetarians. The calculator figures out the impact of human activities on the planet by calculating the amount of greenhouse gases we produce in our daily lives. It measures the impact in tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

You can see how we did above: 11.5 tonnes, which I was very happy to see was below the Canadian average but still far above the ideal world average, which would be two tonnes. There is a lot we could do to reduce our footprint, such as turning down our thermostat, reducing our water temperature by a degree or two, eating less meat, and one I really want to look into — recycling our grey water.

I’m going to check back in at the end of the year and see if our footprint has shrunk.

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Our quest to leave our car in the driveway to reduce our family’s contribution to climate change continues.

I’ve learned it takes excellent organizational abilities, superior time-management capabilities and the skills of a cultural animator to persuade some people in my family that taking a wagon, or God forbid, walking, is a fun way to get where we’re going.

So far walking has gotten us late to school (once only) and to yoga class, but I figure the 20 minute walk made up for the first few minutes of the missed class.

But I’ve decided that we are going to not use the car for trips under one kilometer, which covers school and most after-school activities. In a one-kilometer radius of our house there are grocery stores, pharmacies, a coffee shop, bakeries, a dollar store, a bank and an excellent Italian butcher shop. 

We are definitely going against the flow on this one. New research by Statistics Canada found nearly 69 per cent of Canadians travel everywhere by car. The number is a bit lower in Montreal — 66 per cent — which experts attribute to the fact that Montreal is a high-density city and we live closer to the places we need to go.

Maybe we’re just afraid to walk. According to this story in the Montreal Gazette, increased traffic in the city is causing everything from miscarriages to cyclists being hit by cars to increased hospitalizations for respiratory problems.

There are four bus routes within a five minute walk from our house, but really, I’d much rather walk. At least with walking you know approximately when you’ll get there, which I wish was true for travelling with the STM. One of our local bus routes is totally unpredictable. The bus is almost always late, if it even shows up.

It takes a new way of thinking to get things done this way. You have to take into account the slow walking of a five-year-old. But on the upside we are having much better conversations than when we’re in the minivan, separated by three rows of seats and a radio that is always on. And it’s excellent exercise.

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It’s the first day of the year, fresh with possibilities.

I’m reading a book called Raising Your Baby Green, and liked this line from the introduction: “Raising your baby green doesn’t require a revolution in your lifestyle or creature comforts. Do as much or as little as you want.”

Doing something greener seems to be on the mind of many Canadians this year. According to a poll conducted in the week before Christmas, being more environmentally conscious is the top New Year’s resolution for many Canadians, beating out exercise, paying off debts and swearing off red meat.

Here’s what the Environics poll found:

Top Ten 2008 New Year’s Resolutions

Environmental protection tops list of New Year’s resolutions for 2008, VoxPop poll finds
Toronto, December 31, 2007 –  You say you want a resolution? When it comes to personal New Year’s vows for 2008, Canadians are throwing self-centeredness overboard and resolving to take action on what they care about most – protecting the environment, healthier lifestyles and strong relationships.

Among the 34 percent of Canadians who have made New Year’s resolutions, more than seven in 10 (73%) have resolved to be more environmentally conscious in 2008. And a clear majority have vowed to pursue healthier lifestyles involving regular exercise, better diet and less reliance on their cars.  Those findings come from to a national poll from VoxPop, a campaign by the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) to give voice to Canadians and encourage participation in opinion research. The MRIA governs and represents Canada’s survey research industry.

“The emergence of environmental protection as the dominant New Year’s resolution for 2008 speaks to how deeply concerned Canadians have become about the environment,” says VoxPop spokesperson, Brendan Wycks, Executive Director of MRIA. “In particular, people seem to have bought into the idea that direct, personal action can make a difference in protecting the planet for future generations.”

Not far behind Canadians’ resolve to be more environmentally responsible is a self-improvement focus on lifestyle and relationship issues. Nationally, seven of the top 10 resolutions, including the top three, involve protecting the environment, activities designed to improve physical fitness or taking steps to strengthen relationships. Other Top 10 priorities were building net worth, reducing debt and saving money.

Did your New Year’s Resolutions make VoxPop’s Top 10 list? Here is the ranking

1. I will be more environmentally conscious in my purchase and resource usage decisions

2. I will exercise regularly to improve my physical fitness

3. I will drive less and walk and cycle more

4. I will save significantly more money by reducing my spending on non-essentials

5. I will focus on paying down credit card debt

6. My resolution is to significantly improve my net worth

7. I will pay more attention to my friends, so they know they are valued

8. I will eat less red and processed meats and more fish and vegetables

9. I will be more sensitive and caring towards my partner

10. I will try to be significantly more focused on helping others

(more…)

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