common wealth

20 05 2008

I have a secret when it comes to the news. Usually when I drive to work with the radio on – CBC 1 or 2 because I don’t have the patience for commercials – the news comes on and I turn it off. Yes, I am someone who likes to consider myself informed and aware, but I turn the news off. Most times I can’t take it. My heart pounds when I listen to climate change stories, it gets war-torn up with stories of countries plotting against each other, and it bleeds when I hear about cyclones and earthquakes and drought-stricken countries. And don’t ask me about the polar bears. I bawl on cue when they land up in the news.

I hate this about myself. But when the news comes on, and I hear stories like that, I grow weak and feel powerless and lose my will to move forward – even when moving forward includes positive changes that help battle these calamities. So I turn the news off instead.

These past few weeks though, I’ve been reading Common Wealth by Jeffrey Sachs, as part of the Be a Bookworm Challenge over at Green Bean Dreams. Now when the news comes on, the horrifying details don’t drag me down. Instead there is a bigger picture that comes through it all. Mr. Sachs explains with startling simplicity, how the things that weigh heavy on my heart are all connected. Before I just knew enough to say that we are all connected, now I see direct links. Mr. Sachs is helping me to understand how overpopulation, climate change, and extreme poverty, among other things, are just different sides of the same coin.

So, only halfway through the book and already it seems clear to me – our common fate as a planet. I took that line right from his book. It echoes within me as I listen to the news these days.

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food glorious food

24 04 2008

In case you haven’t noticed, food is ON the agenda these days… the international agenda. You’d have to stick your head in the sand to miss out on the rising food prices and food riots around the world. People are starting to question agriculture and food policies – and that’s a good thing because those policies ain’t working so good these days.

I don’t have all the answers. No one does. And that’s why people need to get out there and TRY TO UNDERSTAND what’s happening. So, read, read, read, and read some more!! Try publications from the Earth Policy Institute, like this one. Or pay attention to pundits, like Michael Pollan, on subjects like this. Be THANKFUL for your food, and consider making alternative diet choices. And last – but most definitely not least – seek out farmers and food producers. Talk to them and listen carefully to what they’re saying.

Food is not aplenty.

P.S. For Ottawa-area folk, here’s one place to start paying attention: check out an upcoming talk organized by the National Farmers Union: Farm Leaders Speak Out on a Globalized Food System. Colleen Ross will discuss food sovereignty, and Ubali Guerrero and Miguel Colunga will talk about how international trade agreements affect global agriculture. It’s happening on May 1st, 7pm, at Union Hall – just outside of Almonte.





food vs. fuel Part III

7 04 2008

Right now, there is so much confusion about biofuels. Are they good? Are they bad? With food riots occurring around the world – including here, here, and here – the media has latched onto the food vs fuel debate that surrounds most biofuels. I admit – there are some very bad biofuels out there. BUT there is more than one way to skin a cat (YUCK!) so I am cautiously-but-still-very excited about this.





food vs. fuel Part II

13 03 2008

Forgive me, in my overzealous typing this morning, I wrote that oil derived from algae has 1000 times the production yield of corn- and soy-based ethanol. That number is certainly debatable – a more realistic figure would be 50 -100. And 50 – 100 times the yield is still huge, but I should have been more careful with my number-tossing.

Since that post, this post appeared on the WiredBlog Network, further emphasizing that corn-based ethanol is not the way to go. As many have pointed out, to get rid of the food vs. fuel debate, you have to remove food from the equation, and look at crops such as algae, jatropha, switchgrass and poplar.

Tomorrow – that’s Friday – you can listen to CBC’s Ontario Today to hear about how Ontario farmers are looking to corn-based ethanol as a cash crop. For anyone who can, I recommend you call in and ask the hard questions.





food vs. fuel

13 03 2008

My friend Chris wrote, “Why is it when someone is painting their picket fence and they run out of paint 3/4 of the way through, their only solution to the dilemma is to buy more paint — even if it has to be a different type of paint?”

It’s a question worth asking, as we dig our way out of the climate change mess we’re in. Rather than finding new sources of oil for transportation, shouldn’t we be questioning our reliance upon it in in the first place? Forgive us, maybe that’s crazy talk there.

Barring a revolution though, it’s important to look at our “new colour of paint.” Right now, that’s biofuels. Producing biofuels from food plants (e.g. corn, soybeans) threatens local and global food security. And yes, there are alternatives. My personal favourite is oil derived from algae. It currently has the potential to deliver 1000x the oil yield per acre than sources like corn and soybeans. I think if we’re going to grow corn and soybeans, it should be to feed the billion undernourished people in the world, not to fuel our damn cars.

This weekend, the G20 group of countries (the 20 largest economies who are responsible for more than 75% of the world’s carbon emissions) will meet in China and Japan to begin climate change talks that will lead up to the G8 summit this summer. Before the summit, Avaaz.org is creating a global cry for sustainable biofuels. You can send your leader a message to adopt global sustainability standards for biofuels.

If you support this stance on biofuels, please go to the website and add your name. I do think it makes a difference.





heralding what’s to come

6 01 2008

Scotland’s national paper, The Sunday Herald, published an article today called “Food and How It’s Going to Change the World.” In it, the author Kenny Kemp talks about a perfect storm of events that will challenge Scotland’s food security in the years to come. It’s a timely article, considering that the price of oil has just made history by breaking 100$ U.S. a barrel (although the cynic in me says it won’t be long before the world becomes blasé about that figure). More than just timely, it offers a good introduction to the factors that are affecting food production and security.





food economies

3 01 2008

Our grandparents can remember seeing and tasting their first mango or avocado – delicacies that had travelled vast distances from the places they had been picked. My generation, however, thought nothing of tasting something exotic. We grew up thinking that food came from the grocery store.

Many food production experts say that food is one of the best – or worst – examples of how we have transitioned from a local to a global mindset. Our society’s relationship with food will continue to change. Food supply and security are political issues on the horizon. This morning I listened to a half-hour clip from The Current, a CBC radio show, talking about climate change and food production.

Typically, discourse on climate change has a good chance of sending me into a deep green funk for days. I try not to let that stop me – ignorance is not the kind of bliss I want – but it does make me wary about how and when to engage with this kind of information. I’m glad it didn’t stop me from listening to The Current. It reminded me how our choices, our politics, and our weather are inextricably connected – in more ways than the typical news piece ever probes.

Unfortunately, I can’t upload the Real Audio file, but you can check out Episode #6 here.