Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour '09 and beyond

I said in an earlier post that I need to stop neglecting this little slice of the 'net, but obviously I have not followed through.

That's not due to lack of interest in the subject matter, mind you. I'm still making the effort to find little ways to to reduce my footprint.

And this year, I plan to participate in Earth Hour.

I was not able to last year because I was at a...huh...professional wrestling event and I was not confident that they would honour my request to turn off the lights and have the matches by candle light.

Let's move on to a good article from the Ottawa Sun today. There are plenty of articles about Earth Hour out there, but I favour this one because it offers suggestions on how to incorporate Earth Hour into the rest of the year.

Here we go:
Earth Hour is set to become the largest global action in human history.

Really? This surprises me because it seemed to be getting far less hype this year. Perhaps it's becoming ingrained, like Earth Day. Why the hell did no one think of Earth Year??

If all goes according to plan, at 8:30 p.m. local time today, one billion people in more than 1,000 cities around the world will be turning off their lights.

The idea is to focus global attention on the need for action on climate change

While the simplicity of the one-hour event makes it powerful, organizers say it's just a start.

"Turning the lights off for Earth Hour is a great first step, but if you really want to see a difference, then make Earth Hour part of your everyday life," says the Earth Hour website.
You hear that, non-believers?

A pet peeve of mine are people who debate by arguing points that aren't being made. You often hear people say "Turning off your lights for one hour isn't going to do a thing to affect the Earth's temperature". No one is saying it will. That's not the intent.

Despite growing concern about climate change, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions increased nearly 22% between 1990 and 2005. By the end of 2006, Canada's total emissions were 29% above the Kyoto target.

The good news is that during the same period, greenhouse gas emissions from Canada's housing sector decreased by 8.5%, despite a 28% increase in housing, reports the Canadian Home Builders' Association. This translates into an average 15% decrease per household.

Interesting stat. I would be curious to know by what method the reduction was achieved.

The most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce energy use. According to Natural Resources Canada, within the average Canadian household, 60% of energy is used for space heating, 18% for heating water, and 14% for appliance use. Lighting accounts for 5%, and space cooling 3%. With that in mind, here's a list of suggestions that can reduce household energy use and save money:
More interesting stats. I questioned that having a house full of CFL's was not having the impact that I thought it should (judging from the total of my electricity bill). But if lighting only accounts for 5%, I guess that explains it somewhat.

Here's another thing that struck us though (I may have mentioned this before...I repeat myself constantly): We have CFL's everywhere, and they use about a third of the evergy of "conventional" light bulbs...but almost every light switch in the house will light three or four of them. So...what's the point??

The solution for us then is to be careful as to which ones we actually use. We have a pot light above the shower in the master bathroom. We use that one most because the "main" light switch flicks on four bulbs. Duh.

I'm sorry, I interrupted the list of suggestions. Here it is.

1. Lower your thermostat by just one degree. This can reduce your residential heating bill by as much as 10%, according to Natural Resources Canada. While many Canadians lower their thermostats at night, lowering daytime temperatures, particularly when no one is home, can add up to big energy savings.

2. Install a programmable thermostat and learn how to use it. While 40% of Canadian households have programmable thermostats, an estimated 20% of these don't use them.

3. Switch to cold water in the laundry. Washing in cold water can reduce energy use by 80% and save $100 a year in hot water.

4. Line-dry your clothes. This can cut household energy bills by as much as 15%. As an added bonus, the sun's ultra-violet rays naturally bleach and disinfect clothes, eliminating the need for chlorine bleach and other harsh chemicals.

This reminds me of one of the dumber questions I asked when I got started with my self-imposed training. We were looking into buying appliances for the new house. We made it a point to seek out Energy Star ones. Dishwasher, fridge, washer and...hey, they don't make Energy Star clothes dryers.

"Sure they do," Mrs THIT pointed out, "They call them 'clotheslines'."


5. Have a home energy audit. Most provinces now have government Home Energy Audit programs that help offset audit costs and provide grants for energy efficiency improvements.

6. Caulk and weather strip doors and windows. This can reduce heating bills by 25%, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.

7. Use power bars for televisions, DVD players, video game consoles and other electronic equipment. As much as 10% of household electricity is consumed by appliances that are turned off, but continue to draw power in stand-by mode. This referred to as phantom load.

8. Upgrade your appliances. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, replacing a 10-year-old refrigerator with a new Energy Star approved model can save enough energy to light your home for more than three months.

9. Be water-wise. Pumping water is responsible for as much as two-thirds of the total electricity used by municipalities. Take shorter showers, install low-flow toilets and sink aerators. Reducing water use in the shower will also help cut your hot water bill.

10. Educate yourself. Visit

Now here's something I learned; I asked Mrs THIT what she planned to do during that hour and she said something about watching TV or some such.

What what what?? No way! But apparently, that's allowed. You just need to have your lights off, but can use electricity for other purposes.

Nonsense. All electricity is banned here for that hour.

And I won't make the same mistake I made the last time we had a power failure. Somehow, I decided that it would be a good idea to shave by candlelight.

It isn't.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Tougher anti animal abuse laws unleashed

Nice bit of news today for those of you (us) who care for (and about) pets. If I recall correctly, these laws had not been brought up to date since Jesus was in diapers.

The following is by Antonella Artuso for Sun Media.

TORONTO -- Anyone caught abusing or neglecting an animal could face fines of up to $60,000, jail time and a lifetime ban on pet ownership under a new provincial animal welfare bill that comes into effect today.

Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci's bill will also give inspectors with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals the power to enter public places such as zoos, pet stores and circuses without a warrant to determine if animals are receiving proper care.

The act creates a new offence -- causing or permitting distress to an animal -- that has higher penalties and a lower burden of proof than the Criminal Code which had been the only tool available for the prosecution of serious animal abuse cases.

Hugh Coghill, Ontario Chief Inspector for the OSPCA, said their inspectors investigate about 15,000-16,000 complaints a year but the vast majority are resolved with verbal recommendations.

About 2,500 cases might receive a written order, and the courts are reserved for the most serious and recalcitrant offenders.

"The Ontario SPCA always takes an educational role first and foremost, so education before enforcement is a key mantra that we have in the back of our mind all the time when we're doing our work," Coghill said. "If whatever you were doing before wasn't against the law, it's not against the law now. But people who abuse and neglect animals need to be aware that the laws will now be stronger to protect animals."

The OSPCA can now seize and hold an animal until a court decides if the owner is guilty of an offence under the act, where previously the animal had to be returned if the offender paid the bill for any vet care that was required.

The existing maximum $60,000 fine for cruelty to animals, which applied only to cats and dogs for sale, has now been extended to all offences.

"If you cut the ears off your dog without anaesthetic, without care and treatment, that could be an offence and that could be a very serious fine," said Coghill, noting it would not have been an offence under the previous legislation.

The Provincial Animal Welfare Act also mandates vets to report suspected animal abuse or neglect.

Animal doctors had been bound by confidentiality rules, but are now protected under law if they report a client to the OSPCA.

"It was actually the veterinarians that wanted it," Coghill said.

The OSPCA welcomes the new power to enter public places where animals are kept because obtaining a warrant has proven difficult, he said.

The OSPCA was denied a warrant to search a west Ontario zoo where a member of the public had complained about the care of a kangaroo because the information was three months old.

When inspectors arrived at the zoo without a warrant, the owner refused them access, he said.

"The fact that we're denied entry to a place that is open to the public (now) becomes our grounds to get a warrant and go in and see if the animals are being provided the standard of care," he said.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

What's a Superbowl?

I mentioned before that in addition to this blog, I have one (and a full website) dedicated to local football. Yes, it includes the professional game but because you can find much of that information elsewhere, I focus on the amateur scene (about 17 to 24 as an age group).

I have put a lot of effort over the past two or three years in trying to help restore a professional team in Ottawa (writing to city council, taking part in a Design Competition for the area in which the stadium is located, etc).

I try to have fun with it, but it is often frustrating. I am not an optimist by nature but if I have to point to one positive, the experience has reinforced my belief that no matter how stupid an opinion is, someone somewhere has it. Apparently, he or she also has an Ottawa address.

Truth be told though, if someone were to tell me that a pro team here will never happen again in my lifetime, I could be perfectly happy with just following the youth levels for a number of reasons. The value of sports in society can be debated endlessly, but I personally believe that whatever value it does have is greater at the amateur level.

Here is an example, from a high school basketball game in New York, of the type of positive impact it can have on an individual and/or group. You don't see this kind of thing in the pros.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

It's colder than a well digger's ass out there...

...but that doesn't mean that your heating bills have to skyrocket.

Low Impact Living (A THIT personal favourite) provides a list of tips on how to reduce your consumption and/or costs. What I like about this list is that they break them down by project "size". Here's a preview:

Something you can do today: "Turn down your thermostat when away or at night. You could save up to 1% off your heating bill for every degree you lower your thermostat. And, contrary to urban legend, it does NOT use significantly more energy to warm your house back up again."

Something you can do this week: "Install a programmable thermostat. Even though it is easy, many of us will decide that re-setting the thermostat by hand every day is a pain. So, let your thermostat do it for you with one of these programmable Energy Star options. Save up to 5% of your energy bill, and avoid emitting 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Something you can do this month: "Seal your heating ducts. Leaks in ductwork are some of the most costly and easiest to fix heating / cooling problems, often wasting 10% or more of your heating fuel. Find do-it-yourself duct sealing products here.

The full list is here. Oh, and the expression used as a title for this post was borrowed, with permission, from Mrs THIT's grandfather. He has a million of them, and probably a few more just waiting for the appropriate moment.

Maison Idekit

This is neat. I was directed to it from a Green Communities Canada newsletter. The title is also the name of a Quebec-based company which builds homes from recycled freight containers.

Before (or, well, during):


So how much does one of these cost? Well...It's complicated. They can't take into account the cost of land and they don't include plumbing and basic electricity in the construction. So when you first see $62,000 for a 2000 square foot unit that is, by their own admission, misleading.

This article (French only, apparently like the idekit website) has additional photography.

I would love one of these as a cottage or retirement home. :-)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Saving the world a click at a time

Contrary to the belief of some, not everyone in the world is on Facebook. I happen to be among the millions who waste all kinds of time on that site, either by discussing interests in groups, keeping in touch with people I don't see as often as I used to, or ignoring people who are compelled to make the world aware of every time his (or her) kid fills his (or her) diaper or blinks. But the truth is that there remains a significant portion of the population who have managed to avoid these addictions.

I mention this because I joined a group called "Feed a child with just a click". It lists a variety of sites on which sponsors assist charities financially if a visitor just clicks on a button or plays a simple game. As I write this, the group has about three and a half million members (though I can't help but wonder how many actually bother to visit regularly).

Anyway, if you do have a Facebook profile, you can voin the group here. If you are not, and have no interest in being hunted down by people from your past by joining, then I am going to list a few of the ones I find most interesting here.

Let this game show you what a dumb-ass you are at geography while donating water. That's how it worked for me, anyway.

This one also donates water while testing your memory. Starts off ridiculously easy, gets harder and apparently never ends. So far, I've donated a body of water just slightly smaller than Lake Ontario.

Treat this little wooden boy like he's from Pillsbury.

"Your clicks support airtime for IFAW's TV campaign to build public pressure against this cruel and inhumane (seal) hunt." That was the first one I came across, but there's a series of tabs across the top listing a number of other causes.

Create solar energy.

When I clicked this one, I received a message that I helped a woman have surgery on her obstetric fistula. Huh...You're welcome?

I'm sure you get the idea. Now you probably have some free time for the holidays. Get clicking. ;-)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Misleading Food Labels

Preparing a nice, green-as-possible, Christmas meal? These labels may make it encouraging to purchase one product over another, but they may not mean quite what they lead you to believe.

The list is from Consumer's Report, by way of The Daily Green. You'll find that by and large, the reasons they are considered misleading are very similar.

Free-Range or Free-Roaming: You probably most often see this term stamped on eggs, but it's also used on chicken and other meat to suggest that the animal has spent a good portion of its life outdoors. Consumer Reports says, though, that the standards for these terms are weak, and the rule for the label is only that outdoor access be made available for "an undetermined period each day." So those free range eggs could mean that the chicken who laid them lived in a coop where the door was open for five minutes a day.

Natural or All Natural: People often assume this label means organic or healthy. But no standard definition for natural exists. Consumer Reports says the term only has meaning when it's applied to meat and poultry products and means that the items contain no artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or synthetic ingredients. But the producer or manufacturer decides whether or not to use it, without having the claims verified.

No Additives: Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher or Consumer Reports, says that a no additives label is often used to imply that a product has not been enhanced with the addition of natural or artificial ingredients. But there is no official definition for the term and it isn't verified when used.

No Animal By-Products: You might see this label on everything from condiments and meat (to indicate the animals were not fed any animal by-products), to cleaning and personal care products. This term is used to suggest that no ingredients are by-products from slaughtered animals. This might be helpful when it's not obvious; natural flavor could come from vegetables or animals, for example. But Consumers Union says the label is tricky because there isn't a standard, precise definition of "animal ingredients" and the label isn't used consistently. It also isn't verified by an outside body.

100% Vegan: Vegans generally avoid animal products for food and clothing, and often want to avoid products that were tested on animals. But this label does not have a standard or consistent definition and isn't verified. Alternatively, a Certified Vegan label is a registered trademark signifying that products are vegan--meaning they contain no animal ingredients or by-products, use no animal ingredients or by-products in the manufacturing process, and are not tested on animals by any company or independent contractor. The logo is administered by the Vegan Awareness Foundation, also known as Vegan Action.

Raised Without Antibiotics: Consumers Union says this term implies that no antibiotics were used in the production of a food product. The USDA has defined it to mean that meat and poultry products came from animals who were raised without the use of low-level or therapeutic doses of antibiotics. But a recent case of this label being used inaccurately by a major poultry producer illustrates some of the problems: there is no formal definition and while the USDA can hold a manufacturer accountable for the claim, no other organization is behind or verifies the claim.

The list is based on U.S. product claims but I am not confident that Canada is any better. As an example, there are questions about the validity of the Health Check symbol. Being that it is promoted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, it's easy to take it at face value, but apparently their standards are considered low.

We should be able to trust these things.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Plastic or Download?

Speaking of things becoming obsolete in my previous post about magazines (assuming you are viewing this chronogically) reminded me of something I've been meaning to post since about, oh, mid-August or so. Man alive, I have to stop neglecting this little slice of 'net...

I read a statistic recently to the effect that a song is downloaded for free 20 times for every time it is purchased. I don't know if purchasing includes both download and CD, but it is nonetheless a telling stat.

Much like the various forms of reading material discussed earlier, I still prefer to have the real thing on hand. While downloading is obviously "cleaner", I still buy compact discs and will for as long as I am able to. I like having that safety net in case my computer crashes and I lose everything.

This is particulary true because I can not transfer my ITunes files to my MP3 player. Some combination of exclusive deals between all the various companies prevents it. So it's not as though I could transfer and be confident that at least I'll have the music in that format if my computer goes Max Headroom on me.

So still being a CD consumer, and needing to make a trip to Calgary this past August, I wanted some "fresh new spins" (that's DJ talk. Or maybe it's just the one clown on a local radio station trying to sound cool) for the plane ride. I took a stroll over to HMV and left with three new records. Yay!

While sitting in my 40-foot limo on the way home, I noticed something written on my HMV plastic bag. It said...

Once discarded in landfill sites, the exposure to sunlight, oxygen and heat will convert the plastic in this bag into water, carbon dioxide, mineral salt and biomass. Like a fallen leaf it will disappear over time and leave no harmful residue in the soil.

This message was brought to you by EPI Environmental Technology. I would like a clearer definition of "over time", mind you, but still. I like knowing that this is out there, if their claims are legit.

Assuming they are, I would like to see the EPI logo on all grocery store bags as well. We do try to bring our own bags with us when grocery shopping but occasionally forget, or make an unscheduled stop and don't have them on hand. While still not great, this would be...huh...less bad, I guess. I suspect that people who avoid using plastic bags are still very much a minority so perhaps having this specific kind more commonly available would helps significantly.

As far as downloading goes, I am not opposed to it. Far from it. I am all in favour for reasons other than (but in addition to) the environmental aspect.

I have been interested in music since I was about ten. I used to wake up to Sweet's Ballroom Blitz, played from a borrowed eight-track. I'm sure my folks loved that.

And though never a fan of theirs by any stretch, I recall air-guitaring to Kiss' I Love it Loud. Yikes...

Can't go wrong with those genius lyrics...

A memory from earlier still is asking my mum to play The Night Chicago Died by Paper Lace repeatedly.

I was basically a toddler. Not exactly a song for a four-year old but it should be pointed out that I didn't speak English back then. Thankfully, otherwise, I might have turned out like John Gotti. Or Vanilla Ice.

In any event, I love music, but I hate the music business. Aside from frequently hearing about bands being screwed over on record deals, I've often felt the same was being done to me.

I'm the obsessive collector type, so when I get into something, I'm a completist; I need to have and know everything. Nothing insults me more, as a music fan, than a "best of" album with two "previously unreleased tracks" included.

Ah, thank you so much for abusing my loyalty. Please picture me with an extended middle finger as I guiltlessly (is that a word? It really should be...) download the two tracks that were not previously deemed good enough for any of the band's studio albums.

Better still is the so-called deluxe edition of records that are the exact same album with perhaps an extra CD with a few live tracks or some such. It's usually released 1-3 months after the...huh...ordinary edition. Of course, being a fan, I bought the original almost right away. So now I would have to pay full price for the extra material and a batch of duplicates.

So while I don't like to see bands suffer from their material being traded freely, I take some joy in knowing that the music industry is scrambling. And I believe (and hope) that before long record companies will be obsolete, or at least drastically reduced in number.

It's always been my understanding that bands make their money from touring, not from record sales, so if more of them are able to continue to be successful without having to deal with the business side of it, more power to them.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Green Living Online

I was made aware of this from a World Wildlife Foundation newsletter from last month. The fall issue of Green Living Magazine is also the first online version. It comes instructions for the less technically-inclined but basically click on the arrows at top left to flip pages, and on the pages themsleves in order to make them large enough to read.

I recall reading an interview with Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee around the time the first Spider-Man movie came out in which he was asked whether he thought the internet would kill comic books. He thought it would not because people prefer to have something "in hand" to read; something they can take to another room in the house or carry with them while travelling.

I agree with him that reading a magazine online is hardly the same, but with laptops and blackberries becoming more and more common, perhaps paper versions have finally met their match. And for a magazine called "Green Living", going online would seem to make sense.

Just one more thing to get used to. ;-)

Edit: I subscribed for future issues, only to find out that the winter ecition is out already. Here it is.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

School of Rock


By Timothy Gardner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rock found mostly in Oman can be harnessed to soak up the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide at a rate that could help slow global warming, scientists say.

When carbon dioxide comes in contact with the rock, peridotite, the gas is converted into solid minerals such as calcite.

Geologist Peter Kelemen and geochemist Juerg Matter said the naturally occurring process can be supercharged 1 million times to grow underground minerals that can permanently store 2 billion or more of the 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted by human activity every year.

Their study will appear in the November 11 edition of the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.

Peridotite is the most common rock found in the Earth's mantle, or the layer directly below the crust. It also appears on the surface, particularly in Oman, which is conveniently close to a region that produces substantial amounts of carbon dioxide in the production of fossil fuels.


They also calculated the costs of mining the rock and bringing it directly to greenhouse gas emitting power plants, but determined it was too expensive.

The scientists, who are both at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, say they could kick-start peridotite's carbon storage process by boring down and injecting it with heated water containing pressurized carbon dioxide. They have a preliminary patent filing for the technique.

They say 4 billion to 5 billion tons a year of the gas could be stored near Oman by using peridotite in parallel with another emerging technique developed by Columbia's Klaus Lackner that uses synthetic "trees" which suck carbon dioxide out of the air.

More research needs to be done before either technology could be used on a commercial scale.

Peridotite also occurs in the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea and Caledonia, and along the coast of the Adriatic Sea and in smaller amounts in California.

Big greenhouse gas emitters like the United States, China and India, where abundant surface supplies of the rock are not found, would have to come up with other ways of storing or cutting emissions.

Rock storage would be safer and cheaper than other schemes, Matter said.

Many companies are hoping to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by siphoning off large amounts of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and storing it underground.

That method could require thousands of miles of pipelines and nobody is sure whether the potentially dangerous gas would leak back out into the atmosphere in the future.

My only concern would be that people would treat this as the miracle cure (note that scientists believe it would "slow" global warming, not stop it). Let's not bother to even try to reduce emissions, we've got our magic rock. Kind of like the people who think that switching to Diet Coke means they can eat whatever they want and lose weight.