Archive for April, 2010

The Pacific Trash Vortex

This post originally published May 22, 2008

Recently I was shocked to learn about a continent made of garbage floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It has been estimated to be the size of Texas, and is known by many names, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Plastic soup, the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. What ever you call it, it is an environmental nightmare. It is not so much one large mass, if it were it would be much easier to deal with. This patch stretches for miles and goes to great depths.

It can be found in the North Pacific Gyre (also known as North Pacific Subtropical Gyre), The Gyre is a clockwise-swirling vortex of ocean currents comprising most of the northern Pacific Ocean. The garbage vortex is an accumulation of marine debris.

A great number of things can become marine debris; items such as plastic bags, syringes and other medical waste, buoys, rope, glass bottles and plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, plastic bags, beverage cans, Styrofoam, lost fishing line and nets, and various wastes from cruise ships and oil rigs. Plastic comprises over 80% of all ocean debris. The garbage vortex has been rapidly accumulating since the end of WWII. Plastic is unable to biodegrade. Instead it photodegrades, which means it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that are, eventually, consumed by marine life and enter into the food chain.

If that is not bad enough, it can act as a sort of “chemical sponge”. It can concentrate many of the most damaging of the pollutants found in the worlds oceans: the persistent organic pollutants (POPs). So any animal eating these pieces of plastic debris will also be taking in highly toxic pollutants.

This problem was created by humans. What to do about the garbage island is still being debated, One thing is clear, we can take steps to reduce the amount of plastic we use and dispose of. All life on earth relies on the Oceans health. Choosing to use less plastic can only help to reduce how much will eventually become a toxic waste product.

Cutting out the noise

This was originally published on May 20 2008,  my family will be on vacation for a few weeks we are re-posing some articles that are still relevant today!

Spring has arrived and with it the return of the growing season. We don’t have to look far for reminders that it’s time to mow the lawn. A week-end view from above reveals  people  emerging from their homes ready to trim down grass and weed. They have many tools at their disposal, but foremost is the lawn mower. The gas mower emits noise and air pollutants and can be expensive to run . Difficult terrain can make a corded electric mower unmanageable. Gardeners need to remember there is another option, the push mower (also known as the reel mower).

Green mowing is an idea that has been around long before the advent of the gas and electric mower, and it  is gaining popularity. The rising gas prices makes the push mower an attractive alternative. While saving money on gas or electricity you can get some exercise, and contribute to a healthier planet.

According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, a gas mower can pump out as much emissions as 40 new cars while in use. With roughly 2.7 million Canadians mowing their lawns each summer weekend, gas powered lawn mowers can release 80 000 tones of pollutants annually, and use more than 151 million litres of gas, according to Statistics Canada. We don’t need all the statistics to highlight was is obvious. What’s old is new again!

Gardeners agree that a push mower may need to be sharpened fairly often for best results. Ultimately a green mower will leave a greener lawn because the blade slices like scissors, not pulling or tearing it as a rotary gas powered machine will do.

A reel mower may take a little longer, but the result will be a healthier lawn that needs less care, an environmentally friendly alternative and a more peaceful one.

Remember what they they say; mow high and let it lie. (leave your grass clipping on the lawn as a natural fertiliser!)

National Volunteer Week 2010

Today, April 19th, marks the first day of a week long celebration called National Volunteer Week! Many websites has sprung up to encourage volunteering around Canada and the world.  A simple look on Craigslist  reveals dozens of opportunities to get involved. It is estimated that in Canada alone there are close to 12.5 million volunteers.

This week is dedicated to celebrating volunteer-ism and to encourage more people to get involved in volunteering.

There is a great one minute video on the site for National Volunteer Week in Canada, it states volunteers are making change, igniting movements, perusing the cause or just tying to make things better. They are artists, coaches, fire-fighters, community services staff, health care workers, disaster relief workers, activists, cooks, child care workers, and  teachers. They give 2.1 billion hour of work per year, the equivalent of 1.2 million full time jobs! Without them many services would cease to exist.

06 Camp Byng 042

Volunteers fight poverty and  work for a stronger environment, they are at the heart of the democratic process, they are the ones to call when a disaster strikes, they offer arts to people who may not be able to experience them otherwise, they drive social justice and they are your neighbours.

Maybe you think volunteering is for college kids to improve their resume, or the elderly to keep busy, that is true, but it is also for anyone who is interested in people, in any cause, who would like to be involved in something greater then themselves.

This week is a time to say thank you to the millions of people who lead and to the millions of people, like me and you who care to make a difference.

A community is built by one person at a time, with a dream, with hopes, people who want more, for themselves and others. If you have some time visit one of the hundreds of websites online today and find a way to volunteer. You will never be sorry or more amazed at how hard you can work for something that you believe in.

on the path

The secret is that money will never buy what you get by giving.

Some of the hundreds of places to find volunteer activists are;

Craigstlist,, CADIP, SARVAC, Go Volunteer, Environment Canada, KatimavicCUSO-VSO, Charity Village

You can find  ways to volunteer in anything you are interested in; a local theatre production, a soup kitchen, a community garden, a seniors centre, animal shelter, thrift shop, the list is endless.

To all the volunteers out there; you make the world a better place! You should be a part of that.

work parties in the new millenium

The words “work party” may conjure up images of office staff at a Christmas party, drinking too much, and smooching over the photo copier. The type of work party that is gaining popularity these days has little to do with office workers socialising over sugar cookies, and more to do with people coming together to create something, share information and of course have fun!

Some parties are held  around Vancouver, B.C. by a local group The Sustainable Living Arts School. They host “learning parties” or “work parties” to build gardens, preserve food, learn about herbs and foraging for food in nature, or building a fence. The parties are bringing back the arts our grandparent’s generation learned along with the alphabet and addition, that have  been almost lost in our  modern day lifestyle of convenience and instant gratification.


I took part in a local work party this month. It was not about saving the planet this time, but about brewing beer! I am Canadian and beer is part of our culture here in the great white north.  I heard about the party on a local email list and wanted to learn more about the organisation SLAS and beer making. It was a perfect opportunity to experience learning in a community environment and that we were brewing beer was just a bonus!

Hosting numerous events to share knowledge  in an intimate atmosphere strengthens a community. The SLAS  brings people together to learn and work.  The party I attended was hosted by a local family. I knew I was at the right house when I walked up to the house and noticed the front lawn had been transformed into a vegetable garden! The friendly people at the party and the relaxed topic of brewing  beer was a wonderful introduction into a way of learning and skill building that one could not help but feel has been almost lost.  Not so long ago there was a time when people would  come together regularly to raise a barn, harvest a crop, cook for a sick neighbour or a new mother. We can get back to that way of living one step at a time.

Today an even  larger party is being planned. is planning a global work party on October 10, 2010 – or 10 10 10 – and you are invited!  Working together we can create the changes we need  for a sustainable future. The science of is simple, there is too much CO2 in the environment.


The number 350 is the parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide that the planet can safely manage. The number today is 387 ppm and still rising.  The website displays colourful photographs taken all over the world in an attempt to show that people do care about the planet and want to help make changes. Environmentalists, educators, and prominent global leaders like David Suzuki, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and  Vandana Shiva are some of the supporters of this movement.

By hosting climate leadership workshops people are educating themselves and drawing attention to the fact that the planet needs us to help restore what has been lost.

Advances world wide since the industrial revolution have stripped the earth of it’s innocence and depleted natural resources, while pollution and global population has exploded at an unprecedented rate.

The sad fact is that we may see half the species on earth become extinct this century, if that is not a sobering statement you have not been paying attention.

All hope is not lost, and people like me and you can make a difference. The local food movement is strong and growing. Schools and community centres are taking the lead, with many adding solar panels, creating recycling programs and incorporating environmental education into curriculum. Children represent our future, and what legacy they inherit is up to us.

Championing movements to improve the environment, young people have historically been the ones to bring changes to the for front. Maybe because they are physically closer to the earth, they are still optimistic about the future. Children are naturally interested in learning about how the world works, this is  why they are not only our best hope, they are our inspiration to do better.

You can organise a work party and be a part of the largest world wide movement for the environment.  This is one party you should  mark on your calendar, and invite all your friends!

21st century gold rush

Gold Record

Mention the words gold rush today and many  people will conjure up images of overall clad men with pans, pic axes and pack animals prospecting up the old dusty roads in the mountains.  History reveals towns built on riches quickly gained and exhausted by a lucky few over a hundred years ago in Canada.  Old mines left as reminders, along with  toxic “ tailing” or sludge that is the by-product, after the valuable metals are separated from the worthless rocks. Historically this environmental liability was left behind like so many whiskey saloons and outfitter stores.

Around the world today gold mining is not a thing of the past, far from it.


The demand for gold is higher then it ever has been, and more valuable than ever.  Consider that gold has increased in price 300% in the past decade alone. Statistics state that on September 10 2001 gold sold for $271 per once, today it is steadily above $1100 per once.

According to an article in the January 09 National Geographic magazine, only about two Olympic sized swimming pools worth of gold has ever been extracted to date! That is 161,000 tonnes, half of that in the past 50 years!

The appetite for gold has only increased around the world.  With an economic recession and credit crisis  reality, people are turning to gold as a security blanket, but what is uncovered when looking a little deeper is not comforting, to say the least.

In 2007 global demand for gold outstripped mining production by 59% according to Peter L  Bernstein, author of The Power of Gold. “But it is never clear if we have gold – or it has us.”

gold mine pit Bloomberg Photo

Whether it is a huge open pit mine, drilled thousands of feet into the bedrock below sea level, or smaller caverns and caves that exude deplorable working conditions with little safety regulations. The ravaged earth is left scared and polluted, in one mine known as Newmont Mining Corporations Batu Hijau operation in eastern Indonesia, extracting a single ounce of gold there- the amount in a typical  wedding ring – requires the removal of more then 250 tons of rock and ore. The waste rock is then piled onto rainforest land, displacing animals and contaminating water sources for people and livestock alike.

Small scale or “artisan gold miners” face health hazards in the form of mercury poisoning from the extraction process. It is estimated by  the UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) that there are between 10 -15 million artisan miners world wide, from Mongolia to Brazil, using centuries old methods, and producing 25% of the world gold. It is also estimated that one-third of all mercury released into the world today is from this small scale gold mining, with two to five grams of mercury released for every gram of gold recovered- Mercury exposure  has been linked to neurological and genetic damage, and once it has entered the rivers and streams it leads to contamination of the soil bed and food chain.


Organizations like “No Dirty Gold” try and educate people about gold mining around the world. Some large companies try to mitigate environmental impact, but many are guilty of what is known as “submarine tailings disposal”, dumping toxic waste off shore, deep in the oceans, which is banned.  If caught, the fines are cheaper then safer land disposal options for mining waste.  There are far fewer protectors of the deep seas then the rainforest so these practices go largely unnoticed.

Open pit mines can be seen from space. These mines bring jobs to many impoverished nations that have less regulations and a lower living wage then the countries that demand the gold buried deep within volcanoes and mountains the world over.

Gold holds little practical value, used in tiny amount in electronics and in dentistry, the majority of  gold is mined for jewellery. Nonetheless, ancient civilizations held it in the highest regard and today it remains a symbol of power and affluence.

Today  money lenders and jewelers eagerly advertise to buy your old gold. While generations have hoarded gold, held it as a dowry or family heirloom, to mark special occasions, weddings, births, and achievements. It is deeply entwined in our modern culture.  It is to be found at the end of the rainbow,  on your wedding finger and the highest achievement in Sporting events.


The true value of gold is to be determined by future generations who will look back on our lust for gold, as old as the mountains themselves, and the destruction of the greatest empires known to us as well.

Will our love for this precious metal be our downfall too? The choice is in our hands, but if history teaches us anything, it is that this shiny rock has powers that go beyond good judgement, and remain one constant in an ever changing world.

URBNgreen is committed to education and environmental stewardship. Our objective is share information about what people are doing locally and around the world to create a sustainable future.
delicate little plant in need of freedom. Einstein quote at