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Posts Tagged ‘canada’

So, it turns out I read a lot of weird news stories at work, probably because I am often still half away in the morning and procrastinating my important tasks until after that second (or fourth….) cup of coffee.  Writing emails is hard, y’all. And while reading those weird news stories (or just scolling through buzzfeed) it’s been pretty surprising to see the stories popping up about…bees. Especially in places like Business Insider or, yup, buzzfeed.

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Suddenly we all care about bees!

I’m going out on a limb with this post, because I’ll be the first to admit that agriculture is one of my weak areas when it comes to environmental fields.  It’s not something I’ve spent time working on, so my knowledge base is cursory.  Yet, it’s such a hot topic that I couldn’t leave it alone.  See, the buzz in the news is about Colony Collapse Disorder, an affliction first identified in 2005 that causes entire bee colonies to – well – collapse.  It’s been on the rise in recent years, with reports this summer of massive bee losses in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  During the years from 2006 – 2011, bee populations in commercial honeybee farms have reported losses of up to 33% (that’s 1/3 of their hives) from the disorder.  What’s causing it?  Studies have linked a certain category of widely used pesticide, neonicotinoids, to the bee deaths, citing both the impact of the pesticides on bees as well as the near-perfect tracking between increased use of these pesticides and the bee deaths.  Evidence is strong enough that in Europe, the E.U. placed a two year moratorium on use of the pesticides beginning in April 2013, and a coalition of beekeepers have actually sued the US EPA to do the same.

But they’re just bees, right? I mean, who cares about them? They sting people and pollinate flowers and, whatever.

Wrong.  Bee populations are experiencing a massive decline worldwide, which is seriously bad news for agriculture. That is, the food that you and I like to eat. Cherries, blueberries, almonds, peaches, apples, soy, and worst of all, COFEE – are among the crops impacted because they are dependent on bee pollination.  USDA summarized the impacts with this chart:

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Yeah. Read it, and then go hug a frickin’ bee.

I’m a bit in over my head in terms of coming up with a bottom line for this post (sorry guys, I’m honest), largely because I also have many unanswered questions.  How strong is the link between these pesticides and bee populations? How widely used are these pesticides? Do we have effective replacements?  But, as far as I can tell, this is another tick in the box for moving beyond our chemically-dependent agro-business practices (within reason, of course – I recognize that going back to subsistence farming isn’t really an option) and more towards options that don’t do this kind of longterm damage.  Ecology teaches that populations affected on a widespread scale often have a rough time recovering after a certain percentage of the population has been decimated.  It’s probably a pipe dream to hope that we could be more proactive in the future to prevent this kind of loss, but at least there’s a lesson in here: sometimes, the consequences of our decisions mean real losses for business and for us.  I mean – it’s on the Lululemon bags, for crying out loud – what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

Comments are welcome from anyone who has expertise in this area – or who wants to chime in about the impacts of the declining bee populations on agriculture and what we can or should do about it.  As always, keep it friendly.

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To date, I’ve posted about cool things that can save you money and protect your health; but The Green Light is also about telling the stories of people who are making a difference.  Last week, I traveled to Detroit for a regional Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference sponsored by the Blue Green Alliance.  Most people said “I’m sorry you have to go to Detroit”, and/or “don’t go out past sundown.”  I try to focus on good things when I see them, and I saw and heard plenty of good things in Detroit.  I stayed at the GM Center (every GM model was on display) which is the largest structure in downtown Detroit.  You can see Canada from your room (no I didn’t say Russia from my house, but I thought about it).  The weather was beautiful when I arrived and I had an hour to spare so I went for a run along the riverfront.

Trails on the waterfront park

Is that the Natchez and the bridge to the West Bank (nola reference)?! No, it’s the Princess and a bridge to Canada.

I sat in on several sessions over the next two days related to public health, toxic exposures, community job training, safe jobs, and environmental justice.  There are inspirational people in Detroit who are committed to developing a local workforce and building a sustainable economy.  Donele Wilkins, President of The Green Door initiative (GDI), has worked in the environmental justice movement for over two decades.  The Green Door Initiative provides 12-hour training programs to local residents on specific job types, life skills, and environmental literature; GDI also has a “Youth Green” program, along with several other types of programs, that trains inner-city youths on environmental justice and how they can be leaders in their community.  The take home message  – residents who are trained locally, work locally, and thereby invest more in their community.  Leon Petty, of Go Green Contracting, Inc., is a demolition contractor specializing in proper removal of lead, mold, and asbestos; I have never heard a private business owner so passionate about protecting people’s health and performing proper construction even if a personal sacrifice is required.  It was a pleasure to listen to you, Donele and Leon.

Lastly, I enjoyed learning of the work of the Delta Institute, a group based out of Chicago that takes on a variety of environmental projects around the Great Lakes region  – seriously, they do everything, they are the Super Target of environmental specialists.  Kindy Kruller of the Delta Institute spoke about the community development branch and how deconstruction (that’s breaking down the home in pieces rather than smoking it with a crane) of homes has led to new business opportunities!  The branch and other partners salvage wood and other materials and then sell new indoor and outdoor furniture to schools and businesses in the community – way to reuse!  During the opening session, a men’s choir group, called Vision, and a women’s choir group, called the Lady Achievers (this was not a GSA conference) from the Detroit School of Arts performed and a class member spoke about how attending a green school has maximized learning and student’s health.  Both of the groups gave wonderful performances – luckily I found The Lady Achievers’ performance for you to enjoy (I could not find Vision’s video – they deserve a complement on their bow tie cummerbund set)!

So, don’t count Detroit out (remember the Clint Eastwood Superbowl commercial?).  Find out what good work is being done in your neighborhood and remember to thank them for their efforts; and/or even better, offer a helping hand to those good people!  Cheers.

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As we approach the two year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill and as the war on the Keystone XL pipeline wages on, we are reminded of the actual and potential damage of chemical spills.

Not something we'd really like to witness.

The question is: How frequent are chemical spills?  These two scenarios, Deepwater and Keystone XL, represent two extremes—the worst-case scenario and a hypothetical.  To provide some middle ground perspective, I’d like to share with you data from a study conducted in Southern Ontario.

Yes.  I am aware Ontario is in Canada (though I have never visited our neighbor to the north).  So yes, it’s not perfectly applicable to the U.S.; however, it is still a notable longitudinal study that paints a realistic (and by that I mean not driven by the media) picture about chemical spills, particularly in energy-intensive regions.  Really, it’s not like Canada is the Galapagos Islands.

Of course, I wouldn't mind being in the Galapagos...

Researchers in Ontario collected data on spills covering the period 1988 to 2007.  What they found might shock you a bit.  Over this time period:

  • A total of 14,174 chemical spills occurred.  This averages out to 709 spills a year or 2 spills each day.
  • Spills most frequently resulted from: (1) Pipe/hose leaks; (2) Fuel tank/barrel leaks; (3) Process set up; and (4) Discharge/bypass to water course.
  • The sector most responsible for spills was the industrial sector (44.9%).  Within the industrial sector, the biggest contributors were (in order): metallurgy, chemical, and general manufacturing.
  • These spills have a wide range of environmental impacts, including surface water contamination, soil contamination, air pollution, and multi-media contamination.

These stats paint a good picture about the nature of spills, especially those that aren’t making headlines in the news (like Deepwater).  What is most frightening is to learn that of these spills, only 10 percent were cleaned up entirely.  Perhaps this is because most large cities in Canada do not have a spill management plan.  So whether it’s no plan or an outdated plan, seems like there needs to be some plan action going on in the world of chemicals spills—unless of course we want to enjoy ourselves a good dose of cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene.

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