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The Big Interview: Naomi Klein on Climate Change – Unedited

Portraits of Naomi KleinWhen I heard that no-holds barred lefty thinker Naomi Klein was putting out a book on climate change, I thought “damn right, sister.” Like I said in my book review in NOW Magazine, no matter what subject this woman tackles she has a way of skewering the shit out of whoever she finds screwing with humanity. In This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Naomi takes no prisoners, nailing to the wall sell-out green groups (including one that actually drills for oil on one of its own nature reserves! Really!), green billionaire messiahs, geoengineering, and the current economic system that puts growth above everything else. Her recommendations aren’t actually as radical as they may seem on the surface, she points out how environmental protection and climate action used to have all-party support from conservatives/republicans as well as liberals but that’s all shifted in recent years. And that we don’t have to go back to being off grid pioneers to move forward, she points out the way we lived comfortably in the 70s was actually a lot more sustainable than our bloated lifestyles of today.

Whether you agree with her politics or not, you really should read this book. It’s an eye-opener and she makes a pretty convincing case for her solutions to our systemic woes. Which is why I dedicated my whole column to it this week (no product guide or greenwash of the week this column, sorry!). My favourite chapters though almost had a spiritual component and were the ones filled with beams of love for this earth, for this life and for each other,  like “Love Will Save This Place” as well as personal chapters rooted in Naomi’s own emotional reproductive challenges and her realization that she was up against the same challenge facing the planet as a whole, that species big and small deserve the right to reproduce. I didn’t get to half the questions I wanted to ask her in our allotted time, but you can read my published interview with her posted on NOW Magazine’s website. We had to, of course, condense and edit it down quite a bit to fit her answers on the page. I’ve included a couple of her extended unedited answers below, plus a bonus Q we didn’t have room for in print about my favourite quote from the book. Enjoy!

Q. You confess you denied climate change for longer then you care to admit.

A. In the book I talk about hard denial vs soft denial. Hard denial is the kind of Donald Trump denial saying “this isn’t happening because it’s cold outside.” I didn’t deny climate change. I believe the vast majority  climate scientists are telling us the truth. I was still in a kind of state of denial, looking away, and I think that is the state that most of us are in. Even those of us engaged in the topic, we’re choosing not to read the really scary stories. I wasn’t engaging in the issue, I was outsourcing it to the big green groups that were supposed to be dealing with it. I thought it was too complicated. The whole world seemed archane – the solutions, feed-in-tarriffs. I just kind of tuned out. That’s the denial we need address. We spend a lot of time talking about the right wing kind of deniers and not our own day to day deniers.

Q. We’re all guilty of it, feeling like that’s how we get through the day without deep depression. What would you say to those who feel disempowered by looking at climate change straight in the eye?

A.  I don’t think we can look at the crisis this big straight in the eye unless we see a way of dealing with it that is commensurate with the scale of the crisis. It’s the difficulty of looking at problems of this scale and hearing warnings from scientists and even from our own political leaders who will occasionally admit just how dire it is….There’s such dissonance between that reality and the way our political leaders are behaving, they’re doubling down on fossil fuels then in the next breath they talk of importance of pursuing rapid economic growth even though our model of growth is intimately tied to the climate crisis. I think what we look away from is not just the crisis. It’s the combination of the climate crisis and the lack of political response to it. We will really only be able to look when we see a path forward that’s inspiring. That’s why it’s so heartening that there’s a new climate momvement finding its voice at this moment and there’s this converage of all this front line activism against, extractive projects, as well as the fossil fuel divestment movement and front line communities dealing with the real impacts of a fossil fuel based economy. The climate movement is coming down to earth. It’s no longer about just floating perspective from space. The logo of the movement for so long was the image of a disembodied planet. It’s really people who are very rooted in places they want to protect.

978-0-307-40199-1So what’s the alternative…in a nutshell?

Let’s try leaving [fossil fuels] in the ground. Instead of emitting it or offsetting it or trading it or trying to find another form of fossil fuels like natural gas. Let’s actually switch our economy to decentralized renewables, which doesn’t mean crashing the economy but it is a challenge to the hyperprofitable model of fossil fuels. I think we are an economy for the 1%. These are carbon deposits that are concentrated, require exnepsive infrastructure to extract and transport, so you have a few mega players who profit a huge amount from this model. So much that they’re able to buy our whole political system, the results of which we’ve seen in Canada where there’s been a seamless merger of oil and state. The alternative to that is a decentralized renewable economy that does create benefits for communities that has real win-wins. That’s not going to deliver the sorts of hyper profits that fossil fuels do. The good news is that the profits stay in communities. That’s the model we’re starting to see in places  like Germany, which has a really good feed-in-tarriff system that has encouraged 100s of new energy cooperatives and publically controlled, democratically-controlled utilities. This is what is really inspiring. You don’t get a transition like that without some friction.

You say the scale of needed reductions and changes needed can’t be left to the lifestyle decisions of earnest urbanites shopping at farmers’ markets and wearing upcycled clothing. That’s my community, for sure. What should earnest urbanites be doing to be more helpful?

I’m not saying farmers’ markets don’t matter or that it doesn’t matter how we live. It does. We need to show that responding to this crisis isn’t grim and can actually build stronger communities and happier lives, but we also need to be going to climate marches and engaging with policy to stop the tar sands. A lot of Canadians have changed their lives and lowered their carbon footprint in meaningful ways, yet we know that Canada has emissions that are 27 per cent higher than they should be under the commitments our government made under Kyoto. We have to do both – it’s that simple.

Bonus Q: My favourite quote in the book is (to paraphrase) “what will save this place is not hatred of fossil fuel companies but love will save this place.”

That’s a quote from a really extraordinary human being and activist named Alexis Bonogofsky, who I met in the really early stages of research for this book. My mood has changed as a I was changing this book. When I began things were just unremittingly bleak, but by the time I finished, in the last few years there was a lot of good news. When I talk to Alexis now they’re winning, they’re winning all kinds of victories. Part of it has to do with the Northern Cheyenne, who they work with really closely and there’s been a really strong fight back against the coal companies. Part of it is what I call Blockadia, the new spirt of resistance spreading all over the place against pipelines and against the coal they want to take out of Montana. They’re having trouble building the rail to get it out, having trouble building the ports, everywhere they’re trying to build they’re meeting resistance and people are networking and at the same time building alternatives. There are all these projects to bring wind energy, solar energy to show people that there really is an alternative to fossil fuel extraction. That’s really fuelling peoples resistance to the fossil fuel frenzy. That wonderful quote is hers: “love will save this place.” That’s true of all these resistance movements that I write about in the book. They’re not driven by hatred of the tar sands or hatred of oil companies. They’re really about people falling in love more deeply with their place and coming together in the face of a common threat. It’s a really beautiful movement.

For the rest of the interview read on here here plus you’ll find my book review here.

Connecting the dots…breast cancer and everyday chems

breast cancer chemsAre chemicals in our environment connected to the rise in non-genetic causes of breast cancer? For lots of us following environmental toxin news, it seems like a no-brainer, but scientists are still trying to firm up the connections. A recent study by the Silent Spring Institute and Harvard School of Public Health published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives notes that exposure to chemicals that cause mammary gland tumours in rats is common, but “few studies have evaluated potential breast cancer risks in humans.” In the studies that have been done, researchers found that chems that cause tumours in rats are often associated with breast cancer in women.

The scientists eventually narrowed the list from 216 chems known to cause breast tumours in rodents to 17 common groups of chemicals that should be “top targets for breast cancer prevention.” On the list are substances found in gasoline/diesel fuel, flame retardants, stain-resistant fabrics, paint strippers and (gulp) disinfection by-products of chlorinated drinking water. The list goes on.

The study makes it clear that more research is definitely needed. Silent Spring’s goal was to identify high-priority toxins for further research and biomarkers for these toxins in women. While scientists continue to learn more about these chemicals, the authors of this latest study say there’s enough information to begin reducing our exposures.

On that note, here’s the Silent Spring Institute’s list of the most effective strategies:

• Avoid fuel and exhaust: Turn the engine off instead of idling. Give up gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers. Walk or take transit when you can. Don’t store gasoline in your home.

• Quit smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke.

• Limit consumption of carcinogens in charred foods and use ventilation fans when cooking.

• Go to perc-free dry cleaners or ask for “wet cleaning.”

• Avoid stain-resistant rugs, furniture and fabrics.

• Don’t buy furniture with polyurethane foam, or ask for foam not treated with flame retardants.

• Make sure you’re protected from toxins on the job. Push for good ventilation and protective equipment.

• Reduce exposure to chemicals in household dust by removing shoes at the door, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter and cleaning with wet rags and mops.

• Use a solid carbon block filter for drinking water.

This article originally appeared in NOW Magazine.

Earth Day Manifesto: I Think a Change Will Do Us Good

gettinggroveback_large

Most of us get antsy when we think about change. We brace for it like a bad smell coming downwind, cringing and turning our heads, hoping it won’t hit us if our faces are cranked the other way. But it always does. Maybe not the bad smell but change always finds us. The question is, can you welcome it?  I don’t know about you but no matter what shit storm I’ve been through in my life, it’s always made me change for the better. It’s made me stronger, gentler, wiser, more adaptable, more resilient. It’s cracked wide open my mind and expanded and unfurled my heart.

And that my friends, is the gift hidden, waiting, in the shit storm called climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel report released in stages over the last couple weeks has been clear as day. Change is coming, actually change is here and already knocking on our door, at our flooded city gates (hello, Calgary, New York, Toronto) and on our bone-dry barn doors (sorry, Prairies). Sooner or later, we’re going to get stronger, gentler, wiser, more adaptable, resilient and creative, we’re going to open our hearts and minds to it and we, as a people, as a civilization, will change for the better. The question is how much suffering do we want to cut off at the pass? After all the lessons I’ve learned from my brother Nick’s suicide and my father’s disabling stroke, I sometimes haggle with the universe, telling it, “you know what, I think I’m good with the hard lessons for now.” That’s when I negotiate, vowing to learn not just from all the things that go wrong in life -  the way humans usually do – but to keep trying to be a more conscious, caring, mindful, grateful human being day by day, to really awaken to the amazing gifts of living on this earth, in this lifetime, not just on my deathbed at the end of it.

So let me ask you again, how much suffering do we want to cut off at the pass? The wise IPCC scientists from all around this incredible planet say we still have time, but we have to H-U-S-T-L-E. What can I really do, you ask? I’m just one person. Well, for one, we have to care. And we have to vote for and support the politicians and policies that can help us thrive in the face of change that’s coming whether we like it or not. What you can do is tell all three levels of politicians elected to represent you – right or left – to bravely lead on renewable energy, on shifting away from fossil fuels and on getting the places we live in ready for a changing climate. Tell them you don’t want us to just turn our collective heads the other way hoping the stench of climate change doesn’t hit us. We need to walk towards change with our eyes, hearts and minds open.

For my Earth Day feature in NOW Magazine, I wrote about how cities like Toronto can lead the planetary rescue (to read it in full, click here).  Truth is no matter where you live – country, city, Toronto, Texas, Timmins – we all need to get involved, show we care and work on changing the world from our little corners, as my mom would say. There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the IPCC reports but if you read between the lines there’s also a hell of a lot of exciting potential for change, to build thriving, resilient, dynamic communities that our families can call home for generations to come. Places that remind us that, yes, a change can do us good.

 

Is that asbestos in your reno dust?

asbestos home

It’s National Asbestos Awareness Week. Do you know where your asbestos is? Canada’s asbestos mines may finally be shuttered, but people are still finding the cancerous fibres tucked into all sorts of hidden corners of their homes. If your house was built before the 1980s/90s, it could contain asbestos in a dizzying number of spots. All fine and dandy if not disturbed. But if you’re planning any renos, you should really head to WorkSafeBC’s very useful hiddenkiller.ca. According to WorkSafeBC, one of the most common places is under vinyl flooring tile. The tape around old ducts and piping could have been made with asbes- tos fibres, too; just peeling it off will release it into the air. Ditto for drywall with sprayed-on texture (like stucco), drywall mud, acoustic ceiling tiles, roofing shin- gles and more.

Breathing in asbestos is astoundingly damaging. Just watch the video below for Heather’s startling story. Her husband Cameron contacted me about sharing her story with readers to help raise awareness about the ongoing dangers of asbestos. You might assume the story couldn’t happen today because asbestos isn’t allowed in this country, but any people working with brake pads (ie mechanics), cement pipes and reno materials are just a few of those potentially exposed to hazardous levels on the job. If you’re worried about disrupting asbestos in your home, get suspect materials tested by an accredited lab. And call a trained professional to remove it.

Mindful Living 2 Go: Resolutions & Apps for Mind, Body, Planet

Planet GoodwillWe’re only ankle deep into the new year and if you listen closely you can hear resolutions straining, cracking, and, wait for it, shattering left, right and centre.  All it took was a snotty cold to knock me off track with my resolution. Lying in my bed the morning of Jan 1, my vow was to turn love into a verb and put more mindfulness and heart-centred consciousness into each and every day. Hokey? Definitely, but life-shifting? 100%. My theory is if we choose to put more heart and awareness into literally everything – making breakfast, walking to work, working, shopping, eating, interacting with the world, including our family, friends and total strangers, well, we just can’t help but be better to ourselves and the world around us, including the planet as a unified ecosystem. Okay, fine, it’s not just my theory – there are a few thousand monks and yogis who’ve been saying it for eons, quite literally. And now a growing army of people around the world are turning on and tuning in to that very idea. I touch on it in my resolutions article.

Ratcheting up my morning meditations and yoga classes, I was feeling all zen and alive…until my face turned into a faucet and my body started begging for blankets and a soft couch. Goodbye enlightenment, hello, six of the seven dwarves (Cranky, Snotty, Sleepy, Grumpy, Sicky and Foggy). But now that the cold’s lifted, it’s time to get back into gear. So, I’m sharing here with you my Meditation on the New Year and Mindful Living to Go….5 apps that can help boost your mind/body/planet connection. Buddify‘s fun because you can take small ‘mindfulness’ breaks while at your desk, on the bus, on break, at the gym, eating lunch. Kind of cool. I’ve tried a lot of meditation apps and too many of them are just new age music on timers. There are, however, two others I didn’t have room to mention in print. Headspace is a proper good meditation app guided by a pretty hip British monk but after 10 free meditations, there’s a monthly fee – just a heads up. Omvana‘s got a big library of various self-help guru-led audios for meditation, sleep, relaxation, focus, inspiration. A bit hit n’ miss but worth exploring.

The other apps I mention are more about making conscious choices in our everyday routines, from the products we buy and food we cook up to the goodwill we spread. Go ahead try ‘em. They might just help keep you from falling off the resolutions wagon (it’s too soon to give up on ‘em!). To get the full low down, read on…

Toxin Toxout: the new brave book, the authors, and me?

Toxin Toxout coverI’m a huge fan of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the bestselling book by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, so when Rick called me up and asked me if he could interview me for his next tome on toxins, I was pretty pumped. We met in a sunny east end Toronto park and chatted about the rise of green consumerism along with pseudo-natural and genuinely green products for a couple hours. He also asked me if he could include an excerpt of Ecoholic Body’s guide to label decoding. What an honour!

Now, drum roll please, I’m excited to announce Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World is on shelves and it, my friends, rocks – and not just because I’m in it, of course. You’ll learn more about how easily everyday toxins seep into our bodies, in the most up close and personal way, as the authors, once again, turn themselves into human guinea pigs. This time they take on the often whacky world of detoxing in some pretty hilarious experiments. If you’ve ever eyeballed ionic footbaths or infrared saunas and wondered whether they actually pull toxins from your bodies, well, the boys dig up some answers. I sample a few of those answers in the latest Ecoholic product guide (hint: organic food and green products actually do lower your body’s chemical levels!). You’ll also find my Q&A with Bruce and Rick. Click here for the full story, Ranking Detox Strategies. If you pick up the book, I promise you this: you’ll laugh, you’ll wince, and you’ll learn a hell of a lot.

 

The Bright Idea Edition: lightbulbs & Tzeporah Berman

Lightbulbs guide image

In this issue of Ecoholic, we’re just brimming with bright ideas, both literal and figurative. The literal ones come from the latest innovations in lighting – figured a roundup on light bulbs would be useful right about now since most basic incandescent bulbs are being phased out in a couple weeks. The figurative ones come from Canadian activist extraordinaire Tzeporah Berman. I got to have dinner with Tzeporah when I was hosting Earth Day’s Beyond Green Youth Summit that she was speaking at. I have to say I love this woman. She’s a power house for change and the new green economy. (I definitely recommend putting her bio “This Crazy Time” on your holiday reading list. You can read some snippets from her fascinating speech on Petropolitics here, along with my bulb guide and greenwash of the week (Raw Essentials!).

Busting lice & the campaign against hormone disruptors

Lice guide

Hey kids, After taking a few weeks off work to get away from it all and unplug, I’m digging back in the vaults to share the columns that have been running while I was living the Luddite life!

First up, got something crawling on your scalp and it ain’t just a bad feeling? Well, have no fear Ecoholic is here with a breakdown of all your options, both toxic and non…and yes, you can get a grip on the situation without resorting to nasty pesticides banned from lawns but allowed on heads. Plus you’ll get a roundup of the latest heavyweight campaigns to get hormone disruptors out of our products for good. For the full column read on here.

Sweaters and the new green economy

Sweater guide imageHey peeps, this is prime example of a week that blends and stirs together different living, breathing elements of sustainability in action. You’ll find my guide to greener sweaters, made lovingly, without sweatshop labour and with greener, more sustainable fibres. You’ll also find my Q&A with a prominent thinker on the new green economy – Tim Jackson, and funnily enough, the two have a lot in common. Why? Well, those businesses making those feel-good green sweaters are actually live examples of just what a green economy should embrace! Healthy, happy jobs that produce healthy, happy products. Plus you’ll also find my greenwash of the week is a moisturizer many of you have probably have in your homes (they’re that good at greenwashing). Check it all out in this issue of NOW by reading on here.

Blackout issue: alt power guide, tales of a dark night & more

NMFSC_025_0718Summertime and I’m totally behind on blogging! Just wanted to catch you guys up before I head out of town again for a couple days….Here’s a column I did post-Toronto floods, including my own reflections on being holed up without power and water on the 15th floor with my father (who now depends on a wheelchair). Thought it was only fitting the product guide that week be on gadgets that keep you fired up without plugging in. I also wrote up a Greenwash of the Week that I happened to spot in my mom’s shower – sorry, mom, you weren’t the only one duped by Organix hair products! Plus Nature Notes on Kellogg’s dirty palm dealings & news on Lac Megantic. Here’s a link to it all.