Tag Archives: environment

Planet A

As winter and the covid-19 pandemic wear on, and wear us down, I’d like to shift the focus to something perhaps more positive. Although access to the vaccine is still very limited in Canada (as I’m writing this, only about 2.5% of the population has received the vaccine and questions remain about some vaccines’ efficacy in light of new variants, let’s remember that we were able to develop vaccines in less than a year after identifying and isolating this new virus.

How were we able to respond so rapidly? First, various researchers were already investigating coronaviruses, so a solid foundation had already been laid to advance vaccine development. Second, because covid-19 impacted every nation and economy, strong political will and ample financing was immediately available to propel vaccine development in numerous labs. 

Having made these observations, my thoughts turn to another global issue that’s been brewing for decades: climate change. The concept of global warming became common knowledge in the early 1990s, but I was introduced to the concept of alternative energy sources when I was still in high school, considerably before any discussion of this warming trend. Even in high school, adopting carbon-neutral alternatives seemed like a no-brainer considering the negative impacts on health of increasing air pollution from carbon emissions.   

Between then and now, technologies that support our efforts to tap into cleaner renewable energy have continued to develop and have become less expensive to produce. A solid foundation has already been laid to support adoption of numerous carbon-neutral energy sources to serve the needs of our rapidly growing human population. So why aren’t we there yet? The strong political will and ample financing that were fundamental in delivering the covid-19 vaccine in record time are still missing from efforts to deliver carbon-neutral energy solutions.

When President Joe Biden cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline project within hours of taking office, some Canadians were outraged; I was not one of them. I was relieved. Plans to invest in outdated energy technology with clear negative environmental impacts make no sense to me. We know better.  

I’m relieved to see world leaders slowly turning away from oil and gas for the sake of our shared environment. I’m also relieved to see some major investors finally comprehending that they can make ample money investing in cleaner renewable energy sources instead of oil and gas.

Given the rapidity with which humanity has managed to poison our planet and set in motion the volatile climate changes we’re increasingly seeing, it’s unclear how long recovery will take or if it’s even possible. But I am hopeful that, like the covid-19 vaccine, if we continue to develop the technologies we’ve already invented, and invest adequate political will and financing, maybe we’ll be okay. Fingers crossed. As stewards of the Earth, we’ve been doing a pretty piss-poor job. Mama Gaia deserves some TLC. Let’s give it to her and maybe she’ll let us stay.   

© Catherine Jenkins 2021 all rights reserved

Mama Gaia deserves some TLC

Spring 2008

With spring comes the celebration of new life… unless you’re unfortunate enough to be part of a species being “managed” by humans. This spring, the Toronto Zoo saw fit to euthenize two healthy, newborn reindeer, males, and thus undesirable additions to the herd. Some of the zookeepers were revolted enough to blow the whistle. In the wake of a public outcry, the zoo has instead found a new home for three more male reindeer at the Bowmanville Zoo.

The Greater Vancouver Zoo saw the murder of one of its spider monkeys, a fifteen-year resident. Intruders caved in his head while kidnapping his mate. The mate has yet to be recovered.

The Calgary Zoo was forced to close its stingray exhibit when forty of a school of forty-three died in just over twenty-four hours of unknown causes. Hard on the heels of this misfortune, the Toronto Zoo opened Stingray Bay, its own interactive stingray exhibit, having taken “extra precautions for the safety of the stingrays and our visitors,” including removing the rays’ barbs, their primary defense.

Not all atrocities occur in zoos though.

I’d never even seen a cormorant until I was well into my twenties, although apparently they were quite common up at our cottage prior to the 1960s. Thanks to pesticides and bad press, cormorants were at one time an endangered species. Now, there are a couple on the lake. They’re amazing looking birds: large, black, primeval and strong. After years of protection, the cormorant is slowly returning to its former range. But not without renewed challenges.

Point Pelee Park has proposed to diminish its cormorant population on Middle Island by ninety percent. That’s not a cull; it’s a holocaust. Why? Because the presence of such a large and successful population of cormorants is adversely impacting the “ecological integrity” of the island’s fauna. Also, anglers would have you think that cormorants deprive them of sport fish. The scientific evidence shows that cormorants have little impact on sport fish populations, preferring a diet of the introduced species that have been invading our waterways and have few natural predators. The ridiculous thing is that the cormorant is a natural part of this ecosystem, but humans think that the way in which this bird fits into its own environment needs correction.

The seal hunt debate raged again this spring, with heated and emotional arguments on both sides. It’s the largest slaughter of marine animals on the planet and, to my mind, a cruel international embarrassment. The only good news I heard about it this spring, and it’s tempered good news, is that due to weather conditions, Canadian sealers only killed about half their quota.

In international news, the South African government has decided to reintroduce an elephant cull. After decades of illegal ivory trade, the elephant population was threatened, leading to a trade ban in 1989 and the subsequent protection of the species. With such protections, the population has rebounded nicely. Elephants are big animals with big appetites; they travel in herds that decimate everything in their path. Elephants like to rearrange their habitats; why should humans be the only ones? Because of the protected success of this one species, fauna and other animal populations are being threatened in some areas, so there certainly is a problem. But given that elephants are extremely intelligent, feeling, family oriented animals, controlling the population through culls, by herding them together with helicopters and hiring sharpshooters to kill them, seems incredibly inhumane, not to mention scientifically dubious. And of course, even though the trade in ivory has been suspended, that doesn’t mean it can’t be reinstated if a generous amount of ivory suddenly becomes available.

Other than humans (who are far too good at rearranging their habitat to suit themselves, generally with little regard for the environmental impact), any species left to its own devices will find its natural population. Ecosystems include prey, predators, diseases and fluctuating resources that have evolved together naturally to keep things balanced. No healthy ecosystem stagnates; it’s continuously evolving. That’s the way natural populations remained balanced for thousands of years. And it’s only taken us about one-hundred-and-fifty years to completely screw things up.

As the world’s human population closes in on seven billion, as habitats for other animals continue to decline, as current energy sources diminish, as food and fresh water stores plummet, we’re going to have to face the fact that until we find a realistic way to colonized space, we are part of a closed ecosystem. Because we have the facility to manipulate our environment, we have grown to larger numbers than the planet would otherwise sustain. But sooner or later, something’s gotta give. Will we run out of ideas for how to successfully manipulate our environment? Will we pollute our food, water and air resources to the point where we poison ourselves? Will human strife cause increased war and violence? Will we start managing and culling our own?

In New Zealand, humans had tried and failed four times to rescue a beached pygmy sperm whale and her calf. Although they were able to push the pair back into the water, a sandbar blocking the way to the ocean was disorienting them, causing them to beach repeatedly. The humans were ready to give up, preparing to euthenize the whales, when a local-area dolphin pushed herself between the rescuers and the whales, then led her cetacean relatives off the beach, through a channel and back to open water. One marine biologist commented that dolphins have “a great capacity for altruistic activities.” So, what else are we missing in our rush to dispose of the animals competing for our space?

© Catherine Jenkins 2008

Jan – Feb 05

A couple of years ago, I remember becoming quite aware of the erosion of the middle-class, how the populace was rapidly dividing into haves and have-nots with not much in between. As that’s where I’ve generally resided, it was quite startling to realize that, as an artist in a society where artists are undervalued, I was rapidly sinking into the class of have-nots. Although I continue to struggle with this, things have been improving and so perhaps I’ve become a little less conscious of this division.

What I’ve noticed more recently, is the erosion of the middle ground, how the populace is rapidly becoming polarized either on the extreme right or the extreme left with not much in between. The 2004 American election is a prime example; the country’s virtually split down the middle, with those on the extreme right bearing arms and those on the extreme left moving north to Canada.

I’ve also noticed an increasing number of vegetarian restaurants, organic foods on the shelves of grocery store chains and not only blue, but now green boxes on curbs, while at the same time hearing news about the ban on Canadian beef, the safety of genetically altered food products and the amount of waste North Americans create and percentage of energy we consume.

As I say, there seems to be a profound polarization, but mostly, I’ve felt really proud to be Canadian this past Christmas season. Canadians gave record amounts to charitable causes instead of subscribing to the typical consumerism that predominantly American businesses shove down our throats. And maybe it was just me avoiding the malls, but I even felt that stores had less Christmas paraphernalia for sale. Many Canadians also chucked their artificial Christmas trees in favour of the traditional live tree and some (like myself) bought potted trees, which hopefully will survive for many Christmases to come. My apartment building got on the bandwagon by installing new water-reduction toilets, shower heads and faucets, just in time for the holidays. I think my sense that I’m on the same wavelength as many other Canadians, has made me feel less marginalized in other ways.

But there’s always more we could do to make our lives more authentic, more conscious, throughout the year; things we can do on a daily basis to in some small way change the world and bring it closer to our personal ideal. For instance, simplifying our lives by simplifying our living environment, recycling or discarding unnecessary stuff. This is something I’m continually working toward, but I still have a way to go. And I’ve realized that when one has a plethora of interests, there’s a tendency to accumulate a plethora of stuff, however, I believe I can reduce quite a bit without losing my trademark clutteredness and I know I’ll feel a lot better for it.

Jeanette Winterson says, “What you eat is the most political thing you can do every day,” and she may be right. Buying locally grown food helps support your local economy. Buying organic helps support a healthier planet. Both enable you to eat fresher, healthier food you can feel good about. Personally, I find cooking, the act of preparing a meal, even if it’s just for myself, very uplifting, creative and calming. Although admittedly I wrestle with the cost issue (organic food in my neighborhood is usually three to four times the cost of mass produced pseudo-food I can buy at the chain grocery store), I keep reminding myself that the greater the demand, the more ready the supply will become and eventually costs should adjust somewhat. Also, you get what you pay for; do you want to consume cheap food if it’s laced with pesticides, raping the soil and keeping suppressed workers suppressed?

I try to buy environmentally friendly household products (i.e., toilet paper, cleansers, detergents, etc.) that aren’t animal tested. There seems to be enough of a market, that the cost of environmentally friendly products is often on par with commercial products from corporations I’d rather not support. Such products are often easier not only on the environment, but also on me and my cats. I recently read that one of the most revolutionary environmental statements one can make is to go back to using a cloth hanky. How many boxes of tissues do you go through in a year?

In my small home office, I generally print paper on both sides (an advantage of an ink jet over a laser printer) and use recycled paper and envelopes. When I’ve used my paper to maximum advantage, I shred it and put it out for further recycling. I wish offices of a more significant size would subscribe to such practices or at least make hefty donations to replanting trees. In some small way they should help make up for the tonnage of new, virgin forest products they go through every year.

With events in Asia at the end of 2004, enormous attention and aid have gone into that region. From reports coming back, at least some of the aid is getting to where it’s needed. It’s great to see the world pulling together in the wake of such a catastrophic natural event, even though there have been political rumblings of various sorts. Now I’m hearing reports that farmers want to return to farming, that fishermen want to return to the sea, but they still lack land, boats and housing. I hope that once the spotlight’s off, these people won’t be forgotten, that international relief efforts won’t cease once the primary crisis has passed. Aid will be required in this region for some time to come as survivors try to reclaim their lives. I hope you’ve made or will make whatever donation your finances allow to one of the many organizations supporting efforts in this region.

While natural disasters remind us that we aren’t really in control of everything, loss of habitat, usually caused by human ignorance, maliciousness or lack of caring, is the primary threat to many animal species. Again, if your finances allow, I urge you to find some way to support pro-animal causes. My personal choice for years has been the World Wildlife Fund (www.wwf.org internationally or www.wwf.ca in Canada). The presence of animals on the planet makes us more human, more conscious of our status as animals and more conscious of our need to take better care of the earth. At the moment and for quite some time to come, she’s the only planet we’ve got!

And I will continue to support the arts and artists through the various types of work I do and by buying books, attending performances, going to galleries, etc. Why? Because the arts are essential to a quality life, essential for interpreting the world, our emotions and thoughts. The arts are essential for communicating with other members of our species, for leaving something to future generations. Because without the arts, personally, I wouldn’t find life worth living.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, prosperous 2005. I think this has the potential to be a truly great year.