Thursday, December 20, 2007

Save our Earth

I'm disappointed to hear that the world is not looking for better alternative solutions to the problem of greenhouse gas pollution and the demand for more energy due to a growing world population. For decades, scientists have been researching the effectiveness and efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines for the generation of energy and at the use of biofuels as an alternative for gasoline. But, it is clear that the only two alternatives at the moment are to stick to refining oil until it is completely depleted and to utilize uranium for nuclear power generation until the world comes up with a better idea that 'is worth investing in'.

Today, oil is a powerful resource that can make a country and it's leaders very powerful in a world that depends on it. We depend on it to maintain our modern civilization without even thinking twice about the impact of its use. So what happens when this 'precious' oil resource is depleted? From the perspectives of world leaders we will be left with the struggle to meet demand for energy within the transportation, industrial, and domestic sectors. The thought of there being mass rolling blackouts around the world is not so pretty to them, although the thought of the impact of greenhouse gas pollution on public health and the environment does not even come to mind for such leaders. What's worse-- a population without electricity or people without a healthy Earth? I guess their perspectives do not reach this far..

Perhaps people around the world do not realize how precious our Earth is-- that it is a one-of-a-kind planet that we know of that human-beings can thrive on. However, our planet can only sustain so much damage and degradation. Just like human beings, our Earth too is sensitive to the impact of unnatural processes such as conventional energy generation and use. The Earth can be harmed too to the point where the damage is permanent. One obvious example is greenhouse gas emissions that continuously pollute the Earth's atmosphere which directly effects the natural water cycle and carbon cycle causing acid rain and raised atmospheric temperatures, respectively.

In this modern day there is much discussion about the negative impacts of conventional energy-generating technologies such as coal-fired generation and oil. In the modern world, people are being asked to carpool and drive less in order to reduce their environmental footprint and contribute to a healthy planet. Although these measures can work, there still remains a lack of awareness of the sensitivities of the environment as a big picture. People still feel that if the problem does not lie in their backyard and they are doing everything they can to take care than the change is positive.. However, regularly buying products at the Dollar Store or Walmart only increases one's environmental footprint because they are in turn supporting the industrial sectors of China and the USA that are currently in a battle for oil. The awareness of the far-reaching impacts of one's choices in life is little to non-existent!

The Ontario government thinks that it can make a positive change for the Earth by educating the public on the impact of coal-fired generation on the environment and in so doing has committed to phasing out its 5 coal-fired generation plants by a target date that keeps changing. However, since these coal-plants generate the base-load energy for the 6 million energy-demanding residents of Ontario there will be a desperate need for energy from another source. This source is uranium to generate nuclear power and Canada has a lot of it. This puts Canada in a very pleasing position since the uranium resource is vast and the oil resource that so many countries depend on is rapidly depleting. The Canadian government feels that nuclear power is clean and reliable and can replace coal-fired generation in Canada and around the world and, as such, is advertising it's uranium resource and its methods of generating nuclear power to the world, including USA, China, and Pakistan. Nuclear plants cost billions of dollars to build and operate and there is little public discussion on how the nuclear waste should be handled. Will the question of the Earth's sensitivities come up when we are stuck in a world of nuclear waste? It seems that world leaders today still have the attitude of "Let's just wait and see what happens'.. Let's not get the world worried about what their children will have to deal with in the future.. What's important is to maintain power over the world for as long as possible." In contrast, the important question to ask is what will be the result of decades of nuclear waste on this planet? Or even worse, what will be the result of a world war if there are nuclear plants all over the planet?

Nuclear power is not the answer to save our Earth today. We need to more often discuss about alternative energy generating technologies such as renewable energy technologies and we must always discuss solutions to problems such as greenhouse gas emissions and manufacturing and use of synthetic products. We need to be less consumerist and more pro-active! We need to educate our children about the environmental footprint of being consumers. We are not material creatures-- we are human beings from nature!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Urban Adaptation

What is it about waiting lines? Canadians seem to be drawn to them like a young child is to candy. Is it the observation that everyone is doing the same thing so why not do it too? Or is it more like an addiction-- the flavour of waiting is in the air or the visual representation of a man-made line is extremely stimulating. Or perhaps it's the need to be part of a group or herd, doing the exact same thing as everyone else. If you look back in our history, our ancestors and species before them traveled in packs. Even before this time, after the evolution of multicellular organisms, cells worked in concert in order to move from one place to the other-- a monumental step in evolutionary history and an adaptation for survival.

It seems comforting to know that a fellow Canadian is just an arm's length away, that they're not alone for the long-haul, but what comes at the end of the long wait line that we're so eager to wait in? In some cases it's to wait to see a nurse or doctor, change a university schedule, use a public toilet, or use a gas pump. Torontonians surely know that the longest wait is in TRAFFIC. Some Torontonians try to avoid using the main highways and roads during peak traffic periods, but many fail to avoid traffic or down-right choose to wait! Aside from the regular before and after work traffic, there's the infamous trek to the North on Highway 11 during the long weekends and holidays-- an idling frenzy or an environmentalist's worst nightmare! During these times of the year, if you are hungry I'd suggest not to stop at the McDonald's restaurant in Barrie, or you're likely to wait about an hour for something to eat or drink. Why is everyone stopping at the same pit stop on the same highway headed to the same place??? If you're heading to the true Northern Ontario, Kapuskasing, I do not recommend driving up from Toronto during the holidays.

This tolerance to wait in lines comes from the constant pressure to wait in lines for personal, work, or leisure needs. In regions where there are large populations it takes longer to go to and from work and to run errands because there are long wait lines in grocery stores and on roads. The Canadian federal and provincial governments have set a bad example of pressuring Canadians to wait in long lines for healthcare, road, and public transportation services. Because provincial governments did not compensate for the increasing population by expanding the roads and public transportation, there is a great problem of road congestion in the GTA and in Vancouver. Although much of Canadian tax dollars should be going to fund good quality healthcare, many Canadians are waiting in line for simple surgeries, and cancer treatment. Where are our tax dollars going? Why did Dalton McGuinty increase his annual salary by $40,000 when there is extreme road congestion, need for a subway expansion in Toronto, and wait lines for healthcare services?

Due to this negative influence by our government, Canadians, especially urbanites, have adapted to waiting in long lines for practically any service-- even to ride the Top Gun rollercoaster at Canada's Wonderland. Private businesses have tapped into this urban adaptation and used it to their advantage-- downtown nightclubs like Inside and Devil's Martini make you wait in the cold to get into a half empty room. The Loblaws supermarkets only keep 2 or 3 cashes open even though there are about 10 cashes available to use so customers are forced to wait in ridiculously long wait lines at the grocery store for no reason. Yet, Canadians will wait it out, especially if they believe that others are waiting too.

I wanted to use the bathroom at the airport and a Canadian woman was in front of me. As she walked in she realized that all the stall doors were closed and it looked like all the stalls were occupied. She bent her knees to see if there were occupants and would not let me pass her while she stood there waiting. Little did she know, ¾ of the stalls were empty and each stall door was closed but not locked. So, the woman waited for nothing, and wanted me to wait with her for nothing! This is how it is done my friends-- wait your turn or you don't belong!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

To Spend or Not To Spend?

What is it about that really big flat panel screen TV or the latest game console? What attracts people to spend money they may not even have on the latest gadgets and gizmos? What makes people dig into their overdraft so they can afford to buy that expensive material thing but haven't yet paid their rent for that month? It baffles me that so many people, young and old, go right for their wallets when they are feeling down or stressed out. They need a quick fix for their feelings of anxiety or emptiness. What are we really doing and at what cost?

Well, it varies from individual to individual but the underlying reasons for extreme affluence is to merely satisfy a desire in order to reach that desired scenario. What's wrong with the current scenario? Some less desirable current scenarios could be that people work too hard to earn a living so they desire a more favourable state. Perhaps people work so hard to support a family that they have no time for themselves so they seek a more favourable state. Thus, people may want to reward themselves after a hard and long day of work and/or a long week of work and caring for the family. The reward in turn satisfies their desire for a more favourable outcome which, on the basis of affluence, is material things like electronics, clothing, or an expensive night out on the town. Why is it that these material things can have such a positive impact on people that they can quickly recover from their feeling of emptiness?

Today's societies in many parts of the world have been set up to facilitate the growth and stability of an economy which is connected to and influences the international community. In Canada, this is the case. In addition, income earners are tax payers in order to contribute to national and provincial infrastructures. However, due to the exceptionally large size of Canada and many of the provinces like Ontario and Alberta, many regions and people are neglected. In contrast, one would think that the large amount of taxes that are collected from tax payers by the federal government can go to support important Canadian services like healthcare, the TransCanada railroad (transportation), national unity, renewable energy. But due to the lack of coordination and organization of the federal and and provincial governments in the past and present there is a loss of our tax payer money to pay government debts and beauracracy. So, the tax payer is left to consistently pay high taxes and not expect a reduction or tax break (even when economies are doing well).

So to answer my question of why material things can satisfy people's desires it is perhaps because money is constantly sucked from income earners and there is nothing to show for it. For example, the healthcare system, where much tax money is allocated, has been lacking for many years in its ability to cater to patients', or should I say taxpayers', needs! It is absolutely outrageous for taxpayers and their families to have to go out of the country to the US or China to get a hip replacement or stem cell therapy. Taxpayers are constantly being ripped off from this government service to that one and what is the outcome???? Canadians spend more money to satisfy their desires so that they can directly feel that favourable outcome!

There is a different story for low-income earners that I wish not to even get into. One point I can make is that the welfare and benefit services are only exacerbating the problem of peoples' affluent behaviour. If money is directly given to people who are not earning, it is most likely spent on material things for the purpose of relieving 'their emptiness' (stemming from being on welfare and not having many prospects). Where does this emptiness really come from??

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

International Sustainability

The Chinese government is being pressured by the international community to reduce its GHG emissions and adopt cleaner technologies for manufacturing and energy production, specifically pressured by North America. However, many North American companies like Proctor and Gamble have manufacturing plants in China to produce their products which are sold in North America. Since there is a strong consumerist market in North America (especially in Canada and USA) these companies can make a consistently large profit by producing their products in China where labour is cheap and selling them at inflated prices in North America.

But we cannot solely blame North American companies and consumerist North Americans because this process is exacerbated by the Chinese government and people who support cheap labour. The Chinese government supports its fast-growing economy even though it is at the cost of public health and the environment. Their take is that the US and other developed countries have had their chance in the past to strengthen their economies and now it is China's turn.
This is somewhat of a valid point but we have now entered into the 21st century when cleaner and efficient technologies are being developed and utilized.
Although we must respect the timeline for development in developing countries it is important to for them to adopt sustainable practices that are widely accepted and promoted worldwide in order to transition and transform the common view of 'it's not in my backyard' to total respect for the environment and public health. With growing knowledge about human existence and about our universe we cannot dismiss such strong concepts that consider the sensitivity of our environment and human existence.

The international community must work together to protect public health and the environment and encourage sustainable development within developing and underdeveloped countries. Developed countries must do their part to set a good example for the protection of public health and the environment rather than focus so strongly on an overpowering economy. Otherwise, the standpoint of 'you had your chance, now it's ours' will dominate around the world and overpower the standpoint of sustainable development.

It is important to note that we must start realizing that what we buy at the store has a history of production and distribution which has a strong impact on public health and the environment. Much of what we buy is lower in cost only because of how cheaply these products can be made and distributed. This solely benefits large corporations and governments around the world. Environment and public health lose consistently.

It is also important to understand that the strength of an economy does not solely depend on how much people spend. Economies can do just as well from manufacturing and production that do not harm the environment and public health. This way our future generations are protected and the environment is further preserved and an economy can remain stable and be strengthened by doing things right the first time around and not at the expense of the environment, public health, and future generations.

We must all learn to understand the consequences of our actions on a daily basis in order to truly have respect for human beings and our earth. What ever happened to the saying "Old is Gold". Let's bring that back for the sake of our health and our environment!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Public Healthcare in Canada

Canadians are having to wait in long waiting lines to get surgery for a particluar problem like hip or knee. Rather than cater to patients' needs, the system (doctors, pharmaceutical, hospitals) offers patients drug treatment or therapy to alleviate their pains while they wait in line. The result: patients that are waiting for mere surgery are getting addicted to the drugs they are on that their doctor has prescribed to them. They become a patient that is waiting in a long line for knee surgery and has an addiction to a pharmaceutical drug that they now will need treatment for. Isn't this a breach in the trust between the medical professional and the taxpaying patient? In many cases, Canadians needing medical help are resorting to leaving the country for immediate help and paying double the cost. But are Canadians realizing that on top of their foreign medical costs they are paying much more into the healthcare system and not getting any benefit? Some of these Canadians going oversees have even tried to get some compensation from the government for their travel and medical costs oversees, however, they've been denied any kind of compensation. Furthermore, new companies are now emerging to help Canadian patients purchase a package for oversees treatment which is especially helpful for elderly patients that can easily be scammed. So in turn the Canadian government has fostered a healthcare system that forces people to go oversees for medial help at their own risk and expense and get help from ppl that could be scamming them. If you ask a doctor how he/she feels about the long waiting lines the most likely answer will be that they support the public healthcare system because it offers care to all Canadians, rich and poor and if there were private clinics that offered care to patients waiting in line then many of the doctors in the public system would leave to enter the private system and then there would be a lack of doctors in the public system.

What if Canadians would rather pay more for immediate treatment in the private sector, then the lineups wouldn't be so large and care would be given to everyone in a reasonable amount of time right? But then some may say that the depletion of doctors in the public sector may cause problems for ppl in the lower income brackets that cannot afford private healthcare. However, i think that there would still be enough doctors in the public sector to cater to the needs of patients and those that can afford immediate private sector care have an alternative so they are not trapped!! This way all groups of income earners have some advantage. Isn't this fair?? Couldn't the government open up more seats in medical schools for the purpose of training medical students to enter the public sector? Why isnt' the Canadian government allowing more people the opportunity to become a medical doctor in Canada?

It is much easier to become a medical doctor in the US. Why? There is both a private and public sector for healthcare in the US. Can we not learn from our neighbour? Although doctors in the US are more vulnerable to being sued, isn't this a more free system for the citizens? I think so!

One more point is that people may think that Canadian healthcare is exceptional compared to medical care in other parts of the world. I think not! There are exceptional facilities for medical care and exceptional doctors all over the world including in India and China. There are medical facilities in Indian and CHina that offer stem cell therapy for cancer patients. This is not even offered to patients in Canada unless you have a couple of hundred thousand dollars on top of your tax money.

Driving Nation

Today the international community is discussing ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the planet to address the issue of global warming. Canada is one country that is involved in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions over time. But, what are local communities encouraged to do besides separate garbage and conserve electricity to reduce their impact on the environment? Are Canadians being encouraged to rely less on their cars and more on public transportation? I think not! It seems that much of our tax money goes towards road construction and repair to specifically cater to commuters in urban regions and long-distance transport of goods. Is this a good thing for Canadian tax payers?

Well, due to the strong focus by the provincial and federal governments on road maintenance the Canadian Transnational Railroad, an important historical structure, is no longer being maintained. In turn, the trains that use the rail are not being maintained. Instead, goods are being transported by trucks that use the Canadian roads which the government regularly spends tax dollars on for repairs and construction. The roads are the primary source of transport for all goods in Canada.
Due to the lack of maintenance of the Canadian railroad and trains, Canadians living in rural parts of Canada, that depend on rail travel, now have limited access to urban regions and services because the railroad is not safe and the trains regularly break down. For example, it takes 16 hours by Canadian rail to travel to Kapuskasing, Ontario because the railroad can only handle a train traveling at the speed of 40km/hour. It used to take 14 hours to travel to the north by train two years ago and 11 hours 5 years ago. It used to cost $300 round trip to fly to Northern Ontario in 1.5 hours which was a good alternative to taking the train, however, prices have increased to about $800 round trip for a 1.5 hour flight. Now, the only alternative is to take the 16 hour train ride or 10 hour drive of which half of the drive is on a one lane highway. This shows that the government wants Canadians to rely on the roads. Flying to the north is hardly an options.
Canadians are forced to drive on roads alongside massive transport trucks sometimes on one lane highways and due to the large number of trucks on the road there is more damage and volume meaning that the government must allocate more tax dollars to regularly repairing and expanding the roads. Since it is forced to do this, it is in turn forcing Canadian tax payers to depend more often on the roads since much of their tax dollars are going towards road maintenance and less towards other services like public transportation and city services.

If you notice, there is much road construction and expansion going on north of the City of Toronto all the way up to North Bay. There is massive expansion going on just south of North Bay. Highways 400 and 11 north of Toronto are being expanded and repaired while road maintenance and construction on highway 401, where volume is quickly growing, is slow to non-existent. The TTC subway system in Toronto, even with increased user fees, has not seen any upgrades or expansions in more than a decade. It is clear that the government is very focused on road construction for the transport of goods and for commuters to drive into Toronto for work. Moreover, the expanded and repaired roads north of Toronto are being used by Torontonians and GTAers for long-distance vacation travel. But now that millions of people are now using the 400 and 11 there is an excessive volume of cars on these highways during holidays. Why are so many people traveling by car on their holidays?

The government is not currently encouraging Canadians to drive less but rather it is focused on condo/housing/road development north of Toronto and transport of goods. In turn, this has encouraged Canadians to regularly depend on the roads. I now understand why millions of Canadians will use the same highway on the same day on their vacation and spend hours to days to get to Niagara Falls by car. It is because there is no other moderate means to 'get away'.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sustainable Living

What can community members do to create change in their own communities that fosters respect for the environment and public health?

People can go green. They can change their lifestyles to better suit the environment around them by reducing their household consumption of electricity and reducing waste therefore reducing their footprint on the environment. This can have a positive impact on family and in the community. Maintaining an eco-friendly home can have benefits on the health and financial well-being of a family as well as on the environment. There are many ways to transition to an eco-friendly lifestyle and it can start at home.

As a homeowner that cares for the environment I am encouraged to maintain an eco-friendly lifestyle because it has so many benefits for the homeowner and the environment. I've recognized the importance of monitoring consumption of electricity and disposal of waste. It is easy to power your electronics and appliances as well as buy products packaged with materials that cannot be recycled because we are not always aware of the environmental consequences. The increased demand for electricity in Ontario has lead the Ontario government to implement several conservation initiatives, such as the Smart Meter program which involves the installation of smart electricity meters in 800,000 homes and businesses across Ontario by the end of 2007 to encourage consumers to shift their use of electricity or load to off-peak hours and use electricity more wisely. Furthermore, the Ontario government is in the process of shutting down all of Ontario's coal-fired plants in order to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and sulpher dioxide, gases that negatively effect public health and the environment.

At the local level, citizens can do their part to aid in the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle that directly caters to the quality of the environment and our health. This is the responsibility of the citizen and if we all embrace this transition and maintain an eco-friendly lifestyle we can set a new local long-term strategy for the safety of the environment and public health which our children can adopt and pass to their children. The following is a list of 10 ways to transition to an eco-friendly lifestyle that can be shared with your family and within your community:

10 Ways to Go Green
1) Look for items without extensive packaging. Most food packaging material uses some petroleum-based plastic. Instead purchase brands that use bio-based plastic. Recycle or reuse packaging materials you end up having to buy.

2) Bring a cloth bag to the grocery store or buy the eco-friendly bags sold at Loblaw's stores for 99 cents instead of using its plastic bags. The size of eco-friendly bags is equivalent to 2 plastic grocery bags. Disposing of plastic bags will clog landfills, create litter, choke streams and harm marine wildlife, like whales, seals and sea turtles.

3) Buy local and organic products. Buying local food drastically reduces the energy spent on food shipping. Local goods also tend to use minimal packaging, are fresher and come in more varieties.

4) Instead of regular aluminum foil or plastic wrap, purchase recycled aluminum foil. It uses just 1/20th of the energy needed to produce regular foil.

5) Reduce junkmail by posting a No Junkmail sign on or next to your mailbox. Signs can be purchased at Canadian Tire or Home Depot. Reducing junkmail dramatically reduces residential waste disposal.

6) Use environmentally-friendly cleaning products. Purchase cleaning agents that are nontoxic, perfume-free, and that are plant-based instead of petroleum-based (Method brand at Shoppers Drug Mart). Use microfiber cloths to apply the products to your furniture, counters, and sinks. These cleaning cloths are machine-washable and recyclable.

7) Use energy efficient florescent lightbulbs. GE Energy Smart bulbs use 70 to 75 percent less energy than incandescent lightbulbs and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. The Ontario government has recently sent out to electricity consumers coupons for energy-efficient products such as outdoor solar lights, compact florescent lights, and ceiling fans.

8) Use Nalgene water bottles or premium reusable bottles. These water bottles are durable, inexpensive, can be used repeatedly and are widely recyclable. In addition, this greatly helps reduce unnecessary environmental waste caused by plastic water bottles.

9) Use smart power strips. After turning off a computer, power continues to flow to computer peripherals like printers and scanners. The power strip stops the energy from being wasted.

10) Use major appliances like the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer during off-peak hours (late at night or early in the morning). In the summer, dry your laundry outside on a clothesline to save money on dryer-operating costs.

These simple tips can help you and your family become more environmentally responsible and set a good example for your community and others. Let's all go green!!