Tag Archives: environment

Plastic Free July Update

Plastic Free July Update

Well, it’s almost two weeks into my one-week Plastic-Free July challenge 😉

The biggest lesson I learned from taking the challenge (for the first time) is that it will take several tries.

Mostly, I think the value of doing the challenge is to help yourself see areas of your life where you use a lot of plastic, and where you may already have solutions but are maybe putting off implementing them. One thing that was majorly noticeable for me was that a) there is so much plastic that I don’t consciously bring into my life but sneaks in anyway. Like the fact that I thought I never use straws, but over the course of the week counted several in my drinks. I also noticed that we use way more plastic bags than I was consciously aware of. In the plastic bag case, I know what the solution to a big part of the problem is: bring a container to the store for meats, cheeses, strawberries, or whatever. I have super nice glass containers, I wouldn’t feel super awkward whipping them out, and yet I have not yet gotten over the hump of bringing them to the store. There are other things that I don’t foresee I will solve very soon, such as: bags for kitty litter, trash bags, pita bags? We love pita bread, and it always comes in a bag.

In terms of reactions from other people, I will say it is pretty positive. Many people have told me about their efforts, and just about everyone seemed intrigued when we told them we were doing a Plastic Free July challenge. Some people giggled, wished us luck, or would applaud our efforts and tell us about how they do the exact opposite. But it always started a conversation! Some of our favourite vendors at the market have now been “trained” that we don’t want plastic. The fish and meat guy, Jerry, may sometimes even leave a tuna stake unpackaged for us :). Other vendors are frustrating, like the woman from whom we get hummus. We go to her business at least once a week, and routinely ask for no bags, and instead she double-bags, and ties the bag, when she hands it to you. I have handed her the bag back so many times now, that I think I’m just going to give up on her… mostly because I recently realized that I can MAKE hummus in my Nutribullet and it is astoundingly easy, and quick, and infinitely customizable, which means infinitely delicious 😀

It is no surprise that weeding out plastic will be a journey that will mostly happen gradually and through thoughtful effort. But it is worth taking on the challenge. Here’s why:

Much of the garbage including bags, plastic rings, facial microbeads, etc. end up in the ocean. One of the things that was interesting about the search for that missing airplane was how often the media latched on to “leads” of “spotted debris” only to realize it was just floating garbage. The ocean is FULL of garbage. Scientists exploring new depths in the ocean are finding the garbage made it there first, that’s how much garbage there is. And lots of marine animals either get caught in, or swallow trash and die. Pretty much anything that eats jelly fish would swallow a plastic bag, they look alike!

Plastic is also made from oil. Reducing plastic is a measurable way that you can reduce your carbon footprint. And it’s not all industry’s fault. Something like 40% of carbon pollution is from individual use.

When you buy a product, you’re buying the packaging too. It is not enough to “buy green”, we have to think of the life cycle of the things we use. You likely use a bag once or twice, before it will inevitable either get thrown away or filled with garbage/pet waste and thrown in the dump… WHERE IT WILL REMAIN for a minimum 500 YEARS. There might not even be people in 500 years, but our trash will be here. And companies will keep making more and more of it, unless WE refuse to use it!

Let me know if you want to join me in the challenge, I’m sure we could swap ideas. Or send me your hummus recipe.




How worried should you be about climate change?

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil... and evil will go away?

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil… and evil will go away?

Most people nowadays have climate change on the brain. But should you really be worried? Or are people exaggerating the threat?

The function of worry is to help you cope with threat; worrying is the thing that prompts you to plan ahead. It’s totally normal to worry about climate change. That being said, people don’t want to think about climate change because it brings up questions of life and death, as well as profound change. Thinking about these things is threatening and anxiety provoking, thus people may feel that a topic that arouses such deep fears is exaggerated, hysterical, and not rooted in reality. But there is nothing wrong with thinking about death, and there is nothing wrong with the fact that it provokes anxiety. The more you think about it, as morbid as that is a) the better prepared you are for the fact that it is inevitable, and b) the more likely you are to put your anxious energy to productive use – motivation for action to lessen the impact on your life and the lives of others.

According to Langford (2002)  and Maiteny (2002) (who have done their classifications independently of one another and are put together here) people tend fall into four camps in their response to climate change risk:


These are the people who actively deny that climate change is happening, or that humans have anything to do with it. They tend to rely strongly on rationality, and have a low tolerance for scientific uncertainty. While rationality is a positive attribute that is needed for problem solving, in this situation it is not aiding in problem solving, it is rationalizing inaction. Their desire for scientific certainty is unrealistic, because their threshold is way too high. The analogy that I’ve seen others use and I think is quite effective is this: If you went to 10 doctors, and 9 told you that you have cancer, and one told you that you are fine, would you listen to the one because his diagnosis puts all the other ones in doubt? Or do you assume he is an outlier because the other 9 independently converged on a diagnosis?  According to Maiteny (2002) these people are likely to stave off their anxiety by increasing their consumption.


These are the folks who don’t care. They are disinterested in the topic of climate change, and are likely disproportionately low income. People in this category feel that they have more pressing things to worry about, they have less free time to worry about nebulous threats, when they have more immediate needs to focus on. They may be less educated and thus have a harder time understanding the nature of the problem at hand, and can’t parse the truth from the jargon and exaggerations that pepper the discourse. People in this category believe that climate change is completely out of their control, that whatever happens, happens and there is nothing they can do.

Some people can experience despair and hopelessness, or feel very overwhelmed by the thought of climate change, which may also lead to inertia. Unfortunately, because people can be looked down upon as hysterical, morbid, and even unpatriotic, few readily admit these feelings.


These are the people who show their concern for the environment by shopping more thoughtfully, but without major changes in lifestyle. This is probably the category I would fall into, and I would say is probably a good place to start for others. Making more thoughtful choices about what you buy is a process – you have to find better products to replace the products you currently use. Through this process you discover that some products cannot be replaced with an “eco-friendly” version, at which point you may decide to live without it or continue using it. Hopefully, the journey leads one to become better informed and engaged in the issue, but not necessarily. Many people who fall into this camp run the risk of patting themselves on the back without putting in enough effort (e.g. not researching purchases enough and falling prey to “green-washing”), or reducing their consumption.


These people are engaged, feel a sense of empowerment from the changes that they have made, and a sense of personal responsibility to spread the word, the joy, and the wisdom. The folks in this category share a belief in “communal efficacy” or the idea that we can come together and solve this complex problem effectively. There are many of these people on the internet running wonderful and informative blogs, encouraging others, educating through film and other media, building sustainable communities, and growing organic food.

As for what proportion falls into each category – it’s hard to tell, and depends on who actually answers the polls, where the information is collected, demographics and social context.

Which category do you fit in? Or do you find you do not fit into any of these? What kind of emotions do people around you express about climate change? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Climate change: Fear based messages don’t work

WWF is fond of this strategy

WWF is fond of this strategy

This has been the dominant strategy so far – tell people how bad things are going to get if we don’t make changes now, and the fear of an uninhabitable planet will motivate people to start changing their act. But does this really work? Can we appeal to people to make changes in their behaviour in order to reduce climate change by using fear?

Theories of social influence and persuasion paint a complicated picture. For example, if you think that David Suzuki is a legitimate ambassador and a valuable source of information on climate change, then the fear that rises in you may in fact motivate you to start doing something. If you think the government or oil companies (and their scientists) are legitimate sources of information, then perhaps the opposite will occur. But if you fall into the latter camp, then any fear-based message that is coming from the environmentalist side will be met not with scrutiny. Instead, all the focus will be on the fact that the message comes from an illegitimate source, and the message itself will be ignored without thought or reason. This is why you may often hear things like “Oh, that David Suzuki. Isn’t he kind of radical? He is such an alarmist.” Sure, if that is what you want to believe, but that hardly negates the message, which is separate from David Suzuki himself. Unfortunately, research shows that reactive attitudes are exceptionally persistent, especially when there is pride associated with being resistant to persuasive messages.

The other problem with fear-based approach is that it only works when the target of the message feels vulnerable to the threat. We can talk about increased severe weather – heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes, snow, etc. but people are very adept at the “it won’t happen to me” bias. As severe weather events increase, this may become easier to overcome – when people in places like New York experience hurricanes, it’s harder for them to say it can’t happen to them. But this means we have to wait until enough people have experienced such adversity before we can get them to change their behaviour. There needs to be another approach in the mean time.

And then there is this gem: a study found that, “the fear of publicly supporting favoured causes in which one had no stake prevented nonvested individuals from acting on their attitudes.” In other words, even if you can persuade someone to change their attitude about climate change, unless how this will serve their self-interest is readily apparent, attitude will not result in behaviour change. It is quite common to talk to people who believe climate change is happening, who believe that human behaviour is a contributing cause, and who are not necessarily doing anything about it because the personal costs right now are high, and personal costs in the future…. are for future you to worry about.

Many of our current behaviours are habits of convenience – and changing those takes more than changing attitudes. What we must focus on is building up people’s capacity to effect change in their lives, and their belief that these changes are not a waste of time, that they will have an impact. The perception of control – that people are choosing to do something, that they have the resources to do it, and that it will have impact, is crucial to mobilizing all the people who are already silently on our side.


Obesity is not that simple

A great article on the importance of situational/environmental factors in rising levels of obesity. Researchers agree that pinning personal responsibility as the culprit is too simplistic as many things in our environment, including: history, nutritionally empty food, stress and sleeping patterns, light pollution, chemicals, virus and bacterial infections, alcohol, etc turn out to be “metabolic disturbers” that reset how your body processes fat and can have generational effects. Great article, definitely worth a read.