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Saturday 19 January 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green!

Northern Leopard Frog (SARA/COSEWIC lists as Special Concern/Endangered in some parts of Canada)
Or should I say, “it isn't easy to become green”? We (that’s Ron Erwin and I) are “trying” to become green or at least to be greener in everything we do – whether in our personal or business lives. But “living” itself really isn’t very environmentally friendly, and living in Canada with its cold northern climate pretty much means that the burning of fossil fuels will be required for heat from late September until at least late April - even here in Toronto. (Although this year you might remember from my Beach blog posting that it was still warm enough to sit on a beach in mid-October and we didn’t turn on our heat until around the 17th. Maybe that’s even more proof – as if we needed any - of global warming?) At least we do turn down our gas furnace the recommended 5°C nightly or while we are away and to do so we don’t need a programmable thermostat (which just takes more energy to manufacture and run). But it looks like that Northern Leopard Frog above still expects more of us.

(Right: Male Green Frog)

Of course we do the basics: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. We try not to buy what we don’t need and when we do need something we try to buy it locally with less packaging, and from green sources. This too is challenging and sometimes impossible as even the food stores within walking distance to our house pack many items, such as meats and even some vegetables on Styrofoam trays. At this time of year if we want more variety in our diet than just meat and potatoes then the food has to be trucked in from somewhere and that somewhere is probably very far away. Are hothouse tomatoes grown in Ontario more environmentally friendly than ones grown outside and trucked in from Mexico? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem we have much choice when it comes to food or at least not in mid-January.

(left: Bullfrog among lily pads) So when we moved our website to a new host last week we were very happy that the chosen host company is a “certified green host” which means they purchase renewable energy certificates that offset the carbon emissions generated by all their business activities. For more information on what that means go to www.ronerwin.com and look for and click on the icon - Green Web Hosting! This site hosted by DreamHost. (edit note 10/04/27 - this blog and Exposure: Ron's Ramblings have been moved to a different server with an unknown green status). Reading about our host being carbon neutral got us thinking more about the technology we use in the photography industry and our business’s carbon footprint. Digital images don’t require harsh chemicals to be developed like film but they do require electricity consuming computers. So on Monday we decided to cash in our GST windfall (thanks to Prime Minister Harper) and signed up to become bullfrogpowered. This means we will be paying 3.4 - 3.9 cents more per kilowatt-hour for electricity for our home/office, but Bullfrog Power will inject green power equal to the amount we consume into the Ontario power grid. In Ontario the source of this green power is 20% wind generated and 80% from low-impact hydroelectric power. In Alberta they are doing better – 100% is wind generated and it only costs 2 cents per kWh (typically just 50 cents more per day than the usual sources for the average home).
Castle River Wind Farm near Pincher Creek, Alberta

This doesn’t mean that we’ll be drawing our power directly from a wind turbine (I wish!) in our neighbourhood. But it does mean that more clean energy will be generated on our behalf. Eventually with more homes and businesses signing up then more clean sources (maybe solar?) will be added, the price of Ontario’s green power will come down, and hopefully the non-green sources will no longer be required. We also hope our willingness to pay more for green power helps send a message to our government - to help push the Ontario government to finally close Ontario’s coal power plants as promised and replace them with something other than Nuclear Power. But it is also a message for the Federal Government. That rather than GST cuts that reward consumption and consumerism, we want our tax money to go toward solving the global warming problem. It was made very clear this week that our Federal government cannot be trusted to ensure the safety of Canada’s nuclear power plants with the firing of the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission just for doing her job.

(Above: Bullfrog Among Lily Pads)

Unfortunately our switch to Bullfrog Power does not happen until the next time our electrical meter is read in mid-March. In the meantime and even after the switch we will continue to try to further reduce our energy consumption and our carbon footprint by:

  • Travelling and driving less. We will continue to take mass transit or walk whenever possible (I’m sure our bodies will thank us for the added exercise);
  • Replacing incandescent light-bulbs. Ninety-nine percent of our incandescent light-bulbs have already been replaced with energy saving compact fluorescent bulbs. We hope to replace the remaining ones with even better LEDs perhaps from here.
  • Remembering to bring our reusable shopping bags to the store more often. Better yet? Always!
  • Pushing our neighbourhood’s grocers to stock more locally grown food and to wrap meat with paper rather than plastic and Styrofoam.
  • Turning down the heat and stopping draughts. Today we decided to set the thermostat to 68F rather than 70F. I’ve got on an extra sweater right now but I’m hoping I eventually acclimatize to this small change. I also put some weather-stripping around the back screen door which amazingly enough stopped the wind howling around its edges. So I’m now inspired to look around the house for more gaps that can be stopped.
  • Use big energy consuming appliances as little as possible. I’ll let my long hair air dry more often and use my blow-dryer less. Eighteen months ago we already stopped using our clothes-dryer. Instead we hang all our laundry to air dry. At this time of year we dry the clothes on racks inside the house. But in nicer weather we have a portable umbrella style clothes line. When needed we just insert the umbrella’s pole into the ground spike and open the umbrella. The ground spike has a cap to keep out rain when not in use. It can even be run right over with a lawn mower (preferably human powered not gas!). I understand that some communities don’t allow clotheslines as they think they are unsightly. The umbrella dryer may not be a work of art but I think these white sheets drying on a clothes line in Newfoundland are– don’t you?

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Wednesday 2 January 2008

Good Intentions

This is my first posting of 2008. Time, the years, my life - it is all really flying by! Is that why at this time of year we always find it necessary to make resolutions? Normally, I don't resolve to do anything specific. Of course throughout the year I always have a running to-do list that includes things like: loose weight; exercise; clean the basement; and the other usual things that some people would call resolutions. This year I'm thinking not about resolve, but good intentions. So here are my good intentions for the year: I intend to get out more into the rural areas of Ontario, to get to know our province better by taking hikes through its rugged vistas like this one along the Chikanishing Trail in Killarney Provincial Park: But I also intend to be in a canoe more often, to jump in and give my arms a good work out not only by going for short paddles in Lake Ontario and any other navigable body of water that might be nearby, but also to go on overnight canoe trips into the interior of Ontario's many organized parks and wilderness areas. The image to the right shows me paddling on the Montreal River - an access point into Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park northwest of Temagami. Algonquin is another favourite place of ours for canoe-in camping. The north side is not as busy as the south. I would like to get back to this wonderful campsite (below) on Lake Manitou (accessed at Kiosk near North Bay, Ontario). There we had pitched our tent on a hill with a view facing east right up the lake. In the morning I could lay in bed and watch the sun come up over the flat, mist-covered water beyond my feet. It is highly unusual for us to be in bed while the sun is rising. We normally are up long before first light to be ready to shoot at some previously scouted location. But on this trip on Lake Manitou we decided we would take a bit of a rest - almost a holiday. Ron let me lay in bed but he couldn't resist the mirror-like flatness of the lake. He got up and photographed himself paddling off into the mist (below). So this year I intend not only to canoe more, but to watch the sun rise over a lake and from bed more often. But besides getting into our canoe often, I intend to also use my kayak more but drive less. Driving less means we will spend more time in Ontario and won't be doing anything as dangerous as launching our kayaks near icebergs like this one stuck in the harbour at La Scie in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Yes that is me and my kayak in that image. Ron is photographing me from his kayak. He likes to tell the history of this picture, how it is only my 4th time in a kayak and there I am in the North Atlantic near a BIG iceberg. We even had to paddle through small ice flows, pack ice or bergy bits to get this shot. You'll notice that we were lucky and the water was relatively flat for the ocean - probably as flat as it ever gets. He makes me sound brave. However we both know better. It was not a very safe or smart thing to do - especially when you consider at the time that I didn't know how to recover from a wet exit and get back into my kayak. I eventually did practice that manoeuvre in a warm lake in water over my head but very close to shore. It's harder than it sounds to right your boat, haul yourself out of the water and back into a very easily tipped kayak. I eventually managed but we both know that had I tipped on that day by that iceberg that I would have succumbed to the bone numbing cold water in much less time than it would have taken to right the kayak and climb back in. So this year I am not only going to continue to practice recovering from wet exits but I intend to learn how to stay in the kayak and roll myself upright. It's a long 17-foot sea kayak but I'm told rolling is possible - hopefully I won't drown trying to find out! Other good intentions: to get to know more interesting people like Margery above, and have fun by visiting more frequently with friends and family like these two below hamming it up for the camera: I also intend to finally sign up (and actually attend) a class where I hope to learn how to use Ron's nature images such as this one below of a Long-tailed Duck and turn it into my own stained glass art, perhaps a window something like this: Also since we intend to drive less we will be home more. So I intend to enjoy our house and yard more. To that end I intend to turn our weedy yard into a native wildflower garden that will attract birds such as this yellow warbler (left) or this monarch butterfly (below right). Not only will we enjoy seeing more birds and butterflies in our yard but it means Ron can photograph them right here, without going anywhere. That should help with the good intent of driving less too. The intent to canoe and kayak more should also help with those old to-do list items of loosing weight and getting more exercise. So keep watching this blog over the next year and I'll let you know how it is going and whether I've managed to turn my good intentions into actions.

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