Tag Archives: environment

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (No, really)

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all going to die. SOON. The world is exploding. Every other day there’s another TV broadcast spilling the news of an earthquake, flood, landslide, volcano or other natural disaster. Thus, the age-old question has now become rather pertinent: Is the world ending?

The Mayans say yes, and in a year or two, in fact. Their exact prediction is December 21, 2012. Coming up pretty soon, eh? Kind of makes you think harder about that sports car you’ve always wanted to buy, the kids you’ve been hoping to have, the job you’re itching to quit. If we’re all going to die in two years anyway, why are we putting our dreams on hold?

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Probably because most of us just can’t fathom the end coming. And why should we trust the Mayans anyway? After all, the Jehovah’s have been wrong – their predictions for the end of the world have failed to come to fruition on numerous occasions. And what if you’re not religious at all? Perhaps a look at Nasa’s http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/ website will help you get a handle on where we’re at environmentally (and by the way, it ain’t good).

Just in the past few months, Nasa’s site has recorded dozens of natural calamities that are slowly but surely putting pressure on our planet. Here’s just a taster:

January 12: It all starts here, with the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of people are killed. Rebuilding efforts are still taking place and are far from finished.

February 27: 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile. Nearly 500 people are killed.

March 20: Intense tropical cyclone nears Australia with wind gusts of up to 130 kilometers per hour.

March 20: Flooding in southeastern South Dakota causes closed roads, filled basements and soaked agricultural fields.

March 23: Flooding near the Betsiboka River in Madagascar kills 36 and affects 85,000 others.

March 24: Tropical cyclone swirls over southern Indian Ocean with gusts of 130 kilometers per hour.

April 3: Flooding in Rhode Island and Massachusetts causes hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, and sends 11,000 people applying for FEMA aid.

April 4: 7.2-magnitude earthquake hits Mexico. Rumblings are felt all the way in Los Angeles and Phoenix.

April 6: 7.8-magnitude earthquake cracks open Sumatra, Indonesia (One day this entire country is going into the ocean, I’m sure of it).

April 13: 6.9-magnitude earthquake in Qinghai Province in China kills 400 people and injures 10,000.

April 14: Volcano in Iceland erupts from under a glacier. Seven-hundred people are told to evacuate as rivers risk flooding over.

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Although (based on the above evidence) the environmental outlook is rather grim, I don’t know if we should throw it all away quite yet. I mean, maybe this year is a blip. Maybe next year will be better. Who knows?

All I’m saying is, there’s no need to blow the bank on a brand new house for what we might gather is the approaching demise of existence. But perhaps a few tasteful splurges are in order. A new pair of shoes perhaps? The guts to ask out that cute coworker? Come on, just do it. We’re all going to die anyway – someday.

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Have a Merry Green Christmas – in France

As the holidays approach, it’s easy to throw away your conscience and indulge freely in the festivities. But this Christmas, remember that we’ve got not only an economy to save, but an environment too. If you’re living in Aquitaine, France this holiday season, read these tips for ways you can help preserve our planet while still getting in on the fun.

1) Cut back on Christmas lights. In the last ten years, light pollution has become a growing problem and France has seen a 30% increase in the general use of lights, according to the Agir Pour L’Environnement association. In 2007, towns in France spent more than one million euros to light up their streets during the winter.

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This Christmas, remember that a little goes a long way. Instead of decking out your house with plastic Santas and twenty strings of multi-colored light, go for fewer and more subtle strands to get the same effect or seek out LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs, which are more energy efficient than regular bulbs and can last for years without burning out. Whatever you choose, be sure to turn off lights during the day and when you go to bed to save even more energy.

2) Stop the present wrapping madness. Besides all the retail packaging involved in many toys, kitchenware and electronics, there’s also the issue of gift-wrapping. Wrapping paper, bows and cards can accumulate quickly if you’ve got a big family or are feeling generous this year. The Syndicat Départemental des Déchets de la Dordogne says that in 2007, Périgord residents created 645 kilos of waste per person for a total of about 240,260 tons – the equivalent in kilos of 431 AIRBUS A380 planes.

With the season of giving comes a marked increase in the amount of waste we produce. It’s not to say you can’t get in on the fun of opening presents, but instead use fabric, newspaper or recyclable paper, use as little as possible and make sure to recycle afterwards. You can also forego the paper completely by hiding gifts around the house and sending family members on a treasure hunt to find them.

3) When giving gifts, think about eco-friendly items. If it’s sweets you’re after, go for organic products that respect the environment like Alter Eco, Kaoka or Cemoi Chocolatier. Consider organic beauty products from Weleda or Emma Noël. Or look for items that aren’t smothered in plastic packaging. When considering battery-operated gifts, look for those with rechargeable batteries or powered by solar energy.Present

Send e-cards instead of paper ones, make gifts instead of buying, and above all, re-use bags when out shopping – each year in France, 70,000 tons of plastic bags are consumed. You can also think about donating money to a charity organization in honor of your friend or family member, generating very little waste at all. Heifer International gives money to impoverished communities around the world to buy local animals, which provide them with valuable and continuing resources like food and income.

4) Think about how much gas you’re using over the holiday season. The holidays mean lots of driving around going shopping and to parties, and staying up into the wee hours trying to get everything done by Christmas Eve. Try to carpool as much as possible to avoid spending extra money on gas, and consider walking places before immediately jumping in the car. To reduce heating costs at home, grab a cozy sweater, turn off the heat and light up the fireplace instead.

5) Just say no to fake trees. Although it can take a little extra work and be a bit of a mess, consider buying a live tree to decorate for Christmas instead of a fake one. Besides reducing waste, a single tree can absorb more than a ton of CO2 over its lifetime. Christmas trees are specially planted for the season, meaning their removal doesn’t contribute to greater deforestation. But don’t just throw it away at the end of the season – it will go into the already exploding landfills. Instead, contact your mairie to find out if they provide a service for picking up or dropping off Christmas trees.

IKEA has partnered up with the ONF (Office National des Forêts) once again to provide vouchers for those who bring their trees into the store between January 2 and 19. Customers will get 19 euros to spend in the store, the tree will be transformed into compost and 1 euro will go towards the ONF and its diverse nature preservation projects. You can also use ‘un sac à sapin de Noël’, a specially designated, biodegradable plastic bag to use when tossing your tree in with other recyclables. Part of the proceeds goes to Handicap International, an association that helps handicapped citizens. Or, if you have the means, you can chop, chip, mulch or compost your tree yourself for use in the garden or fireplace.

6) Reduce your carbon footprint by sending direct. If you’re living abroad, you’re probably buying gifts online. Instead of sending the gift to yourself to hand wrap and send again, send the gift directly to your receiver. You’ll not only save money, but reduce the transportation costs of getting your present to its destination.

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7) When decorating your tree, minimize costs and waste by reusing decorations year after year. Make your own from recyclable materials or buy from second-hand stores. Keep your tinsel and garlands to be reused as well. You can also knit your own Christmas stocking instead of buying new. Browse the internet for a list of patterns.

Happy planet-friendly holidays!

Turn off my Christmas light pollution

Ahh, Christmas. Who doesn’t love it? The lights, the trees, the presents… the lights. Wait, the lights? Those lights, that are fogging my vision with their intense brightness, hindering my sense of time and daylight, all in an effort to put me in the Christmas spirit?

Yes, those lights.

The Christmas lights of Perigueux went on tonight to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season. In a grandioseness that can only be found in small towns hoping to prove themselves, these lights are extravagent. I’ve been around – Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, New York. But never have I seen lights like these.

In every street, in every alleyway is a string of iridescent bulbs, pumping their yellow glow onto the creamy stone buildings of this old French town. Dark green trees, orange stockings, yellow stars and laces of holly. It’s quite glorious, I must say. Especially for someone who’s admittedly not much in the Christmas spirit these days, having just lost her job and not yet received her November salary.

But even still, a girl has to wonder. How much is this costing us? And has anyone in France ever discussed the issue of light pollution? In America, we are obsessed wtih the idea of an environmentally friendly Christmas, even if we don’t engage in one ourselves. But here in France, the topic doesn’t come up, either in conversation or in print.

It’s not that the French don’t care about saving the earth, but they just don’t seem to be “au courant” about the negatives of Christmas. Or maybe, like so many of the rest of us, they want to put their cares away for a few weeks and just be unforgivingly merry.

In any case, the figures are shocking. In the last ten years, light pollution has become a growing problem and France has seen a 30% increase in the general use of lights, according to the Agir pour l’environnement association. In 2007, towns in France spent more than one million euros to light up their streets during the winter. While figures for Christmas vary by town, one can venture to guess that most of those millions are spent on glittering Santas than on corner street lamps.

So what is a Christmas fan to do about the energy conundrum? Do we all just cry “bo-hum-bug” and shut off the lights? Perhaps there is a better way.

LED bulbs have become all the rage in the States, so why not spend the extra bucks in using them around town here as well. Instead of lighting the streets until the break of dawn, we must turn off the plastic Santas at some point in the night. Drunk partyers and other nocturnal beings surely won’t mind. And, in these times of economic crisis, we’ve got to employ the theory of “less is more.” One string of lights every four blocks instead of one every two will not matter to the average Perigourdin.

As I walked home tonight at 9 pm, at a time that would otherwise be night, I was again flabbergasted by the amount of light in the street. But as much of a cynic as I wanted to be, as much money as I felt was being flushed down the drain with every second, I took the moment to walk the empty, bright streets alone, and savor the Christmas spirit.