All entries in the environment / health category

Fight the Power(lessness)

Why I love these 2 merged photos from this morning: The humans (myself on right) are feeling powerless over the raccoon’s situation. We got back into my car after concluding that we could not rescue her effectively and safely. Although we could almost touch her from the street, we failed to coax her down and knew forcing her down could create a worse scenario. By telephone, no specialized help could come (and we could not blame them) from any of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, the Toronto Humane Society, the City of Toronto, or 3 private pest removal companies. Our intentions were good, and we hope that the raccoon will safely remove herself from the traffic-laden street when it becomes darker. Other people’s reactions on the street as they saw the raccoon included joy, disgust, fear, interest. What I will learn from this: It’s OK when you cannot improve a situation or a somebody — the universe is a chaos where we have only glimpses of control.
Raccoon and Humans

Breathing Deeply

Toronto buses.

The older buses sometimes leak fumes from the diesel they use into the rear half of the bus, which is where I’m often seated. The natural rejection from my lungs and a mild sense of panic means I don’t need a scientific PPM measurement to prove that the fumes aren’t healthy.

Recently on my usual route I said to myself, “I can’t take this any more, I’m going to complain to the driver.” As I exited the bus, I kindly reported the problem to him. The look in the driver’s eyes and the sound in his voice said, “I will do nothing about this.” I walked away in disappointment.

Later that week, I reported it a second time, on the same bus and route, to the same driver. But he got defensive and again left me with an impression of inaction.

So a few days ago, on another bus route, I was breathing the fumes again. They were so strong that I nearly gagged. But I had already been walking around downtown, irked by fumes and garbage smells on the street. Exhausted from my work day, knocked-down by the environment, I decided to remain where I was.

I breathed deeply, and embraced the fumes as they entered me. I was the city’s victim, relieved in some sad way to give in.

SHOW: TARS Get-Together

(Back-dated to date of performance)
This show was the TARS (Toronto Animal Rights Society) bi-weekly get-together — my fave animal rights association. There was a decent turnout (60+ people) — I thought there would be low attendance with the snow and cold outside. I told a woman afterward that I didn’t eat before playing because I would have burped while singing — certainly not conducive to superior vocals…
I naturally began with my song My Guinea Pig. During my set, people were pretty chatty, but I was happy that my fellow animal rights friends were in such good spirits.
I met some new people like Pat, Suzanne and Cheryl(?). Saw folks I knew from before like Adam, Jill Binder, Holly, Paul (I met his kids who seemed pretty cool), Erik, William, Vishal, Alan, Kirti and others.
I had rented a 100-watt Yorkville combo amp that handles acoustic guitar and vocals, but I don’t think I’ll buy it — it’s lacking in a few features that I want, like eq for the vocal channel.
The documentary we watched after my performance had an excellent explanation of one animal rights lawyer’s take on the “legal wall” separating non-human animals from humans. He had a very realistic opinion of when the first inroad might be made giving animals rights : 10 to 15 years for maybe a chimpanzee. And the right would be very basic.
The realistic downer of the documentary was one woman’s comment saying that by the time we get some real non-human animal rights in effect, it may be too late to help any of them. Creatures such as chimps and whales are considered more “intelligent” than other animals, so they are the likely first recipients of any rights given to non-human animals. The problem is that by the time we give them any rights, they may be extinct.

Tsunami vs. Rwanda vs. Darfur

We can read and watch lots of info covering the recent Asian tsunami disaster. It happens to be mixed up with a lot of other “virtual” negativity around — from the Iraqi war to local killers. I say “virtual” because it’s not like most of us can see these things for ourselves — we are disconnected and discover them through the same box that gives us comedies and action movies.
That’s why I was kind of numb to the tsunami disaster — all this negative information insulated me from reacting with any oompf. However, my own local exposure to two events inspired me to donate to the Red Cross:
1. My friend Michael Moon, who falls under the “working musician” category, said he personally donated $50 to relief.
2. While renting some gear at my fave Toronto music store Long & McQuade, one of their employees was going around getting personal donations from other employees there.
It struck me that people around here were really taking the disaster seriously. They weren’t as disconnected as I was. May I say that I was pleasantly surprised and happy about this?
I’ve since seen many more additional inspiring charitable efforts.
Of course, our own money is given in addition to the money we are already donating through our taxes ($80 million currently allocated from Canada). Since we don’t actually see the taxes physically coming out of our pockets and going to Southeast Asia, we feel comfortable making further personal donations.
My wish of course is to take the same attitude with our local homeless and displaced (or anybody’s local homeless and displaced), and pay attention to other problems that don’t get the hype that the tsunami crisis did.
Hype is everything.
Did you know about the Rwanda genocide 10 years ago? TWICE as many people died. But the event didn’t get any major press, I couldn’t find out how our goverment donated (I spent a half-hour searching on the ‘net), and I don’t recall anybody else donating anything at the time. It follows that I didn’t donate. Was it just the media’s lack of influence? A friend of mine suggested that the current tsunami disaster is getting more coverage than the Rwanda genocide did “because you can’t blame anybody for a tsunami”. I thought that was interesting.
See some FAQ’s on the Rwanda genocide here.
And if you haven’t heard of Darfur, you hopefully will. More than 30,000 black Sudanese in the province of Darfur (Sudan, Africa) are believed to have been murdered or starved by Arab militias in the past year, and thousands more have been raped or tortured. Nearly a million refugees have fled to outside camps. The U.N. currently officially estimates that if significant aid does not arrive soon, the death toll may quickly jump to 300,000.
Read about the Darfur genocide situation here.
It goes to show that high human death counts will not necessarily get international attention like the Asian tsunami disaster is.

No Toys from Santa

I really enjoyed the 100th Toronto Santa Claus Parade this past weekend. Floats rolled by and marching bands strutted their stuff. The energy was excellent and some of the bands were pretty good (the all-black marching band I saw near the end of the parade really kicked some a**). It felt good to stand near the bands and feel the music in my chest. Kids and adults watched with glee.
But what left the strongest impression in my mind is what the parade left behind.
Santa Claus himself is always the last thing the public sees in the parade — standing on top of a float, waving and wishing “Merry Christmas” to everybody. I thought, “Hmm, I wonder will be behind him after his float passes?”
A few support ambulances and vehicles followed, and then then I walked into the instantly crowded street. I looked in the distance and witnessed an approaching army of garbage trucks and garbagemen.
Obviously, organizers knew better than I just what a parade like this leaves behind: tons and tons and tons of GARBAGE. There was so much crap lying around! Most of it was recyclable coffee cups and bottles and cans. RECYCLABLES, people! At least they were cleaning it up right away.
I shook my head in disbelief. Am I one of only a few geeks who actually bothers to carry the empty cans or bottles I drank from with me until I find a good place to recycle them?
As I followed the parade as it progressed, the waste remained thick. We’re talking about being unable to walk anywhere without stepping on something.
I thought Santa was supposed to leave toys behind.

Farm Sanctuary Walk

On Saturday, I walked for an organization called Farm Sanctuary. When I showed up, there was somebody in a pig outfit and somebody in a chicken outfit, which made me smile — but I got anxious when I saw the protest signs. I like to live and teach through example rather than through protest.
I marched anyway.
Previous to the walk/march, I had to get some donations. You might be interested to know that I ended up omitting the word “farm” from “farm animals” from my general fundraising speech. Some people had reacted unfavourably when they realized that cows, pigs, chickens, etc. were going to be the recipients of their hard-earned cash. There was a big difference in reaction between saying “help for animals” versus “help for farm animals”.
Why was this? In short, I think people feel that if they eat a certain type of animal, then they aren’t worried about that species’ general well-being. The same person will admit that a dog is worth more than a pig if they don’t eat dogs.
The major “scientific” problem with this thinking is its inconsistency! Opinions on animal worth vary from human culture to human culture. Horse meat and dog meat are popular dishes in the Far East, for example.
The main thing that I would wish for all humans to have is some compassion for every single creature that lives on this earth. No creature should suffer needlessly.
Listen up: I can’t do too much about you eating animals — but please give a damn about its time alive and the way it’s slaughtered.
I appreciate these animal care standards, used by organizations such as PETA.
So was it wrong for me to censor the word “farm” in my donation requests in order to procure others’ money?

Squirrel Seeks Burial Plot

During my veggies-and-hummus lunch munching outdoors today, I intently watched a squirrel foraging for his lunch. This was behind Old City Hall in Toronto, where there is minimal greenery. There are some trees, but they are the type which are small and surrounded by concrete except for openings just around the base of the tree trunks. And there’s no green at the bottoms, just wood chips to help retain water for the water-starved trees.
Anyway, this squirrel was doing a fine job of retrieving nuts out of one tree across the street and then making his way back to find places to bury them. I was all of fascinated, happy and sad at the sight of him trying to do so. He went from one isolated tree to another, sniffing at “nature”, but concluding that he couldn’t bury a nut in the wimpy wood chips (Acidic? Poor consistency?). He paused once where there was a crack in the sidewalk, as if he could smell the earth below and somehow stuff his nut down there. After much meandering each time, the final resting place for the nuts was always in the 4-foot-high concrete plant holders in front of the building on whose steps I sat. I could tell the squirrel was reluctant each time. The planters were filled with weird “plants”.
Did the squirrel succeed or fail?

Vegetarian Food Fair

Yesterday I volunteered at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Fair. I’ve attended this fine show at Toronto’s Harbourfront for many years. What a great event for somebody like me! The volunteer part was easy — you can choose to do a 3 hour shift doing any number of things as a minimum contribution. That’s what I did, selling the Toronto Vegetarian Association‘s t-shirts, buttons, stickers, and paraphenalia at one of their tables. They were super-organized, including supplying our table with a cell phone with key people’s phone numbers properly programmed in for you to buzz in case you needed help. And everything was labeled brilliantly. Actually, it was pretty anal. Perhaps being anal comes with being a vegetarian? I can be an anal vegetarian sometimes. Hmm…
Many veggie-minded vendors and attendees were there, and I sampled a lot of food.
Oh yeah, I was asked to be a performing musician at the Fair a couple of months previously. But even though they had planned to have a lot of things set up, they did NOT include a sound system. I decided not to play because nobody would be able to hear me playing my meek little songs unplugged outdoors. So much for playing my 4 veggie-oriented songs to a target audience.

Health Matters

Unbelievably, I am bed-ridden at home today with the flu. I say “unbelievably”, because I have literally not been sick enough to want to stay in bed since the dreaded Norwalk Virus Ontario outbreak I suffered from a year-and-a-half ago.
It made me sort of think, “Hmm, everybody else around me has been sick way more often. How can that be?”
Perhaps it is because of my clean-ass lifestyle with no drugs, no booze, no smoking, vegetarian or vegan eating, and as much organic food as I can get my hands on. I mean, wouldn’t that make some sense? I have not too many other explanations.

The Death of Tooker Gomberg

Gosh, I was extremely upset at hearing of the suicide of activist Tooker Gomberg this week. I shook his hand and chatted with him once, and had seen and read about him many times. This guy was a real-life go-getter for all things green. He hated cars and passionately rode his bike everywhere. He made friendly political stunts and promoted forward-thinking lifestlyes. He actually made changes, too. To find out he killed himself drew very particular feelings from me. Since I, too, suffer from depression, I must admit that I related to him on more levels than I feel I should admit to. I’m sure that the thoughts he harboured also course through my own mind. It sometimes seems hopeless trying to change things to the degree that our planet needs. It’s one of those fights that the majority of humans don’t really care too much about. It’s against a passive and ignorant population. But mark my words: I don’t disrespect anybody in that statement. The phenomenon simply happens to be the result of public education and influences.
People in general only react to immediate and tangible occurrences. For example, in Toronto, if there is a dog attack, there will be police, ambulance, and animal control all upon your doorstep within 10 minutes of the reporting phone call. This is because a dog bite is something immediate. People can see it and react to it right away. There’s nothing subtle or hidden about it. And of course, it threatens the “all-important” human being.
But take the destruction of an entire ecosystem — say, a forest. The only officials to show up are the police, and they only come to enforce the forest’s destruction and keep away its eco-happy defenders. Unfortunately for the forest, humans don’t think about the long-term harm to themselves, let alone the other creatures killed instantly in the process.
I firmly believe that this backwards thinking comes from our ease in turning a blind eye to things that don’t affect us immediately. A polluting truck, food containing steroids, or a lake you can’t swim in are other examples. Incredibly, most people would agree that these things are all “bad”, but they do not threaten them with the immediacy of a dog bite. Therefore, they usually don’t care enough to do anything about it.
So, I think Tooker Gomberg took his own life because he couldn’t hack the relentless and never-ending frustration with the awful way that our world works. I’m amazed that most of us do.