Tuesday, March 24, 2015

One step forward... two back?

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I often liken myself to a pack mule, a description my husband reluctantly agrees with… but before you start picturing a frail skinny creature, slave to a cruel overlord or the clich├ęd woman with a large handbag filled to bursting with a gazillion whatchamacallits and doodads let me clarify. That is how I look when I return from a list checking, efficient and comprehensive multi-store weekly grocery run. I hang my genetically broad shoulders (I kid myself by chalking it up to years of swimming) with 4, 5 and sometimes 6 reusable fabric bags, in a myriad of colors, filled to the brim with all the fuel needed to keep those shoulders and the body they're attached to, healthy for the next shopping trip. To maintain this self-perpetuating cycle, I keep reusable bags everywhere I might possibly need it - in the car, at home, in my handbag - so I never have to use one of the supermarket bags.

Why do I put myself through that you ask? When I could just grab a bag at the store as I needed it. Let me tell you why...

Plastic bags are not only ugly and environmentally unfriendly when manufactured but with less than 0.5% of them recycled most end up littering streets, clogging landfills, scattered through the wilderness and most critically in water. With about 10% ending up in the ocean, plastic bags are the second highest form of garbage found in the ocean (after cigarette butts). In 2010, a gray whale that was beached and died in Seattle was found to have more than 20 plastic bags in its stomach. One in three leatherback sea turtles have plastic in their stomach, most often a plastic bag. Every year about 100,000 turtles, whales, birds and other marine animals die after consuming plastic bags they mistake as food or from getting entangled in them. And if that doesn't tug at your heart strings and make you think differently, let’s see if we can get to you through your stomach. All those low-density polyethylene, petroleum based products break down and release toxins into the seawater which find their way to most marine life, including fish, and from there to your plate. YUM!

Still in doubt about how bad this is? Let me give you some facts to outline the magnitude of the issue. Consumers in the US alone go through about 100 billion plastic bags a year and a staggering 1 trillion worldwide, that's about 150 bags per person per year. The manufacturing process for these bags consumes about 4.5 times the amount of energy as a reusable/green bag yet plastic bags take up to a 1000 years to degrade; and even then, they only break down into smaller components, which are still toxic and contaminate the soil, waterways and the air.

That's why I was so excited in September 2014, when California passed a new law, banning stores from giving out those awful, flimsy single use plastic bags to shoppers for free. Instead stores would charge an extra 10c per bag (paper or plastic) that the customer used, hopefully encouraging more people to quit the plastic habit and switch to reusable bags. While clearly not the solution to all environmental challenges this law would have been the first statewide ban in the US and could have been a key first step in reducing the environmental impact of human waste.

Other places that have enforced similar laws have seen the use of plastic bags drop significantly ... up to 95% in Ireland's County Cork and over 60% in Australia. Complete and partial bans are also in place in countries like Rwanda, Italy, Mauritania, India, China and at least 12 more. The funny thing is that more than a 100 local cities and towns in California including SFO already have bans in place. Other cities in the US including Portland OR, Boulder CO, Austin TX and many more have had bans in place since as early as 2007.

Imagine my disappointment then, when in February this year, the pro plastic bag lobby, managed to get 110% of the signatures needed to overturn the ban and put it to a vote by Californians in 2016. So it goes on hold...! The arguments against it range from job loss for those currently in the plastic industry (the CA law provides financial assistance for just such an outcome) to the surcharge being a "tax" on consumers that would only benefit stores.

Even some conservationists argue that a plastic bag ban wouldn't really make a big dent in the overall environmental impact, that paper bags were just as dangerous and encouraging the use of reusable bags was only one part of the solution; a more significant cultural shift away from a use & throw mentality was necessary.

While I agree that more far reaching and broad changes are required to halt or even reverse the impact of modern civilization on the environment than this one little change, would we not all sleep with slightly fuller hearts and healthier bellies when one less animal was poisoned or choked to death by a throwaway, hazardous and completely unnecessary plastic bag?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

For love of all things furry and beautiful

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I am one of those weird exceptions who usually enjoys riding the subways ... even in NY. Fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of other passengers, astounded by the talent of the subway performers, not even the pervasive smell of damp, urine and a frequent sardine-like sensation can get me down.

But come the winter, the smile more frequently turns to a frown, there's a drumming in my ears and a cacophony of angry thoughts and pain. Its not the freezing cold, the wind, the damp tunnels or the icy stairs that does it, but something far more primal.... the re-emergence of fur - not on a cuddly dog in a sweater and rubber socks with its leash all tangled up with its owners feet, or a cat curled up in the corner of its carrier shooting warning glances at the big clumsy two legged beings around her - but fur ripped off the bodies of its owners to create coats, stoles, hats... whatever. 

Those are the times I fervently wish that we didn't live in such a so-called "civilized" world, where honesty often gets you a punch in the nose or spit in your face (is that just a NY thing?), or I would walk up to the person wearing it, bite my tongue and ask them "politely" if they knew it was made at the cost of several innocent animals, bludgeoned till immobile, often skinned alive, left to die bleeding slowly like nothing more than trash.

There is information all over the internet detailing these unconscionable rituals of cruelty, in fact I received an update last week about the harp seal hunt coming up shortly in Canada - an annual ritual where "Every year, when the time is "right"....a few hundred to a few thousand Canadian fishermen find their way to the floes and proceed to club, bludgeon, shoot, and skin tens to hundreds of thousands of harp seals. About 95% of the seals killed in the commercial seal 'hunt' are 3 weeks to 3 months old. See more at: http://www.harpseals.org/about_the_hunt/index.php#sthash.s5RQTsWI.dpuf".  

Babies that have barely even lived, killed to adorn the body of a human.

And the stories go on... the PETA site and the Humane Society are peppered with stories about fur farms in China, and multiple gruesome videos of mass killing of foxes, muskrats, beavers and more ... all to feed the ever growing market for furs. 

However, beyond the inhumanity of the acts itself, this practice has more far-reaching consequences. The seemingly insatiable demand for these skins is leading to a steady dwindling of many of these species in the wild, or the introduction of non-indigenous species into "farms" which leads down two equally undesirable paths - the continued extinction of many beautiful and unique creature from this planet, or the increasing instability in the earth's natural ecosystem.
 
Given all these consequences, what rationale could justify the purchase of or the wearing of a fur? For warmth? fashion? ....when there are so many great man-made options out there that are cruelty free, comfy and stylish, not to forget good old layering up. And really can any fashion trend justify being complicit in death and destruction of this magnitude? 
But I'd like to believe that a big part of it is just sheer ignorance or thoughtlessness. We need to start more conversations and get the message out more widely. I'm starting with this post, but I'm going to find more active ways to get involved and if you're a like-minded soul, PETA has some great suggestions on getting involved in the cause and info on talking to people about fur http://www.peta.org/action/say-someone-wearing-fur-video

Let’s act now, before we lose more and more of our humanity, and in doing so destroy so much that is unique and beautiful about this planet.