Sep 19 09:59

A Better World course exercise 8

The Question

Exercise 8 – What brings you joy?

(Introspection): Notice what brings you joy today. Does your joy come from products or something else? What else? How does it affect you to notice what really brings you joy? If, by late afternoon, you have not experienced what you would call joy, consciously choose to do something that you think will help you experience joy. What is it you choose to do? If you find this assignment challenging, you may want to refer to Key 2 in Most Good, Least Harm (p. 24) and read what others find joyful.

My Answer

My wife and the animals who live with us bring me a great amount of joy. Knowing that my furry kids have a better life living with us is truly wonderful.

I also find joy in doing creative work and solving problems, whether it's a programming or design problem, or any other kind of figuring things out. I'm lucky to have a job where I get paid to do this all day. The moment when things just click together is really great.

There is joy in a lot of things. Reading a good book. Watching a good movie or tv show. Going out for a nice dinner. Planning an event that brings people together. Challenging the status quo. Laughing.

Sep 18 11:37

A Better World course exercise 7

The Question

Exercise 7 – Give something up and add something new

(Integrity): Mahatma Gandhi made it a practice to give up things in order to free himself from attachments and to grow and evolve in positive ways. Choose something in your life that you don’t consider to be MOGO and give it up. Write about the obstacles you think you may face in doing so and the support you will cultivate to maintain your commitment. You may want to give up a certain product or food or a behavior that is unhealthy to you and unhelpful to others.

Next, consider something MOGO you’d like to add to your life. Choose something positive, healthy, sustainable, and life-affirming. For example, if you chose to give up eating overpackaged foods, you might want to add fresh local produce from a farmer’s market. If you chose to give up watching TV, you could replace that with time with your family, volunteering, engaging in activism, or learning. Write about how you will go about adding this new element to your life.

My Answer

I want to give up wasting time on the computer.

I spend a great deal of time in front of a computer, both at home and at work. I'm not really concerned with time spent at the computer when I am actually being productive, but often at home I find myself simply spending time checking and re-checking email, checking for new articles in my rss reader, and so on.

My computer is also what I use to watch television or movies and to listen to music. It's very multifunction for me, so it's really easy to just gravitate towards having it on my lap all the time.

I would like to be able to be on the computer to get work done and then finish. Getting work done can mean using it for communication, but I don't like that it often becomes just a way to spend time.

In order to do this I think I need to be a bit more organized so that I can use the computer with intention. Knowing what needs to get done will help me to be more focused in doing it. If I am more organized and know what needs to get done then I will also feel more relaxed and comfortable about not being on the computer being "busy." So often I feel like a lot needs to get done, and the computer is the tool for doing a lot of it, so I just open it up and then do a bunch of different things, without real focus. In the end I still feel like a lot needs to get done.

This leads me to what I am going to add, which is more organization of projects and to-do items. I've read Getting Things Done and a couple of other books by David Allen – all of which I would highly recommend – but I've only managed to implement a couple of his suggestions. Most of which have been at work, not in the rest of my life.

He suggests keeping a comprehensive and regularly reviewed set of lists. These lists include projects, action items, and ideas for the future. He also suggests dividing lists up by context, but not worrying too much about dividing between work and the rest of life. Work is just a part of life, and unprocessed and uncaptured items from either can cause anxiety throughout my life.

He stresses the importance of a regular review of these lists and life in general, to make sure that any open items are captured and thought about. I'd like to add into my life a regular review on Sundays, where I can spend some time thinking about what I have going on and what I both need to do and want to do.

Sep 17 12:43

A Better World course exercise 6

The Question

Exercise 6 – Assess your garbage

(Inquiry): Collect all the waste you generate today (if you cannot collect it all keep a list of whatever you throw out). At the end of the day ask yourself these questions: What choices could I have made that would have reduced the amount of waste I generated? What could I do with this waste now so that it is not incinerated or put into a landfill? What am I willing to do and change in order to reduce the waste I generate? Make a small commitment to follow through with a change.

My answer

Here is my one day of garbage:

1 band-aid
toilet paper used to clean up cat vomit (probably about 30 squares)
2 banana peels
2 tea bags and their paper packages
1 cardboard tea box
1 package of Emergen-C vitamin powder
3 paper napkins
1 wax paper pastry bag
1 disposable cup
25 sheets of paper (misprinted)
1 copy of 24Hours newspaper
1 small shipping box
2 sheets of paper (printed label from FedEx shipment)
label envelope from FedEx shipment
packing paper from FedEx package
foil tabs from 2 juice containers
1 small salad dressing cup
2 instant oatmeal packages

The sheets of paper, cardboard boxes, newspaper, & tea packages went into paper recycling. The rest went into the trash.

I could definitely reduce the amount of paper I used by paying more attention when sending files to the printer - the wasted sheets of paper were entirely due to my mistake.

The disposable cup could also have been avoided. It was made of recycled materials, but I could have brought my own cup or water bottle with me.

A while ago I experimented with having a fabric napkin at work to avoid using paper napkins or paper towels when I ate in the office. But it was somewhat inconvenient to have to remember to bring it home to wash and bring clean napkins back to the office.

I've also been thinking of avoiding instant oatmeal and just getting rolled oats that can be easily microwaved and sweetened. That way I could avoid the almost daily use of two packages of oatmeal.

The paper napkin I used at lunch would be very hard to avoid, unless I completely avoid eating lunch out. If I bring my own lunch I can use my own napkin.

I also wonder about the Emergen-C. I actually am not sure if it's really vegan, but it is a good source of B12 and other vitamins. Buying anything that is processed means creating waste. However, those processed foods, such as Gardein, are a great source of B12.

Also, for the organic waste, I could have a container to put it in to bring it home to throw in the compost bin.

Sep 15 09:25

A Better World course exercise 5

The Question

Exercise 5 – Take a personal inventory, part 2

(Inquiry & Introspection): Today, choose just one product, article of clothing or food from yesterday’s inventory. Do your best to more fully trace its impacts – from raw materials to use to disposal – examining its effects on you, other people, animals, and the environment throughout its lifecycle. Obviously, you will not be able to analyze the item completely (this could be a dissertation, after all!), but use the Internet to dig as deeply as you are able in the time you have. Then ask yourself if there is a product, article of clothing or food that does more good and less harm. To what degree are you willing to pursue such an alternative in the future? What steps will you take to do so? If you’re not likely to make changes, what stops you? Money? Time? Motivation? Cultural or family pressures? Desires? Fears? Inconvenience? Reflect upon the obstacles you face in choosing MOGO products, foods, and clothing. What steps can you take to overcome these obstacles (assuming you want to)? You may want to refer to Key 7 (p. 69) in Most Good, Least Harm to hear how others overcome their obstacles.

My answer

I've chosen to look at coffee.

I enjoy drinking coffee in the morning. It's a nice way to start the day.

From my research I learned that coffee was traditionally grown in the shade of trees that provided habitat for birds and other wildlife. In the second half of last century, though, new varieties of coffee were developed that could grow in the sun, planted more densely, and would produce greater yields. However, these new varieties require the use of artificial fertilizer and pesticides and forests are cut down to make way for coffee fields.

Fair trade coffee grower cooperatives are paid a higher price for their coffee than conventional coffee farmers, over $1 per pound, or roughly twice what conventional farmers are paid. This may not seem like much, but these higher prices have enabled farmers to send children to college, set up health care programs, and more.

On the environmental side, one cup of coffee requires about 140 litres of water to produce. I don't know if this is reduced through the use of more traditional methods and varieties. This use of water is of additional concern when the coffee is grown in countries that have water shortages.

Lately I've been drinking yerba mate instead of coffee in the morning. I buy fair-trade, organic yerba mate, and I always thought this was a better, more environmentally friendly choice than even organic coffee.

However, yerba mate production has many of the same issues as coffee production, including the price paid for the product and the ways it is grown. Yerba mate used to be grown in a traditional manner, mixed in with other plants and trees, but in the green revolution began to be grown more intensively.

Coffee is often referred to as "black gold" and yerba mate is sometimes referred to as "green gold." Mate is not grown in as many places as coffee, but where it is, there are similar problems.

It likely, though, does take less water to produce than coffee.

So, I'm pretty much left with a toss-up between coffee and yerba mate. In either case it's possible to choose an option that promotes traditional farming methods that favour sustainability over maximized yields and pay fair prices.

I do have the option of choosing to drink neither. By choosing this option, though, I would not be supporting communities that depend on these products to survive – or is that just me thinking about the "developing" world from my perspective of white privilege, as a middle-class North American?

My sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_trade_coffee
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerba_mate
http://yerbamate.com (in particular, the paper "Cultivating Green Gold" linked to from here: http://yerbamate.com/fairtrade/)

Sep 11 01:36

A Better World course exercise 4

The Question

Exercise 4 – Take a personal inventory, part 1

(Inquiry): Watch The Story of Stuff (www.storyofstuff.com). Then take an inventory of your kitchen, bathroom, and closet. Ask yourself questions about the foods, personal care and cleaning products, furnishings, electronics, and clothing and shoes you see before you. What do you know about how they were produced and about the effects of their production on people, animals, and the environment? What do you know about the resources used in their production? About any potential health consequences (positive and negative) and/or suffering they caused to people and/or animals? Please visit the websites listed in the resources section of Most Good, Least Harm (p. 177) or in the links at www.HumaneEducation.org/weblinks to learn more, and visit www.responsibleshopper.org and www.goodguide.com to learn about some popular products. After your investigation write down or discuss with a loved one what you learned, how you feel knowing this new information, and how this information may affect your choices and behaviours.

My answer

Since I'm reading these questions and responding to them online, my laptop was the first item that came to mind. I use an Apple MacBook, which I got this year when my older MacBook Pro had a graphics processor issue. Apple's laptops, especially the smaller ones, are possibly "greener" than many other manufacturer's models, but I don't know that this means much.

Apple has supposedly stopped using many toxic chemicals in their designs, but there is still a great deal of mining and processing using chemicals that has to happen. Greenpeace has had a campaign for a few years trying to get Apple to become more environmentally friendly.

The mining of precious metals is often environmentally destructive, which means that animals suffer as well as humans. Mining also contributes to conflicts in areas like the Congo.

With my computer, it's become such a necessity to have one. My activism and organizing is done largely online. It's how everyone communicates now. If I didn't have a computer, would I be cutting myself off from the world?

I also use a computer all day at work. In fact, my job depends on my computer.

On the positive side, I've chosen a computer from a company known for their durable hardware. My old MacBook Pro will probably get donated to an organization in Vancouver that refurbishes and reuses old computers (http://freegeekvancouver.org/).

I've lately been considering replacing my existing basic cellphone with a smartphone - iPhone or Android phone. Getting a new phone means giving up my existing phone. FreeGeek in Vancouver also takes old cell phones. There is a program here that distributes cell phones to homeless people so that they can have a phone number to find work, housing, etc.

iPhones are made with PVCs and flame retardant chemicals (many of which are no longer used in their laptop computers). The iPhone models do seem to be improving at each iteration, but Apple is annoyingly silent about manufacturing & supply chain information.

Of course, so are all the other manufacturers, many of which haven't even made the efforts to reduce environmental impacts that Apple has.

Apple does take back phones for recycling, but I really don't know what process is used in that recycling.

One of my reasons for getting a new phone is having a lightweight snapshot camera to use when doing events and outreach. Being able to snap a photo and post it immediately to the internet could really help to get the word out. My snapshot camera recently died, so a new phone would actually be replacing two pieces of electronics.

The choice really ends up being between getting a phone, one of which might be marginally better than another, and not getting one at all.

Moving into the kitchen, I see a lot of packaging. We eat vegan, so far fewer animals are impacted by our food than in the average person's kitchen. But many animals are still impacted by our agricultural systems. As I've mentioned previously, there are serious worker's rights issues with the agriculture industry. Trafficking, poor wages, health hazards.

We've been trying lately to reduce the amount of packaged foods we buy. We never get plastic bags, even though that sometimes means carrying bunches of kale out of the store in our hands.

I have a few shirts made by H&M. They're cheap but look nice and are stylish, but I've been hearing lately about H&M's unethical manufacturing and marketing. They made Treehugger's top 7 unethical fashion brands list (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/06/are-these-unethical-fashion-bran...) because of reports of fraudulent reporting on their use of organic cotton and a fire at a sweatshop that killed 21 people who had been locked in to meet a deadline.

I actually don't buy clothes very often. I've been trying lately to buy organic cotton or bamboo & hemp, but it is a bit more expensive. I think it's really important to dress well when doing animal rights outreach, so I do sometimes buy dress clothes from stores like H&M, Bedo, or Banana Republic. It's a bit of a tradeoff between possible environmental and human rights negatives and the positive of being able to make a greater impact when talking to people about animals rights.

Finding out real information about any of these impacts is incredibly difficult. Companies don't report very clearly or openly, so a lot of research needs to be done to even get any idea of what goes on. Industries put out their own information designed to confuse and contradict well-meaning NGOs who are trying to get them to produce more sustainable products.

The clearest path seems to be to work really hard to buy less, use less, and make what I have last longer. Finding ways to pass on my old items to someone else who can use or repurpose them before they end up being recycled or trashed seems to be a way to mitigate the damage a bit and still engage with the modern world.

It's all so confusing, and I understand why people throw up their hands and just go with what everyone else is doing. It's so much easier that way.

Sep 09 01:30

A Better World course exercise 3

The Question

Exercise 3 – Learn something new

(Inquiry): Spend 30 minutes researching one of the issues you identified in Exercise 2 but about which you know little. You may find it easiest to visit some of the websites in the resources section of Most Good, Least Harm (or the links provided at www.HumaneEducation.org/weblinks). Please do not research more about an issue that already engages your time and effort. Rather, learn something new about another concern. How does this new information affect you? Does this new knowledge compel you to make different choices? If so, what are they, and how might you implement them? Be specific. If you are ready to make a change, do so.

My answer

Since most of my time and energy (at least out of work) is spent working on animal rights issues, I decided to learn more about human trafficking, especially trafficking of people into Canada.

Human trafficking is essentially modern-day slavery. It's illegal according to international law, yet the UN estimates that at any time, over 12 million people are in servitude worldwide.

The RCMP in Canada has estimated that 600-800 people are trafficked into Canada every year. Even more pass through Canada into the United States.

The scale of human trafficking makes it the 3rd largest black market in the world, behind only drugs and guns.

I find it very disturbing that slavery like this still exists. I knew a bit about the problem but I didn't realize it was so big.

But it's also frustrating, because there doesn't seem to be much I can do. I am not in the market for sexual services or children or housemaids, so I think I don't contribute to the demand. At least not directly.

Indirectly, though, I probably do. Many people are trafficked to be used by the agricultural industry. Our cheap produce needs cheap labour to pick it, and no one works cheaper than a slave. I wonder how much of the food on my plate was tended and picked by someone who had been trafficked. Any of it could have been, and there's no way that I could tell.

How as a consumer can I make informed decisions about an issue like this? Whether conventionally grown or organic, small farm or large, I still can't know that no one was forced to work or is in servitude. I probably have slightly better odds if I buy from small farms at a farmers market, and even better odds if I know the farmer.

But how feasible is that for everyone? How feasible is that for me? Can I buy all of my food only from farms where I know about their workers and the conditions on the farm?

It does seem that human trafficking into agriculture happens less in Canada than it does in the US. In Canada, it seems that the primary destination for trafficked people is the sex industry.

I can do my best to buy from smaller farms and avoid products from large farms in the US. I could also write to companies and ask them if they have a written policy about human trafficking, and pay attention to any reported cases so I can know what companies and products to avoid. Trying to avoid buying any products that were made in sweatshops could help too.

In the end, it turned out to be much more difficult to avoid supporting this practice than I had anticipated.

My sources:
http://www.humantrafficking.ca/links.htm
http://www.amnesty.ca/blog_post.php?id=48
http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=19525
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_trafficking_in_Canada

Sep 07 08:32

Better World course exercise 2

Question

Exercise 2 – What do you care most about?

(Introspection): The MOGO principle asks how each of us can do the most good and the least harm to ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment. What issues related to people, animals, and/or the environment most concern you? What problems and challenges do you care most about solving? What issues do you find most compelling? Who or what – other than yourself, family, and friends – do you care most about? Why?

Please spend some time reflecting upon and writing down your thoughts about these questions, and please don’t worry about writing down issues that you may feel are too big for you, personally, to tackle. This is a time to invoke the depth of your compassion and care. With awareness of your strongest passions for change, it is easier to discover how to play your own unique role in creating that change.

My answer

I care about:

  • Animals
  • The environment
  • Poverty
  • Injustice
  • Violence
  • Seeing a mother animal able to raise her young
  • Helping other people do good
  • Improving the effectiveness of activists
  • Animal rights
  • The Earth

I am most concerned with the plight of the many beings who live on this planet who have no freedom, who are considered commodities, who cannot live their own lives. Humans and non-human animals alike, there are many who are confined and have their lives taken from them.

Animals are of special concern because so many trillions of them will die by our hands. Animals cannot rise up or fight back against the power of humankind. Their only hope is that enough people will see their desire to live and move to change our society, our world.

I think my focus on animals comes from when I was a child. I saw many animals die, and not one of them wanted to die. Not a single one offered himself up to my father's gun. They were shocked, stunned, taken by surprise. They were betrayed, and that betrayal has stayed with me ever since.

That, paired with the joy I see when animals are allowed to run free. Those first few steps into a life where they will not be taken by surprise by a bullet, where they can run and play and live with their own kind.

I care most about ending that betrayal. It's not the way the world needs to be.

Sep 07 12:49

Better World course exercise 1

Question:

Exercise 1 – What will you say about your life?

(Introspection): Imagine that you are very old. You’re sitting on a park bench in a beautiful setting, breathing clean air on our now peaceful world. The greatest challenges of your lifetime (pollution, war, poverty, hunger, genocide, animal cruelty, global climate change, etc.), have been largely solved. A child walks up to you and sits beside you. The child says that in history class they’ve been learning about those difficult times, and the child asks you, “How did people solve all the problems they face? And what role did you play in helping to create the world we have today?”

What do you want to be able to tell this child?

My answer

I would like to be able to say that the world's problems were solved by everyone taking personal responsibility to live a compassionate and conscious life. People tried to do the best they could, and they expanded their compassion to include all of the other residents of earth. We became citizens of the world, not just of our own country or city. This compassion extended beyond the boundaries of our own country, race, gender, and species.

I would like to be able to say that I helped to promote this greater compassion through outreach and through a positive modelling of compassion. I strove to live my ethics, as truly as possible, as a vegan and an animal rights activist. I worked to keep my job and my life in alignment with my values - values which I saw as necessary if we hoped to solve the great problems we faced.

I would also have to say that I've had a great many missteps on my path. I have not been as open and as caring as I would like to be. I've often found ways to escape my personal responsibilities through drugs, drinking, and other ways of frittering away my time. I've lost years of my life to partying, but I hope that through my activism – and the lessons I learned in my younger years – I will have made up for that waste of time.

In the end, I would hope that I could say that I was able to live in accordance with the personal responsibility that I see as so important to our hopes for a better world.

Sep 07 12:42

A Better World, A Meaningful Life course

I've just started this course with the Institute for Humane Education. Here's the course description from the website:

Learn to tap into your deepest values and help create a peaceful, just, compassionate, sustainable world while cultivating your own inner peace and joy. Join us for a month of inquiry, introspection and transformation. Through our A Better World, A Meaningful Life course, you’ll have the opportunity to assess your life, examine your values, explore new information and make a difference in the lives of others while improving your own life at the same time. This course will educate and inspire you to do more good for yourself, other people, animals, and the environment.

I'm going to do my best to post my responses to the exercises on this blog. Feel free to post any responses or thoughts in the comments.

Aug 08 09:15

Motivation

For the past few weeks I've been struggling with feeling terribly unmotivated.

I'm not sure why, but it will likely pass. It could be anxiety over expectations for projects I am or should be working on.

Or, I could just be noticing today because of this weather.