Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Great Nappy Debate and other Fine Arguments

The last two 60 percent installments have been devoted to babies and kids. It’s not over yet. I’ve covered input but not output. I think you know what I’m talking about. Yeah that’s right. I think it’s about time for the great diaper debate!

For those of you not consumed in the land of children, why not scroll down to learn about the exciting escapades of…my week. Ok, you can stop yawning. I had a very illuminating and rather intense seven days. I’ll stick with the illuminating part. I saw some exciting eco-oriented films at the Toronto Hot Doc fest and spent some time at the Green Living Show. Let me tell you all about it…. But it you’re a parent (of a baby), you may want to read this first:

The Great Diaper Debate
What kind of eco-baby talk can I give without touching on the all mighty diaper debate? Cloth or disposable? What should it be?

Way back in the late 1980s when I was a young woman and blog-less (alas), everyone got all hot and bothered about the hole in the ozone layer and the burning Amazon. With our eco-consciousness ignited, it became obvious to just about everyone that disposable diapers were evil and a one way ticket to eco-hell (for more on eco-hell, I recommend that you pick up Vanity Fair’s annual green issue this month).

At the time, Americans threw away 18 billion disposable diapers per year. That translated into 1.2 million metric tons of wood pulp and 75K metric tons of plastic. Faced with these statistics, some parents turned to the old fashioned reusable cloth. The largest disposable producer, Procter & Gamble, shot back, funding a study that showed that with all that washing, the cloth nappies were in fact using up more energy than the disposable alternatives. Other studies followed, demonstrating this and that depending on who was funding the study.

In 1993, Franklin Associates conducted a more thorough investigation that reviewed the entire lifespan of both types of nappies. They found the following:

Commercially laundered diapers used 13 percent more energy than disposables. Home laundering required 27 percent more energy than disposables. The washers and driers were not as efficient as the commercial ones, which explains the jump in expended energy.
Diaper services consumed 2.5 times more water than the throw-aways. Home laundry used more than twice as much.

However, disposables produced twice as much waste as commercial and home laundering.

The Union of Concerned Scientists advise us not to sweat about which one to choose. Happily disposables are becoming thinner and in places like Toronto, you can recycle them in the green bin. Also, commercial and home washers and dryers are becoming more efficient. It all depends on what you have available to you.

The more important choices are to buy organic, reduce the number of toys and clothes, reduce toxicity in your home, and spend more time in nature with your kids.

Speaking of which, thanks Eddie for letting me know about Wholesum, his new cotton and bamboo clothing company for men and women.

What I’ve Learned the Week:

I spent my week at the Hot Docs Festival and Green Living Show in Toronto. I saw some great documentaries on nature and our impact on the planet. At the Green Living show I met folks promoting organic gardens and green products, and attended talks by David Suzuki, Van Jones, Robert Kennedy Jr. and George Monbiot. The latter two spoke via teleconference from Virginia and Wales respectfully.

It was inspiring and sobering. This is what I learned:

The Four Elements. A poetic film by emerging filmmaker, Jiska Rickels. Divided in four parts devoted to the elements, the film is told through the work of Siberian wild land firefighters, Alaskan king crab fishers, German miners and Russian cosmonauts. The human connection to nature that is touched on in beginning of the film transforms into a deeper connection with technology as we follow the fishers and miners and then literally leave the planet with the cosmonauts.

What Would Jesus Buy? The Church of Stop Shopping poses this question to just about anyone who will listen during a month-long trek across the USA leading up to Christmas. Asking a North American to stop shopping during Christmas time is like trying to move a Macy’s store. According to the film, the average American racks up $13 thousand in credit card debt during Christmas alone. If you get a chance to see this hilarious and sobering documentary, please do.

Everything’s Cool. This global warming wake up call spans from 2004 to 2006. We follow long-time climate change profits, Bill McKibben and Ross Gelbspan, exhausted and bitter by their decades-old campaign, and their reaction to the growing media recognition of climate change. We learn about Rick Piltz, the civil servant who blew the whistle on the Whitehouse’s manipulation of scientific reports on climate change. We also follow climatologist Dr. Heidi Cullen from her three-minute spot on a weather channel to landing her own half-hour global warming program. The film captures a fascinating time when Americans and the world were waking up to the problem of global warming.

From Toronto’s Green Living Show

David Suzuki – In response to the fed’s shirking of their Kyoto duties, Suzuki reminded us that John Baird is Canada’s Environment Minister, not it’s Finance Minister. Just as it’s inappropriate for Baird to place the economy before ecology, it is incorrect to assume that protecting the ecology undermines the economy. Any society that treats the two as separate issues is doomed to fail. Remember that ‘ecology’ and ‘economy’ come from the same word: home. If you don’t sustain the ecology, you’re not going to have an economy. It’s as simple as that. Even David Stern, head economist for the British Treasury, understands the critical importance of investing in sustainable activity to stave off economic disaster.

Robert Kennedy Jr. – Kennedy, son of Bobby and one of the State’s lead environmentalists, reminded us that former oil lobbyists have taken top environmental roles in government. You can read more on that in Vanity Fair’s green issue as well. As an indication of the auto industry’s tremendous power, Kennedy told us that Laurie David, producer of An Inconvenient Truth, approached the major US networks about a TV ad that she wanted to air. I can’t remember what he said the ad was for, but it had something to do with a solution to global warming. She was prepared to give the networks $5 million. They said no. They didn’t want to upset their auto clients. Ah…democracy in action.

George Monbiot – The author of Heat: How to stop the planet from burning tells us to stop flying and stop driving. Change is happening faster than we think with dire consequences. Recently, Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Center in Colorado, announced that the Artic summer ice may disappear as early as 2020, thirty years earlier than the conservative estimate made by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climatologists. If this happens, the warming of the planet will accelerate. We must act now. No more dancing around.

During his talk, George fielded a question by Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, regarding the federal government’s recent decision to not meet its Kyoto targets by 2012. Monbiot said that this decision has the moral equivalency of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of the German invasion of Poland and Czechoslovakia. To Monbiot, both ‘appeasements’ are cop outs with dire consequences. May reiterated Monbiot’s comment in a church sermon in London, Ontario. PM Harper got all mad and said that her comments diminished the Holocaust. Can somebody please explain how the Chamberlain comment diminishes the Holocaust? That’s quite the leap in logic. The fact of the matter is the government is copping out and the consequences will be dire. Global warming is not going away. It’s only going to get worse, just as Hitler wasn’t going to go away when Chamberlain failed to stand up to him: he only got worse.

Van Jones – Thank God for folks like Van Jones. He’s the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Centre in Oakland, California. Van became an environmentalist when he realized that the kids he was getting off the streets and into jobs at polluting factories was hardly a step in the right direction for his community. He quickly saw the connection between greening his city and empowering youth with jobs. But there’s a problem. People employed in green jobs tend to be exclusively white and relatively affluent. He recognized that from the environmental movement an eco-apartheid was emerging.

Through his program Reclaim the Future, low-income and minority youth are starting to find work in eco-friendly jobs. This should serve as a role model for other cities. Indeed, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker the House, is so inspired by Jones, she is making the case for a national Clean Energy Jobs Bill.

In the News

Green Bloggers

Ecoshock Radio

Grist Magazine

Tree Hugger

Zerofootprint Blog

BBC – The Greenroom

New York Times – Environment


Eddie said...

thank you for sharing this info Cheryl. I saw Suzuki speak at the Green Festival in San Francisco last year and it is available online if you want to check it out:

Anonymous said...

thanks for all of your posts on the environmental world around us.its a good blog.if its suitable may i recommend that you put a weather icon on your blog to help the people keep up to date on the fluctuations of climate see the icon go to