The “Our Green Year” Twits*

It has been a while since I have felt compelled to blog about Craig and Layla Baird, the authors of the “Our Green Year” blog. They finished their ‘green year’ back in April and since then most of their posts centre around them receiving media attention or blogging about green solutions that require a great deal of resources.

My main beef with this blog has always been the assumption of privilege. In the beginning almost all of their green ‘tips’ were only possible because they worked from home. You can read about these ‘tips’ in other entries (see below). When I challenged Craig on this observation (and others as well, he took offence). When you work from home, in a rural area and you don’t have to commute you have a lot more time to do ‘green’ things. Many of the things they suggested also took a very ableist tone.  Early on there was a post about how healthy it was (not to mention good exercise) to mow one’s law with a push mower. I got seriously annoyed when Craig pontificated about the benefits of manually breaking up ice and snow. Much of the blog took an elitist, ableist and privileged point of view.

Another major issue I had with this blog was the lack of critical thinking. At one point, Craig and Layla decided to ban all things “Albertan” (see some of the entries below for more on this). They did this because of the Tar Sands. They were not quite sure how this would work as they had family in Alberta. Later on they made a big announcement about how they were now moving to Alberta and they commented (on the original entry, in red no less) that they were moving to Alberta and they thought it was a good thing because Alberta really needed to hear their message. I am sure that many ‘green’ Albertans must have taken offense to this self-aggrandizing statement. Now arrogance has been added to the mix.

At the end of their ‘green year’ they committed to posting once a week on their green activities. They have not really managed to meet their goal of posting weekly. One of their favourite things to blog about now is when they are ‘featured’ somewhere whether it be at a childrens’ event, being featured as part of the ’50 most influential people in Alberta, and a couple of weeks later announcing to us that they had been featured on Alberta Primetime on Access as being two of the most influential people in Alberta. Now it seems that most of their posts centre around other people realizing the wonder that is Craig and Layla Baird.

The only reason I can think of for them getting this kind of attention is that people are not really reading what they put together in their blog. Seriously folks, these people use coffee grounds to wash with, think nothing of peeing on ‘the ranch’, and banning places of which they are now considered ‘influential’ people.

Let’s not forget the whole reason for this enterprise – they plan to write a book. They also state loud and clear on their blog that they are happy to do speaking engagements. I guess when you are chasing the bucks, accountability can be sacrificed.

The last couple of posts have really annoyed me. I will be the first to admit that at times I can be petty. But as far as I am concerned if you are going to hold yourselves up as knowledgeable about everything ‘green’ one might expect that you actually have some knowledge. Craig recently posted an entry which was a video tour of his garden (boring) or at least it was until he referenced his many ‘species’ of pumpkins. I almost fell off my chair in fits of laughter.

On July 7, 2009 Craig posted, perhaps, his most privileged post to date. Entitled “A very Green Way to Mow the Lawn” it sports a picture of a beautiful horse eating the grass. I am not even sure where to start on this one. This post has very little relevance to your average person. How many of us could afford to have the land required and the horse to put on it to mow the lawn in this manner? Is it even green to keep livestock like cows and horses? They consume a great deal of food and produce a lot of manure and methane gas. They can only forage (mow the grass) for a short time every year. The rest of the year they must be kept in barns (no doubt heated barns as the Bairds live in Central Alberta) and they must be fed. How much energy and fossil fuels goes in to growing and transporting the feed for the Barid’s livestock?

This again raises my point about critical thinking. These two are incapable of analyzing what they are doing and seeing the consequences (sometimes the unintended consequences). If you are new to my blog, you may ask why I don’t ask them my questions directly. I used to post comments to their blog and ask questions, make remarks about ableism, pointed out how they were privileged and how they were also hypocritical. They eventually decided I was too ‘combative’ and they banned me from making comments.

One of their favourite arguments to throw at me was to say that at least they were doing green things and to question what I was doing. Quite the pathetic thing to say when you have nothing else to come back with. I am all for doing what we can to mitigate our damage to the planet while we are here. I have no need to list the things that I do or do not do. Suffice it to say, I work at it.

In my opinion, the Bairds are jumping on the green bandwagon (I hope it is being pulled by a green energy source). They accept everything they perceive to be a ‘green act’ at face value and they rarely (if ever) delve any deeper. I find this quite sad as they are squandering an opportunity to do something really good.

Other entries: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,

*H/T to Wandering Coyote for the inspiration for the title.

Another Four Years of Crap

I cannot believe we are stuck with Gordon Campbell and his band of idiots, criminals and downright heartless jerks for yet another four years. Many of the people in the BC Liberal party seem to have no qualms about breaking laws and continuing to think they have the right to serve the public. John van Dongen is the latest example with his speeding tickets and losing his license. Why should we be surprised? After all the Premier himself was arrested for drunk driving in Hawaii. The bar has been set pretty low it would seem.

What about the NDP? It would seem like people have very long memories in BC and are loathe to elect another NDP government. I think there are other things at work here. Carole James has been an effective leader. She has increased the party’s standing in the legislature from 2 seats to 36 seats in 2 elections. However, for the NDP, under Carole James, winning remains elusive. There are several reasons for this situation. I think Carole James does not have the charisma necessary to win. She is a strong leader but she sounds the same all the time. She stays on message but the message is boring. She does not inspire. She has provided stable, effective leadership to a party that was in complete disarray. The NDP need a new leader – a charasmatic individual who can inspire hope.

Antoher more daunting (and perhaps more serious problem) issue facing the NDP is the Green Party. If you add together the NDP and the Green’s popular vote you hit 50% which would have given the victory to the NDP. The NDP has always had strong environmental policy in their platforms. However, this time, I think Carole James mis-read the strong (perhaps bandwagon) support for environmental issues. Her stance on repealing the carbon tax because she thought it was the wrong tax and that the tax penalized ordinary British Columbians was great for the unions and the middle class but it did not sit well with environmentalists. If we are ever to get out of this mess with the BC Liberals, the NDP are going to have to get the environmentalists back on side.

Voter turnout for this election was a measly 52%. With such daunting issues facing the province like health care, education, the economic situation etc., there is something there that affects everyone. Where are the other 48% who did not bother to vote? There is no doubt that low voter turnout affected the outcome of the election.

I would like to see James replaced as leader of the NDP. I think she has done all that she can to move the party forward and she has done an admirable job. It is now time for someone younger perhaps and more charismatic to take over the leadership. James needs to make the decision sooner rather than later so that someone else has a chance to build support and relationships with key NDP supporters. Most importantly, the NDP needs to figure out how to tap into the environmental movement and siphon some votes away from the Green party who do not stand a chance of forming the government.

There is lots of work to be done. I only hope that those in the NDP realize what they need to do if they ever hope to get out of opposition.

The ‘Greenwash’

Back in December, I think, I was basically told that I was no longer welcome to comment on the “Our Green Year” blog. It seems that they did not like my comments and questioning of what they determined to be ‘green’ acts. They felt I was negative. My goal was to engage in some critical thinking around some of their supposed ‘green’ acts, ask questions and seek clarification. Apparently this was too much for them. In my opinion, I think this is lazy blogging. Part of the reason people allow comments on their blogs is so that readers can engage in a discussion about an issue. Comments give the blogger the chance to think about their points from a different perspective and to clarify their beliefs. Getting rid of the ‘challenging’ readers only demonstrates, to me anyway, that the blogger is lazy and is not interested in engaging in further discussion. If you only put comments up that show everyone agreeing with you or if you ban difficult commenters your blog lacks validity. I still read the blog but I have not been able to comment so I feel I must do so now before my head explodes.

I do not have a vendetta against Craig and Layla Baird. I believe that they believe they are trying to do something good. The green movement is like any other bandwagon issue that has come along. Everyone jumps on, proclaims they are good for doing it and everyone who asks questions or criticizes the movement is the enemy. The bandwagon effect turns people, who can normally think critically, into the slavish masses for the issue. In fact several times the only arguement they could come up with was to tell me that what they were doing was really hard and that I should do it too, which completely misses the point.

So, let’s begin:

Here is the latest post on being green while staying in a hotel:

Sometimes we all need to travel, and when we travel we usually stay in hotels, motels, or inns. In hotels, we use towels and they are washed after one use (although not in all hotels), we sleep once in beds and the linens are cleaned, and generally the overall process is quite wasteful. That is not even considering those little shampoos, soaps and more that are individually wrapped. As well, glasses are wrapped individually in plastic.

This is a big waste.

As a result, when Layla and I have to travel and stay in a hotel, we will not only bring our own towels, but we will bring our own toiletries. This way, we do not use what the hotel provides, we do not waste plastic, and we use what we already have and which is environmentally friendly because we try and buy only green toiletries.

First off, they ignore (or are ignorant) of the fact that many hotels have implemented ‘greener’ practices when it comes to doing laundry. Every hotel I have stayed at for many years gives you the opportunity to not have fresh towels every day. Then there is the fact that they are now going to lug their towels and toiletries to the hotel. Now, if they are flying or driving they are going to be increasing the weight of their luggage – thereby increasing the amount of jet fuel required to get them to their destination. Then they are going to take home the wet towels. To what purpose? Again there will be increases in fuel required to get their baggage home with wet towels. Why not just pick a green hotel, recycle the little plastic bottles and use your towels more than once if you are staying longer than a night?

Another major issue I have with this blog is their engagement in slacktivism as a way of going green. This entry sums it up nicely:

Over the course of Our Green Year, we have signed several petitions. We have signed petitions to stop the seal hunt, save animals and today, to save tiger habitats.

Tigers are one of the most endangered species on the planet, but they are also one of the most recognizable. It is feasible that within the next few decades, we could see the complete loss of this amazing animal due to habitat destruction. This would be a huge loss for our planet.

In Sumatra, only 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. Once they are gone, that is it. This is due to illegal logging that is destroying their habitat, and the practice of clearing forest for palm oil and pulpwood plantations. In the past 22 years alone, 50 percent of the forests in Sumatra have been lost.

So, to help stop the logging of tiger habitats, we are signing the petition to do something about it (we hope).

You can do the same at:

They have signed many petitions on the internet to save everything. What good does this do? Petitions in general are not all that effective. But at least petitions that are signed, by someone going door to door, at least have some validity and can be used in the political process. Seriously, what good do they honestly think they can do by signing a petition in Canada to save Tiger habitat in Sumatra? I am sure there are many things contributing to the loss of habitat for all sorts of species all over the world. It is not simply a matter of the people living their not knowing what they are doing. Likely, they are trying to eke out a living. This one in particular interests me. My favourite coffee at the moment is Starbucks Sumatra. If some information had been presented about habitat destruction being linked to coffee consumption, ‘my coffee consumption’ in particular, I would feel compelled to research it and if the evidence was compelling change my consumer habits. They missed a big opportunity here.

All of their homemade ‘green’ toiletries’ have truly made me laugh! Here is a recent one:

Way way way way back near the beginning of Our Green Year, man it seems so long ago, we made a sugar scrub as a way of making our own type of body wash that can be used in the shower.
Today, we are going green with another body scrub, and this one is one I like. For me, nothing beats the smell of coffee in the morning, I love to drink it but I have never thought of using it in a body scrub. Turns out, you can and it is good for the environment because you are recycling the grounds.

Typically, we compost coffee grounds, but on occasion we are going to try making a coffee grounds body scrub. It is quite easy to do.

All you need is five teaspoons of ground coffee that has been used (recycling!), one teaspoon of sugar and two teaspoons of essential oil. Mix it all together and when you are in the shower, put it on with a circular motion. Leave it on for five minutes and then rinse it off. By putting a catch int he drain, you can then get the coffee grounds and compost them afterwards!

Not much more to say!

I loved this post because it is clear that it has not been investigated very well:

At the ranch, we have a fire pit in the front yard where we can sit and relax during the summer evenings. Well, this summer that fire pit is going to serve another purpose beyond just providing us heat. We will be cooking on it.

Layla and I love to go backpacking, and when you backpack, you have to cook your meals on a fire. There is nothing like it and we decided that this year, we will cook more food on the fire and less in the kitchen.

There are a lot of trees in the area, and some have fallen down. As a result, we will be using that wood (as long as it is not serving as a habitat for something) for our firewood. We are also getting our firewood from a sustainable source. Then we can cook our food over the fire, rather than in the kitchen on the stove.

It is not perfect, but it is just another solution that we can use to go green in our cooking, no different than how we use the fireplace inside to heat the house up so we don’t use the furnace as much.

Burning wood spews pollution into the air. I have recently read about some small towns in the north where they have pollution and smog days due to wood burning stoves. How can think it is more environmentally friendly to light a fire outside and cook over it? It is fun and enjoyable but not green. It is far more green to use electricity produced by hydro-electric damns than to burn wood and add particulate matter to the atmosphere.

This next post is hysterical and obviously written by a man:

Well, the next one is about going to the bathroom, but it is going to the bathroom outside. Now, this is only for ‘number one’ and not all the time (it gets to -40 here…..). However, by going outside to pee on occasion, there is less in the toilet and that means less flushes.

We are on a ranch, with no neighbors around, plus lots of trees so there are no chances of someone coming across me in the middle of my business.

Sure this is an odd one to do, and an unconventional green tip, but going green involves a lot of things, some of which we don’t always think about.

So, for me at least, when I am outside I will use nature as my bathroom to help conserve water in the indoor washroom

How the hell is it green to have untreated human waste going into the ground? They live on a ranch where animals graze. This makes no sense to me. Many countries in the developing world suffer greatly from being surrounded by untreated sewage. Why on earth would they want to turn their ranch into their bathroom. I am also pretty sure it is only the guys who would be doing this as it is so much more difficult for women.

Here is another rather lame post about visiting National Parks. I love how Craig spins it to make it seem green but he forgets a few things:

If there is one thing Layla and I enjoy doing, it is hiking and snowshoeing. There is something about being out in the wild, being a part of nature and listening to the sound of silence wafting through the trees. We love nature, hence the reason why we are trying to do our part to save it with Our Green Year.

Today, we are asking that if you want to do something to help nature, you can visit a national park. Here in Alberta, there are plenty of national parks and we are going to be visiting several of them this year (including on our proposed two week hike from Jasper to Banff this year!). The reason visiting a national park is green is that not only does it help you learn more about the nature that we all seem to be somewhat removed from, it is also because you pay money to be in the national park. That money then goes to help keep the national park going, helping it expand and helping to keep the animals (some of them endangered) safe in their national park home.

Recently, Layla and I, plus two of our friends went snowshoeing on a trail in Elk Island National Park. The money we pay helps that park, and by extension helps nature.

Visiting a National Park may be good for the soul but it does not do much for the park. Craig points out that you pay money to visit the park. Why do you pay money? Well, to clean up after all those visitors. People leave their garbage, they damage sensitive ecosystems and disturb animal habitat and migration patterns. Plus there is all that gas burned to get all those people to all those National Parks to pay money so it can all be cleaned up. Not so green after all when you think about it. If you are backpacking it is usually prohibited to build a fire. I know this from experience. We used to backpack 200 miles a summer when we were kids. My Dad always had his naptha stove and pointed out to us how to preserve the environment we were in, why we could not build fires and why we had to stay to the path.

I could keep going. So, stay tuned as I will focus the critical thinking lens on the ‘Our Green Year’ blog again. Plus I am sure you will all be able to buy the book they intend to publish. I have also wondered what happened to the “Our Green Year Journal” which has not been updated for a long time. I felt this was an integral companion to the blog as it discussed how they were implementing their new found green ways.

In the meantime if you would like a great green blog to read I recommend “A little Greener Every Day.” Robin Shreeves gives practical tips, with solid reasoning behind them. She is also honest about how difficult it can be to choose to go green.