Friday, April 20, 2012

Earth Day, your Catalyst for Change

As Earth Day 2012 approaches, many things get us thinking about the future, and how our actions today impact it. One of the strongest triggers is having children – we think not only of our own future, but of theirs. This is a natural reason to worry about the impact we have on the ecosystem and whether they’ll be able to enjoy the health and natural world we are so blessed with today.
But it’s also a great catalyst to make important changes or resolutions, to reduce our impact and our worries. While expecting our first child, we grew concerned about the harms that chemicals in household products might do to unborn or growing babies. So we cleared out all our store-bought chemical cleansers and started making our own with home-made recipes. We found what we put together from basic grocery-store ingredients worked just as well as the chemical cocktails we’d previously used, so we never went back. If you want to make the same switch, you can find handy recipes at, in the Eco-Library under “Save Money Being Green (Non-Toxic Cleansers)”. Nowadays you can also purchase many pre-mixed natural toxin-free cleaning products.
Another source of waste and pollution is disposable diapers. For our children, we joined a diaper-recycling service that collected soiled diapers, recycled the plastic and composted the rest. However, that service has since gone out of business. But if you’re concerned about the waste and pollution of disposable diapers, there is another solution: cloth diapering. It’s changed completely since we were kids –modern products work just as well and conveniently as disposables, and even save you money.
Last year I wrote about an amazing event for which I served as witness, setting an official Guinness Book world record for the most babies changed in cloth diapers at one time. Barrie’s contingent of 30 babies (and parents) were one of over two hundred locations, over two dozen in Canada, which made the Great Cloth Diaper Change a success. With the record of over 5,000 fresh baby bums confirmed and documented, we’re trying to beat it with even more for this year’s Earth Day. So if you have a baby using cloth diapers or are willing to give it a try, please take part in the event this Saturday, April 21st at Holly United Church, 211 Marsellus Dr. You can sign up online at or show up by 11 am to register in person for the official change at noon.
Even if you’re not changing a baby, drop by the event to learn about a number of local and sustainable infant-focused businesses and products, such as Barrie’s own Glow Bug Cloth Diapers and Down to Earth Baby Gear.

Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Discussing the winter that wasn't

Everyone talks about the weather, yet seems to ignore our changing climate. To call this past “winter that wasn’t” strange is the understatement of the year. Globally, the past year saw a new high of $380 billion in economic cost of catastrophic weather events, and there were over 129,000 new weather records set in America.
Meanwhile, here in Barrie, we had so little snowfall that I never even broke out our large shovel. The bay was only frozen 60 days, not only the shortest period in recorded history, but less than half the average of only a century ago. Anyone still denying we are well into a period of unprecedented global warming really has their work cut out for them.
And yet there are still deniers, who claim (even at the same time) that global warming isn’t happening and that it’s due to solar activity, or just normal variation. Science continues to show both of those arguments to be groundless. And it only makes sense – over the past century human activity has increased carbon in the atmosphere by 40%. Who can honestly believe such actions don’t have consequences? Only the self-deluded.
Climate change will have major consequences for Barrie, and we are already beginning to see them. First, of course, is the loss of traditional industries, especially in valuable tourist markets. Skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and ice-fishing all produce significant income for the region, yet are in danger of disappearing. And of course our children rue the loss of tobogganing and outdoor skating.
But there are even more serious consequences on the horizon. The lack of snowfall this past winter means far less soil moisture from the spring melt. In general, climate change means greater chance of drought, interrupted by shorter, heavier rainfalls and floods, while pests escape the winter die-off and come back stronger each year. These will hurt farming in this otherwise rich agricultural region, just as many are re-learning the joys of local food.
Luckily, citizens of Barrie are rising up to try and address this issue, promoting ways to prevent climate change, and finding ways to adapt to the changes that will be forced upon us. One such organization is Transition Barrie, whose monthly meetings discuss and plan local action on climate change, energy insecurity, and global economic breakdown. It is very likely that, in future, we will need to be more self-reliant, like in days of old.
Want to learn more about these issues? Attend the next Transition event Wednesday, April 18th at 7 PM in the Huronia Room at City Hall. Speaking will be local cardiologist Brad Dibble, author of the book “Comprehending the Climate Crisis”. Come out and meet other local citizens who care enough to take action, or bring your questions for Dr. Dibble. Myself, I’m eager to ask him what role he feels our federal government should play in this issue.

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Climate change should shift our perceptions"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Protect your children from Nature Deficit

With spring arriving before anyone’s expectation (except perhaps Wiarton Willie), children again feel the call of the outdoors. Meanwhile, horrible revelations trickle out from the Stafford murder trial, feeding parental nightmares of assault or kidnap. As father to two young girls, I share those concerns on a visceral level.
While there will always be a need to guard and street proof our children, we must keep our fears in perspective. If we keep children inside or shuttled around in cars, instead of outside and walking to and from activities, we risk doing them even greater harm.
As famed nature artist Robert Bateman noted when he spoke near Barrie last fall, although we resist this realization, most child abuse comes at the hands of relatives or family acquaintances – even in the Stafford tragedy. Rare is the child harmed by a true stranger. Keeping children inside can’t protect them from those who already have access, and only feeds a false sense of security.
Sitting in front of a video screen instead of playing outdoors leads to a variety of harms, including lack of concentration, exposure to violence or inappropriate sexuality, or even the growing cadre of online sexual predators. Supervising kids’ internet use 24/7 is beyond even the most involved parent. And of course physical inactivity feeds the obesity epidemic of our modern age.
Lack of outdoor time is not just physically unhealthy, but a mental problem we are just starting to understand. Termed “Nature Deficit Disorder”, this goes beyond failure do develop respect and appreciation for our natural world. It can also feed attention deficits, depression, or other mood disorders. Time spent freely exploring and playing in fields and forests is of huge benefit to a developing child’s psyche. Exposure to nature reduces stress and anxiety, improves grades, and creates real childhood memories for a lifetime.
Keeping children safe outside is not as hard as you might think. In addition to teaching about “stranger danger” and whom to contact in an emergency, the simple buddy system is remarkably effective. A lone child (or teenager, or even adult) may be a tempting victim to the feared roaming predator, but a group of two or three is an almost impossible target, which is why you don’t hear of drive-by group kidnappings.
Growing up in a small farming town, I was never far from a field or forest and can’t even count how much time I spent outdoors. In today’s urban environment, I struggle to provide my children with even a fraction of that amount of nature exposure. Yet this year I’m determined they will experience nature not just in books or zoos or documentaries, but in their own hands, eyes, and minds.

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Exposure to nature reduces stress, anxiety"

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.