In this issue of Need to Know: Science & Insight I look at some of the underlying causes of extinctions, what can be done, and how you and I can help. And, believe it or not, it starts with a breakfast with a cassowary, a really big en and dangerous endangered species.
In this issue of Need to Know: Science & Insight I investigate how and why we are poking holes in our life support safety net that is Nature. If Nature isn’t healthy that means we aren’t either. And I’ll look at what to do about it. But first, let’s meet my friend Lonesome George, the rarest creature on the planet. (Yes, those are pix of George I took).
This is a two-part series, each is a 5 to 10 minute read.
The Power of Belief in Creating the World We Want
In the latest Need to Know: Science and Insight I explain term ‘coconutarianism’ in the context of climate change, our hunger for explanations and how the pandemic has a silver lining that might help us get on track to creating the world we want.
It all starts with a true story about hanging out with Russian jurno in a Warsaw bar…
Enough to burn a strip around the planet twice.
Discover more on today’s Need to Know:
Stress, Wildfires and Tipping Points
First issue of Need to Know: Science and Insight to be published today at noon.
How to Navigate safely through the Pandemic
Need to Know is my weekly newsletter about things we all need to know when it comes to climate impacts, energy transitions, the decline of nature’s support systems, living safely during a pandemic, along with a personal story and some useful ideas. And all in 10 to 12 minute read.
Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it.
What do we all need to know at this time of pandemic and existential crisis of climate change and unravelling of nature’s life supports? Not to mention, a time of political, social and technological upheaval?
And what do we need to know to help us get through each day?
Need to Know: Science and Insight is like a personal letter sent to you Tuesday and Saturday mornings that explains a need to know issue, why it’s important for you and all of us to know. It will also offer information you can use right away along with a bit of universal wisdom to consider…and hopefully elicit a smile or two.
In a few days one of the first issues of Need to Know: Science and Insight will look at how to live a life in a pandemic. It starts with my being tested in a hockey arena, then looks at the data on risks posed by various activities and comes with a cool graphic. The main part explains a very useful Covid 19-risk-reducing mantra: Time and Place, People and Space.
It’s taken weeks to put it all together. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it.
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What do we all need to know at this time of pandemic, existential crisis of climate change and unravelling of nature’s life supports? Not to mention, a time of political, social and technological upheaval? What do we need to know to get through all of this and come out smiling on the other side?
And what do we need to know to help us get through each day?
Subscribe to my FREE weekly newsletter: Need to Know: Science and Insight
This is where you’ll find my latest work based on interviews with some of the smartest and wisest people on the planet, combined with my 25 years of writing and reporting on need to know issues.
First issue will be published soon, subscribe today so you won’t miss it.
I’m no longer updating this site with my latest work. There are over 500 articles of mine still here, more or less in chronological order. Use the search tool on the right to find a particular story or explore a topic. Thanks for dropping by – Stephen
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EXTRA: March 14 2018
Summary of my coverage at the 2018 IPCC Cities conference in Edmonton on Radio Ecoschock – 8 min podcast (plus I talk about my upcoming Nat Geo article explaining why Cape Town is running out of water)
Articles written for non-profit news service focussed on the developing world
By Stephen Leahy
On Aug. 10, Shawn Williamson put out his family’s first bag of trash in 26 months. That’s right, 26 months and just one bag of trash for Williamson, his wife, Monica, and their 7-year-old daughter Alyssa.
The Brooklin family recycles, reuses or composts 99.3 per cent of their waste, Williamson calculates. “It’s easier and cheaper,” says the management consultant, who specializes in environmental challenges.
“In my office, there’s a container for compostable materials, one for paper and a small one for garbage.” Asked what’s in the garbage container, Williamson says “cut-up credit cards, old pens, some plastic wrapping … I empty it every four or five months.”
There are only two other small garbage containers in the home. But there are plenty for recycling, composting and a couple of large containers destined for the Goodwill donation centre.
Driving by, no one would guess this is a near-zero-waste home. Williamson insists they don’t have a Spartan lifestyle. In fact, he feels a bit sorry for the rest of us: “If you’re putting out three bags of garbage, you’re wasting an awful lot of time and money.”
It all starts at the store, especially the grocery store. Buying pre-packaged and ready-made food not only creates a lot of trash, it is much more expensive and less nutritious than buying fresh. The Williamsons hit the supermarket once a week with their 12-year-old green plastic baskets and preprinted shopping list, with the weekly essentials listed to make shopping more efficient and eliminate impulse buying.
“We still buy things like potato chips occasionally, and those bags can’t be recycled.”
They also buy in bulk. Toilet paper comes from an office-supply outlet in a giant box that barely fits in the car. Staples such as rice come in 50-pound bags. The house is outfitted with more shelving than most homes but Williamson insists it doesn’t look like a warehouse.
“Try eating only fresh for a few weeks and you’ll see a health improvement . . . you’ll feel better,” Williamson says.
When the family does order takeout, they bring their own plastic containers. “We bring the big ones and the take-out places tend to fill them up for the same price.” Most of this is just common sense on how to be more efficient, and Williamson believes it has saved his family hundreds of hours.
“Just take a few seconds once a week to think about how to do something better and do it.” Before you know it, you will be living better, saving money and maybe losing a bit of weight, says Williamson.
Nearly all food waste and organic matter goes into a back-yard composter, to be turned into rich top soil for the vegetable garden. Williamson says he gets a bit of a workout digging in the compost and he finds it very relaxing. And it beats driving to the gym.
“It’s really all about living better, living simpler and living smarter.”
Incineration vs. diversion
The Williamsons live in Durham Region, where 60 per cent of residential waste is now being diverted from the landfills in Michigan, where much of Ontario’s waste has been going for the past decade. But Durham and York regions are proceeding with plans to build a $230-million garbage incinerator in south Courtice, near Lake Ontario. To operate efficiently, the natural-gas-powered furnaces will need to be fed thousands of tonnes of garbage around the clock. That will take the emphasis off waste reduction and the need to improve recycling programs, says Shawn Williamson, whose family diverts 99.3 per cent of its household waste.
“The simple solution to Ontario’s perennial garbage problem is not to create any waste,” he says. “We saw a big change by converting all our garbage cans throughout the house into recycling bins and putting a tiny container for garbage inside.”
Ontario’s overall waste diversion rate has risen from 21 per cent in 1992 to about 44 per cent. Toronto’s diversion rate was 45 per cent last year, far short of its target of 70 per cent. San Francisco and Los Angeles are already at 70 per cent. More than half of Toronto’s households are in townhouses and high-rise apartments or condos, where recycling and composting must be taken down to basement bins and the diversion rate is a paltry 15 per cent
First published in The Toronto Star October 21, 2011