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Who cares about Bangladesh? 1. Consumers and human security in the Global South

The collapse of a poorly-constructed building and the deaths of many garment workers in a textile factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has many Canadians talking, because some of the clothes sold in Canada, by the Joe Fresh brand, of Loblaws, were made in this factory.

The poor working conditions and wages, along with prior indications of cracks in the building, pointing to its instability, has prompted global and Canadian media to ask the question "will this change how you buy your clothes?" and articles with titles like, "Is your wardrobe killing Bangladeshis, or saving them?".

Garment Factory in Bangladesh

Photograph  by Fahad Faisal, via Wikimedia Commons 

I managed to get onto the CBC Noon radio phone in, last Friday (that's me at 17:40 mins into the podcast, What is the cost of a bargain?), to explain that I try to buy Canadian labels and locally manufactured clothes, that I encourage my kids to understand how much work goes into sewing clothes (please bring back Home Economics to schools!), and to ask questions in those mall chain stores, that in my opinion, are full of cheaply manufactured, but expensive goods, about their corporate social responsibility policies and fair-trade practices....  (seriously, I do..!).

The issues of sustainability - economic, social and environmental - are at the heart of this tragedy. This building collapse and high death toll has brought unwelcome publicity for Loblaws, who is sending senior representatives from its supply chain team to the factory, to Dhaka, in an effort to understand what caused the tragedy.  The renewed conversations and debates about the role of the consumer and corporations in affecting the livelihoods and working conditions of people in the Global South, are, in my opinion, most welcome, not least because this disaster highlights the complexity of this issue and the fact that it is a "wicked problem" with no easy solution. We must remember, for example, that Loblaws, is, in many respects an exemplary company, when it comes to leadership on sustainability issues: its Sustainable Seafood Initiative, and the Oceans for Tomorrow campaign, in partnership with the Marine Stewardship Council and World Wildlife Fund Canada, is a marvellous programme, that has resulted in increased consumption of certified sea food in my home - after many years of trying to NOT eat down the food chain.

Bangladesh, its people, its environment, and sustainability, have been in the minds of us at IRIS and the York University community over the years, as highlighted in many events and activities.

This is the first in a series in which I will be updating and re-posting blogs from the past, highlighting the issues faced by Bangladeshis, and the efforts of colleagues, here and abroad to bring attention to these complex challenges and propose solutions.

Dawn Bazely

DISCLAIMER - in the interests of transparency, I should say that my husband, Dr. Peter Ewins, works for WWF Canada. I, myself, undertook my first fundraising campaign for WWF UK when I was 11 years old! BUT, this doesn't mean that I have given WWF a 100% thumbs-up on all of its policies, programmes and actions over the last 40 years - there is always room for improvement.


A ‘Green’ World Cup with a carbon footprint of 2,753,251 tons of CO2?

Amid the excitement of the World Cup it is easy to forget that international sporting spectacles as large as the FIFA World Cup in South Africa have significant environmental impacts. The media has tended to focus our attention to controversies surrounding the World Cup such the banning of the vuvuzela, predicting final contenders, and more serious concerns such as the inequalities that plague South Africa. However, the media has been quick to turn a blind eye to the carbon footprint of the World Cup. How ‘climate-friendly’ is the World Cup? According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the FIFA World Cup in South Africa is undeniably ‘green’. Three days before the kick-off, UNEP issued a press release highlighting its major initiatives to reduce the carbon emissions of the World Cup. The initiative is a result of a partnership between the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNEP, and the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).  Supported by US$1 million in GEF funding, the initiative includes three major greening projects: renewable energy interventions in six World Cup host cities, an awareness-raising drive on green tourism, and a programme to offset the carbon emissions of eleven World Cup teams. In addition, the DEA, identified five carbon offset projects to counter travelers' emissions. The projects include solar cookers, soil composing, energy efficient lighting, wind energy, and domestic fire lighting. But are these efforts at reducing the carbon footprint of the World Cup really enough? Not according to a study conducted by the Norwegian embassy and the Government of South Africa.  The study found that this World Cup will emit 2,753,251 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is roughly equivalent to the amount released by one million cars over the course of a year. In other terms, the games will emit as much CO2 as 6,000 space shuttle fights or a 1 billion cheeseburgers. Even worse news is that the emission levels of this World Cup are six times higher than the last World Cup in Berlin.  The reasons include the number of international flights, the ‘necessary’ new infrastructure developments, and the reliance on coal burning to meet the influx of tourists’ energy demand. Ironically, this World Cup’s massive carbon footprint coincides with the June 2010 Bonn international climate talks, where, once again, negotiators failed to move forward on a post-Kyoto text. Naturally, the international talks in Bonn have been completely foreshadowed by international World Cup fervor. So before we watch the next match, perhaps we should take a moment to consider how our thirst for entertainment might impact the global climate system.

For more see:

Sustainability and exhaustion – don’t let it get you down

[photopress:Messy_desktop1.jpg,thumb,pp_image][photopress:Messy_desk2.jpg,thumb,pp_image][photopress:messy_study_3.jpg,thumb,pp_image]Being a director of a sustainability institute and an academic is very tiring - even for a hyper Type A personality who can still put in a 16 hour field day. Not only am I always having to think about my ecological and carbon footprints, and where to buy good offsets, but in a world of greenwashing, scrutinizing everything for its authenticity is also de rigeur.  Uggh - AND THEN THERE'S THE BLOGGING. I have always had two settings - on and off. I like to jump out of bed and hit the ground running, but these days, I often feel like a car engine that's starting on a cold winter's morning. So, it's time for a mechanical overhaul. Here's what I have used  in the past, and will again, to fix the stalled engine:

These may also be helpful for those of you out there who feel overwhelmed by your life, the state of the world and the fact that Terence Corcoran in the National Post is still insisting that the science of climate change is suspect:

1. A life coach (I wrote about this in the article, Coaching for My Life, University Affairs, 2005) (I don't have time for this, these days, but you might).

2. Some great organizational and behavioural modification (often, from business) books. My ipod is filled with audiobooks such as Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy, The Golden Rule of Schmoozing by Aye Jaye, Ready for Anything by Dave Allen, The 60 Second Procrastinator by Jeff Davidson (may be out of print, so borrow it from the library), Your Management Sucks by Mark Stevens, Women and Money by Suze Orman, Crucial Confrontations and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson and colleagues, Making Work Work by Julie Morgernstern (Oprah's organizing guru - and my favourite organization person to read, including her other book, Never Read Email in the Morning), What got you here, won't get you there! by Marshall Goldsmith (and, of course, The Art of War).

3. Podcasts. If you are a poor student and can't afford to pay for a life coach or audiobooks, then download some podcasts, such as Motivation to Move's Daily Boost, The Suze Orman podcast (on itunes), Marcus Buckingham (big time life coach) and Oprah's Take Control of Your Career and Your Life (itunes), and while you are at it, grab some Yoga lessons from Yogamazing (itunes), plus the Manager Tools podcast (itunes) will give you all kinds of sound advice on organizing things.

4. Other people who are more swamped than me: and, you can see the incredible mess on my computer screen and in my home office (above), and feel a sense of superiority. I find that it's always comforting to know that someone else is worse off. Here's what I will be using today, in my surroundings to give me motivation and energy:

The 2006 farewell Globe and Mail article by Ken Wiwa about his decision to return with his family to the UK and to work with the Nigerian government,  pinned to the wall in front of me. The dried edelweiss flower that my former student, and current research collaborator, Andrew Tanentzap gave me as a gift, from a trip to Europe. The photos of past and present grad students and family that are part of the clutter: they make me smile and feel guilty at the same time - a great carrot and stick, combined into one item!


Dawn Bazely

Quiz: How green is your food?

Source: BBC Nov 2004.

1. The energy used to import a kg of fresh spinach from California to the UK is equivalent to running a 100 watt light bulb for:

A: 1 year
B: 1 month
C: 2 weeks
D: 1 week

2. It takes 3.5 times as much of what to produce a litre of non-organic milk compared to a litre of organic milk?

A: Energy
B: Water
C: Fertilizer
D: Land

3. A typical British family of four emits 4.2 tonnes of C02 from their house each year and 4.4 tonnes from their car. How much is emitted from the production, packaging and distribution of the food they eat?

A: 1 tonne
B: 2 tonnes
C: 4 tonnes
D: 8 tonnes


1. B
2. A – Organic milk comes from cows which are fed on pasture which is not treated with fertilizers and pesticides. Much of the extra energy used in the production of non-organic milk is energy used in the production of the fertilizer.
3. D

Fridge Free for a Year

This article is a first person account of a Torontonian that made the leap to attempt a very unique project. As the article points out, Canadians are among the highest energy users in the world. There are so many modern conveniences that we take for granted regardless of their ecological cost or how they disconnect us from natures' cycles. This article decided that the fridge is one such convenience. Upon unplugging her fridge, the author decided to learn about how communities used to deal with food. She tells a story of how her father's community built a barn insulated with sawdust and used huge chunks of ice cut from a river in the winter that they stored in the barn keeping it cool throughout the summer months. This barn was used to maintain a community grocery store year round with no power other than human power and horses. She uses examples of how little of our food actually needs refrigeration. Most vegetables keep quite well at room temperature for at least a week. Gardens allow you to take food or herbs when you need to. Of course, those of us that have lived our entire lives with this modern convenience forget that food never knew the inside of a fridge till 50 years ago (Refrigeration was invented in the late 19th Century, but it was not until the 1950's that it was common). In the winter it is rather easy to keep things cool, but in the summer you have to be more creative. This person used a basement cellar, which is common in any older house. Other techniques involved just bowls of water. While, I do not expect people will be unplugging their fridge anytime soon this was an interesting article and reminds us of how we take for granted so many conveniences in our day to day life.

Our Urban Experience

The students in the YSTOP program spent a day exploring the urban environment, travelling from York University Keele Campus, where they were staying, to Kensington Market via TTC, then south on foot to Queen Street and then back on the subway with a stop at Yorkdale for a late lunch.  When we were at Kensington market we discussed the study done by the York Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry in conjunction with Streets are for People on the effect of pedestrian Sundays on air quality. Yorkdale was one of the first enclosed shopping centres in Toronto, and is interesting for the impact that such malls have on the environment, relying on air conditioning and travel by cars.

For some of the rural students the trip gave them their first ride on a subway, and for many, even those who live in the city, it was their first ride on a streetcar. Included in this post are some images and some writing that the students generated from their trip.

Our urban experience was about learning what goes on in the city, such as the transportation, tall buildings, crowded streets, big malls and fewer forests. Transportation in the urban setting is different because there are street cars, subway trains and tunnels. There is a greater population in the urban setting and public transit helps to reduce the amount of pollution being produced by people travelling around the city.

The urban environment is the TOTAL opposite of the rural environment. The urban environment has more people and modern technology than the rural environment. As we found out, there are lots of people crowding the cities from different backgrounds and cultures. We got to experience new things like sour cream and onion flavored crickets and empanadas. The transportation in a rural community is very different from the transportation in the urban community. Many people in the urban community choose to ride their bikes and take city transit, like the subway, bus and street cars, which help decrease the pollution.

Urban Wildlife

Urban Wildlife


Urban Landscape

Urban Landscape





In the subway

In the subway

Canada, a climate change safe haven?

The UK's Independent reports that a British consultancy Maplecroft has scaled the world's nations along a climate change vulnerability index. The Climate Change Risk Report places Canada at the top of its list of Northern countries that will have the greatest ease in weathering the climate crisis, while sub-Saharan Africa will receive yet another mortal blow.

Given this recurring pattern of disparity, Canadians must ask themselves what their high-energy lifestyle (with energy consumption per capita eclipsing the US) will cost the world. This time with their greenhouse gas emissions and huge ecological footprints, Canadians are directly driving a climate catastrophe in the equatorial belt where most of the world's people live while escaping most of its effects.

For the most part, our abundance of land, water, and energy has given us Canadians a level of comfort and complacency unparalleled in the world. The Canadian North has been even more fortunate with a miniscule population sitting on top of vast natural resource reserves. Fortunately, protected area and alternative energy planning are quite advanced in the Northwest Territories, although energy-intensive and resource-based development are threatening to eclipse this progress. In Alberta, the picture is quite different with the province's unseemly and unsustainable rush to develop its tar sands, a ruinous path thankfully challenged by the recent Youth Climate Summit in Edmonton.

Interestingly, the Independent asks in a follow-up article whether Brits should think about moving to Canada. If the future holds even what even the most conservative climate change models predict, we may see a lot more people flocking to Canada as ecological refugees. For a look at this future, see David Brin's 1990 novel, Earth, with the founding of Little Nigeria in the Yukon.