Ever since I can remember (maybe even since the paper began), the Ottawa Citizen has put the slogan "Fair Play and Daylight" at the top of its Editorial page. But I've never been sure quite what it meant.

Fair play is certainly important, in the newspaper business as in any other. You don't want to be guilty of libel or promoting hatred; and if you're going to credibly express one point of view, presumably you have to at least have considered some opposing viewpoints before rejecting them for one reason or another. What about daylight? I suppose one function of journalism is to bring to light important issues that some stakeholders would like to shut in a dark closet; another might be to shed additional light on issues of which many of us may be only dimly aware.

Which brings me to the broader issue of daylight, quite apart from the Citizen's slogan. And specifically, Daylight Saving Time. I haven't really researched the matter much, but my understanding is that DST was first introduced during wartime, when street signs were all taken down to confuse the enemy and blackout regulations were in effect after dark. And I believe that during at least part of World War II, Double Daylight Time was introduced to further hoard and make the most of those scarce and precious daytime hours. But is this kind of semiannual time-switching still relevant today?

When I was little, we basically had six months of Standard Time followed by six months of Daylight Time. We changed the clocks on the last Saturday of April and the last Saturday of October. A couple of decades later, it was decided that we should switch to daylight time on the FIRST Saturday in April, but keep the same date for switching back to standard time. So in effect, it was daylight time that was now "standard", since we were on it for nearly seven months of the year. When the U.S. decided to move up daylight time to March, and so-called Standard Time into November, we meekly tagged along. So now, we "spring" ahead before spring has arrived even OFFICIALLY(i.e. at the vernal equinox), let alone actually (which around here is usually several weeks later)! We have a mere four months or so of "standard" time followed by eight months of daylight time.

Strangely, it seems that during these decades, people have been steadily shifting towards doing things earlier in the day, so that the whole point of daylight savings has been thwarted. People start and finish their work-days earlier than they used to. Instead of 9-to-5 or 10-to-6, it's 8-to-4 or 7-to-3. Kids typically used to begin their school day at 9 AM; now many of them start at 8:00 or even earlier. So on bleak March mornings after the clocks have changed, young children and teens are staggering bleary-eyed out of bed and off to school when it's still dark outside!

There is ample evidence out there that constantly shifting back and forth, as well as being forced to be up and about in the dark, has a detrimental effect on our circadian rhythms, our eating and sleeping patterns, our mood, and so forth, and makes us all more accident-prone as a result. So why don't we all follow Saskatchewan's example and call a halt to this madness?

This evening at 8:30 PM EDT, we (along with other participating cities in other time zones) are being encouraged to turn off the lights and play board games by candlelight to observe "Earth Hour". While I sometimes yearn myself for a simpler, more unplugged way of life, I'm sceptical that observing Earth Hour is going to do much of anything to conserve energy or save the planet. I mean, if you really want to save energy, why not just go to bed at 8:30 tonight?

Oh wait, I remember - it's because then we'll be wanting to get up too earlly tomorrow, when it's still dark out!
Back in 1976, I was living in London, Ontario, and studying to become a librarian. There was a bulk-foods store in town called "Grains, Beans and Things", where I discovered the joys of purple loosestrife honey.

Fast forward to 1992. I went back for a reunion and GB&T was still there (though in the process of moving to a new but nearby location). There was a sign in the front window exhorting customers NOT to feed the squirrels because they were a nuisance. And the purple loosestrife honey was long gone.

Some time in the 1980s or 90s it became decidedly politically-incorrect to be a fan of purple loosestrife. "It's not a native plant! It's an invasive species! It has no natural predators! It will choke out our wetlands and leave death and destruction in its wake!" So what did they do about this monstrous purple bogeyplant?

Well for one thing, they imported some beetles from somewhere in Europe and under cover of darkness, deposited them in purple loosestrife patches to gorge their little hearts out. Hmmm. I guess non-native beetles are okay as long as they are fightng the good fight against a domestic menace.

Now fast forward another twenty years. Turns out, purple loosestrife is still out there, but it's only about 5% or so of the wetland. And the other species that they were supposedly killing off are still out there too. Perhaps that's in part because they stepped in promptly with those non-native beetles and addressed the national epidemic, but the general consensus amonst scientists these days seems to be that rumours of a weed-induced apocalypse were gross exaggerations.

And you know, I really don't understand this "non-native species" argument. After all, Canada is largely a nation of immigrants. If anything, its probably the native populations who have been treated as second-class citizens - to the extent that they even accept the concept of citizenship as non-aboriginals have come to define it.

Is it any wonder that there are sceptics out there who don't buy into the dire warnings about climate change and global warming? Now don't get me wrong. Certain things are measurable and quantifiable and I don't dispute them for a moment. But the devil is in the interpretation - lies, damn lies and statistics as the saying goes. Average temperatures probably ARE going up over time. The polar ice cap probably IS melting at a faster rate than it was. That doesn't necessarily mean that they will continue to do so at the same or at an accelerating rate. A few decades is a relatively short period of time in the vast history of the planet and the universe. And even if things do continue on their current course, it seems to me that the real problem is whether climate change happens at such a rapid and unpredictable rate that we are unable to come up with good-enough adaptive or delaying tools and mechanisms. As humans, we do have a few points in our favour that the dinosaurs, for example, lacked.

In some respects, it might of course be a GOOD thing if the polar ice cap melts and the vast desolate swaths of northern wasteland become more habitable. Yes, certain species would undoubtedly die out. Over time, others would evolve to take their place. That doesn't mean we should bury our heads in the sand and avoid dealing with the problems as we perceive them at the moment. The pure and applied research that we do now, the innovations and inventions and just plain wild or bizarre ideas that we come up with - some of them, anyway - will no doubt be of SOME use for SOME purpose at SOME time!
According to an article in today's Citizen, the City of Ottawa is only managing to collect about 2/3 as much green-bin recyclables as it is paying for. The author seemed to think that that means a lot of green bins lying fallow because the households they belong to are not separating their waste properly. I'm not so sure that's the case.

For one thing, many households undoubtedly do their own composting. We do, although we still put out a few things that would take longer to decompose in a small household unit - like pizza boxes and paper towels - or which we worry might pose a health hazard - used tissues, kitty litter, etc.

Beginning in November, the City of Ottawa will only collect garbage every other week, while the green bin collection will remain weekly (instead of reverting to biweekly as it used to do for the winter months). Okay, so we've had the stick. Now how about the carrot? Maybe they could catch fewer flies with honey than with vinegar, to use a dreadful mixed metaphor. Here are a few ideas they might consider.

1. EXPAND THE LIST OF ITEMS WE CAN RECYCLE - Before Ottawa became one big supercity, they used to let you put out used clothing in an ordinary garbage back tied with a scrap of cloth so its contents were apparent. The city would sort through these bags, donating the better items and recycling the rest for rags. Yes, there are charities which will pick up these items, but my experience with them has been less than positive. For example, one day when the charity was supposedly going to be in our area, I put out a bag in the manner prescribed, only to find out at the end of the day that it had not been collected. When I phoned the next day to inform the charity of the situation, I asked that they just let me know when they would next be in the area - at which point they got quite belligerent and said they wanted to pick it up THAT VERY DAY! Why were they in such a rush all of a sudden? Needless to say, if we had not been there to take back the uncollected bag, there would have been a security concern as well: potentially advertising to prospective break-in artists that no one was home!
Clothing is just one example. They also used to pick up used plastic bags, for example. I see no reason why they can't pick up diapers and feminine hygiene products, especially as kitty litter is accepted. And just how do they distinguish between cat waste (accepted) and dog waste (not accepted)? The mind boggles!

That way, if you're an environmentally responsible person who doesn't operate a car, you could also dispose of hazardous waste in an environmentally responsible manner on a regular basis instead of having to rely on someone with a vehicle. There would also be fewer vehicles on the road doing the transporting to often far-flung waste depots and that in itself means less gasoline used, fewer emissions, less time wasted, less private expense of the vehicle owner, greater compliance and less illegal dumping... and so on. Surely a win-win-win... situation!

They do that already in Gatineau. The recyclers can then take whatever they can use and the City doesn't have to put together a ridiculously convoluted calendar of different collection weeks for differently-coloured boxes. Plus, the simpler it is, the better residents will understand it and the higher the level of compliance.

You mustn't set out your garbage before 6 PM the evening before collection. Nor must it be after 7 AM (even, presumably, if it never gets collected before 4 PM). Containers must be removed from the curbside by 10 PM on collection day. Then we have all the restrictions on the containers themselves. For instance, it's technically against the law to have the lid attached to the container by a cord. Whoever put that clause into the Bylaw has obviously never had to stop the car to move lids that blow all over the road on a windy day!

I may have left school long ago but I still struggle with the 3 R's!!
What's the difference between a hoarder and an environmentalist? Well, I suppose it's a question of degree.

If you permanently stash your dishes in the oven, your plants in the bathtub and your tropical fish in the toilet bowl so that you can't answer a call of nature in the way that nature or modern civilization intends, then chances are you're a hoarder. But for the generations that remember the Great Depression or wartime and postwar austerity measures like rationing, and as a result are loath to discard things that can be repaired, renovated or repurposed, I'd say you were probably an environmentalist long before environmentalism entered the mainstream lexicon.

On March 31, an article in the Ottawa Citizen bore the headline "CAS removes children from hoarder's home". The alleged hoarder in this case was the children's grandmother, and the children consisted of a two-year-old girl and her two brothers, aged eight and eleven. All three children were seized earlier this year but the two boys have apparently been returned to their grandmother's care, while the girl is to remain in a foster home.

I would be curious to know why the boys, who had apparently been living quite happily with their grandmother for eight years before their apprehension, were considered eligible to return, while their sister was not. Frankly, I suspect it's because they were able to verbalize their wishes more effectively. Most two-year-olds are familiar with the word "no" but if you asked them to elaborate, few would be able to respond all that eloquently.

There is no word as to where the children's parents are in all of this, or even whether they are still living. Surely, though, a grandparent would in most cases be a good choice for providing some much-needed stability and continuity in these children's lives.

Or maybe not. But the point I would make here is this: WE'LL NEVER KNOW. Freedom of speech is not an absolute. Wards of state must not be named in the media. Child welfare cases are shrouded in secrecy. We have no choice but to fund the Children's Aid Society through our tax dollars (which, among other things, pay for that offensive series of TV commercials along the lines of "Meghan is YOUR Children's Aid!") Yes, I am sure they do some good things. But when they do not, when they ruin children's lives, just who exactly can be held accountable?
... if we don't leave them the Earth? A good friend of mine uses that as a tag-line on her e-mail signature block and although she may mean the question rhetorically, I think it deserves a thoughtful answer.

Simply put, the earth is not ours to leave them. Money, if we are lucky, may be. I would point to two other well-worn sayings. One is something like this: We do not inherit the earth from our forebears; we borrow it from our descendants. The other relates to money: You can't take it with you.

So we look after our world the best we can and the best we know how - it's the only world we have. We try to stay true to our values and we hope our children will adopt some of those values too. As for money, it isn't everything - though it may well seem that way to those who haven't enough to do what they want (or even need) to do. But it CAN buy some things that are of value, like books, music lessons, bicycles, sports equipment, not to mention higher education - it's just a question of where your priorities lie. Kids don't need tons of fancy toys and video games, for example, but they DO need to engage with the world - to play, to learn, to experience, to be loved. That calls for an investment of time, if nothing else, and most parents have to make some difficult tradeoffs balancing time in the workplace making money (where children are not necessarily always welcome)and time spent directly interacting with the children. Very young children live mainly in the present, of course, but their parents have to consider their future too.

So by all means, let's do what we can to preserve the earth. But money - well, it doesn't grow on trees, but I don't consider the root of all evil either. People will use some of their discretionary income to buy themselves treats and luxuries, of course - nothing wrong with that - but hopefully they will also put a portion of it towards making a difference in the lives of their descendants, their fellow human beings, and the other inhabitants of our world.



October 2017



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