new David Suzuki Foundation website

I’m claiming bragging rights and motherly pride in sharing news about what our daughter Erika has been working on for many months. Now launched, it’s the new website for the David Suzuki Foundation! It’s still a work in progress, she says, with more work ahead refining and adding features and responding to public input. Read all about it on Erika’s blog and please visit the DSF site in-depth for inspiring articles on how even small acts can make a difference on “environmental issues, sustainability and health.”

Most Canadians know geneticist Dr. David Suzuki who has been our environmental hero far longer than Al Gore! I may have mentioned him the first time on this blog on an earth day post. He’s probably best known through his thirty decades long broadcasting career with programs like The Nature of Things, (such as the one on crows recently) and science films such as The Geologic Journey series I wrote about last year.

As a family, we’ve taken different steps such as composting for over 35 years, but our Erika still nudges us in the right direction now and then. Not long ago, she suggested I not buy regular cocoa because it’s harvested using child labour. Despite the extra cost, I now feed my addiction with a fair trade organic choice along with the fair trade coffee I’ve already been buying. We’re not perfect but it all helps!

I hope you enjoy browsing through the new website for the David Suzuki Foundation. I’m proud of Erika’s graphic design work and her deep commitment to the cause and so very pleased for her that she loves her job!

photo credit: Nelson Agustin

‘ecological footprint’ author


I’ve been poking about the net looking for information on Bowen Island, just off the coast of Vancouver. In all these years that we’ve lived in the Vancouver area, we’ve never visited it. Now I’m eager to find out where a certain art gallery is located for I’ll be participating in a group show there next month. (More information on that later.)

I’ve long read and occasionally mentioned Bowen Island resident Chris Corrigan’s two blogs Parking Lot and Bowen Island Journal. From the latter, I checked out Chris’ blogroll and found James Glave.

Exploring his interesting articles, I found an astonishing one called Rees’s Thesis. It’s an entertaining and eye-opening interview of Bill Rees, the University of British Columbia professor who coined the term “ecological footprint”. Now, I didn’t know of or had forgotten Bill Rees so what a thrill to learn about this inspiring and creative man who lives in our own community. It’s a great story on what makes him tick and how he came up with this term, now the global standard for measuring an individual’s impact on the environment. Do go read it, please!

Film: Recipes for Disaster

If you live in the Vancouver area, you will want to see this important film:

On April 16, view the third and final film of DOXA’s Documentary Film Series in the lead-up to our May festival. Recipes for Disaster follows a young Anglo-Finnish family as they rid themselves of all oil-based products for a year. The challenge proves to be more emotionally difficult than the family anticipates and John, father and instigator of the oil fast, must find a balance between living oil-free and keeping a functional family. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

DOXA Documentary Film Series Screens Recipes for Disaster

Location: Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St., Vancouver
Date & Time: Thursday, April 16th, 7pm

Filmmaker in attendance via Skype for Q&A after screening

Here is a short film clip.

This may sound familiar to some readers for I wrote about it over a year ago after seeing it on CBC. I recommend it highly!

In addition to the reviews in the DOXA link above, here is a review in The Tyee. The reviewer tends to focus most on the couple’s relationship issues and neglects thoughts about the wider environmental concerns. How do we manage and balance both?

Save the Planet: Stop Harper

I feel passionately that the current elections in Canada and USA are one of the most critical in our lifetime. Against previous promises to myself not to talk about politics on this blog, I have already posted one long piece about Stephen Harper’s arts funding cuts. This morning, I received the message below from the Canadian wing of AVAAZ. With an increasing sense of urgency I wish to share this with my Canadian readers, though I think most of you are with me on this, but request that you pass this on to all your friends and contacts. Here it is in full, with hyperlinks added by me.

Dear friends,
With the election in 10 days, Stephen Harper is within striking distance of a majority government. Canada is just steps away from four years of unchallenged rule from one of the worst leaders on the planet on climate change.
Canadians are rallying in response. Our campaign to come together across party lines and vote strategically to defeat the conservative candidate where we live is taking off like wild fire. In just a few days we donated over $100,000 to run campaign ads in key ridings, and now an impressive group of top Canadian artists have come together to record an inspiring song for Avaaz calling on all Canadians to join the campaign. Click below to listen and get a free download of this awesome song from diverse artists like K-OS, Sarah Harmer, Ed from Barenaked Ladies and Jason Collette from Broken Social Scene.

Click below to listen to the song, and answer its call to action by signing our pledge to vote smart to defeat the conservatives. The election is close, if we can get just 150,000 pledges to vote smart in close races, we could make the difference. Act now, and forward this email to everyone!

At the debates this week, Harper, with a straight face, touted his “hard targets plan” to cut emissions which he claimed is “admired by leaders around the world”. Unbelievable! In fact, Harper has been voted the worst leader on climate change in the world by international experts at the UN Summit in Bali. Elizabeth May [Green Party – ed.] called his climate plan what it is, “a fraud”. The plan has limited measures to cut emissions per barrel of oil, but since Harper’s planning to hugely increase oil and tar sands production, total emissions could still increase! Harper’s neoconservative oilman buddies like George Bush like his plan, but no credible expert, scientist, or environmental group supports it.

What kind of leader deceives his people in such a significant way to avoid action, and wreck the world’s efforts to act, on the most crucial issue of our time? A leader with great spin doctors who, like George Bush, isn’t there for the people, he’s there for the oil companies.

We can’t let Harper win 4 years of complete control over our country. The Canada we love is in danger, let’s come together quickly — as NDPers, Liberals, Greens, conscientious Conservatives, Bloc supporters and people with no political stripe — and do everything we can over the next 10 days to save it.

With hope and determination,
Ricken and the Avaaz Canada Team

P.S. – For an outstanding guide to how to vote strategically where you live, visit this great website: Vote for Environment
For a great analysis of the Parties’ environmental records: Elections at Desmogblog
And here is another good strategic voting environmental website: Vote for Climate
If you want to double-check that who you should vote smart for, this is a highly impartial guide from Greg Morrow, who does not support strategic voting.

ADDED Oct.6th: Anything but Conservative

a low-carb diet

Thanks to an email alert from the local Finnish community, last night my husband and I enjoyed an interesting creative documentary film on CBC Newsworld’s Passionate Eye:

RECIPES FOR DISASTER, a Millennium Film of Finland production, directed by John Webster, in its first public screening.

What happens when a determined young family gives up all oil-based products for a year?
Filmmaker John Webster and his family decided to own up to their transgressions and kick their addiction to oil. They committed to a one-year “oil detox”. It’s quite simple really: the family will go on with their suburban lives, but without using any fossil fuels, driving cars or flying in airplanes. They won’t buy anything packaged in plastic like food, makeup, shampoo, toothpaste or kids’ toys. This last item proves a particular challenge to Webster’s two young sons.

Recipes for Disaster shows that at the core of the impending climate catastrophe are those little failures that we as individuals make every day, and which are so much a part of human nature. And a lot of it has to do with oil consumption.

This charming and intimate “family drama” reveals the overwhelming challenge the Webster’s have taken on. But despite the initial shocks, by using logic, sound judgement and common sense, this family does what it takes to combat the existing recipes for disaster that we all blindly follow.

We were surprised and delighted to hear Finnish, spoken mostly by the wife (with English captioning) and to see familiar Finnish landscapes. The film is often quite funny, such as the image of a man’s huge belly with the declaration that it was time to go on a low-carb (carbon not carbohydrate) diet! In one almost tragicomic scene, Webster on leaving the oil-guzzling motor behind, rows his family on their boat for many hours to their summer cottage and is frequently asked by passing boaters if he needed help. The film brought the issues of climate change into the personal realm without the heavy-handedness of some other climate change films.

Check the film’s website as to when and where the film is being shown again and if you have the opportunity, do watch it!

P.S. I was also reminded of the even-broader efforts of the No Impact Man.
Oh, and check out the many comments at CBC !

UPDATE: Feb.20, 2008. Some of you may be interested that the CBC Documentaries Moderator has offered this information:
We’re sorry but we don’t have the necessary rights in order to offer Recipes for Disaster online or on YouTube.
We’re told that a DVD will be available soon. Please contact the distributor in Germany at:
We do hope the repeat the film during our repeat season in later spring/summer. Please check for updated schedule information!

the artist and the environment


I’ve been thinking about what I could contribute to the world wide discussion raised today with Blog Action Day. I decided to talk about my behaviour as an artist as well as a homemaker.

As an artist concerned for my own health and for the health of the environment, I stopped etching several years ago. I used to do a lot of deep etching, which meant using very strong acid baths because I wanted to imitate the weathering effects of nature in the process and the resulting images (in the Meta-morphosis series and many of the Nexus pieces). The etching facilities in the studio are very good, with powerful ventilation and special tanks to collect the wastes. That’s why I don’t do this at home! In spite of that I’ve been long concerned about residual absorption into my body as well as into the environment over my many years of printmaking.

I’ve been pleased to be able to use more and more digital processes in my printmaking though I haven’t been able to give up hand printed plates entirely. Collagraphs have been satisfying that need and I’m thinking of drypoints again, or possibly even linocuts and woodblocks. There’s still the issue of the solvents used to clean up the printing inks and I wish our shop would use some of the safer alternatives in the market even if they are costlier and a bit less efficient.

Some testing that was done on me a couple of years ago revealed a lot of toxins in my body. Learning this increased my resolve to eliminate as much exposure as possible, even to what I use in my home – the cleaning products, soaps, shampoo and the cosmetics I put on my skin. I’ve been switching to more organic produce and to antibiotic and chemical free naturally raised and fed chicken, beef and bison meat. Eschewing farmed fish, we’re lucky to find good wild salmon and other fish here but I’m concerned by the dwindling supplies in the world. I don’t use any pharmaceuticals, only naturopathic/homeopathic products when needed. I must give a lot of credit to my daughter Elisa for inspiring and teaching me by her example.

These are just a few of the ways I try to reduce my impact on the environment as well as to improve and guard my own health. I know that I could be making a lot more changes, like getting rid of my car, though I don’t drive it more than necessary.

Further reading:
on artists’ health
toxic-free artists

ADDENDUM: Wednesday, Oct.17th. Several people have expressed interest and some frustration in finding safe cosmetics, so I thought I’d add some of the links that I use that may help you in your search.
Skin Deep is a great resource where you can search products by brand name or ingredients. I use this one a lot.
The Dirty Dozen Chemicals in Cosmetics offers a handy check list of what to avoid.
My daughter Erika bought this book and recommends it highly: Ecoholic by Adria Vasil. I have to get my own copy!

oil spill

For over a week now, we’ve been appalled over an environmental disaster that occurred in the Greater Vancouver area. Last Tuesday, July 24th, there was a huge oil spill in Burnaby, a suburb just east of Vancouver, on the south side of Burrard Inlet. Contractors doing sewer work hit a pipeline and a 12 meter geyser of crude oil sprayed roads, cars and homes and spilled into the ocean waters nearby. This is part of Kinder Morgan Canada’s TransMountain Pipeline system, carrying crude oil from a pipeline terminal at the foot of Burnaby Mountain to a tanker-loading facility on the Inlet. (Can you see the oil tanks in the top photo below? – the disaster happened in the area to the left of them.)

Naturally this raised concerns for the health impacts on the residents and homes and environment in the immediate vicinity. Numerous concerns about the industry have also come up again for all of BC and its coastal waters.

Living on the other side of Burrard Inlet not far from the spill, we were worried about reports that the oil spill spread to North Shore beaches and parks, affecting marine life, First Nations’ clam beds, and the Maplewood Mud Flats, a local saltmarsh and bird sanctuary.




Last Friday evening right after sunset, we went on one of our regular walks to Cates Park, situated right across the water from the disaster area. We checked out the beaches and its families of Canada geese. Though there was yellow tape tied across the beaches and posted warnings to stay off, our untrained eyes could not spot any evidence of oil. Looked like the cleanup crews had done a good job here and will continue to be busy for a while in many spots on this coast. Several families in Burnaby in the meantime are still dealing with the damage to their homes and gardens – what a terrifying experience. When it comes this close to home…


earth day


Happy Earth Day, every day! Do you realize that the environmental movement has been around for many decades? It has had its ups and downs in support, but it seems to me that this year there is a greater interest and a sense of urgency amongst more people than ever before. Thanks in part must go to Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, which, by the way, is quite powerful though it doesn’t cover all the issues of concern – a must see if you haven’t already seen it.

Earth Day is the brainchild of Earth Day Network, an international organization, which was founded in 1970. In 1971 Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver (Canada).

Vancouver is also the birthplace and home of David T. Suzuki, an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster, recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology for over 30 years. He heads the David Suzuki Foundation. His message is being heard more and more as he’s travelled Canada speaking with people and getting the message to leaders in Ottawa.

Besides the above resource rich websites, there are a number of interesting and practical blogs that offer some help in thinking about and achieving a smaller ecological footprint. Here are just a few that I’ve been reading that you might also enjoy:

Worsted Witch
Green Living Tips
Grist (this via Frogs and Ravens, who has a list of even more resources).

What are your favourite sites that inspire you to make changes in the way you live your life or perhaps even be an activist?


I’ve recently come across some great links on a couple of interesting subjects – the first an important environmental story and the second a fascinating linguistic and ethnological one.


1. At Biodynamic Farming and Gardening I found out about a film called How to Save the World – One Man, One Cow, One Planet. View the short video excerpt about how India’s marginal farmers are saving their poisoned land by reviving biodynamics, an arcane form of agriculture, based on the teachings of an elderly New Zealander many are calling the new Gandhi.

2. Brazil’s Pirahã Tribe – Living without Numbers or Time (via mirabilis):

‘The Pirahã people have no history, no descriptive words and no subordinate clauses. That makes their language one of the strangest in the world — and also one of the most hotly debated by linguists.’

‘Living in the now also fits with the fact that the Pirahã don’t appear to have a creation myth explaining existence. When asked, they simply reply: “Everything is the same, things always are.” The mothers also don’t tell their children fairy tales — actually nobody tells any kind of stories. No one paints and there is no art.’

Healthy Artist Guide

I blogged a couple of months ago about Toxic-Free Artists via the Toxic Nation E-News here in Canada. Today, I received the December issue. (Sorry, I see the whole online version doesn’t seem to be up on the web just yet, it’s coming up with the November issue). Most interesting and useful to artists is the follow-up The Healthy Artist Guide to a Less Toxic Studio. A must read!

In my many years of art practice as a student then artist, I’ve exposed myself to an alarming amount of toxic artist materials. In art school I worked with plaster for sculpture, with oil paints, varnishes and turpentine, and with etching acids and solvents to clean printing inks. Later I’ve worked with ceramic glazes, batiking dyes, acrylic and watercolour paints, glues and other items listed in the guide. Then as a dedicated printmaker I used more acids, darkroom chemicals and solvents. I’ve always used rubber gloves because of sensitive skin but haven’t always used masks, trusting the schools’ and studios’ ventilation systems if they were there at all or as good as they should have been.

As home renovators too, we’ve used various paints, varnishes, drywall and wood fillers and nasty cleaning products. I shudder at all my exposure to toxins – it’s no wonder I was tested to have heavy metals in my body! Nowadays ventilation and safer materials and their use in educational institutions have improved greatly. I don’t do printmaking or painting at home. I’m fortunate that I am able to do digital printmaking, by working initially at my home computer and then printing at the studio. Instead of etchings, I now make collagraphs and I may do some drypoints again sometime. The studio now has the less toxic ferric chloride in use in the event that I succumb to a temptation to etch. I still have to use solvents minimally for cleaning but do so under very good ventilation. Awareness is now key.

If you are an artist, craftsperson or even a home decorator, I recommend looking at this checklist. What changes have you made to reduce your exposure to toxic materials?

ADDENDUM Dec.17th, 2006: I just remembered an interesting article about oil paints I’d read from a brochure once, which I don’t have, but this article has some of that information. It might be helpful to those of you who paint with oils. They may be safer than acrylics if you use the safer solvents. I suggest searching the Gamblin site if this interests you.