Bright Green Stories

By Tooker Gomberg, Edmonton, Alberta.

WARNING: This column contains some bad news. (But it’s more than compensated for by some tasty, inspiring morsels!)

An introduction to Greenspiration!

We’re being bombarded with horror stories. The tube tells of a socialite accused of pumping bullets into her husband. The paper speaks of a cyclist killed by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel. Missiles plunge into a refugee camp. Murder, mayhem, madness.

What a mess. It’s enough to make you feel terrified and throw your hands up in despair.

I respond with some “cyclotherapy”. Riding my bicycle airs out my thoughts and tunes me back into the real world of earth, river, trees, and snow covered grass.

A couple of weeks ago as I rode my bike and breathed in the fresh spring air, my mind marked the tenth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion. Radioactive material spewed into the air and travelled around in the atmosphere. Are we still breathing the fallout?

The Chernobyl explosion was “the worst catastrophe that has ever happened to humankind” according to Vladimir Chernousenko, the Ukrainian nuclear physicist who supervised the “cleanup” after the accident. Now dying of cancer, he offers a sober look at the dangers inherent in nuclear power in the Winter 1995-96 issue of the Earth Island Journal (printed on tree-free kenaf paper).

Chernobyl resulted in a million and a half people receiving extremely high doses of radiation, with millions more receiving internal radiation from eating contaminated food. Ninety million people have been contaminated. Chernousenko warns us that it is virtually impossible to make nuclear reactors safe.

It’s dramatic to tell the bad news, the dead bodies, the cancers, the blood and gore. It catches people’s attention. The environmental movement has effectively garnered support for a more sustainable approach to the environment by telling such stories.

But there are limits. After repeatedly hearing bad news about climate change, species extinction, disappearing wilderness, the growing ozone hole, toxic compounds in our food, air and water, I suspect that many people feel overwhelmed. I do.

So what can be done about it?

The solutions are out there – ecological approaches to problems caused by urban living. To wit: the community of Bear River, Nova Scotia has invested in an innovative approach that transforms sewage into clean water using natural systems, fragrant flowers, other plants and snails inside a greenhouse.

The people of Groningen in the Netherlands prefer to get around by bicycle, with 60% of all trips made by this peaceful form of urban travel..

Villages throughout India turn manure into cooking gas thereby conserving resources and reducing water pollution. Communities in Ontario have significantly reduced homeowners’ use of energy and water, saving them money, and creating sustainable jobs to boot.

Exciting things are being done. Different communities can help us to uncover signposts to a more ecological path of living, one which is good to the earth, and good for the economy as well.

Want to find out more? Then stay tuned to SEE Magazine over the next year. On June 10, with my companion Angela Bischoff, I will depart on Greenspiration!, an around-the-world odyssey documenting and sharing ecological initiatives. Travelling by bicycle with a solar-powered notebook computer and Hi8 video camera, we will be researching and documenting these inspiring stories.

We want to show pictures of what’s actually being done on the ground and we’re approaching television networks to broadcast our news features.

Schools and others will follow our travels via the internet, and we aim to offer school activities to complement the information that we post on our internet home page.

This is not to put a happy face on the environmental degradation that’s taking place. Things are dreadful. But unless we feel inspired that change can happen, we may get stuck in despair, resigned to the deepening crisis.

The lesson of Chernobyl? That technology brings with it potential dangers. We do have choices, however. We can avoid future meltdowns by investing in safe, renewable energy sources and radically reduce our consumption of energy. Energy efficient refrigerators, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and wind and solar power are all part of the solution. Communities are already proving how attractive it is to invest in these safer, and healthier alternatives.

Splitting the atom has brought with it enormous risks best avoided. We hope that by bringing together exciting ideas and hope for a brighter future some powerful energy may be released. With a bit of Greenspiration, who knows what can become possible!

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