Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Poo bags versus mass extinction

I'm switching over to those clear plastic bags you get at grocery stores for putting your fruit and veg into. The stores here in Toronto are trying to save the planet by charging for their regular, more robust plastic grocery bags. Good for them. It's like trying to cure cancer by putting on a wig. It won't work but at least it'll look prettier.

The problem, of course, with these transparent fruit and veg plastic bags is that, well, they're transparent and carrying around a big blob of poo for everyone and their child to see, while illustrating that I am a decent and responsible pet owner, is nevertheless spewlicious for most people. I used to know this guy who would pick up his dog's mess with a transparent poo bag and then ten seconds later, he'd be absentmindedly swinging it around and gesturing with it like he was a high school cheerleader with a baton while having a conversation with you.

The other problem is that the plastic of the fruit and veg bags is too thin. It's too easy to poke a hole in them when picking up stuff. You know what I'm talking about here. Stinky fingers - no one wants that. So, either extra gentle care is necessary or it means double or triple bagging it.

But you know, throwing away dog poo wrapped in plastic into a garbage can, the contents of which will end up in a landfill, is a stupid idea anyway. Toronto really needs to go organic with its poop disposal in its public places. That means expanding the Green Bin program, or some version of it, to all the dog parks. In case you're not from around these parts, Green Bins were introduced here a few years ago and all our organic, household wastes go into them, including poo (from babies and pets and freaks who don't like using their toilets - and no, I don't know anyone like that. I'm just trying to be inclusive). And then instead of burying that waste in some poor schmuck's backyard, the city takes the organic waste and processes/composts it into fertilizer or bio fuels or cheez spreads or reconstituted potato chips or something like that. I know that turning shit into snacks sounds far fetched but it's pretty much been proven by our food factory engineers that as long as something's been deep fried and covered in a tasty sugar, salt and fat flavour combo, the majority of people will find it yummy.

Recycling dog shit is very thoughtful. Hygienically, it sure makes sense and certainly no one wants to be scraping the bottom of their shoes off against the curb all the time. We all want our sidewalks and roads to remain free from the devastating effects of turd mines. And if it's necessary to gather up all this crap, then of course it makes environmental sense to transform it into something useful instead of "throwing it away". But in doing this, are we really doing worthwhile good or are we merely assuaging our guilt for wrecking the planet in a billion other vastly more potent ways? I mean, I pick the crap off the sidewalk but it's actually the sidewalk itself that does more damage to the earth than a thousand dumps of turd could ever do.

I'm having these cruddy thoughts because of a couple of news items I've come across in the last few days. The first one has to do with mass extinction, in particular, the one we're experiencing now. I've read about this before but I'd pushed it out of my mind in an attempt at denial until last week when The New Yorker ran a story by Elizabeth Kolbert called "The Sixth Extinction?"

Over the past half billion years, there have been at least twenty mass extinctions. Five of these—the so-called Big Five—were so devastating that they’re usually put in their own category. The fifth, the end-Cretaceous event, which occurred sixty-five million years ago, exterminated not just the dinosaurs but seventy-five per cent of all species on earth. Once a mass extinction occurs, it takes millions of years for life to recover, and when it does it’s generally with a new cast of characters. In this way, mass extinctions have played a determining role in evolution’s course. It’s now generally agreed among biologists that another mass extinction is under way. If current trends continue, by the end of this century as many as half of earth’s species will be gone.

Oh yeah, and guess what's responsible for all this annihilation? Yep, we are.

You can listen to a short audio clip from an interview with the author here. She talks a lot about a gajillion bumble bees and bats dying from human transmitted fungi. Fun stuff.

The next bit of bummer news was from this morning's CBC interview with James Lovelock.

We started this segment with a clip from the pitch for the CBC-sponsored campaign for one million acts of green. The idea is to encourage as many people as possible to take individual actions that -- when taken together -- would have a significant impact on the health of the planet.

But according to James Lovelock, even if the campaign succeeds, a million acts of green wouldn't amount to a hill of beans compared to all the non-green acts humanity has perpetrated against the Earth. James Lovelock is best known as the originator of the Gaia theory ... the idea that the Earth is a living and self-regulating organism in which geology, the oceans, the atmosphere and climate are intertwined with all forms of life. He sees humanity as the crowning achievement in the evolution of life on earth.

He also sees humanity as the catalyst for the end of the world as we know it and he's pretty sure it's too late to do anything about it. Or maybe it's not that it's too late but that we're too stupid. He figures we've got 30 good years left, maybe 40 if we start reducing our carbon footprint - which isn't going to happen of course.

Here he is answering the question, "Do you think we will survive?" in New Scientist magazine.

I'm an optimistic pessimist. I think it's wrong to assume we'll survive 2 °C of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesized it. Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 per cent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It's happening again.

I don't think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what's coming up. Kyoto was 11 years ago. Virtually nothing's been done except endless talk and meetings.

Here's the CBC interview on The Current: Click on Part 2.

Well, this is a supremo downer forecast and all but what's it got to do with dogs? The obvious answer is that if we take the planet down with us, dogs are going to be suffering a lot sooner than we will be - but that's not the thought that has the most impact on me at the moment. That's not why I'm writing this. After all, I'm just as short sighted as the next guy and 30 - 40 years down the road is a long way away even if it is a deadline for the end of our world order.

No, what makes me laugh is that I'm more concerned about having to use these thin, transparent bags to pick up dog poo because the good grocer is trying to forestall the very end of civilization by selling regular plastic bags for 5 cents each.

I write about all these dogs that need rescuing. It's we humans who need rescuing. Know anyone who's willing to foster us?


Anonymous said...

Fred, if you'd been a girl, I bet you would have grown up with stuffed animal toys instead of dolls ;)

The last couple of weeks, someone has been putting a tidy, neatly wrapped little baggie of poo in my green bin on a regular basis. (I know it's not me, because I throw out tons of the stuff and not too neatly). The "gift wrapping" suggested some sort of OCD, so I immediately suspected one of the neighbours whose green bin is Too Good for that sort of thing.

Anyway, yes, the 5 cent bags are a canary in the mine of our stupidity and a windfall for the big chains.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Good post


Anonymous said...

Amazing!!!!!! and Scary geez!

I get into this debate with my BF Scott all the time. He doesn't see the point in my efforts to recycle all the time and use "special bags" He just doesn't see the point. He frustrates me with his unwillingness to at least try, but you know what he may be right! Maybe, as a species, we are just too far gone at this point. Yet I refuse to give up, I will continue to make every small effort to reduce my Carbon footprint. I truly believe that in the end, it won't be humans that destroy the planet. I think an asteroid, meteor, or planetary collision will lead to our ultimate demise. Big stuff!!! The univers, as a whole, boggles my mind.

Good post Fred


Fred said...

redstarcafe, once upon a time before I started volunteering at TAS (where one quickly gets used to picking up crap from all sorts of dogs) the thought of having to deal with poop not emitted from my own two dogs kind of made me barfy, so the thought of someone leaving shitty presents in my Green Bin, however nicely presented, would've definitely been a turn off. Although, I can sort of understand it too because there have been times when I've wandered the neighbourhood carrying my little bundle of warm joy with nowhere to trash it and then I'd be surreptitiously eyeballing stranger's Green Bins. I can honestly say, though, that I have never fallen for that easy temptation but then I was using opaque plastic bags. Now with the transparent ones ... hmm ... I may have to revisit my non-proliferation treaty.

Susan, I would never discourage anyone from doing what they can to preserve the environment. Whether we win or lose this battle, acting on one's good principles is important in and of itself. Otherwise, we might as well all just go partée on crack.

onequarterdal said...

I use both grocery store type bags and the biodegradable ones. I hope the biodegradable versions will drop in price below $2.59 a piece :-). I am able to live with myself (or I'm in denial). I picture the poop actually helping the bag decomp. Millions of dogs and cats are euthanized across North America each year. I imagine that the euth chemicals, gas chamber etc. injected into their wee souls are probably not doing much for the environment neither, but hey no one's tagging that as a way to save the earth. I'm greener than most, but I pick up after my dogs and sometimes its not the greeniest version.

onequarterdal said...

I'm one of those folks who have used somewhat transparent bags in the past (and present) and forget I have it and start flinging and fidgeting with the bag while visiting. Non-dog owners flinch. I have no objection or queasiness about picking up after my own, but its icky to pick up after another's. What's up with that? I do it, but its queasy. I do it so I a) don't step it in next time b) get blamed for it.

Anonymous said...

Well, it turned out that the gift wrapped poop bags were not from my OCD neighbour, which I think is what got me incensed because he does have his own Green Bin. One morning I spotted a guy walking his Boxer, and he stopped and picked up a Gift, wrapped it ever so carefully (in a tiny green bag, not a see-through one), looked for my Green Bin but maybe saw me peering out the front window (my kitchen is at the front and I was doing dishes, not spying on the neighbours). He walked on in search of another Green Bin. He seemed so earnest and...well...Green.

Walking my own two, I have no qualms whatsoever about flinging a baggie about and, if I'm visiting, asking if I can drop it off before we head home ;)

onequarterdal said...

Years ago at our house, I had a doggy dooley system. Its a poop composter. I should really get another...we don't have green bins here.

I only wish my neighbours were OCD enough to look to dispose nicely of their dog's poop. My neighbours ignore the on-leash rule, and we find large grain-kibble poops near our front door. Gee thanks eh?

Fred said...

onequarterdal, hey I used to have one of those dooley things. Everytime after a dog dumped in the backyard, I'd go shovel it up, throw it into the dooley, otherwise known as a hole in the ground, add water and then some of that magic powder. It was like making stew.

onequarterdal said...

YES! That's it. They're kind of pricey, but I think if I bought another one (my hubby refused to dig up the one when we moved; for obvious reasons) and moved the "stew-pot" around the property; it could double as fertilizer and a mole deterrant.

I cheaped out a while back and simply dug a hole and put a plastic garage bin (with the bottom cut out) in the ground, but my female mutt kept running off with the lid. Normally that'd be ok, except she likes to also eat poop! I think you can picture why it wasn't a good thing.

I'll have to splurge on a new dooley I guess, sigh.