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Canada's oceans matter, at the Paris climate talks and beyond

Science Matters | November 26, 2015 | Leave a comment
Photo: Canada's oceans matter, at the Paris climate talks and beyond

Many shellfish are extremely vulnerable to ocean acidification and some areas most at risk are also least prepared to respond and adapt to the crisis. (Credit: Alicia Wellman via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from Sarika Cullis-Suzuki, PhD, marine biologist, visiting scientist at the University of Victoria's Ocean Networks Canada and David Suzuki Foundation board member.

It's encouraging that our newly elected federal government has agreed to improve efforts to safeguard Canada's oceans. Ocean protection here is shamefully deficient, currently at around one per cent. The new government has restated our country's commitment to protect 10 per cent of our oceans by 2020, as part of a global agreement Canada signed in 2010 at the 10th meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Increased ocean protection was one change called for in a recent peer-reviewed paper written by 19 scientists from across the country (including my daughter, Sarika). "Canada at a Crossroads: The imperative for realigning ocean policy with ocean science" offers recommendations for government to step up its game when it comes to ocean health.

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The end of coal in Canada?

Climate & Clean Energy | November 25, 2015 | Leave a comment
Photo: The end of coal in Canada?

(Credit: machinecodeblue via Flickr)

By Gideon Forman, Climate Change and Transportation Policy Analyst

In 2010, in an inspiring piece in the New York Times Magazine, "Building a Green Economy", Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote, "whatever else we do, we have to shut down coal burning over the next couple decades." Who would have predicted that just five years later Canada would be on its way to meeting his ambitious target?

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Biking and walking in the city

Climate & Clean Energy | November 23, 2015 | Leave a comment
Photo: Biking and walking in the city

(Credit: eric robinson via Flickr)

By Sherry Biscope, Health policy specialist, Toronto Public Health & Kelly Sabaliauskas, Health research specialist, Toronto Public Health

Most Ontarians live in cities and one of the ways to support good physical, mental and social health is to build healthy cities. How cities are organized affects individuals' ability to be active physically, economically, or socially. Making active transportation the safe and easy choice can also affect air quality and contribute to lowering the burden of illness associated with airborne pollution.

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Winds of change blow across the Prairies

Climate & Clean Energy | November 19, 2015 | Leave a comment
Photo: Winds of change blow across the Prairies

(Credit: Anthony Quintano via Flickr)

By Kyle Aben, Climate and Clean Energy Policy Analyst

Just three years ago, the David Suzuki Foundation produced All over the map 2012: A comparison of provincial climate change plans. The report found Saskatchewan was the largest per capita producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. "It is difficult to image a province taking the threats of climate change less seriously," it pointed out. Fortunately, this statement can no longer be made about the province known for its CFL football fans, Gordie Howe and strong community spirit.

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Natural infrastructure is good for the climate and communities

Science Matters | November 18, 2015 | 1 comment
Photo: Natural infrastructure is good for the climate and communities

(Credit: DeepRoot via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada Director Faisal Moola and the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition.

Across Canada, towns and cities face a one-two punch: aging infrastructure and the extreme weather climate change brings. Unless we do something, many of our roads, railways, transit lines, bridges, stormwater pipes and other built structures could become obsolete.

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DIY recipes to help combat colds and flu

Queen of Green | November 15, 2015 | 2 comments
Photo: DIY recipes to help combat colds and flu

Hydrogen peroxide is a great disinfectant and breaks down into oxygen and water so it's kind to the environment. (Credit: Brendon Purdy Photography)

There is no evidence that antibacterial products actually do a better job than regular soap in a household setting. So avoid them UNLESS you work in a hospital.

Why? Overuse of antibacterial ingredients — like triclosan — is helping create superbugs. Our increasing obsession with avoiding germs could actually be making us sick.

What is triclosan?

Triclosan is used in cleansers, antiperspirants/deodorants, toothpastes and hand sanitizers as a preservative and anti-bacterial agent. It's toxic to fish and wildlife and may be an endocrine disrupter, i.e., interfere with hormone function. It's best avoided, which can be tricky because it seems like it's in everything — soaps, countertops, garden hoses, garbage bags, socks, laundry products, facial tissues and more.

How to shop smarter

  • Avoid anything labelled "anti-bacterial".
  • Avoid triclosan in the ingredient list.
  • Avoid parfum (a.k.a fragrance). Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some are linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some are harmful to fish and other wildlife.
  • Choose bar soaps — a U.S. study found triclosan in 76 per cent of liquid soaps and only 29 per cent of bar soaps (American Journal of Infection Control, 2002).
  • Choose products that list ingredients (especially home cleaners).
  • Choose products with plant-based ingredients. * Choose products with ECOLOGO or Green Seal labels.

If you live or work with children, non-toxic disinfectants are even more important. Kids are not miniature adults — kilogram for kilogram they absorb more chemicals. They're closer to the ground and they have an "exploratory nature" — they put everything in their mouths!

Germ killing DIY recipes

One way to get off the antibacterial crazy train — make your own soap, hand sanitizer, cleaner and disinfectant!

Liquid hand or body soap (takes less than 10 minutes)

Add to soap dispenser (even the foaming kind):

  • ¾ cup (187.5 ml) water
  • ¼ cup (62.5 ml) liquid castile soap (unscented or scented with essential oils; available at most health food stores or organic grocers)

Check out my four-part blog on how to make your own cold-process bar soap with vegetable oils and natural exfoliants.

Hand sanitizer

  • ¼ cup (62.5 ml) pure aloe gel
  • ½ cup (125 ml) grain alcohol (e.g., vodka) or rubbing alcohol
  • 5 to 8 drops tea tree or thyme essential oil
  • Optional: add 2 T (30 ml) vegetable glycerin to combat alcohol's drying effect

Mix and store in a squeeze bottle. Keep a batch in your diaper bag, child's backpack, at your desk or in your purse or car.

All-purpose spray cleaner

  • Mix equal parts white vinegar and water
  • Optional: add 3 to 5 drops of thyme essential oil

Add to a spray bottle. Use it to clean your home — wipe down countertops, keyboards, doorknobs, etc.

Acetic acid (white vinegar) is a great disinfectant, deodorizer and grease cutter. It tackles salmonella (some strains), E. coli and other "gram-negative" bacteria that can cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream, wound or surgical site infections.

The acid in vinegar crosses the bacteria cell membrane and prompts a release of protons that kills the cell. Heinz unveiled a "cleaning" version of its white distilled vinegar — instead of five per cent acetic acid, it has six. Some "eco" stores sell a 12 per cent solution. Simply heating vinegar can also boost its power.

Disinfectant spray

Transfer store-bought hydrogen peroxide to a dark spray bottle (it's sensitive to light).

Unlike chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide breaks down into oxygen and water and is kind to the environment. Did you know eco or oxygen bleach is really diluted hydrogen peroxide?

On their own, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are each strong germ killers. Used in combination, they're even better — 10 times more effective than disinfecting with either substance alone and more effective than bleach in the kitchen.

Here's the catch: mixing them together cuts their germ-killing power, but using one after the other works well.

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Don't confuse "best before" with "expired"

Queen of Green | November 12, 2015 | 4 comments
Photo: Don't confuse

Did you know that milk can be consumed 7 days after the "best before" date, opened or unopened? (Credit:

Are you sitting down?

Yogurt with a best before date of today is still good (and safe) to eat for seven to 10 days (open or unopened)!

Reading best before dates as expiry dates probably contributes to food waste and "every year a staggering one-third — 1.3 billion tonnes — of the world's food is wasted after it has been harvested: 45 per cent of fruit and vegetables, 35 per cent of fish and seafood, 30 per cent of cereals, 20 per cent of dairy products and 20 per cent of meat."

Let's change that.

Best before dates have to do with food quality — freshness, texture, flavor and nutritional value — not safety. They are not expiry dates.

I suspect not confusing "best before" with "expired" will lead to these three things:

  1. You'll waste less food.
  2. You'll save money.
  3. You'll avoid sending food waste to the landfill, which contributes to increasing methane emissions and significantly adds to our climate change woes.
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