Friday, December 29, 2006

Consumer Choices

Do most people in North America and other developed countries really believe that having loads of cash, and material things will make them happier and healthier? If not, then why do many people suffer needlessly in the pursuit of material goods well beyond what they need to live comfortably?
Couldn't we use purchasing power to improve our living standards, and our neighbors by buying responsibly, so that consumerism might achieve a greater good? If we consume thoughtfully wouldn't that create a ripple effect throughout the global economy allowing scarce resources to be used responsibly with less exploitation of third world countries? Should we care about these issues? Does responsible consumerism have to be at odds with free enterprise and entrepreneurship? If we promote ethical consumer decisions can we help protect the environment, stop labor abuses, alleviate animal suffering, and push corporations to be more responsible? The making of every consumable product involves ethical decisions that impact human health and the environment, so our purchase choices have the same implications.

I marvel at my own hypocrisy as a consumer, since most of my purchases are made on a whim, out of habit, and without serious regard to their consequences. I haven't been able to divorce myself from our mass media culture that worships at the altar of material gain. Perhaps this post is a step in the right direction. Do you have a consumer philosophy that you live by?

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. ~Mohandas K. Gandhi, quoted in E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Edmonton Adventures 2007

Edmonton, Alberta is a great Canadian City with much to offer its citizens and tourists alike. A few of the great attractions to see in the city are listed below. If anyone would like more information on sights, attractions, and upcoming events in the Edmonton region please leave a comment with your query, and I will do my best to post an answer or respond by e-mail promptly.

  • The largest shopping mall in the world is situated in Edmonton. It boasts a huge indoor water park, casino and amusement park with the world's largest indoor roller coaster.

  • Edmonton is known as the Festival city throughout the year, but especially in the summer months with world renowned events such as the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival

  • The Edmonton Oilers rank as one of the all time best NHL Hockey franchises having won five Stanley Cup championships in their glory years with the likes of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. Go see one of their games in the building that started it all.

  • Edmonton has the largest urban parkland in North America stretching along the North Saskatchewan river with 22 parks and over 150 kilometres of trails to enjoy.

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    Sunday, December 17, 2006

    Global Warming: Is it too Late?

    Is it time for the silent majority to take a stand on global warming?

    Few would argue that the science of climate change is complex, but despite potential flaws in scientific methodology the evidence seems convincing that we are in a period of dangerous global warming - possibly exacerbated or even caused by human activity. We have receding glaciers, rapid melting of Greenland's ice sheets, new vast expanses of the Arctic ocean without ice, disappearing permafrost, ocean acidification, dying coral reefs, more extreme weather, and documented rises in global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide etc. This doomsday scenario could result in loss of water supplies from glacial melt, species extinction, and unprecedented coastal flooding with submerged cities from rising sea levels, etc.

    Al Gore presents a compelling case for the facts and consequences of global warming in the movie An Inconvenient Truth even though some of the scientific evidence he describes may be taken out of context (e.g. despite his case for new, documented, profound glacial melt on the Antarctic Peninsula, the British Antarctic Survey has determined from climate modeling that for at least the next 50 years; snowfall on the continent of Antarctica should continue to exceed glacial losses from global warming).

    As in many issues there are also compelling arguments against the hypothesis of global warming. An article entitled Myths of Global Warming authored by the NCPA in 1997 attempts to debunk various global warming scenarios. Of course scientific evidenced gathered since that time could also debunk claims made by the NCPA. It is up to each one of us to educate ourselves on the issue, and decide our course of action.

    We can effect change, but is it too late?

    The movie doesn't delve into that issue. There are some potentially devastating positive feedback loops that come into play with global warming that might thwart our best efforts to reduce the trend. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Huge tracts of newly melting permafrost in Western Siberia and other regions will release many tonnes of methane, more forest fires will release more stored carbon, and the water that replaces melted sea ice will absorb more sunlight. All of these effects and others will likely increase the rapidity of global warming possibly beyond our ability to contain it. On the other hand, there may be other science yet to be discovered that debunks the worst case global warming scenarios.

    Mr. Gore I am nearly convinced (despite all of the controversy). I will attempt to reduce carbon emissions. I will exert political influence where possible. The stakes are extremely high and we have to try regardless of the final outcome. Better late than never as they say. We can only hope that human efforts and political will can change the tide - Mars won't likely be fit for human habitation until the next century.

    David Friedman of San Jose, California presents an interesting discussion on the various, confusing practical and philosophical arguments relating to the debate on global warming entitled "Global Warming: Confusing Moral and Practical Arguments".

    For the naysayers who say that global warming is a myth, and that proposals to limit greenhouse gases might actually harm the environment or the welfare of mankind please see the Petition Project signed by more than 17,100 applied scientists who agree with that sentiment.

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    Thursday, December 07, 2006

    My Seasonal Affective Disorder

    Author's Note:
    Since the original publication of this post, some scientific consensus has developed regarding the link between Vitamin D deficiency, brain chemistry and mood disorders.  A combination of adequate Vitamin D intake and blue light box therapy may be the most effective means of combatting SAD in addition to other general health maintenance measures.

    It's no surprise that many people who live in Northern climes suffer from sunlight deprivation in the Winter. If you happen to work day shifts you may only catch glimpses of the sun rising and setting, or never see the sun at all depending on your latitude. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is essentially unheard of in those who live near the equator indicating its strong link to lack of daylight exposure. Unfortunately normal indoor lighting is simply not intense enough to have the desired positive physiological effects that sunlight does.

    Depression has stalked me off and on for years - negatively impacting relationships, productivity and peace of mind, but I know it has taken a much greater toll in others. I have a close friend with a severe affective disorder dominated by depression who is unable to work, relies on a subsidized income, and has become alienated from family and friends. At his worst he has suffered hospitalization, and bouts of electroconvulsive (shock) therapy to regain some grip on reality and his moods. Obviously, severe depression or SAD can have terrible consequences including suicide, and so we should take every measure to adequately treat milder forms and prevent their progression.

    It took many years to realize that my worst bouts of depression were usually in the winter, and more specifically the month of November. Of course SAD explains this pattern nicely. The onset of this SAD is so rapid that within a few days I can go from highly functional to a fairly depressed state as though the shrinking daylight in the fall suddenly triggers a switch in my brain. Fortunately my sister convinced me to start taking antidepressants during one severe November episode a few years ago, and after a few weeks I felt better than I had in years. After being on the drugs for a year or so I decided to stop them because of the side effects, and decided to try other measures to combat depression. Having said that I wouldn't hesitate to use antidepressants again if an episode of depression became too severe, or didn't respond to other measures. My depressive episodes have also been linked to a mild obsessive compulsive disorder, and that also improved with the medication, but again I sought other methods to deal with that. Through better understanding of these conditions, I can now effectively fight off the blues and OCD by getting proper rest, using cognitive behavior therapy, staying active, seeking good nutrition, and more recently by employing blue light therapy to combat SAD. If I am disciplined enough to use my light box regularly at the first signs of SAD I will experience a definite improvement in mood.

    Of course like most treatments there can be side effects to light therapy as well(Saeed and Bruce):

    Photophobia (eye sensitivity to light)
    Hypomania (a mental state characterized by excessive excitability, optimism, hyperactivity, talkativeness, heightened sexual interest, quick anger and irritability and a decreased need for sleep)
    Insomnia (if light therapy is used too late in the day)
    Possible retinal damage (though this side effect has not been proven)

    Despite these considerations I prefer to use light therapy rather than travel the road back down to taking antidepressants again. If you have free time during the day, then going for a walk of reasonable duration is a good alternative to using a light box. If you experience significant "winter blues" that might be related to SAD you should seek a medical opinion. If you are diagnosed with SAD, then your purchase of a light box to treat it might be one of the best investments you ever make. Not all light boxes are created equal though, and you should consider blue spectrum 470 nanometer LED lights as they are probably more effective while using much less light intensity than full spectrum boxes (easier on the eyes with less side effects).

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