Oct 24 global day of action

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

“Dear world: This is an invitation to help build a movement – to take one day and use it to stop the climate crisis.” These are words from the grassroots organization 350.org, which is energizing a huge global protest about the looming climate crisis. On Saturday, October 24, up to a million people will take action for 350: International Day of Climate Action. A million and one, if you participate too. At the time of writing, people have signed on to initiate 1,514 actions in 114 countries from Canada to China and from Mongolia to the Maldives.

Their actions will be colourful, positive and totally determined to convey the message to our world’s leaders that our planet is in peril. We must reduce the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere to 350 parts per million and not let it continue to creep ever upwards toward 450 or 550 parts per million.

Before we started burning our way through two hundred million years of ancient carbon, the level was 280 parts per million. That’s how much we’ve thrown our atmosphere out of balance.

In Vancouver, people will gather on the Cambie Street Bridge at 11:00 AM for “Bridge to a Cool Future” and then move along Pacific Boulevard to Science World, which will offer art, performance, music, food and whatever creativity you contribute. At www.bridgecoolplanet.ca, organizer Kevin Washbrook writes, “Please encourage your business, church, cultural group or sports team to take part. Invite your friends, colleagues, neighbours and grandparents. Together, we can send a strong message that it is time for action.”

In Victoria, also on October 24, FutureFest starts at noon in Centennial Square, with community visioning, performers, a flash dance mob and a mass bike ride (www.350.org/victoria). A conference on Salt Spring is also being organized by the Gulf Islands Alliance (www.gulfislandsalliance.ca).

The intention of the global protest is to drive home the crucial importance of the number 350. According to Bill McKibben, the movement’s founder, “350 parts per million (ppm) is the number humanity needs to get below as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change. To get there, we need a different kind of PPM – a ‘people powered movement’ that is made of people like you in every corner of the planet.” Bill has been travelling all over the world, motivating people to become involved.

In India, Bidisha Banerjee hiked with a friend to the Gangotri glacier, at the mouth of the Ganges River, where she filled 350 brass vessels with its holy water and arranged them to display “350” so that their energy might carry the thought deep into the soul of our planet’s emerging future. She writes, “Over the last 35 years, the Gangotri Glacier has retreated at faster and faster rates. A UN report suggests that climate change may desiccate the Ganges by 2030, parching 500 million Indians both spiritually and physically. This is one of many reasons why the number 350 is so important for Indians.” 

In Portland, Oregon, a hundred paddling communities will gather on the Willamette River to spell out “350” in their kayaks. In Chile, the Eco-Schools Network is getting the word out to 350 schools. In Upper Kintore, New Brunswick, Peter Vido is hoping 35 hand-mowers will mow a giant “350” in the grass that will be seen by people in passing airplanes. In Mexico, there will be a huge rally in the Monterrey Soccer Stadium.

Anyone can take an action, however small. Just invite some friends, make a sign and send the photo to 350.org. If you are alone, you could create a 350 sign and place it in your window.

On October 24, people around the world will join in a single act of supplication, sounding a note which they hope will penetrate the hearts, minds and souls of every global leader in the run up to the critical Copenhagen Conference where they will hopefully craft a strong new global climate treaty.

Three hundred and fifty. Trois-cinquante. Zwischen drei und fünfzig. Tre halvtreds. Tre cinquanta. Drie vijftig. Tatlong limampung. Tiga lima. Padesát tri. Tatu hamsini. Tre femti. Teen pachaas. San wu shi. The beat goes on.

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association (www.bcsea.org) and author of the forthcoming book, The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming.

Repurpose your garbage

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

In Mexico City, politicians recently banned the ubiquitous plastic bags that citizens use for everything from groceries to soft drinks. But that will only go part way to reducing the 12,000 tonnes of garbage the city produces every day. Only six percent of Mexico City’s garbage gets recycled now, but the government has an ambitious plan to recycle, compost or burn (for energy) 85 percent of it by 2013.

Mexico City’s waste-management situation illustrates the importance of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. And we should add another R: rethink. People in Canada are getting better at this, but we can do more. We recycle just over 20 percent of our garbage. And, according to Stats Canada, each of us produced an average of 837 kilograms of non-hazardous solid waste in 2006. That’s a lot of garbage going to the landfill and it’s a lot of resources and energy being wasted. Some European countries, such as Austria and Switzerland, are now recycling more than half their wastes, so there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Beyond the waste problem itself, landfills produce about one quarter of Canada’s methane emissions and methane is a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide. Some cities are now capturing that methane to burn for energy rather than allowing it to escape into the atmosphere.

Reducing the amount of trash we create, in the first place, is the best place to start tackling our waste-management problems. Not only does it mean we send less waste to the landfill, but it also means we use fewer resources and less energy, as it takes energy to produce and transport packaging and disposable items.

Every day, more people, stores and cities are finding ways to cut down on the use of disposable plastic bags, but we still create a lot of unnecessary packaging and products. Planned obsolescence – the absurd practice of producing goods that won’t last so that the consumer cycle can continue – is still very much with us. We can all avoid buying products that are over-packaged or ‘disposable’ and encourage producers to be more responsible. When we consumers take the time to tell stores, businesses and governments that we want less packaging and goods that last, we will make a difference. Our changing attitude about plastic bags is a perfect example.

Reusing offers opportunities to get creative. People have always re-tailored clothes to give them new life. Think of the other ways you can use products that no longer function in their intended role. But reusing is an area where some difficulties arise, especially on a larger scale. Reusing waste by converting it to energy is a growing trend. The most common method is burning the garbage and using the heat to produce energy. Although the technology is improving, it still has problems; burning waste creates emissions, for one. Other methods are also being explored, including breaking down the waste with microorganisms to produce methane and carbon dioxide for biogas.

Recycling is one of the first things that come to mind when we think of waste reduction. Most of us urban Canadians dutifully take our paper, plastic, bottles and cans to the blue box recycling bins. Again, if we use fewer products that must be thrown away, we’ll have less stuff to recycle and send to landfills. But we should all be aware that our efforts to recycle are not in vain. If we work to ensure that our communities, schools and workplaces have good recycling and composting programs and that producers and retailers take responsibility for their products, and if we all improve our own efforts to recycle, we will reduce our need for landfills.

Individual action is important, but legislated solutions are also effective. In Switzerland, people buy stickers that they have to attach to garbage before it is picked up. The more garbage you put out, the more you have to pay. Switzerland now has the highest rate of recycling in the world.

We can all do our part as citizens, but as we see in Mexico City and Switzerland, a push by governments can go a long way to creating the kind of large-scale change needed to get our waste-management problem under control.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org


Dr. Rogers Prize 2009

Vancouver and Calgary doctors awarded world’s largest prize for complementary and alternative medicine

r. Badri (Bud) Rickhi of Calgary (left) and Dr. Hal Gunn of Vancouver (right) accept the 2009 Dr. Rogers Prize from Geoff Rogers (centre).

Two practitioners recognized as “agents of change” in the revolutionary movement toward an integrative approach to clinical medical practice have split the $250,000 Dr. Rogers Prize for Excellence in Complementary & Alternative Medicine for 2009. Dr. Badri (Bud) Rickhi of Calgary and Dr. Hal Gunn of Vancouver accepted the 2009 Dr. Rogers Prize from Geoff Rogers, son of Dr. Roger Hayward Rogers, for whom the Prize is named. The award gala took place on September 25 at Vancouver’s Fairmont Waterfront Hotel.

Dr. Gunn, a one-time student of Dr. Rogers, took the fledgling Centre for Integrated Therapy in Vancouver, created by Dr. Rogers, and evolved it into today’s InspireHealth, which focuses not solely on a person’s cancer, but on treating the whole person. (www.inspirehealth.ca) Dr. Rickhi has been described as having “thrown away” a promising psychiatric career in the late 1980s when he trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic, Japanese and Tibetan medicine. He established the Research Centre for Alternative Medicine, now the Canadian Institute for Natural and Integrative Medicine (CINIM) (www.cinim.org) and played a key role in establishing the Integrative Health Institute at Mount Royal College.


Thuna Herbals – 121 years and growing

A Toronto tradition rooted in family

Interview with herbalist Evelyn Dorfman

by Sonya Weir

Circa 1920s. Evelyn Dorfman in front of her grandfather’s store, 436 Queen Street West, Toronto.

A visit to Thuna Herbals on Danforth Avenue in Toronto is like stepping back in time. The herbal dispensary looks much as one would expect a store of its kind to look like in the 20s, with rows and rows of huge glass apothecary jars full of helping herbs. Dr. Max Harriman Thuna founded the family business in 1888 after arriving in Toronto from New York, where he had initially settled after emigrating from Austria. Both an osteopath and an herbalist, Dr. Thuna established 28 retail herbal stores across Canada. His original store, which he ran at 436 Queen Street West in Toronto, is the subject of the photograph pictured here; the store window is a visual testament to the latitude that retail sellers enjoyed back then in pitching their products. Dr. Thuna died in 1937, leaving a legacy of an herbal tradition that carries on to this day. The store at 298 Danforth Avenue is currently run by Dr. Thuna’s granddaughter herbalist Evelyn Dorman, and herbalist Roger Lewis. For more than 100 years Thuna Herbals has been dispensing advice and herbal products to the community. It is both an herbal tradition and a family affair.

Sonya Weir: How long have you been involved with Thuna Herbals?

Evelyn Dorfman: I got involved very late in life, specifically at this store, when I decided to take an herbal course that became 

Thuna Herbals’ 

The following family members have all worked with Thuna Herbals:

  • Dr. Max Harriman Thuna
    (founder of Thuna Herbals)

  • Gertrude Augusta Thuna
    (Max’s daughter)

  • Jack Thuna (Gertrude’s brother)

  • Leo Thuna (Gertrude’s brother)

  • Saul Pasen (Gertrude’s husband)

  • Evelyn Dorfman
    (Gertrude and Saul’s daughter)

  • Lionel Pasen (Evelyn’s brother)

available in Toronto. I had always felt close to the business and admired it, but I had never been involved. Other family members were, of course. The direct people involved were my mother and father. I was a child with parents who were involved in a store such as you see here. I started 20 years ago. I was ready to make a change in my life and I started working here at Thuna’s helping out. My brother was here. I wanted to see if I could get a job here and he said, “Sure, come down.” I said, “Look, I’m not an herbalist obviously, but let me be helpful,” which is what I started doing.


Evelyn Dorfman at Thuna Herbals, 298 Danforth Avenue

Soon after that, I learned that Dominion Herbal College [from Vancouver] was setting up in Toronto to do courses. That was, of course, made for me and I took the course. It took me about four years to get through it. At that point, I felt sufficiently comfortable to be able to function here as an herbalist. I knew that this meant herbalism and herbalists were going to develop in this area and flourish. There are medical doctors today who are opening their minds not only to herbs, but to all kinds of concepts of nutrients and how best to apply other applications than the usual pharmaceuticals.

SW: You must have seen many changes over the last 20 years.

ED: Yes, but they are slow changes. The situation in the store has not changed very much. We are dealing with the same subjects and people are still looking for the same kind of help – herbs. What has changed slowly and for the better is the growing attitude of the medical community toward the possibility of some benefit or value with herbs. At the time my parents were involved, and my grandfather, there were a lot of acidic, harmful and destructive attitudes medically, and that was the time when science was starting to become an active part of the community. Therefore, anything the medical people could not specifically say was scientific was going to be [for them] less than worthy, and obviously quackery.

SW: Have you found that mainstream, allopathic medicine has embraced alternative medicine to a larger extent?

ED: I wouldn’t say “embracing” at all. I would say there has been a softening in the attitudes. There has been strong support in some cases, but those cases [doctors] had to be careful with their own practices because if the College of Physicians and Surgeons were to tune in to the fact that a doctor had suggested that someone go and try a certain herb he had heard about, he could be called up on the carpet and actually punished. There is more possible thought of it today. The medical people have had so many clients talk to them about someone in their family – or they themselves – trying something and doing well, they cannot ignore it totally. To some extent, they are allowing themselves to hear the words, but they daren’t move ahead and investigate it the way things are now because they will be punished. There have been some excellent Toronto doctors who have had to leave the city because they dared to include natural herb medicines as a treatment. That is slowly changing and that’s what counts.

SW: Doctors have to stop merely treating people’s symptoms.

ED: The doctors themselves are getting a lot of input from their customers and if they’ve done any reading, they see that there is another dimension that they were not taught. They were not taught about nutrition, for sure, and they were only taught about drugs in a general sense. Of course, they were taught anatomy and all the basics. Therefore, they’re excellent at diagnosis. But when it comes to how best to deal with that diagnosis, they turn to the synthetic forms, which originally come from herbs. The herbs are the right answer to certain problems, but they daren’t use herbs. Therefore, they use a synthetic form of the herb making it a pharmaceutical and something they can then point to and tell you to go and get this medication. But if they were to examine it, so many of them [drugs] are based on herbs. But these are distortions of herbs; they’re synthetics.

SW: Has the herbal industry been affected by stringent government legislation as other natural products have been?

ED: No, it hasn’t. They [herbs] could have fallen into that. That was a possibility, but there has been so much reaction on the part of the public demanding that they not be denied their herbs and the things they can get from their natural doctors and homeopaths – demanding that the government not take that away from them – that I think the tone influenced the government to say, “Now, well, wait a minute, that doesn’t have to be.” There is a separate category that permits the functioning of natural products and even if it’s imperfect, it’s at least a category that didn’t exist before. It’s a natural product category, separate from the drug category. They had been trying to include anything and everything; even foods that were highly nutritive could have been included. It shows that nobody’s thinking. There’s a power grab in some way. Fortunately, there have been individuals in the government as well as the public who saw this as a road down to something they wouldn’t want to see happen in Canada.

SW: This was the essence of Bill C51 in the previous Parliament.

ED: I think the public feels they want to examine anything that the government is laying on them. They are encouraged by the fact that they were vocal in the early part of this whole process and seem to have gotten some of the benefits they made the effort for. I think that come autumn, if they examine what the government is offering or proposing – or even has passed – if they want to react against it, they can do so.

SW: Where do your herbs come from?

ED: We choose to buy organic or wildcrafted herbs, the highest quality of growth you can buy. We have to choose what we carry carefully because every country has its own standards: Canada, the States, South America and Europe. We carry some Chinese herbs. Some things are only grown in certain climates, obviously, so if we want them we have to see who we can trust in those climates. Just as with the Chinese herbs, we also sell ayurvedic herbs because they too have a long history of helping so they belong here.

SW: What does the term wildcrafted mean?

ED: Wildcrafted means it’s not necessarily developed by people. It can be out in the woods somewhere where there has been no pollution and no changes made in the soil and therefore the product it produces is wildcrafted. It’s harvested that way. That’s as good as it gets.

SW: So organic herbs can be grown in a greenhouse or another controlled situation.

ED: That’s right – in a controlled situation where people are producing it for their livelihood, but they’re doing a service. Whether it’s wildcrafted out there or properly controlled in another setting, it’s good quality.

SW: Thuna Herbals is a real gift to the community.

ED: Yes, because it really helps. It’s very satisfying because you know from experience, from people coming in – we have a lot of repeat customers – saying, “My grandparents brought me in when I was just a little kid and here I’m back,” and he’s bringing in his grandchildren.

SW: Do you get referrals from alternative practitioners?

ED: Yes, definitely. We have a lot of communication with naturopaths and other health-oriented practitioners. We also have to recognize that there are definitely times when the medical capacities are needed. There are some medical doctors today – I believe there are some in Canada but I know more about a few in the States – who are excellent in their medical field, but who are wise enough to have investigated other health approaches. They are now experts in when to use both. Other medical doctors will be inspired. I really believe there must be a lot of medical doctors who see that, with the best of their intentions, they didn’t get where they wanted to get with their clients. Their clients are still needful and no matter how much honest effort they have made, they didn’t have the right answers – whatever they were – for those people and it must be very disappointing and frustrating. The more they learn about other medical doctors who have opened up to the other possibilities and who are starting to learn about them and apply them, they too will have the satisfaction these people have.

SW: Is this type of business rare – the old-fashioned dispensary?

ED: It is less rare than in the past. It is kind of a unique place. When people come in, we spend time talking to them. It is a kind of consultation, but we don’t charge for that aspect. We want them to relax and tell us everything we need to know so we can make our judgements and our best choices.

SW: Is it necessary for you to keep abreast of new herbs that are identified?

ED: There are many, many herbs that we don’t know about and many that the Native community knows about that we don’t know. We have brought several excellent herbs into the store because we learned about them. That’s also why we’re open to ayurvedic herbs because that wasn’t taught to us as Canadian herbalists. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to do but there’s a lot of satisfaction for us here because, by and large, when people come in, we are able to give them some good benefits. We’re able to help them.

SW: Is there someone in line after you to take over the store?

ED: Well, I have people next in line, but no family members at this point have shown an interest. What matters is not that there will be more Thunas, but that there be more herbalism and herbalists. And that is what is developing. People are not going to walk away from this because the customers see that they get helped and it is important to them, and people they love are being helped by this field – just as they are being helped by the naturopaths and the homeopaths.

Truehope’s landmark victory for natural health

Can the public now beat Bill C-6’s bid to search and seize products?

by Shawn Buckley

In the late 1990s, Anthony Stephan and David Hardy, the gentlemen who later formed Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd. (Truehope), began successfully treating persons suffering from bi-polar disorder with a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals. The success of their protocol attracted the interest of researchers at the University of Calgary, which subsequently ran two case series on bi-polar patients. These studies showed that eight out of 10 study participants experienced dramatic improvements.

Stop Bill C-6 now

Send an email to info@parl.gc.ca 
Voice your concern
and call 1-866-599-4999. 
Write to: 
The Senate of Canada, 
Ottawa, Ontario, 
K1A 0A4 
(no postage required).

In addition to being published in peer-reviewed journals, the results of these studies impressed the Alberta government, which decided to use taxpayers’ money to fund a large trial. Halfway through the clinical trial, however, Health Canada took steps to shut it down, stating that the mineral germanium posed too much of a risk. Health Canada now admits that it was incorrect about the risk factor of germanium.

Health Canada then turned its sights on Truehope and demanded that it stop selling its nutritional supplement EMPowerplus, even while thousands of Canadians with significant mental illness were being effectively treated with the supplement. Truehope refused to comply with Health Canada’s demands and clearly communicated to Health Canada that if it were to stop selling EMPowerplus, it would result in deaths and hospitalizations.

Health Canada subsequently took a number of actions to enforce Truehope to remove EMPowerplus from the market, which included the seizure of EMPowerplus at the Canadian border and instructing Canada Customs to turn away other shipments as they arrived. These enforcement actions created a literal panic for people who depended upon EMPowerplus and they reacted by doing everything they could. They wrote letters, protested, held news conferences, advertised their concerns and made repeated phone calls. Health Canada implemented counsellors to take note of the numerous calls from people who made it clear that their lives depended on EMPowerplus. The most troubling communications came from the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. CMHA director Ron LaJeunesse publically warned Health Canada that its actions would lead to suicides and then later publically blamed Health Canada for the deaths of CMHA members.

Despite all the warnings to Health Canada that it was putting Canadians at risk, Health Canada did not relent. It pressed on, eventually charging Truehope in an effort to force the company to stop selling its supplement. However, Truehope was acquitted of these charges because the Court found that if the company had stopped selling EMPowerplus, deaths and hospitalizations would have occurred as a result. The Court further found it was necessary for Truehope to ignore Health Canada. Ironically, EMPowerplus is now licensed for sale in Canada.

At the time that Health Canada seized EMPowerplus, Truehope initiated a Federal Court action to have Health Canada’s seizure powers declared unconstitutional. Truehope’s basic premise is that the state cannot take away health products that Canadians rely upon, without taking into consideration the risk of removing the products and without giving Canadians the opportunity to be heard on the issue. This may seem like common sense, but Health Canada is vigorously trying to protect its seizure powers. This, in itself, is very instructive.

When Health Canada ignored the pleas of Canadians for access to EMPowerplus, it declared that the product – like most natural health products (NHPs) at the time – did not have a licence. It did not matter to Health Canada that people’s lives depended upon the product. Indeed, at the trial, Health Canada inspectors told the Court that things like news of suicides were not relevant. All that mattered to Health Canada was that the product was not in full compliance with the regulations at the time.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example. I am not aware of any instance where Health Canada ever considered the risk of removing a natural health product it was attacking or took into consideration input from the Canadian public. I think the mindset of Health Canada has been a major factor in Canadians resisting recent attempts to increase that agency’s seizure powers. Many readers will recall that, prior to the last election, there was a citizens’ revolt against Bill C-51, which would have expanded Health Canada’s seizure and detention powers. There was also concern about Bill C-52, known as the Consumer Products Safety Act, which would have expanded Health Canada’s seizure and detention powers in the area of consumer products.

Interestingly, after the election, Bill C-52 was quietly re-introduced as Bill C-6 and has already been passed in the House of Commons. It is now in the Senate. Most Canadians are not even aware of Bill C-6 and the dangers it presents to some of our fundamental rights and freedoms. For example, Bill C-6 exempts Health Canada inspectors from the law of trespass. These inspectors can come onto your private property and remain there. You cannot make them leave. This is curious because if you instruct members of the regular police force to leave your property, they must do so, unless they have a warrant or there are special circumstances. The regular police force cannot search your property without a warrant.

With this legislation, however, Health Canada will be able to inspect any business, garage or shed on your property, without a warrant. The only place it will not be able to search without a warrant is your home. Whereas the regular police force has to convince a justice it is likely to find evidence of a crime in your home to be able to obtain a legal warrant, Health Canada inspectors need only show the likelihood of a consumer product being found in your home. In effect, under the new law, it is possible for the state to intrude into our homes without evidence of wrongdoing because everyone’s home contains consumer products.

Bill C-6 also allows Health Canada to seize, destroy and/or keep private property without court supervision. This is a move away from the rule of law and it presents a significant danger to our way of life. To appreciate the importance of this, it is necessary to understand why the rule of law is so fundamental. In the past, when rulers wanted to imprison or kill people, soldiers were sent to do the deed. When rulers wanted people’s property, soldiers took care of that as well. After a while, our ancestors decided they did not appreciate tyranny and fought for the rule of law, which simply means that the law is above everyone and it applies to everyone. No one is above the law, no one is exempted from the law, and no one can grant exemption to the application of the law, and there is an independent court between the state and the citizens. Under the rule of law, if the state wants to imprison you or seize your property, it can only do so with court supervision. The courts ensure that people can only be imprisoned or lose property, according to the law.

The importance of the rule of law should be immediately obvious. Without it, our freedom and our property are subject to the “good will” of the state. This is tyranny, whether we expect it to be benign or not. No good has ever come from citizens giving up the rule of law. Indeed, this is the most disconcerting development I have ever witnessed. The state is currently attempting to undermine the rule of law, which is the core philosophical underpinning of our freedoms. We are allowing this to happen because the state is telling Canadians it is necessary that it have these powers to protect our safety. It is time for us to consider the old adage that those who trade their freedom for security will have neither.

Shawn Buckley is president of the Natural Health Products Protection Association (www.nhppa.org) and a lawyer with expertise in the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. He acts primarily for manufacturers of Natural Health Products

Mallified – Does expanded consumer consciousness signal the end of the traditional shopping mall?

by Geoff Olson

source photo: © Roza | Dreamstime.com photo editing: P. S. Bromley

Recipe: “Take 100 acres of ideally-shaped, flat land. Surround it by 500,000 consumers who have no access whatever to any other shopping facilities. Prepare the land and cover the central portion with 1,000,000 square feet of buildings. Fill with first-rate merchandisers who will sell superior wares at alluringly low prices. Trim the whole on the outside with 10,000 parking spaces and be sure to make same accessible over first-rate under-used highways from all directions. Finish up by decorating with some potted plants, miscellaneous flower beds, a little sculpture and serve sizzling hot to the consumer.” – Commercial architect Victor Gruen. From Recipe for the Ideal Shopping Centre, 1963.

When I was a kid in the sixties, my mother used to bundle my sisters and me into the Corvair and head from Trenton to the nearby shopping centre in Belleville, Ontario. During one such excursion, in preparation for my oldest sister’s birthday, she loaded the groceries into the car, but forgot one item on the roof. It wasn’t until we were well on the highway, when a box tied with string flew in through an open back window, into my oldest sister’s lap. Yelling with excitement, we untied the box and were amazed to discover a cake with “Happy Birthday Janice” written on it. I always found department store shopping fun as a kid, even without big box stores or megamalls. All my family had was the nearby “Rite-way” and the very occasional flying cake.

My childlike delight in shopping didn’t last. Instead of developing sensitivity to peanuts or bee stings, I became allergic to malls. By my twenties, I avoided them as much as possible. This went deeper than a knee-jerk anti-consumerism of a young Chomsky convert. I had a visceral distaste for the places, which increased over time. To this day, every time I enter a mall, I feel my chain being yanked every which way. It’s always a chore, even the times when I can remember where I parked the car.

Popular culture reflects our ambivalence about shopping malls. In George Romero’s 1978 horror film Dawn of the Dead, zombies head for the mall, lurching off escalators in pursuit of the living. In other horror films, a mall scene is invariably accompanied by ominous music and the impending death of some disposable character. Malls don’t fare much better in other genres. In Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the lead character is an overweight shmuck whose pratfalls accidentally immobilize criminals. In Seth Rogen’s Observe and Report, the head of security at the Forest Ridge Mall falls for the dim-witted girl at the makeup counter, who cannot cool her suitor’s desire, even after she vomits on his pillow.

Yet mall-goers are often painted in serious mainstream media as Visa-wielding patriots. In the winter of 1999, Seattle television news anchors applauded shoppers for braving the city’s downtown core and its warren of underground malls, in spite of street protests against the WTO. Immediately after 9/11, the Bush administration encouraged shell-shocked Americans to keep on shopping, lest the terrorists win. South of the border, shopping is as American as Yankee stadium or the hydrogen bomb – and nowhere is the freedom to choose greater than at the mall.

Ironically, the first shopping malls were not found in the American Midwest, but in the Muslim world. Isfahan’s Grand Bazaar dates to the 10th century. The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, built in the 15th century, still stands as one of the largest covered markets in the world, with more than 58 streets and 4,000 shops. But these dusty retail Meccas lack the one thing that’s made middle-class shopping a singularly North American experience: air conditioning.

Air conditioning, the marketers of the early twentieth century hoped, would be the pheromone that would entice WASPS and worker bees out of their stuffy homes and into the buzzing hives of commerce. “Let those who cry for fresh air through open windows from the out-of-doors be reminded that it doesn’t exist in the congested city,” proclaimed a 1926 issue of The Journal of Heating, Piping and Air Conditioning. “So air conditioning has come to make available every day the best in atmospheric comfort that nature offers so spasmodically.”

All well and good, but it took the post-war years for someone to build a really cool joint for shoppers to inhale. That someone was Austrian-born architect and American immigrant Victor Gruen and his joint was his first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall. His flagship creation was the Southdale Center, which opened in the Twin Cities suburb of Edina, Minnesota, US, in 1956.

Gruen did his homework. Deciding to “empirically” prove that air conditioning would liberate untapped consumer energy, he created a chart that listed the distance and time “which the average healthy human being is willing to walk, under varying environmental circumstances:”

– In an unattractive environment (parking lot, garage, traffic-congested streets): 2 minutes or 600 feet.

– In an attractive but not weather-protected area during periods of inclement weather: 5 minutes or 1,250 feet.

– In a highly attractive environment in which the sidewalks are protected from sunshine and rain: 10 minutes or 2,500 feet.

– In a highly attractive, completely weather protected and artificially climatized environment: 20 minutes or 5,000 feet.

Mid-century American shoppers considered the first shopping malls to be beautiful places where they could escape their daily worries. They could aimlessly amble about, bathed in bright lights, brand names and cool, clean air. Marketers tried every trick in the book, and invented plenty of new ones, in an effort to draw in more enthusiastic consumers, more often.

Retail architects developed “atmospherics,” an applied science of shopping psychology. They designed mall entrances so that shoppers had to make three turns upon entering from the parking lot, making it more likely they’d forget where they had left their cars. Harder materials were installed in the corridors than in the stores, subtly guiding the shoppers to the checkout tables. The Muzak firm researched which musical tracks made shoppers eat faster, try on more clothes, linger longer or move on more quickly.

In his book Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back, Douglas Rushkoff notes how microscopic this research has become. A company called Envirosell examined videotapes of shoppers and discovered that bigger sales counters made buyers self conscious about buying one small item. Women, “butt-brushed” by another shopper while inspecting an item, won’t buy it. All the nuances of human shopping behaviour – a sublimated form of primate food-gathering – have been investigated and aimed back at the consumer.

Soon after customers enter a mall, their expressions change, their eyes grow blank, their jaws drop and their path through the mall becomes more random. This zombified demeanour was coined “The Gruen Transfer,” in honour of the creator of the modern shopping mall. Rushkoff says it was defined as “the moment when a person changes from a customer with a particular product in mind to an undirected impulse buyer.”

Given all this subliminal persuasion, the average mall-goer might as well be a drugged rhesus monkey in an immense laboratory it can’t possibly understand. “As environmental manipulating became more overt, consumers couldn’t help but notice their moods changing,” writes Rushkoff. “An afternoon at the mall used to be an exhilarating experience. Now, thanks in large part to all the psychological manipulation going on, it was draining.”

The manipulation and energy draining now even extends to nonhuman forms of life, such as the “replascaped” palm trees found in high-end megamalls. These monstrosities are a seamless botanical mix of real and fake. Grown in controlled nursery conditions, the palms are “harvested once they have reached a desired height and girth, and then carefully dissected in a laboratory resembling the back room of a funeral parlour,” according to the fascinating 2000 urban study Mutations. Skilled artisans are brought in to reconstruct the tree, weaving the bark segments into a hollow PVC pipe. The top of the pipe has steel receiver heads for attaching preserved fronds. Planters are not necessary. With the roots amputated, one maker of replascapes advises, you “merely bolt the trunks to the floor.”

All this highly sophisticated trickery offers diminishing returns to overamped customers, who subliminally sense something is off when they enter a mall. Not surprisingly, the decline of new mall construction in North America began in the nineties, long before the credit crisis, so this may not be entirely about the offshore outsourcing of jobs, depredations of big box stores or even the capitalist crisis of overproduction. Across the US, there are “dead malls,” complexes abandoned due to increased traffic and tenancy. These shopping Stonehenges, which can sit unused for years until restored or demolished, attract urban explorers and photographers who document their decline on websites like deadmalls.com.

While mall growth is slowing or arrested in North America, the developing world is going ape over US-style retail gigantism. Today, the worlds largest shopping complexes makes Gruen’s early efforts seem like the prehistoric outposts of cash-strapped primitives. The biggest, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is Berjaya Times Square. Advertised at 7,500,000 square feet, it’s four times bigger than Metrotown. Beijing’s Golden Resources Mall takes second place, at 6,500,000 square feet. Third and fourth place go to megamalls in the Philippines.

The trend in North America is building big box stores and open-air malls, or at least to renovate existing malls so there is more natural light. The golden age of classical, windowless shopping malls, with their underground passageways, is now kaput in North America. In Canada, only two new shopping malls have been built since 1992, both of which are in Ontario. So what do architects have up their sleeves to replace the Rodney Dangerfield of commercial architecture, the lowly shopping mall?

In Life Inc., Rushkoff relates a pleasant scene in North Carolina, with people of all ages strolling a cheery main street, window-shopping. There’s a fountain in the town square, adjacent to a quaint clothing shop, with a Colonial-style storefront. A friendly postal worker waves as Mexican workers hop off a truck to manicure the shrubbery. From the author’s description, it seems less like Norman Rockwell than The Truman Show and Rushkoff reveals why: soporific Birkdale Village is actually a shopping mall. The people living there are renters, in condos set above national chain tenants such as Talbots, Sunglass Hut and the Gap.

“What by day appeared to be rows of separate little buildings are really separate little storefronts along the faces of just a few really big buildings. These structures are bounded on two sides by parking lots so immense that they prompted an Urban Land Institute report on the potential environmental damage to surrounding area by their water runoff. Almost everyone – more than 99 percent – inhabiting Birkdale by day has driven there from somewhere else. They aren’t Birkdale Villagers at all, but shoppers, diners and moviegoers,” Rushkoff writes.

Birkdale Village has 52 stores and 14 restaurants. There are 320 apartments above the stores. It’s like The Sims come to life, but the simulation is of community rather than commerce. Ironically, Rushkoff notes, North Carolina’s premier mall town draws from the “New Urbanism” championed by Canadian social theorist Jane Jacobs, who believed businesses should share space with local residences in communities. (If she knew her ideas were being invoked to support retail Potemkins, Toronto’s smartest urbanist would surely be spinning in her grave like a wind-powered turbine.)

Rushkoff tells how the residents staged a protest after North Carolina state agencies ordered Birkdale to shut its fountain off during a drought affecting the entire southeast. The developer explained to Rushkoff that the protestors didn’t just say, “Turn on the fountain;” they said, “turn on OUR fountain.” This, he said, proves the residents have a real community because they took ownership of the public space. Yet Birkdale Village is no such thing, Rushkoff observes. It’s a private space and the residents are only there at the discretion of the parent company.

While the author can’t begrudge anyone their ersatz community, when that’s the best thing on the shelf, he recognizes this as a Pyrrhic victory for the citizen-consumer. “…these master-planned faux villages would stand no chance at all of endearing themselves to people who weren’t already, and by design, disconnected and alienated from the place where they live. By installing national chains and superstores as their foundational institutions, mall towns redirect our dormant instinct for civic and social connect on to the brand sponsoring all this supposed renewal.”

Even though shopping malls are no longer quite the commercial force they were in the past, the mallification of life continues. Like a virus, the mall template has begun to invade cultural forms you’d never think could play host: airports, train stations, museums, military bases, casinos, theme parks, libraries, schools, universities and hospitals. Even churches.

Airports and malls are looking increasingly indistinguishable. (Been to Vancouver International Airport lately?) BAA, the British Airports Authority, operates seven British airports and four American airports. “It now generates 60 percent of its income from retail activities, and because of this the company is classified as a retail stock, rather than as a transportation stock,” according to the authors of Mutations. Museums and hospitals aren’t exempt from becoming “consumer aggregators:” between 1992 and 2000, gallery space in the US increased by three percent, while museum store space increased 29 percent. Fifty-nine of 200 US hospitals with pediatric residencies have fast food restaurants, according to a 2006 issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

Most noteworthy are the megachurches that have erupted like mushrooms across the US, offering boutique shopping and food courts for highway-driving worshippers. Some of these theocratic Wal-Marts even offer daycare. According to the Wharton School of Business, in 2006, church pastors “had a chance to win a free trip to London and $1,000 cash – if they mentioned Disney’s film The Chronicles of Narnia in their sermons.”

Given present trends, it seems we’re fast approaching a world where law enforcement merges with data-mining, wireless surveillance, social networking… and shopping. This is the nexus where social control and consumerism meet and morph into newer and subtler forms of coercion. But will there still be significant numbers of middle class customers left to cruise the aisles – real or virtual – after the Borg-like absorption of public spaces by private interests?

Now that I’ve reached the mid-point in my life, I think back to those shopping trips with my mother and sisters and recall how much leisure time my family had. Although we were poor by Statistics Canada standards, we never wanted for anything. Four decades later, credit thoroughly dominates the lives of a new generation, making them run faster and faster just to stand still, with fewer moments for soulful reconnection with friends, family and their own selves.

And while one can’t seriously object to people in the developing world having opportunities long denied them, what’s objectionable is the template they’ve been given: the same credit-driven consumerism that has helped undercut community and connection across North America.

I suppose this is all part of the “world is flat” globalism espoused by author Thomas Freidman, but I’m more with singer Ian Hunter on this one, in his lament to a vanished past, When the World Was Round. That being said, it hasn’t all been a catalogue of losses. Ideas that were on the margins back in the early sixties – sustainability, civil rights and women’s rights – are now part of the mainstream. Communities across Canada and the US continue to resist the introduction of neighbourhood-nuking, big box stores. The bumper-sticker maxim, “Think Global and Act Local” has become embodied with community-supported agriculture. And media is no longer dominated by a few channels of network television.

People are waking up. The mall may be struggling for life in North America and assuming new forms, but the top-down model for consumerism may be up against something that’s truly difficult to game or co-opt: expanded consciousness.


People and technology can revamp healthcare

DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

Aristotle said that man is a political animal. To Descartes, man was a thinking being. Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that man was ultimately a moral being. I am prone to think that what most characterizes humanity is the fact that we create tools – man as toolmaker.

Empowered Patients Conference

Alan Cassels speaks at the Empowered Patient Conference, 
Saturday, November 7, 1PM, Vancouver Island Conference Centre, 
101 Gordon St., Nanaimo, $75. Lunch included. Tickets: 250-754-8550. 
Info: www.harbourliving.ca

Of course, we are moral, thinking, political animals, but the ingenuity we apply to making tools to serve our needs and make our lives easier and more fulfilled, as well as healthier, is a useful lens through which to examine the state of healthcare today.

Modern healthcare is mostly about the creation of systems that manage the use of tools – pharmaceuticals, vaccines, complementary medicines, surgeries, medical diagnostic equipment and computers – all of which make the delivery of healthcare more efficient and more capable of conquering disease and alleviating suffering. Improvements in the important determinants of health – better hygiene, working conditions and social supports – provide many of us with lives that are less nasty and brutish and longer than our forebears, but healthcare technologies have also helped make us healthier.

The importance of focusing on the use of healthcare technology is intensified by one simple fact: so much of our collective wealth goes toward paying for it. In Canada, public healthcare continues to eat more than 40 percent of provincial revenues, an amount that, similar to an unchecked tumour, only knows how to grow. Our neighbours to the south, currently facing the most monumental healthcare debate in a generation, spend more per capita on healthcare than any nation in the world, trapped by a dysfunctional system that manages to leave 47 million people without healthcare insurance.

It comes down to our use of tools. Are we using healthcare technologies – both high and low tech – optimally and efficiently, with the right tool being used at the right time on the right patient for the right reasons? And if not, why not? We’ll never get to a sustainable, patient-centred health system without a more rational and judicious use of these tools and we certainly can’t keep throwing more and more money down the black hole of healthcare and getting less and less in return.

Yet how often do we hear policymakers talk about the systematic elimination of waste in our health systems? Strangely, not often. When healthcare wonks frame discussions on how to improve healthcare, they tend to focus on the desire for new gadgets, more MRIs, new drugs and evidence of an enduring belief that improving healthcare is really just about getting the next newest thing. For years now, academics and policymakers have been beating the drum about the need for the adoption of electronic patient records, acting almost as if digital records were the deus ex machina that would drop on to the stage and save us from a tragic end.

I agree with some of their reasoning. For instance, I agree that computerized physicians’ offices could make patients visits more efficient and drug prescriptions more readable, while also preventing needless in-office duplication and disruption. Electronic records could help patients acquire important, health-related information, tailored for them with the touch of a button and potential negative drug interactions could be identified and avoided.

As a researcher, I see great promise in electronic records, especially in the use of monitoring and analyzing the impact of decisions made by the healthcare system. How did patients fare on drug X? Did drug X cause more hospitalizations or deaths in patients who took it, compared with patients who took the older drug Y? With electronic systems, we could answer those questions and ensure we are getting the healthcare we are paying for. When new information emerges about the safety of a drug or a diagnostic test, doctors could use their computers to find their patients and advise them of a particular drug or test recall, something which can’t happen now in the paper-based way of doing things.

At the end of the day, electronic patient records are unlikely to save healthcare. It’s going to cost a lot of money to create an army of digital doctors, and, as with the adoption of any new technology, things sometimes go horribly wrong in unintended ways. I’m mindful of the central tenet of Edward Tenner’s book, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, which reminds us that despite how clever we humans are in creating new tools and gadgets, they often crash and burn when used in the real world.

One of the ways electronic health records might backfire is in breaches in privacy and confidentiality that arise from the collection and storage of confidential patient data. Data can be used, but it can also be abused. I don’t think a considerate approach need slow down the adoption of electronic records for the simple fact that many other industries and more advanced health systems have developed the necessary laws and safeguards to protect privacy.

Another use of the computer, related to electronic communications in medicine, is rapidly transforming the nature of medicine: namely, the explosion of web-based information and tools. Who hasn’t first visited Dr. Google with a health care issue nowadays? But that’s only the beginning and a post-Google world is expanding to become the “Brave New World” of “Medicine 2.0” where serious advances in patient empowerment are being made.

“Medicine 1.0” is a static monologue where people use the Internet only to find medical information. In contrast, Medicine 2.0 is about dynamic dialogue, dominated by Internet-based social networking. Proponents of Medicine 2.0 are harnessing the Internet in ways that are truly astounding, employing listserves, chatrooms, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and a ton of other networking tools to bring patients closer to healthcare workers and to each other, for the purposes of research, data collection and storytelling. The world just got that much smaller when people across the globe can share their medical experiences, talk about the effects of drugs or other technologies and exchange information as easily as talking to their next-door neighbour. One such site bringing people together on the topic of diseases and healthcare treatments is www.patientslikeme.com and it makes the future of healthcare appear to be engaged, deeply personal and empowered.

The champions of Medicine 2.0 want to use the Internet to transform the world of the patient and they are perplexed by the slow rate of change. They rail against the paper-based, physician-centric, doctor-knows-best mode of healthcare, which seems impervious to change and mired in somewhat outmoded ways of thinking.

Social networking might be a revolution and it is certainly going to disrupt the traditional doctor-patient relationship. But will it really take hold? Clayton Christensen recommends that, in order to rebuild healthcare, we must effectively disrupt many of the systems currently in place. His book, The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care, presents a provocative perspective: that we need to blow up the current system to make way for a newer, better and more sustainable one.

While Christensen speaks from an American perspective, his lessons could apply to Canadians too: we must revolutionize the way hospitals are funded and operated as well as the way physicians work – under a fee-for-service model – which tends towards over-treatment and leads to many overworked, unhappy doctors. Our medical education is begging for reform and the development and deployment of new pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and diagnostics need to be fundamentally rethought because the old business model isn’t working any more.

At the heart of it, any reform to healthcare must fundamentally address the elephant in the room: the waste that infects all parts of healthcare. Shannon Brownlee, in her excellent book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, reiterates the fact that medical systems around the world deliver an enormous amount of care that does nothing to improve our health or lengthen our lives. She estimates that somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of every healthcare dollar goes towards “useless treatments and hospitalizations” like drugs, tests and surgeries for people who don’t really need them.

It seems to me that much of that waste – the unnecessary and sometimes harmful and dehumanizing healthcare that is thrust upon people – happens both at the front end and the tail end of life, when we are born and when we die. Maybe that’s the place we need to start the healthcare revolution: at birth and at death, the two most common times in our lives where we typically don’t need the routine use of more and more technology. In fact, we need it less. A lot less.

If we are talking about tools, let’s start by creating a healthcare system that sometimes favours the ‘low-tech’ solution – humans instead of machines. Let’s make hospital births the exception, not the rule, by facilitating the delivery of babies at home with properly supported midwives. Let’s allow elderly people whose days are coming to an end feel supported in how they choose to spend their final days: in their own bed surrounded by family or on a hospital gurney, hooked up to machines and tubes and subjected to painful, unnecessary and sometimes inhumane procedures.

Rethinking and redesigning healthcare is a very tall order so let’s start by looking at how we are using our tools, both the high-tech and the low-tech. Let’s start by re-examining the gross intrusion of the healthcare system at birth and at death.

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria and author of The ABCs of Disease Mongering, an Epidemic in 26 Letters.cassels@uivic.ca