The five laws of sustainability

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

It happens so easily. The oil spill on the driveway you hosed down the drain. The spray-on chemical that found its way into your body. The quick trip to the store that released ancient carbon into the atmosphere.

Every day, we do things that break the laws of sustainability, without being penalized in any way. Our culture may be civilized, but it is not naturalized. Why didn’t someone tell us the oil was going to kill the fish?

When our ignorance is fragranced with the perfume of freedom that companies like to use when they lobby governments against creating new laws, it becomes even harder to know what is or isn’t okay. We grow up pickled in ignorance about the natural world and we carry that ignorance into our adult life. How many cabinet ministers understand the carbon cycle? How many supermarket managers understand the marine food chain for the fish they sell?

During this century, all this must change, and if we don’t change, we’ll be toast, butter-side down on the scorching sands of an overheated planet.

Parents will need to demonstrate the laws of sustainability to their children. Schools will need to teach them. Colleges will need to make ‘Sustainability 101’ a prerequisite for acceptance. Candidates running for political office will need to show that they understand them. Businesses will need to enshrine them in their activities, as the carpet company interface is doing with its goal to become 100% sustainable by 2020. Municipalities will need to build their operations around them – as Whistler is doing.

In my definition, sustainability enables the present generation of humans and other species to enjoy a sense of social well-being, a vibrant economy and a healthy environment without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy the same.

And what are the five laws of sustainability? The first four derive from The Natural Step, a process developed by Swedish cancer specialist, Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt, used around the world by companies and municipalities working to go green. The fifth law is my addition.

The first law of sustainability says that we must live, behave and flourish in such a way that there is no progressive build-up of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust, such as heavy metals in the soil, plastics in the ocean or an excess of carbon in the atmosphere. This means we should strive for renewable energy, zero waste and zero emissions from all our activities.

The second law says that we must live, behave and flourish in such a way that there is no progressive build-up of chemicals and compounds produced by society such as dioxins, PCBs and DDT. This means a shift to green chemistry.

The third law says that we must live, behave and flourish in such a way that there is no progressive physical degradation and destruction of nature and natural processes, such as over-harvesting forests, paving critical wildlife habitat, draining wetlands, exhausting the world’s oceans or warming the atmosphere.

The fourth law says that we must live, behave and flourish in such a way that all humans are able to meet their basic needs. In the words of Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, this means everyone should have access to a subsistence income, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom. Whatever we do, we must include the needs of humans, for we are part of Nature.

To cap things off, the fifth law states, “If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.” In all our work and activities, we must strive to live, behave and flourish in such a way that life sparkles. This spreads joy and reminds us that it is our attitude to life that determines whether we experience it as grumpy or great, miserable or miraculous.

Future generations will think of sustainability the way most people now think of justice and human rights – as being both natural and obvious. The challenge to our generation is to cease breaking the laws as quickly as possible so that future generations of humans – and all other species – will have a chance to flourish.

Guy Dauncey is the publisher of the free, monthly newsletter, EcoNews; sign up to receive it at www.earthfuture.com.

Ecology and economy inseparable

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

We often point out that ecology and economy have the same root, from the Greek oikos, meaning “home.” Ecology is the study of home and economics is its management. But many people still insist on treating them as two separate, often incompatible, processes.

At its most absurd, the argument is that we simply can’t afford to protect the environment – that the costs will be so high as to ruin the economy. But if you don’t take care of your home, it will eventually become uninhabitable and where’s the economic justification for that?

Others argue that the economic advantages of some activities outweigh the environmental disadvantages. This, too, is an absurd argument. A recent posting on the website Grist.org points to a number of studies and articles showing that many of these activities are not even beneficial from an economic standpoint.

Take coal mining. Research from West Virginia University found that “coal mining costs Appalachians five times more in early deaths as the industry provides to the region in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits.” And, according to Grist, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development found that “the coal industry takes $115 million more from Kentucky’s state government annually in services and programs than it contributes in taxes.”

The website also refers to a peer-reviewed study in the journal Science, which concluded that logging in Brazil’s rainforests offered only short-term gains in income, life-expectancy and literacy and that the gains disappear over the long term “leaving deforested municipalities just as poor as those that preserved their forests.”

Often, the problem is not so much with resource exploitation itself, but rather with the way we exploit our resources and the reasons for the exploitation. With CEOs looking at quarterly results and politicians looking at three or four-year terms of office, the incentives for long-range thinking are not always clear.

One of the most horrendous examples of this worm’s eye view can be seen in Canada’s tar sands. As author Andrew Nikiforuk argues in his award-winning book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, this resource could be used wisely to “fund Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Instead, industrial interests and the Alberta and federal governments are hell-bent on full-scale liquidation. And so we will end up with some short-term profits and a seemingly healthy economy in exchange for massive environmental damage and the rapid depletion of a resource that may still be necessary for some time to come – along with the negative economic consequences of all that.

Part of the problem lies in the real reason for much of our resource exploitation and industrial activity. Much of it is done not out of necessity but out of a desire for a relatively small number of people to make lots of money quickly. And when the money is rolling in and jobs are being created, the politicians who foster the activities look good.

We may need fossil fuels – at least for now – but do we really need them so that one or two people can propel themselves to the grocery store in a massive SUV made from tonnes of metal?

We also see, not surprisingly, that the dinosaurs of the fossil fuel and other industries will go to great lengths to protect their interests. If that means spreading misinformation and outright lies about the consequences of their industries, well, so be it. And even though the scientific proof for human-caused global warming is undeniable, we have the coal and oil industries funding massive campaigns to cast doubt on the science and we have politicians implying that the world’s scientists are involved in some sinister plot – all so we can continue to rely on diminishing supplies of polluting fuels instead of creating jobs and wealth through a greener economy that may save us from catastrophe.

We need only look at recent events in the US to see that the people standing in the way of progress on the environment are often just as ignorant about the economy.

 

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

Swine flu vaccine scam? – Big pharma stands to gain

WRITING ON THE WALL by Sonya Weir

We’ve been told by the World Health Organization (WHO) that the swine flu is a pandemic and spreading rampantly, with two billion people expected to die globally in the next two years. But the numbers don’t add up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the regular, garden-variety influenza claimed 24,000 lives during the last flu season. Yet, in what it is citing as a pandemic, WHO has attributed the swine flu with 700 to 800 deaths worldwide to date (as of Common Ground’s press date July 29). Pandemic? It’s difficult to understand the logic until one pays attention to the underlying motives.

Who stands to gain from the H1N1 virus? Well, some researchers are raising questions. Dr. Tom Jefferson in the UK claims that the search for a vaccine is driven by vested interests, including academics, governments, the WHO and drug companies, who all stand to gain. “By declaring pandemic, they’ve pushed the button on this juggernaut that they’ve created and, of course, antivirals are a part of that and vaccines are part of that and the whole panoply is part of that. Let’s act with a little bit of caution and common sense and let’s look at the evidence, the hard evidence,” Jefferson says.

Even WHO’s assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda cautions against rushing vaccine production too soon. “There are certain things which cannot be compromised. And one of the things, which cannot be compromised, is the safety of vaccines. There can’t be any questions whether the vaccine is safe or not,” Fukuda explains.

Pharmaceutical companies in the business of making swine flu vaccines include Baxter International, Sanofi-Aventis SA, Novartis, and GlaxoSmithKline. Jefferson notes that Glaxo will be charging about $6 per dose while it costs the company about $1 per dose to produce the vaccine. That’s a nice profit for the drug giant. When asked to comment about its profit margins, a Glaxco representative noted the company “did not recognize the figures.”

Nothing drives Pharma better than profit. Leading UK virologist Professor John Oxford has stated quite succinctly that, in the past, the production of flu vaccines have been highly unprofitable and most companies producing such vaccines pulled out of the US a long time ago. But it looks like for Pharma, the H1N1 virus is turning out to be a real pig for profit.

GlaxoSmithKline is currently reporting a 14 percent increase in its value of vaccine sales, including a worldwide order of 195 million doses of its pandemic flu vaccine. And here in Canada, our government has a contract with GlaxoSmithKline to purchase the vaccine. Interestingly, Glaxo owns a flu vaccine plant in Ste. Foy, Quebec, reportedly capable of producing 3.5 million to four million doses every week. A recent CBC report states that the federal government has already purchased 50 million doses of TamiFlu, which may or may not be of any benefit.

In the US, the National Biodefense Safety Board has recommended that the pandemic swine flu vaccine should be fast-tracked, with vaccinations starting in mid-September – soon after schools open. But as senior medical writer Daniel J. DeNoon from WebMD Health News has noted, “Getting swine flu vaccine by September means skipping all but the most preliminary clinical tests of vaccine safety and effectiveness.”

Washington, D.C.-based investigative journalist, author, and syndicated columnist Wayne Madsen notes, “In addition to the money to be made from the vaccines that will be rushed to market without adequate safety trials this fall, GlaxoSmithKline, which manufactures Relenza, and Roche, which manufactures Tamiflu, are already raking in the money and will make billions more as orders for these two antivirals continue to come in from around the world.”

While Big Pharma rushes to produce a vaccine, according to some health experts, soap and water may be just as effective in preventing the disease. But that’s not great news for the pharmaceutical giants. Soap and water aren’t going to make them any money. They would much rather you succumb to the threat of death from this so-called pandemic and line up for your shot.

References:
• www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090727/ swine_vaccine_090727/20090727?hub=Health
• blog.fortiusone.com/2009/05/05/data-set-of-the-day-swine-flu-vs-the-regular-flu/
• www.cdc.gov/
• www.fightflu.ca/
• www.voanews.com/english/2009-07-28-voa44.cfm
• www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news /20090717/swine-flu-vaccine-fast-track
• www.vran.org

Healing your toxic emotions

by Deepak Chopra

Emotions are mysterious and often dangerous things. Thirty years ago, mind-body medicine made the connection between emotions and illness. The so-called cancer personality had its vogue, preceded by the Type A personality linked to early heart attacks. Despite advances in drugs for depression and anxiety, toxic emotions are taking the same heavy toll as ever, playing their secret part in causing all manner of illness.

The most toxic emotions are hostility, anxiety, stored-up resentment, guilt, hopelessness, and depression. What makes them toxic is that they disrupt the immune system and drastically alter hormone levels. Researchers long ago proved that lab rats raised under conditions of high stress are much more prone to sickness and early death. But human beings have much more control over the toxic effects of their feelings.

The cycle of all emotions always goes back to the mind-body connection. Some people make it; others refuse to. I’ve found that there are definite steps anyone can take to heal this connection, and when that happens, the flow of emotions – good and bad – is restored to its healthy state.

1. Own your emotion and take responsibility for it. You can’t blame your feelings on anyone else; they are all yours. If you become enraged with bad drivers, the cause isn’t with them but with you. The external stress is far less important than how you deal with it and people who look to themselves as the source of their own feelings have made the all-important step toward healing. Instead of saying to someone, “You made me angry (or jealous or afraid or resentful”), change your reaction to “This situation is causing me feelings of anger.” It’s not just a formula – it’s the truth.

2. Focus on the sensation of the emotion, not its content. All emotions have physical results; that is why they can make us ill. But we all tend to focus instead on the who, why, what, when and where of a feeling. This is called rationalization. Fortunately, the mind can’t pay attention to two things at once. If you stop thinking about who stressed you out and why, but instead put your attention on your body, feeling where the discomfort lies, you break the cycle of obsessive thinking that makes a toxic emotion keep on going, long after it should. You don’t need to figure out your emotions so much as dissipate their harmful energy.

3. Label your emotion on two levels. The first level is obvious: we all know when we are angry or unhappy. But anger is the easiest emotion and unhappiness doesn’t end just by letting it run its course. At a deeper level, there is always a second emotion. If you are habitually caught in a situation that makes you feel stressed, ask what lies behind the mask of your first emotion. Are you feeling unheard? Is your anger a cover-up for insecurity? Are you secretly afraid? Until you get to the second level, you aren’t dealing with the toxic part. In my experience with hundreds of patients, if they trace their feelings somewhere in the body, inevitably the second level of emotion lies in the heart or the stomach. This is where the emotional glue causes negativity to stick to you. Just as inevitably, the second-level emotions are recurrent – people have been carrying around resentment or anxiety for many years; it is their own personal drama. When you see that your patterns have been with you for a long time, it is easier to see that they belong to you, not those whom you blame.

4. Express all your emotions, without exception, but do it through a healthy outlet. Emotions want to move; their natural flow is halted by denial, repression and ‘holding it in.’ Keeping a journal of feelings every day has proved extremely helpful for many people, since no one lives in an environment where all emotions can be expressed outwardly. In any event, don’t aim your emotion at anyone. If you feel terribly hurt or mistreated by someone else, write down every detail of that feeling in a long letter. Don’t leave out any scrap of resentment, hatred, jealousy or hurt. Edit the letter tomorrow to make sure it is complete then throw it away. You need to express your emotions to yourself first of all, not to others.

5. Release your emotions in a significant way. In other words, don’t just pass them off. Your body wants to know that you are aware of your feelings. Talk to it; say that you are going to deal with a sudden outburst of negativity, even if you have to postpone your reaction until later. And keep your promise. If you need a walk outside, time alone or a few moments to vent in private, carry out those intentions. The important thing is to discover your own process or ritual for releasing an emotion. Choices might include vigorous exercise, praying, getting a massage, laughing, deep breathing – the range of possibilities is very wide.

6. Share your process with a loved one. This is the crucial step that makes all emotions positive. As soon as you find the lesson that your negativity wants to teach you, it becomes positive. Perhaps you feel deep down that anger is always wrong or that guilt must not be faced. It is your belief system that makes these emotions ‘bad’ and therefore toxic. Every emotion you deal with makes you a healer. Share that with your spouse or closest friend. Let them into your process and you will find that negativity begins to lose its grip much more quickly.

7. Celebrate yourself. When you take one step toward healing a toxic emotion, you have made a step toward personal freedom. Instead of your emotions using you, you are learning to use them. That is cause for celebration and you shouldn’t skip the moment of victory. Nature abhors a vacuum. When you let go of negativity, fill the space by congratulating yourself and allowing healthy pride, satisfaction and self-esteem to fill in the gap. You have restored the mind-body connection; now, let the good things flow across it. This is just as important as getting rid of the bad things. When you can see your emotions as the best part of yourself, you have become a true self-healer.

Join Deepak Chopra and David Simon for a week of self discovery and transformation in Whistler, Aug. 23-29.

The Collective Unconscious 2.0 – The mythic imagination’s new operating system

by Geoff Olson

photo montaqe: Peter Sircom Bromley

A FRIEND recently told me how she loved singing songs as a child at summer camp. “Most of them were goofy but they were part of the camp experience,” she added. When she returned as a director in 1987, my friend discovered most of the old tunes had disappeared from her childhood haunt. The only song the kids could sing was the theme from The Brady Bunch. The camp closed a few years later.

A similar tale of cultural memory gone missing was recounted in 2004 in theGlobe and Mail: a teacher conducting a session on media literacy at an upscale school in Toronto had her young students form groups and write a list of advertising jingles they were familiar with. “A jingle train is started, with groups each singing a jingle as it snakes its way around the classroom,” wrote reporter Hal Niedzviecki, who was “struck by the incredible number of jingles these theoretically more refined girls have lodged in their minds.”

Children still occasionally sing nursery songs like Ring Around the Rosie andLondon Bridge Is Falling Down, but isn’t a theme song from a seventies sitcom like The Brady Bunch more in keeping with the times than tunes dating back to the Black Death and a Viking attack on England in the 11th century? Does it really matter what kids sing, as long as they’re singing? And isn’t all this just part of a culture moving on, which it always has, evolving new ways of doing and being over time?

Perhaps. But in a time in which celebrity is another word for identity, and the camera’s eye is like a mother’s gaze, the young have entered into a strange, new Through-the Looking-Glass relationship with their media-mediated world. Their deepest desires and fears, co-opted by the world of public relations and advertising, are offered back to them with price tags attached.

“The irony is that while the quantity of information doubles every few months, people generally seem to be less informed and increasingly apathetic and disenchanted,” writes Vancouver-based educator Brent Cameron in his 2006 book SelfDesign: Nurturing Genius Through Natural Learning.

“Never before have we had such amazing ways of delivering information through television, books, photographs, graphics, computers, video, multimedia, and the internet. Yet so many children are bored and have become less and less motivated to learn about and understand the world around them,” Cameron states in his book.

Although Carl Gustav Jung did not live long enough to witness the late 20th century assault on the physical and mental environment, the Swiss psychologist can offer some help in understanding what’s happening today. In Jung’s system, the deepest layer of the psyche is what he called the “collective unconscious.” While Freud viewed the sub-conscious as the part of the mind where unacceptable sexual impulses are pushed down, Jung saw the un-conscious as the part of the mind from which ancient images push up.

In various, traditional myths from around the world, we find common archetypes, such as the hero, the universal mother and the trickster. Jung believed the recurring themes in these myths weren’t solely due to the cultural diffusion of invasion, trade or travel. The archetypes of the collective unconscious are dreamlike, symbolic figures representing universal human experience. They are expressive of the energies of the mind-body complex at their deepest levels.

But what if the mental environment of media – the ads, television shows and movies, the chat lines and the twittering – penetrates into the aquifer of self, our deepest levels of being? Is it possible that today the deeper levels of our psyches are informed – or deformed – by this onslaught of information? Are we displacing the individual dream world with the dream world of media?

I define this mass dream as the ‘Collective Unconscious 2.0’, a collective enterprise of advertisers, marketers, public relations experts, scriptwriters, bloggers, computer programmers, news editors, publishers and all the immense creative talent from Hollywood and beyond. This world of immersive fantasy and rubbery fact contains both darkness and light, beauty and ugliness, and every imaginable simulated shade of human experience. And it is an entirely novel phenomenon in human history.

Jung’s collective unconscious is the dreamtime of Homo sapiens. ‘Collective Unconscious 2.0’ is the dreamtime of late-era hypercapitalism. The energies that inform Jung’s collective unconscious are for the most part biological: instinctual drives of fear, hunger and sex (along with the drive for psychic wholeness). The energies that inform the ‘Collective Unconscious 2.0’ are more abstract, related to the movement of electronic capital and the maximization of profit to shareholders.

In his 1999 book Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, New Yorker contributor Neal Gabler described a bizarre feedback loop between mainstream films and the culture they draw upon. The author insisted that the domination of entertainment in American culture is so total citizens have internalized the narratives of films and television into their sense of identity.

“Over the years our movie going and television watching has been impregnating the American consciousness with the contentions and esthetics of entertainment, until we have become performers ourselves, performing our own lives out of the shards of movies. One might even think of American life, including quotidian American life, as a vast production in which virtually every object is a prop, every space is a set, every person is an actor and every experience is a scene in a continuing narrative.”

Gabler wrote this prescient passage years before American Idol and the instant celebrity of reality television. He also completed Life the Movie shortly before the tragedy at Columbine High School in the US, an event that turned out to be the first massacre of the digital age. (During the shooting, several students in hiding communicated with the outside world by cell phones, but quickly realized the killers themselves might be watching the school monitors and could discover their hiding places.)

After the tragedy, the surviving students grieved for days – not privately with their friends, but in front of the school, with the television cameras present. The Columbine kids acted out in a festival of telegenic grief, Gabler wrote later. When the gaze of the all-seeing, identity-creating eye fell on them, they cried as if on cue.

Some educators and psychologists fear that North American adults and youth are incrementally losing their ability to interact in a meaningful, deep way with others. “Interiority,” which theologian Paul Tillich described as imaginative capacity that allows us to read ourselves into others, grows from face-to-face, real-world encounters. For the young, interiority isn’t something that comes automatically through a cursor, keyboard or remote.

In his Atlantic Monthly essay The Numbing of the American Mind, Thomas de Zengotita explains that we are being rewired in subtle yet deep ways by the constant barrage of media from all sources. This is why a couple of weeks out in nature doesn’t cut it anymore for some adults, he says. “You will virtualize everything you encounter anyway, all by yourself.” Having been raised on a steady diet of nature shows, “you won’t see wolves, you’ll see wolves. You’ll be murmuring to yourself, at some level, ‘Wow, look, a real wolf, not in a cage, not on TV, I can’t believe it.’”

“Natural things have become their own icons,” de Zengotita writes.

The author believes this process results in a kind of numbing. Using the new Times Square in New York as an example, de Zengotita observes that the entire space is “firing message modules, straight for your gonads, your taste buds, your vanities, your fears.”

“These modules seek to penetrate, but in a passing way. A second of your attention is all they ask. Nothing is firing that rends or cuts. It’s a massage, really, if you just go with it. And why not? Some of the most talented people on the planet have devoted their lives to creating this psychic sauna, just for you.” Ersatz environments and colourful advertisements have been with us since the fifties, de Zengotita adds, but the multimedia blitz we experience now represents a whole new level of persuasion. “Saying that it’s just more of what we had before is like saying a hurricane is just more breeze.”

It’s arguable that, in earlier generations, people related to one another more spontaneously and with greater affect – and still do, in places around the world that aren’t bombarded with 24-hour media penetration. Thousands of years ago, there was only one channel – the nature channel – and the source for high-bandwidth, real-time infotainment was other people. We were our own programming, and our world of rocks, trees, seas and other creatures provided the narrative bricks for the dreaming mind. In the daylight hours, after the chores were done, our ancestors couldn’t sit back and absorb their entertainment passively. Song, story and dance engaged the body and mind and belonged to no one but the community of participants. Interactivity wasn’t optional; it was mandatory.

Thousands of years ago, human sleep cycles were circumscribed by the rising and setting of the sun. Today, many adults and even children watch late-night television or surf the web alone, during hours when their ancestors would have been in the early stages of REM sleep. Mood-altering drugs like SSRI antidepressants also result in a reduction in the overall amount of REM sleep over the night and the delay of the first entry into REM sleep. Electronic media and mood-altering drugs are, in effect, part of a vast, uncontrolled experiment on the human psyche. We are no longer dreaming our own dreams as much as those of corporate monopolies.

Today’s mass dream, split from the organic foundation of the world and cobbled together from shards of television shows, newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements, films, ad jingles, ringtones – the whole mad fantasy of what’s hip, what’s not, who’s in, who’s out and the international villain du jour – is the raw stuff of the ‘Collective Unconscious 2.0’.

One of Marshall McLuhan’s most important insights is that the electronic media space we inhabit is now like the air around us in its intimacy. It’s a thin atmosphere, depending on simulations of the real and simulations of those simulations – as in the superhero cartoon that becomes a film franchise that becomes a video game. This infinite regress results in a strange feeling of disconnection and unreality for the citizen/consumer. De Zengotita’s wolf – that can no longer be seen with pristine eyes – is one example.

It all makes for a strange hall of mirrors, in which politics, celebrities and the news collapse into what De Zenogtita calls ‘The Blob,’ hearkening back to the fifties sci-fi film of the same name, about a gooey, amoeboid monster that absorbs everything in its path. For his part, the French poststructuralist philosopher Jean Baudrillard called this simulated cultural space “hyperreality,” which he defined as a peculiarly American invention.

I never totally understood hyperreality until shortly after the end of the first Gulf War. I was in a hotel room in Seattle, watching Henry Kissinger doing the weather on Good Morning America – something, he informed the hosts, “he had always wanted to do” – when I switched over to another channel and saw General Norman Schwarzkopf marching in a victory parade with Mickey Mouse. I recall the four-star general and Disney rat singing together in a downfall of confetti.

A former Nixon advisor and accused war criminal pretending he’s a weather man. A real general celebrating a made-for-TV war with a fake mouse. Both within a few seconds of each other, courtesy a TV remote. Whether you call this sort of thing an example of hyperreality, ‘The Blob,’ or the CU 2.0, there’s no denying it’s as disconnected and random as a schizophrenic’s journal entry. It’s the way we live now.

My experience in that Seattle hotel room took place six years before the epochal police pursuit of OJ Simpson in a white Ford Bronco, the pivotal moment when the line between news and entertainment collapsed entirely. Half a decade later when Yale’s most famous C-minus student entered the White House, hyperreality was no longer the obscure domain of goateed professors and their grad students. Although most of us didn’t know it by name, we were becoming used to the manufacture of the intensely strange into the nauseatingly familiar.

By early July of this year, hardly anyone blinked when the media turned the funeral of a surgically altered singer and accused pedophile into a high-production festival in Los Angeles: “a variety show with a coffin” as writer Chris Hedges called it. As Gabler wrote in Life the Movie, mass entertainment has become a “cultural Ebola virus, invading organisms no one would ever have imagined could provide amusement” – including courtroom trials, resource wars and public funerals.

“You won’t believe how bad television is going to be in 10 years,” writer Robert Bly noted in a prophetic interview in 2004. “You’re literally going to have to protect your children from it.” Arguably, Bly’s estimated time of arrival was a bit conservative.

You can hardly watch the downward trajectory of the mass media’s offerings without thinking that some vast spiritual problem is being worked out. As the quality of Hollywood films declines further into gross-out comedies, sequels and superhero spin-offs, and the primetime offerings on network television plumb ever deeper levels of the abyss, with celebrity piffle dominating the cable news channels, one thinks of Jung’s concept of the “shadow.” He defined this as all of the darker feelings and impulses we repress in order to be able to believe the best of ourselves. Jung held that whatever negative, psychic issues were being suppressed, they needed to be brought to consciousness and faced before an individual could become psychically whole.

Films like Training Day, Hostel and the Saw franchise aren’t just violent; they positively revel in a pornography of psychic and bodily destruction. There is a winding, psychic thread from these productions and television shows like 24 (with a plot that hinged on the utility of torturing terrorists) to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the “black sites” spread across the world. As the Empire expands, demanding that nations accept freedom at the barrel of a gun, we watch as all the unacknowledged ugliness of crony capitalism vomits from the media spillways. You can even hear it in the breathless excitement of embedded journalists describing the latest attack of a predator drone on “terrorists” who are as gunsight-ghostly as the avatars in a videogame. This is the shadow side of the ‘Collective Unconscious 2.0.’

Mainstream media culture currently has all the signs of full-blown psychosis. This is analogous to Jung’s shadow. Confronting the shadow is unpleasant on a personal level, but healing cannot be effected without being confronted with the truth – and as folk wisdom has it, the truth hurts. What is positive about this process is that we’re being forced to confront the very worst in the imaginal output of our great, untethered, free market economy.

But we must not forget that the Internet is also part of the ‘CU 2.0.’ And as the mainstream media becomes increasingly removed from reality, the Internet has picked up the task of observing what Freud called the “reality principle,” or if you prefer, a “reality check,” even while offering endless distractions of its own. (Novelist George Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us while novelist Aldous Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.)

“Imagination is more powerful than knowledge,” Einstein once said. Any idea and image expressed in the ‘CU 2.0’ began somewhere in some individual mind. Its success in being turned into a news broadcast, jingle, billboard, video game, film, television show or movie depended largely on market forces – but with the advent of the Internet, things go “viral” very quickly now and the mass manufacture of consent is becoming harder to achieve. There is ugliness in the mass dream we’ve weaved, but also beauty, and every possible representation of human good and evil, truth and falsehood, creativity and amateurism. Right now, the ugliness appears to be ascendant, but this may be necessary to purge western civilization of its lies.

Even in the mainstream media’s most successful offerings, we can occasionally see portents of hope. The first Matrix film and even the film versions of Harry Potter communicate an essential message: that the world is a more magical place than its humdrum surface suggests, and it can be shaped by our intents. The final guarantor that something is impossible is the belief that it is so.

We are, ultimately, the stories we tell each other of our past, present and future. We become what we seek. It’s up to us to rule the imagination or leave it in the hands of a select few to shape the future of the mass dream. As Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

As the terrible images and sounds pour from the ‘Collective Unconscious 2.0,’ let’s pray we’ll be able to tell more stories we want to hear, create more pictures we want to see, and sing more songs we want to sing – the work that resonates with our deeper, truer selves.

www.geoffolson.com

Integrative energy healing

by Melinda Connor PhD; 
Ruth Lamb, PhD (c) 
Linda Turner, PhD (c).

Monica Houser (left) with Sascha Holberg and patient Sheila Brown.

The Integrative Energy Healing (IEH) Certificate Program at Langara College in Vancouver is actively involved in weaving together the science and research of energy-based healing with its practice. For eight years, this program has worked to offer a three-year certificate program in IEH, which offers an in-depth study of the various Eastern and Western scientific theories underlying energy-based healing. It is also an exploration of the human condition and the practice of different types of energy-based treatments.

Today, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US formally recognizes and encourages the study of energy therapies. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) identifies five domains of complementary/alternative medicine (CAM), including the domain of energy medicine. It defines energy therapies as “healing that involves the use of energy fields.” Two types are identified: (a) biofield therapies which are “intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body” and (b) bioelectromagnetic-based therapies which “involve the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields or alternating-current or direct-current fields” (http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/).

Over the past five years, NCCAM has focussed its funding on preclinical and foundational inquiry into these two areas to begin to identify mechanisms of action, to understand the effects and outcomes of these therapies and to explore the nature of provider-patient interaction and relationship that occur during energetic healing.

With this increased recognition and federal funding for energetic healing in the US, there is a growing body of research that supports the use of energetic healing interventions with patients. Several recent publications, including Energy Medicine (Oschman, 2000), Healing Research: Volumes I & II (Benor, 2001; 2004), Healing Intention and Energy Medicine (Jonas & Crawford, 2003), Energy Healing Experiments (Schwartz, 2007) andSynchronized Universe (Swanson, 2003) summarize scientific findings and theoretical models in the field. NIH/NCCAM’s funding of two exploratory frontier medicine centres in Biofield Science (University of Connecticut and the University of Arizona) since 2001 has increased both capacity and productivity in research about energetic therapies.

Key in the current research process is identifying possible mechanisms of action related to energetic healing process. Dr. Melinda Connor, who recently joined the IEH faculty from the Karen Connor Optimal Healing Research Program at the University of Arizona, has discovered what may become recognized as one of the first mechanisms of action for energy medicine. A Sypris model 4080 Triaxial ELF Magnetic Field Meter has been used to measure extremely low frequency magnetic fields in a range of 0.1 – 511 mG. Reiki practitioners and age-/gender-matched controls have been tested in a series of one-minute hand measures. Each hand was tested in an off/on/off/on sequence. Data demonstrated that oscillations of amplitude were higher than baseline rate when subjects were running the energy. This oscillation of amplitude at a different rate than baseline was produced by a harmonic of the energy wave induced or directed by the energy practitioner.

This curve shows that Reiki ON (red) produces more oscillations in milliGauss readings per minute than Reiki OFF (blue). This effect replicates across hands (left-right) and trials. More than 150 practitioners have been tested as of spring 2009 and the significance of the data has remained the same.

Ruth Lamb, one of the founding members of the IEH program, conducted her clinical research in the area of healing, viewing it as a transpersonal-spiritual as well as mind-body practice. Lamb defined IEH as “a subtle-energy, intentional, therapeutic modality that… focuses on multidimensional physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of healing,” adding, “IEH helps to restructure the human subtle-body energy field towards higher levels of coherence.”

What this essentially means is that IEH treatments help to balance the energy field.

In this research, 12 graduates of the IEH program provided treatments to in-patients in an acute addiction treatment centre. Through this process, healing was initiated on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Numerous clients experienced transformative experiences where they released trauma often held from childhood. The physical body and energetic cellular structure were addressed, as were the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of a life lived on the edge of suicide. The aim with these individuals was to facilitate a new way of being. In many cases, individuals were able to emerge from the series of treatments with purpose. This included a spiritual healing-learning view of daily existence. They were able to tap into latent potential and find a way to re-pattern their life with new meaning.

Linda Turner, coordinator of the IEH program, is currently involved with studying the meridian system of the body. The meridian system is the path that carries the qi energy through the body. She is comparing the meridian system of people who suffer with chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis to that of individuals who are pain-free. According to the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, when there is a blockage in the qi flow through the body, it results in the development of a physical illness. Once this qi flow has been corrected, theoretically, the physical illness should be able to correct itself.

One of the problems in measuring the results of energy-based healing is that there has been no reliable way to measure the qi flow in the body before and after energy-based healing. Toward this end, she is testing an ohmmeter from Germany called the Prognos that purportedly measures the meridian system and is able to detect energy blockage before it has manifested in a physical illness. If this machine proves capable of differentiating between an energy field of a person with pain and one without, it will provide a possible way to scientifically evaluate the results of energy-based healing modalities as well as other forms of complementary therapies. (If you have had rheumatoid arthritis for five years and suffer from pain, you may participate in this study. Please call Linda Turner at 604-306-1810 for details.)

There is incredible potential now for the development of the science that underpins the use of energetic healing therapies with patients. There are also unprecedented opportunities to explore both the basic mechanisms of energy healing as well as the human response to these therapies. Scholars and providers are key in the development and translation of these programs of research. We encourage you to explore and become involved in this developing science.

Currently, we have several hundred graduates of the IEH program and alumni who have been contributing to an international health promotion project in India. This is a time of paradigm change in healthcare and a new view of health and healing is emerging.


Energy-based healing talks & treatments 
at Langara College

Langara College sponsors two speakers on energy-based healing:

Dr. James Oschman presents “Energy Medicine, Fundamentals and New Breakthroughs,” Sat. Oct. 10, 9am.

Dr. Daniel Benor teaches a two-day course on WHEE (Whole Health – Easily and Effectively), an energetic healing modality, November 12-14.

For more on these speakers, and the Integrative Energy Healing Program, visit www.langara.bc.ca. If you would like an integrative energy healing treatment, students offer free sessions in the following locations starting in September:

  1. Langara College every second Friday, 12-4pm. Call 604-875-4118.
  2. Vancouver General Hospital Wellness Center, every second Tuesday, 
    6-10pm. Call Bett at 604-875-4118.
  3. Raven Song Community Health Centre, every second Thursday, 
    4-8pm.

Call 604-709-6530.

Your medication balance sheet – understanding the plusses and minuses

DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

illustration: Peter Sircom Bromley

How do you calculate your net worth, the value of your company or your chequing account balance? You don’t have to be an accountant to understand that these amounts are determined by looking at both columns in the ledger – your assets and liabilities and your credit and debit. In Double-Entry accounting, your assets are listed on one side; your liabilities or debts on the other. Subtract one from the other and you arrive at an idea of your net worth or the value of your company or the amount remaining in your chequing account. Simple, right?

In fact, this calculus can be helpful in determining the value of prescription drugs. For one thing, drug effects are largely described through numbers. Drugs are put through years of study, often involving thousands of patients and hundreds of staff carrying out detailed and meticulous note taking to gather data on the health effects – both positive and negative – of these treatments.

It is a truism in medicine that therapies designed to help you could also hurt you. A statin drug to lower your cholesterol has the potential to lengthen your life or shorten it. You would only ever take this drug if you understood both sides of the ledger and if the likely benefit of swallowing the pill every day exceeded the harm, given your individual health circumstances.

Applying this accounting analogy to the world of prescription drugs can often reveal some shocking information. For starters, the so-called “benefit to harm ratio” is never clear-cut. Often, the numbers on the minus side of the balance sheet – in terms of numbers of people in a clinical trial who have suffered a “Severe Adverse Event” (such as being hospitalized, an extended hospital stay or dying) – are often hard to come by, misleading or simply absent.

In financial terms, how could you ever know the value of your company or the size of your chequing account unless you also identified your liabilities and the size of your debt? The further you dig into this, the more you find that what you believe about the value of your drug may be biased, incomplete or simply wrong.

The lack of harm data in published research is of growing interest to many researchers, including Dr. John Ioannidis, a Greek physician and researcher who has published extensively in this regard. One of his studies, published nearly 10 years ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined the quality of safety data from large, randomized trials (the ones of the highest quality) and found that “generalizable data on drug safety reporting are sparse.” In other words, we’re not getting the full picture of the liabilities of many of the most widely studied drugs.

Looking at research across seven different medical areas, Ioannidis found that these minuses – the adverse events and toxicities from the drugs – were adequately defined in less than 40 percent of studies. When people drop out of a study because of the toxicity of the treatment, we want to know why they dropped out. He found that “only 46 percent of trials stated the frequency of specific reasons for discontinuation of study treatment due to toxicity.” Let me put this another way: less than half the studies revealed the percentage of study participants who couldn’t even handle the treatment long enough to remain in the study.

Another of Ioannidis’ articles focusing on this issue was published in the free, online medical journal Public Library of Science (www.plos.org/journals/). Entitled Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, the article described, mathematically, why much of what is published in the medical world is simply not ‘true’ in terms of a generally agreed upon definition of ‘true.’

One article about SSRI antidepressants – drugs like Paxil, Prozac or Zoloft – asks is this an “evidence myth constructed from a thousand randomized trials?” When you get huge numbers of trials and sift them by clever, selective reporting of results, you arrive at a pile of dung smelling like a rose garden. This method of reporting almost always makes drugs appear much more effective or safer than they actually are.

The balance sheet approach to calculating the net health effects of drugs has attracted the attention of some local champions as well. A few years ago, I attended a presentation by Dr. Jim Wright at UBC, in which the major studies of statins (used to lower cholesterol) were discussed. The findings revealed that the trials did not adequately take into account the full range of “Serious Adverse Events” due to statins. Even though SAEs must be reported and documented in clinical trials, when Wright and his colleagues looked into it, most published trials of statins did not report the total number of people with at least one SAE. So even if the drug shows benefits for preventing heart attacks, for example, we don’t know how many additional people would have been hospitalized or stayed in a hospital longer because of the drug.

To get the full picture of the net effects of statins, Wright and his colleagues have spent considerable energy writing to the authors of studies, politely asking them to provide their data – the complete set of SAE data from specific studies. Sometimes they were ignored and occasionally they received explanations or additional data. However, at no time did they ever get the specific SAE data they were requesting. My interpretation of this is simple: there are many weaselly ways to hide the minus side of the drug ledger.

So what to conclude about researchers running a drug trial who can’t or won’t give you the complete picture of serious adverse events? Do we assume they are dishonest and hiding the bad effects they find in the clinical studies? I think it is safest to assume no news isn’t good news. If you aren’t getting the full data on a drug’s potential serious adverse events, it is because those data are likely not flattering. Without those data, it will be easier for the marketers to create a rosier picture of the net worth of the drug. To me, the “trust us, we’re experts” response to queries about full safety data does not deliver warm fuzzy feelings of confidence.

And what can we say about the statins – drugs like Crestor, Lipitor or Zocor – that make up the most widely consumed class of prescription drugs on the planet? What do we really know about their net health benefits?

Dr. Wrights’ research, which is helping paint a clearer, overall picture of the value of statins, suggests that for about 80 percent of the people currently prescribed statins, the benefit of taking the drug does not exceed the harm. For the other 20 percent, – men who have had a previous heart attack, for example – the benefit may outweigh the harm by only a marginal amount, probably helping only about one in 20 of these higher risk patients. And there is good evidence that women and the elderly do not receive any overall health effects from statins. In other words, the most widely sold drug class in the world has both good and bad effects and when you include both of those entries in the ledger, for most people, the net effect is next to zero.

The implications of this are huge. Through public drug plans, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on this drug class. Our private insurers and our own bank accounts contribute hundreds of millions more to drugs that provide no overall net health benefits for the majority of people who take them. Patients who are actually harmed by the drug would naturally add billions more in costs to our health system.

Bad news is slowly starting to trickle in on the statins. A small study in June, reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggested that statins are potentially even more harmful than we expected. This study found that, in some patients, statins have a measurable toxic effect on muscles (muscle weakening, being one of the most common adverse effects related to statins). This effect is measured by performing muscle biopsies and evidence of muscle related damage was found in about 60 percent of the individuals taking statins who complain of sore muscles. More importantly, the study also found evidence of muscle damage in about five percent of patients who had no symptoms whatsoever.

Taking other drugs may also exacerbate the risks. As the authors note, the “risk of statin-associated myotoxic adverse effects is enhanced by concomitant use of some medications.” And, well, most people are taking other medications in addition to their statin.

If you have sore muscles and pain from your statin drug, you can just stop taking it, right? Well, one of the problems is that the muscle damage is not readily reversible and it can persist in patients who stop the drug for four months or even longer.

I find it especially troubling when I constantly hear the experts spouting the company line that statins are “safe,” “well-tolerated” and “highly effective,” given the incomplete reporting of safety data from clinical trials. We would never enter into a financial arrangement where the full transaction costs aren’t made clear so why do we engage in transactions that involve taking prescription drugs without knowing what the downside – the costs, debits, losses – might be?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Luckily, the Canadian government is embarking this fall on a countrywide strategy to study drug safety and effectiveness. It’s a strategy long in the making and it comes with huge expectations. It will also likely be years before anything fruitful comes of it.

In the meantime, you must ask yourself one simple question: “Do I know what is on both sides of the ledger before I enter into a drug transaction?” If not, ask more questions. And don’t be satisfied with weaselly answers.

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. He has never had his cholesterol level tested and knowing what he knows about statins, he never will. cassels@uivic.ca

Creative Commons freedom

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson

WHEN I STARTED this column, I wanted to find a way to both make it free and easy for a number of groups to share it, including bloggers, small non-commercial publications and individuals, whilst also giving syndicating publications something they could stake a claim in. Luckily, I was aware of a new copyright licensing system called Creative Commons that enables just such a hybrid model of media production. Not only is it a useful tool for media producers, but it’s also an important part of the larger trend that is blurring the lines between media producers and consumers of media.

Started in 2002, the Creative Commons (CC) licensing system allows artists – professional and amateur – to copyright their work with as many restrictions as they choose, including the capacity to completely "un-copyright" their works. According to its website, "Creative Commons provides free tools that allows authors, scientists, artists and educators to easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry."

Creative Commons allows cultural producers to easily add an individually defined copyright badge to their work (usually a small graphic). These badges provide a clear indication of the specific copyright restrictions (or lack thereof) for other cultural producers and users. Big corporate media organizations use synergies and joint ventures to bring in larger audiences. Independent and online media need to create their own synergies by building and sharing audiences, drawing upon their own unique strengths. I figured what better chance to experiment than with a column focusing on the intersection between media, culture and technology.

The Creative Commons licence I use asks each organization that publishes the Media Links column (democraticmedia.ca/blog/steve-anderson) to post a statement at the end of each article acknowledging and linking to all the other syndicating publications. Creative Commons and the open Internet enable this and other new forms of collaboration and synergy.

Are we all "produsers?"

Some consider Creative Commons to be not only representative of the break from passive mediums like TV to the more interactive medium of the Internet, but also a key element of a new category of media content producers/users called "produsers." According to Axel Burns, who coined the term "produsers," the "traditional value chain of producer-distributor-consumer has condensed to a singular point, the produser, interacting with and potentially enhancing existing content." Thus, we now have produsers with "fluid roles" and perpetually unfinished media.

While media production has always been a collective process involving production ingredients from our collective cultural heritage, Creative Commons further enables (or perhaps re-enables) and encourages a greater re-mixing of a friendly media system and culture. Rather than conceiving of and distributing media items as commodities, Creative Commons (CC) encourages the production, circulation and reception of media as a continuous and shared process.

Enabling sharing

While the open sharing elements of Creative Commons’ licensing system are voluntary, according to a 2007 survey of CC users, over 80 percent of the CC-licensed works permit derivatives – meaning they allow others to build upon their media. While many medial producers and users do not yet use Creative Commons, it is becoming more popular. As of 2007, there were an estimated 60 million Creative Commons-licensed cultural artifacts on the Internet, and CC use is still increasing.

In an unprecedented move in 2007, Yahoo! announced plans to allow users to employ Creative Commons licensing in its huge menu of online spaces and tools. It doesn’t appear that the announcement has come to full fruition, but, at the very least, it means that its popular photo sharing service Flckr has remained Creative Commons friendly.

Creative Commons licensing is not limited to media production. There is also the ever- expanding open-software movement, and in the US, the Creative Commons group also recently launched a new project called Legal Commons that will "collect and make available machine-readable copies of government documents and law."

Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess. Let’s just share the idea and see where it leads us.

 

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He contributed to Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media, and has written for The TyeeToronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters. Reach him at: 
steve@democraticmedia.ca
www.FacebookSteve.com
www.SteveOnTwitter.com

Fast food for health

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

TEACHERS IN our schools are supplied with a multitude of resources from the closely aligned meat and dairy industries. These materials are designed to establish in children’s minds the idea that we must eat meat to obtain iron and that cow’s milk is essential for bone building in humans. Neither of these industry-derived fabrications is true, but if you are still haunted by these rusty facts, read the solid update concerning iron that follows. (See next month’s column for an update on calcium.)

Iron is a "precious metal" when it comes to human health. As part of our blood cells, it plays a central role in transporting oxygen throughout the body, releasing this life-giving sub-stance where needed and carrying away the metabolic waste product carbon dioxide. As part of many enzyme systems, iron also plays key roles in the production of cellular energy, immune system functioning and in the mental processes surrounding learning and behaviour.

Every day, we lose miniscule amounts of iron in cells that are sloughed from skin and intestinal walls. We recycle our body’s iron supply and those losses must be replaced. Women of childbearing age lose additional iron during menstruation. The building of new cells can deplete the small reserves of infants and children. With teens, there can be the double challenge of growth and notoriously poor eating habits (though vegetarian teens tend to eat better than non-vegetarian teens). The most prevalent nutritional deficiency in North America is that of iron and the most susceptible groups are women of childbearing age, teens and young children.

Naturally, those who experience blood loss for any reason – people with ulcers or blood donors – have increased needs and athletes have high requirements due to increased oxygen demands.

Symptoms of iron deficiency include exhaustion, sensitivity to cold, irritability and pale skin. (These symptoms may have other causes as well.) If you have doubts about your iron status, have your hemoglobin, serum iron and transferrin (iron transport protein) checked.

Iron deficiency anemia is no more common among vegetarians than non-vegetarians. While iron from plant foods is not absorbed as well as the iron from meat, vegetarian diets tend to be higher in iron and far higher in the vitamin C that helps us absorb iron from plant foods. Vegans consume even more iron and tend to replace milk, which contains no iron and also inhibits iron absorption, with iron-rich foods such as soymilk. Oranges or orange juice help us absorb iron from the tofu or soymilk in a smoothie. Sweet red pepper helps us absorb iron from chickpeas, beans, lentils or soy foods in the same meal. Kiwifruit, papaya and salad help us absorb iron from nuts, whole grains or beans when eaten at approximately the same time.

Food preparation techniques can also increase our iron absorption. These include soaking beans prior to cooking; the sprouting of grains, seeds and legumes; the leavening of whole grain breads; and the fermenting of tempeh or miso. Surprisingly, cast-iron or stainless steel cookware can contribute to our iron supply when we cook acidic foods such as spaghetti sauce or sweet and sour sauce. On the other hand, our absorption of iron is reduced when we drink black or green teas or cow’s milk with iron-containing meals. To get more iron, drink water or fruit juices that contain vitamin C with your meals.


Strike it rich with iron from plant foods

Here are some tips to maximize the iron in your diet:

  1. Eat iron-rich plant foods (especially beans, peas and lentils).
  2. Use iron-fortified foods (enriched cereals, grain products and meat analogues) and whole grains.
  3. Help your body absorb iron by eating foods rich in vitamin C at the same time.
  4. Use foods that are leavened, sprouted, soaked (as with beans) and fermented.
  5. If your iron status is low, avoid consuming dairy products and black or green teas at the same time as iron sources.
  6. Use cast-iron or stainless steel cookware.
  7. If in doubt, have your iron status checked.

Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and author based in Langley, BC. After being in writer’s hibernation for the last six months, she resumes offering consultations in mid-May. 604-882-6782.

www.nutrispeak.com

The Three Muscovies

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

IT ALL STARTED with a chance conversation about ducks at Seedy Saturday last spring, which was followed by my building lasagne gardens in the back garden that attracted banana slugs from the surrounding forest – slugs that could devour a row of spinach overnight! Quicker than you could say duck bill, I found myself the proud owner of two specially selected Muscovy ducklings, Amos and Abigail. Why? Because Muscovies have a voracious appetite for slugs.

After a mink massacred the A-generation, "The Three Muscovies," better known as Benny, Betty and Blackie (or Benny and the Jets) arrived late in November. I keep telling myself this duck thing is an experiment to see whether Muscovies are a good fit with urban farming. They lay large eggs with huge yolks, which are excellent for sponge cakes, quiches and omelettes, and Benny is a 15-pound meat bird, which makes a good Christmas dinner if you are not vegetarian or vegan.

Last year, after a sudden rampage by raccoons and mink, we lost half our flock of hens and our first two ducks. By July, I’d had enough so the five remaining hens came out to free-range until the chicken coop could be moved to fenced quarters in the back garden. Interestingly, no birds were killed while free-ranging during the day; they always return to the coop at dusk where they are safely shut in until morning.

 

Benny and the Jets on patrol

When Benny and the Jets first arrived, I bonded them to their duck house (a converted doghouse) before allowing them to free-range. The girls, Betty and Blackie, arrived with clipped wings and couldn’t fly, but Benny’s wings grew back fast and he quickly discovered the creek and pond and returned to show the Jets how to waddle down there. Although I’d read it’s a bad idea to get friendly with male Muscovies, I enjoy chatting to Benny as he plods around the garden.

Another good thing about Muscovies is they stay close to home. At dusk, I call "Benny, Betty, Blackie!" and they come up for a feed of organic layer mash. Often, they’ll spend the night on the pond safe from predators, but to keep them bonded to their duck house, I sometimes lead them there and shut them in for the night.

Benny took a fancy to Betty and she was soon nestled into a pile of spoiled hay turning 14 eggs daily for 35 days, until 11 recently hatched out. Now, we have Betty and the C-generation of 11 ducklings in the duck house and it’s all too cute for words.

So here I am in this experiment asking, "What’s next?" When the ducklings get bigger, I’ll allow Betty to take them down to the pond and hope that I get them back at night. I may lose one or two to predators during the day, but that’s why there are so many ducklings in the first place. It’s nature’s way. I have it in mind to keep a couple and to trade the rest for point of lay hens. When they are ready to leave their Mama, I’ll take them to a local poultry swap and trade them for some laying hens to get my flock up to a dozen again.

I am still learning about this breed of meaty, quack-less ducks, the most land-based of the water birds, which suits them to backyard runs with a small pond to float around in. The verdict is still out on whether or not they make good companions for the garden as I have yet to see them eat a slug. Perhaps they don’t like my huge, slimy black and banana slugs?

Still, we might be glad to have Muscovies waddling around the garden if we really need more local food on the dinner table so I am keeping on with the experiment until I come to a final conclusion. Now, what shall I call the C-generation?

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows Seeds of Victoria at the Garden Path Centre where she teaches The Zero Mile Diet – Twelve Steps to Sustainable Homegrown Food Production and Growing an Edible Plant Business.www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath