Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The oceans want you to buy less S%*t this Christmas

Since corporate America is pushing Christmas already, I'm pushing back this week.

An appropriate Christmas tree.  (Except I took this in April!)
Not to be a grinch, but Christmas stinks for the oceans.  Sure, everyone loves the "peace on earth" thing, and the time with family, and the magic that comes with kids and Christmas.  But there are a ton of reasons the holiday sucks, and if you're an Ocean Lover, it's worth talking about.

Manufacturing costs to the environment.  This is probably the most straightforward issue with buying shit.  The more you buy, the more shit has to be made.  The more raw materials need to be extracted from the earth, the more factories need to burn fossil fuels to make the shit, the more water is used, and the more waste from making all that shit is produced.  Less shit means less of all that.

Do you really need that new cellphone?

--Begin Rant--

My last cell phone lasted 6 years.  I would have kept it longer, holding strong against the smart phone movement, except I was sick of paying $70 a month for minimal service to Verizon, so I bought a Republic Wireless smart phone, guiltily recycled my old one, and haven't looked back.  (Want a $10/month Republic plan?  It's awesome. I highly recommend it.  You too can say Suck It, Verizon.)

I am surrounded by phones.  I teach at a small, elite liberal arts college, and every one of my students has a shiny/colorful/well-accessorized cell phone surgically attached to their hands.  Even though they’re amazingly engaged in class, a millisecond of down time during labs (to collect papers, wait a moment for a computer to boot up, and walk between facilities) has students staring blankly at their phones while fingering them lovingly. 

Truthfully, I hate looking at the sea of phones around me.  I simply can't stand to see them all.  Think of the money being funneled away from us by Motorola, Apple, Verizon.  Think of the time we waste Googling “who sang ‘rock the boat’” (Hughes Corporation).  Think of the flabby brains, unable to read a map.  Think of the natural resources that go into our obsession with new phones.  Think of the ships burning fossil fuels carrying all those phones from China.

Multiply that by the billions – yes, billions – of phones on this planet.

When we discard our old phones, they’re more than likely to end up being “recycled” in a developing country, where toxic components make their way into the non-EPA protected environment.  Cell phones contain lead, mercury, beryllium, nickel, cadmium, brominated flame retardants.  Their disposal is linked to cancer, reduced brain development in children, and damage to the nervous system.  The work done in the digital dumping grounds of the third world puts children and the poor in particular peril. 

That shiny new phone doesn’t look so shiny anymore does it?  I'm doing my best to keep my current phone as long as my last one -- 6 years, --unless it dies a natural death before then.  This has garnered some very odd encounters with friends and family.  I mean, hey, you can get a “free” one if you just head into the local cell phone store (they all look so shiny under the spotlights!).  Or, too bad you don’t get a new one from work every year like I do

My students, in particular, pity me.  They try to hide it, but I can see it in their eyes.  Despite my clear and concise explanation that my phone must last 6 years because it’s my stand against consumerism and environmental nastiness and corporate greed, they simply stand there and shake their heads (probably tweeting “my prof is such a loser” when my back is turned).  

But I'm going to hold strong.  Those new cell phones come with a price, and the oceans pay for part of it.  

--End of Rant.--

Effects of shipping.  All that stuff under the tree got here somehow.  Most of it got here by being shipped in mega-carriers over the oceans.  In the past 20 years, global shipping has quadrupled. That's right, quadrupled.  This hasn't just meant more ships, it's meant bigger ships -- much bigger ships. Back in 2000, the biggest ships carried around 8000 containers; now they carry 18000.

This increase in shipping is bad new for the oceans.  The most straightforward effect of more ships is more burning of fossil fuels (marine shipping is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses).  But there are many other costs.  For example, one of the leading causes of deaths for certain great whales is ship strikes.  In California alone, there were over a hundred documented ship strikes between 1988 and 2012.
Growth in shipping traffic since 1992.  Credit: Jean Tournadre/GRL
In addition to the direct effects of ship strikes, more shipping means more noise in the oceans -- a huge problem we are just starting to understand. Marine mammals use sound to navigate, communicate, and hunt in the oceans' opaque waters.  They have very sensitive hearing and an amazing capacity to make sound.  (Damon's PhD thesis was all about how bottlenose dolphins use sound to select and find prey -- and how fish use sound to avoid ending up in a dolphin's stomach, so this topic is near and dear to our hearts.)

Noisy oceans can prevent animals from feeding, breeding, resting, and communicating with each other.  Less stuff being bought by us means less shipping means quieter oceans.

Having less stuff.  As you know, Damon and I just downsized our lives.  Less space means we have less crap.  We like it that way, and think many others would too.

This was a lucky whale.  NOAA/CINMS

Alternatives to crap

'Tis better to give than receive.  I'm all about giving gifts.  They're a way for me to show my love, share my wealth, and add to the Christmas magic.  However, my policy for the past few years is to give only consumables (preferably locally produced) to anyone over the age of 25.  Here are some of my favorites from Maine:

Stonewall Kitchen:  The best freakin' jams, jellies, sauces, and cookie mixes around.  A home run under the tree as far as I'm concerned.  Their marmalade is a favorite of mine (hint hint).

Alcohol:  For most people, this is a great choice.  However, you need to remember that mailing alcohol is often illegal, and is almost always easier if you use a company that does this sort of thing on a regular basis.  They can tell you who you can and can't ship to.  Here's a great article on the subject.

Want to give booze to local folks?  Great!  You can go by your local wine and spirits shop, or you can look for local producers.  Here are some ideas for Mainers:
  1. Cold River, Freeport.  Super yummy vodka and gin.  Sippable. 
  2. Honeymaker Mead, Portland.  (I love mead, have I told you that?)
  3. Maine Craft Distillers, Portland.  Rum?  Whiskey?  Vodka!  Count me in.
  4. Urban Farm Fermentary, Portland.  Their Dry Cidah makes me so happy.
  5. Sweetgrass, Union.
  6. Wiggly Bridge, York.  Named after this place.

The Wiggly Bridge in York.
About a ton of craft beers.  Google them.

(Okay, I'm gonna add one for our neighbors to the south:  1634 Meadery in Ipswich, Mass.  My good friends Dan and Deb Clapp are makin' a go of it with this funky, fabulous drink.  If you're on the North Shore, stop by, try their mead.  Tell 'em I sent you.)

A boozy alternative:  How about a wine or beer tour?  Take your loved one on a fun day, drink some great spirits, meet fun people.
  1. Wine Wise, Portland:  Damon gave me this a couple of holidays ago.  It was awesome.  We walked to four restaurants in Portland, had a small plate and paired wine at each, and learned about the wines from sommolier Erica Archer.  
  2. Maine Beer Tours, Portland:  For the suds-lover in your life.
In a hurry and just need to pick up a present at your local liquor store?  How about these ideas: dark'n'stormy kit (Goslings rum and ginger beer, not at all local but good), Rum Chata + Fireball (killer shots can be made by combining these), or a fine wine from an environmentally conscious vineyard (Rusack or Benzinger come to mind).

Chocolate.  Really good chocolate.
  1. Black Dinah, Isle au Haut. (Okay, Westbrook and Blue Hill too, but I love the idea of a world-class chocolatier on Isle au Haut.)  Anyone looking to send a blogger a little gift, this is the one . . . . 
  2. Monica's, Lubec.  You can't get any further Downeast than this.  Send 'em your love, and your money.
  3. Wilbur's, Freeport.  Stop by if you come to Freeport to Christmas shop.  
Seafood.  You can't get more Maine than this.
  1. Lobster Roll Kits.  Nope not cheap, but awesome.  I sent my parents this last year for their birthdays.
  2. Smoked Salmon.  Yum.
  3. Chowder.  Wouldn't a gallon of clam chowder be great for Christmas Eve?
  4. General Seafood.  Harbor Fish is my go-to for anything from the sea.  You can't get better.
Blueberries from Maine.  Hells Yeah.


Yarn?  From Maine?  Yes please.
Halcyon, the bestest yarn store in the Northeast.
Hope Spinnery.  Produced using wind power!

Soap. You can't go wrong with fancypants soap.  Go by your local fancypants shop and pick some that smells great.
Lotions.  Smooth.
Tea or Coffee.  Buy the good stuff.
Candles.  Nothing too artificial.
Used books.  Yes, USED books.  There are plenty of well-loved books out there that need a home.  If you have a book-lover in the family, why not go to a used bookstore, or even Goodwill, and pick up a dozen great books.  No trees will die for your gift.

Memberships and donations
Maine Island Trail Association
Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Friends of Casco Bay
Any number of marine conservation and research groups like this one, this one or this one.