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Cleaning up our nests

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When it comes to polluted cities, I’ve lived in a few. The worst was Kathmandu, Nepal, where the breathtaking Himalayas belied the seething mass of humanity and fumes at her feet – touch the local water for an instant weight loss. And as for garbage collection or recycling, just wait for Mother Monsoon to take it all away.

Sadly these factors are somewhat expected by most travelers traipsing around Third World countries. However, live there day after day and you find it’s the other things that get you down.

Like the local motorbike taxi service. When viewed on a postcard, they look kind of cool, with their motorcycle front and buggy behind. The way they are decorated is also a conversation point, with Buddha or the Christian crucifix typically taking pride of place, depending on the driver’s religious leanings.

Well sorry to disillusion you, but forget the image. Up close and real they are in fact black toxic fume mobile factories, with engines and horns loud enough to raise your hackles if not burst your eardrums. In a rare move to clean up its cities, India apparently expelled all these belching machines of death off its streets. Since half the population of Kathmandu seem to be Indian anyway, logically India’s loss became Nepal’s "gain" and everything just moved north.

I probably didn’t help matters by trying to continue with my Western habits – like jogging. But working day after day marketing extreme white-water rafting trips to an endless supply of tourists makes a person restless and in danger of that dreaded syndrome: office-butt. Maybe the lungfuls of diesel and toxins won’t lengthen your life but it’s a guaranteed way to get the locals to notice you – "Why is she running? Who is chasing her?"

My subsequent move to London, England didn’t provide any leaps in personal health standards. Anyone who’s ever moved there will be able to recall with fondness the shock of their first nose-blowing experience. Well put it this way, it’s not normal to blow black grit out of your nasal passages, unless of course you work in the mines. Ever scarier, after a few months, the black stuff disappears. Where does the pollution go?

While the type of pollution found in Kathmandu may most affect your immediate comfort levels, the crazy thing is that countries like Nepal are the least of our collective global environmental worries. It’s us, the wealthy First World nations most at fault – either pumping out emissions and toxins on our own turf, or doing the dirty work offshore on some poor lackey’s patch. Even worse is our latest habit of sailing around the world looking for spots to dump our nuclear toxic wastes.

For these reasons, among many others, we should all support Earth Day on April 22. This year marks the 31 st anniversary of the world-wide movement towards a healthy, sustainable environment. Canadians have taken it ever further, declaring April 14 to 29 to be Earth Weeks.

Ironically perhaps, this grassroots movement originally stemmed from the United States – the country credited with being the worst waster of energy resources per head of population. And if you’ve listened to the collective howls of distress from environmental groups over the past few weeks, you’ll also know of the anti-environmental steps being taken by our neighbour’s new leader (who is that guy again?).

Yes, within 100 days in office, President Bush has reversed his election pledge to limit CO2 pollution from power plants, has cut the budget for renewable energy programs, opened the Arctic up for oil exploration, relaxed standards for arsenic in drinking water and most alarmingly to many, pulled the US out of the Kyoto Protocol global warming agreement.

But before throwing ourselves in a collective tizzy over these issues, take a deep breath (ah, nice isn’t it?) and as the saying goes in my home town, "Think global, act local."

To mark Earth Day in Squamish, Sea to Sky Ocean Sports is inviting everyone to a clean-up and restoration working bee at Brohm Lake this Sunday. Trail maintenance and underwater diving crews are required so feel free to show up at 10 in the morning. Or there’s always the stuff you can and should do all the time – like reuse, recycle, plant a tree and whenever possible, car-pool, ride a bike or use public transport. Cleaning up your own nest is the first step to maintaining the forest. And believe me, this nest is one of the best I’ve ever lived in – let’s keep it that way.

— Robyn Cubie

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