The case for the shorter work week

I wanted to share this article from the New Economics Foundation on the case for the shorter work week. 

This follows nicely from the video I shared from SCORAI where Halima Brown talks, in part, about high incomes corresponding with relatively high carbon footprints. Sometimes it seems a bit ridiculous to talk about higher income as being a problem. Especially when there is an urgent need to get many deserving people up to a basic living wage. But in fact, I think these concepts complement each other quite nicely. A decent living wage that also factors in a reasonable number of hours of work per week is a great target. Over-work due to low wages or the perceived need to earn more $ creates all kinds of social and health issues. And (depending on the industry) some employers will offer extra hours to workers looking to make more money; this brushes off or ignores the need for more reasonable wages.


Food Donor Tax Incentive

So this is kind of old news, but we aren’t done with it yet, so I thought I’d write a few words on the food donor tax incentive.

A few years ago I probably would have thought that this is a great idea. And probably a lot of people who want to see it implemented everywhere have their hearts in the right place. But I have some big problems with this incentive. Maybe some of these can be addressed with some ‘fine print’ like making sure it’s enforced and represented properly.

My problems with the tax incentives are:
– First, why should big food businesses (mostly retailers) get $ for dumping their unwanted surplus food onto charities? Why not fine them for putting good food in the garbage (it’s illegal in France, although the result is that that French supermarkets have arrangements where they give their excess food to charity anyway), or better yet, fine them for implementing irresponsible practices that are known to lead to preventable food waste? We need to prevent food waste before it happens rather than just ‘recover and redistribute’ food that’s practically on its way to a landfill…
You could also go with the ‘carrot’ approach if you like (oh fine, go be nice to the corporations…it’s probably more effective anyway) and incentivize businesses to implement the types of procurement practices and relationships with manufacturers/producers – as well as the kinds of marketing/storage/sales practices – that are likely to minimize waste. i.e. make it pay off for them to avoid waste to begin with.

– Secondly, charities have a tough time sorting through these unsolicited donations and sometimes have to pay to dispose of them because they’re moldy or rotted. (They may look good at first glance, but a lot of the donations of food dumped onto charities are not safe to eat by the time they arrive.) It’s sometimes an undue burden on the charities, who may feel pressured to take (bad or less-than-useful) donations so that they don’t damage relationships with the public. Which is why, once again, I say that it’s better to avoid food waste than to encourage food retailers to say to themselves, ‘Well let’s continue with business as usual, over-purchase for the full-shelf effect, and then we can just donate the excess to charity…and get a nice tax incentive!’

– Thirdly, the tax shouldn’t be represented as a way to solve hunger, because it doesn’t. That’s false advertising. Yes, we landfill (or compost) a lot of food and it makes intuitive sense that if we could funnel it into the mouths of hungry people, we’d solve hunger, but unfortunately it’s not that simple. Redistribution is arguably putting recovered foods to a better use than sending it to the landfill, but it’s no solution to systemic causes of hunger like poverty, unemployment, dependence on an increasingly unstable pool of waged work in order to feed oneself (gig economy anyone?), and so on. It’s also not a reliable source of food for hungry people. Free meals are usually available sporadically, and the quality and nutritional content varies widely. This is not a criticism of charities that distribute free food – most of them do what they can with what they’re given – it’s just reality.

Sustainable lifestyles – SCORAI

I wanted to share this video. Some take-away messages, as I understood them, are:

  • Economic growth in the US, as it’s currently being defined and measured (GDP), is very much dependent on growing consumer spending.
  • We know that consumer income translates itself into carbon footprint. (Higher income, higher footprint.)
  • However, improved services can and do increase quality of living, without increasing carbon footprint.

Overall, I think this makes the argument for redefining progress (we can’t keep increasing spending and GDP); making sure that the super-wealthy get taken down a notch (it’s simply not sustainable for the top 2% in the US to be as wealthy as they currently are); and working towards good (but not excessive) quality of living for people through better services, more livable cities, and infrastructure that takes sustainability and ecology to heart; not as an afterthought.

Free activities for life-long learners

I’m a big fan of free stuff I can do that teaches me something new and interesting.

Lately I’ve been relying a lot on MOOC (massive open online course) sites EdX and Coursera to keep my mind active and to make sure I’m learning something new every day. They have quality online courses that you can audit for free on topics ranging from Big History to the Science of Happiness to Everyday Thinking.

Podcasts are great of course. Two of my favourites are BEEP – behavioural ecology and evolution podcast, and Quirks and Quarks.

There are also a lot of good documentaries and documentary series out there, some of which you can find on youtube or borrow at the library.

Some I’ve found (maybe not as well-known as the ones like Planet Earth) are:

Crash Course (and mental floss). They’re very short but very engaging. One of my favourites so far is crash course philosophy episode 40, on Justice.

Connections – a vintage TV documentary series narrated by science historian James Burke. The series challenges the assumption that the history of technology progresses in a linear, ordered fashion, with deliberate steps towards discoveries and new ways of doing things. It’s kind of whimsy and enjoyable to watch, though sometimes a bit hard to follow. (There’s some nudity in some episodes, so it might not always be available publicly.)

In the Mind of Plants – A great hour-long documentary that will give you a new perspective on plant life.

Michael Mosley has some very good documentaries on medicine and health.

And I’m also addicted to some quirky quiz shows for edu-tainment. The best one I’ve found is QI (for Quite Interesting) which is a huge hit in the UK.

Volunteering at the right place can be one of the best ways to learn new skills or keep the ones you’ve got sharp. You might have to do repetitive or boring jobs at first before you’re trusted to do more complex and skilled tasks, depending on the place. A good resource to help you find the opportunity suited to you is at Volunteer Canada: 



Waste reduction tips

Some tips from David Suzuki foundation I wanted to quickly share 🙂

The greyhound bus is another alternative to air travel, which is a HUGELY important contributor to fuel use and carbon footprint. I’m not the greatest with following this suggestion, since I’ve been known to fly out for a long weekend to see my folks. If I did that kind of a trip by bus, I’d have to leave as soon as I’d arrived. But then again, I could always move in order to live closer to my folks…

Also  there’s humanure. Awkward to talk about, for sure, and even more awkward to get involved in, but also very important considering the fact that we take nutrients out of the soil, eat, excrete, but rarely put nutrients back into the soil in a way that allows the soil to remain viable. This is a problem that people have been talking about for a very long time. Karl Marx talked about it; it is a metabolic rift, and it is the reason that one of my favourite charitable organizations is SOIL

I also like to mention that reducing food waste has something to do with where you get your food from to begin with. You could try getting a CSA (from growers who don’t throw away or reject too much of their produce – ask what they do with their culls) or participating in a co-op, or even just buying from somewhere that you feel has a responsible plan for reducing waste (like offering wonky produce, offering reduced prices on items that are getting a bit older or past their prime, like stale baked items or sightly wilted veggies, etc.). And if you can’t find a place you like, you might consider sending some letters or talking to grocers to try to encourage them to get a waste reduction plan.