Archive for Community Outreach

Sustainable development, not culling, key to reviving caribou populations in Alberta

"The caribou again are in the way."

By Michael Bloomfield, Edmonton Journal

For more than 30 years, Alberta has failed to implement the land-use guidelines necessary to protect declining caribou populations.

As collateral damage in our frenzied pursuit of natural resource revenue, Alberta’s caribou have been brought to the brink of disaster. While we should be furious, we should not be surprised. As Gordon Pitts recently wrote in a column on the shift of economic power west, “When Canadians find stuff in the ground, they take leave of their senses, unleashing contagions of get-rich-quick thinking.”

Now, as we stampede in our quest to become a Pacific power and build a pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to the B.C. coast, the caribou again are in the way. This time, if we care, not only for their sake but for ourselves and future generations, we have the power to demand change for the better. Are we ready to forgo a few dollars for a healthier environment?

Let’s make no mistake, habitat loss from logging, mining, oil and gas development and roads has been and continues to be the primary cause of the caribou decline. Wolves, if they contributed at all to the decline, were only significant because caribou were already so vulnerable. Predation has been overemphasized to avoid dealing with the real issues of power and money.

Caribou depend on mature and climax forests, and the cumulative effect of recreational and industrial activities on those forests has been devastating. The destruction of habitat fragmented a once cohesive population which stretched from B.C. through our Rocky Mountain parks into western Alberta. In turn, this fragmentation increased the vulnerability of local bands to disturbance from industrial and recreational activities in breeding, calving, migration corridors and other seasonally important areas.

Mismanagement of hunting caused further damage to already threatened herds.

To once again kill wolves to save caribou is like recycling beer cans in Fort McMurray to deal with greenhouse gases produced by oilsands development.

It’s long past time we developed a serious strategy that provides a sustainable future for us and the environment and includes a well-funded, science-based caribou recovery plan. Our economic footprint doesn’t need to squash caribou to extinction, nor liquidate the inheritance of future generations so we can enrich ourselves now.

So what’s required to achieve recovery and restoration of caribou in Alberta and Western Canada?

First, we must deal comprehensively with all of the issues and involve government, business and the public in development and implementation of the plan. It’s not enough to manage habitat for currently depressed populations and leave them perpetually at risk.

We must provide sufficient habitat to allow recovery to self-sustaining levels. Such action must include protection of migratory routes and seasonally important areas.

Furthermore, there must be a moratorium on new industrial and recreational activity in critical caribou range, coupled with urgent research into the effects of existing industrial activity and motorized recreation on caribou and their habitat. Where necessary, herd augmentation and adaptive management practices should be employed.

Albertans have been blessed with exceptional wealth derived from natural resources. With privilege comes responsibility and Albertans, therefore, have a serious duty to protect caribou and provide adequate habitat for their long term recovery.

After I left Alberta in 1982, I continued to work for the caribou, urging the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada to recognize the woodland caribou as a rare species, something done in 1984. In 2000, the committee designated caribou as a threatened species.

So where are we today? Nearly 25 years of Alberta’s caribou “recovery” process has brought looming disaster. Despite compelling evidence, government continues to risk caribou survival to squeeze a bit more revenue out of Alberta’s wilderness.

In July 2010, the Alberta government updated its report on the status of the woodland caribou. In response to dismal results, the Alberta government ignored the advice of its own scientists and failed to downgrade caribou from threatened to endangered status.

Then in January 2012, federal Environment Minister Peter Kent delivered another blow to caribou survival, deciding not to recommend emergency protection for critical habitat for threatened caribou herds in Alberta.

If those trusted to defend the environment abdicate their responsibilities, it’s in our hands. Either we make it clear to our political and business leaders that we want a more environmentally sustainable approach to development with ample room for caribou and other endangered species, or accept that we are partners in this deadly greed.

You can start by asking candidates in the current election campaign to pledge themselves to action now before the caribou disappear.

“We must save caribou from our deadly greed”

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Habitat loss from logging, mining, oil and gas development and roads is the primary cause of Alberta's caribou decline. The role of wolves has been overemphasized to avoid dealing with real issues of power and money.


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Criticizing the Chinese EIA System

Part Two of Three


As much as the international level environmental impact assessment (EIA) for mega-scale development has succeeded in China, it is unfortunate they only account for up to 5% of construction projects.  Although the impacts from the remainder of individual development projects are relatively lower in scale, their sheer numbers is of great concern when considering cumulative effects.  The majority of these projects do not require funding and hence are not bound to the IFC Performance Standards on Social & Environmental Sustainability, nor are they likely to follow them as voluntary initiative.  Often this means that the social and health impact assessment, which is a key feature of an international EIA, is ignored altogether.  The environmental industry is a growing field in China and there are many weaknesses to its EIA system such as gaps and flaws in legislation along with minimal enforcement.

Gaps and Flaws

Even though China has greatly expanded their legal regime in the environmental sector during the past few decades, the Chinese EIA system regardless has many gaps and flaws where much improvement is needed.  Weaknesses of the screening process, excessive power of local authorities, political pressure on decision makers, and limited public participation have greatly impeded the performance of the EIA concept in this country.

Weakness of the Screening Process

One way to perform an environmental impact assessment is to establish a set of criteria and compare all potential disturbances with their corresponding standards to determine the significance of an impact.  A multitude of numerical standards constitute Chinese environmental laws hence its EIA system relies heavily on quantifiable measurements.  As mentioned previously in Understanding the Chinese EIA System, there is a screening process that specifies whether an EIA report, form, or registration form is required for a project, and the EIA Law stipulates that only EIA reports and forms must be prepared by licensed institutions or certified professionals.  However, these only cover about 40% of development projects in China, in other words the remaining 60% of projects required to submit EIA registration forms are performed by the project proponents themselves, who may not be professionals in scientific assessment.  Furthermore, the problem with having concrete numerical values for environmental standards becomes evident during this screening process; individuals performing the EIA may be inclined to design construction proposals just within the maximum threshold of a category to avoid more stringent environmental scrutiny from the next level up, which works in favour of both budget and time allocation.

Excessive Power of Local Authorities

The authority to approve an EIA is distributed between the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and local environmental protection bureaus (EPBs).  The MEP is primarily responsible for authorizing special projects like nuclear or military facilities, projects that extend across provinces, and projects involving the State Council; local EPBs have the authority to approve all others.  These remaining projects are distributed between provincial, municipal, and county level EPBs, but in reality the county level government approves the large portion of EIAs, worth more than half the total investment of all projects.  This imbalance of power between approval authorities enables lower level EPBs to develop local policies that may impede or even contradict the EIA law, and can lead to incomprehensive consideration of environmental impacts during assessment.  The establishment of a hierarchical government where higher level EPBs directly supervise lower level EPBs is essential to avoid this problem.

Political Pressure on Decision Makers

Similarly, excessive power of local EPBs may lead to political pressure on approval authorities to pursue economic advancement.  Despite their status as state ministry, the mandates and rules of the MEP are often undermined by ministries of industrial and economic development as well as by local governments.  Common violations of the EIA law include beginning construction before approval of an EIA, some projects are approved to build a hill then they go and build a mountain, others completely ignore the concept of EIA.  This is partly a result of the fact that local EPBs are also in charge of their own hiring processes, which is a problem especially where decisions are made by individual representatives of a government.  In other words, people are being put in difficult dilemmas because of China’s relentless push towards becoming an economic superpower, and forces decision makers to approve a project in fear of losing employment.  For this reason, the first step towards strengthening the EIA Law would be to assign the staffing responsibilities to a third party authority.

Limited Public Participation

In order for EIA to promote sustainable development, it is important to incorporate the concerns of the communities, as public participation forms a large part of the necessary social aspect that makes an international level EIA so effective.  With this communication between the government and the public, environmental decision making becomes transparent thus increasing public support of decisions made.  It also raises public awareness regarding environmental issues that directly affect the people, creating a more opinionated atmosphere during consultation. Public participation must be comprehensive and non-discriminating, meaning everyone regardless of age, gender, or ethnic group should be allowed to participate.  The enactment of the EIA Law in 2003 introduced this opportunity to the public in China for the first time.

Unfortunately, another apparent weakness of the EIA Law is that public participation is only required for developers preparing environmental impact reports; therefore only a small percentage of EIAs have a social component, though a number of changes have been made in effort to address this problem.  The EIA Law does not obligate smaller scale projects to consult the public, but they may be subject to local regulations if the proposed development is to be located at sensitive regions or within vicinity of residential areas.  Moreover, information related to the project is made available for the public to view.  With that said, the consultation is still inefficient for several reasons.  Although information is made readily available, it may be inadequate or even inaccurate, and to date the public never has full access to EIA documents.  Furthermore, the “Three Simultaneities” should be expanded to include not only mitigation measures but in addition public consultation.  This way public opinions and concerns will be assimilated into project design, construction, and operation, but public participation in China is only required for a brief 10 days.

Minimal Enforcement

One of the greatest weaknesses of the Chinese EIA system is its lack of strict enforcement.  Sometimes project components will begin construction and won’t complete an EIA unless they are caught by enforcement authorities.  The most evident problems related to lax enforcement involve high compliance cost, integrity of environmental practitioners, and lack of post-construction monitoring and compliance supervision.

High Compliance Cost

Environmental law enforcement is utterly inadequate in China, which explains why so many developers have ignored regulatory requirements in the past.  Legislation provides that those project developers caught violating the EIA law must suspend construction and prepare a makeup EIA document within a certain time limit.  The penalty for not meeting the time limit is a fine of 200,000 RMB, which is miniscule for many large multi-billionaire corporations.  In other words, it costs more to comply with the law and prepare an entire EIA report than it does to break it, take the penalty, and write a makeup EIA.  Ironically, it may be even easier to obtain approval with a makeup EIA since the project has already been invested in and construction has already begun.  This practice completely disregards the “Three Simultaneities” concept and the principle of conducting EIA is rendered useless.

Integrity of EIA Institutions and Practitioners

In order to maintain a certain level of quality, the EIA Law requires professional consultants and institutions to seek certification from the MEP.  This licensing system was established to ensure the integrity of environmental practitioners, but the EIA market in China is too dependent on and driven by clients’ demands.  Some institutions are more focused on business networking than they are on protecting the environment, and because of this the entire EIA concept has become a mere solemnity.  Past EIA documents have been known to lack scientific support and analysis, and have been submitted without conclusions or mitigation recommendations.  Furthermore, there is evidence of data concealment or fabrication indicating that some institutions are willing to provide false or inaccurate information for the sake of approval.  In other cases, though some EIA institutions may be fully certified with appropriate expertise and resources, they are hired because of their affiliation with local EPBs and developers are reassured with the prospect of approval through internal liaison.

Lack of Post-Construction Monitoring and Compliance Supervision

According to the EIA Law, if pollutant emissions in reality exceed what is stated in the document, then the project developer has to conduct a post-construction EIA, make improvements, and have it reapproved, after which the environmental protection authority is required to inspect the project’s operations.  Moreover, the last portion of the “Three Simultaneities” concept requires that pollution abatement controls must continue to be applied after construction ends and operation begins.  These include environmental monitoring and adherence to mitigation measures suggested in the EIA, but again lack of strict enforcement does not provide strong incentive for project developers to comply.  In some cases, pollution control equipment has never been installed at facilities, or is temporarily installed only during compliance audits when inspectors are present thus reducing costs.  Environmental monitoring is supposed to keep a record of the compliance status of the project during operation, but since compliance audits are so rare a large proportion of enterprises are not implementing pollution reduction strategies and the EIA document is simply shelved away after the approval is made official.


Moorman, J.L., and G. Zhang.  2007.  Promoting and Strengthening Public Participation in China’s Environmental Impact Assessment Process: Comparing China’s EIA Law and U.S. NEPA.  Vermont Journal of Environmental Law 8: 281-335.

Zhao, Y.  2009.  Assessing the Environmental Impact of Projects: A Critique of the EIA Legal Regime in China.  Natural Resources Journal 49: 485-524.

See also: Part One of Three: Understanding the Chinese EIA System

Coming soon: Improving the Chinese EIA System

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Green Milk?

One of the first things I noticed after moving to China was the milk.  When I drank it the first time, I thought it had a different, somewhat sweetened flavor and a very odd texture kinda like a Slimfast shake.  Where I come from, milk is stored and is refrigerated in the supermarkets for like 2 or 3 weeks max before someone’s gotta drink it.  In China, milk is stored at room temperature, likely for a long period of time, so at first I thought it wasn’t pasteurized.  Turns out, the milk that I’m used to drinking back home is treated by what’s called high temperature short time (HTST) pasteurization and Chinese milk is treated by a process called ultra heat treatment (UHT), or ultra pasteurization.

So, apparently UHT is another type of pasteurization that involves boiling at what they call ultra high temperatures for a fraction of a second, as opposed to exposure to lower temperatures for about 15-30 seconds at a time, increasing the shelf-life of milk from weeks to months.  Later I discovered that HTST milk, albeit less readily available, is also available in Chinese supermarkets, but it still don’t taste right to me (must be the cow).  UHT pasteurization is largely the preferred method of milk treatment obviously for economic reasons; however, UHT milk isn’t as rich in nutrients and loses some of its natural flavoring (which may explain the sweetening I noticed), further highlighting the unbalanced bias for development by leaders of this country not only over environmental concerns but over human health as well. 

What’s worse, you may have heard by now that the dairy industry in China was tangled in 2008, and again last year in a scandal involving melamine contamination.  Melamine is a chemical used to make various plastics and other industrial products and was added to milk because of its protein-like qualities in order to deceive health inspectors, but if consumed can cause potentially lethal health concerns involving kidney problems.  How some people can commit such devious crimes has always eluded me… babies depend on milk for sustenance and believe me there’s a LOT of frickin’ babies in China.  Seriously, I mean if you wanna be a bad guy go and rob a bank or something.  You don’t jeopardize the health of millions of peers and end lives before they even have a chance to begin.

A number of companies had their reputations tarnished by the scandal but only one has gone the extra mile to re-polish it.  Mengniu, a giant in China’s dairy industry, is collaborating with WWF to reduce carbon emissions through their Climate Savers programme, which is an international organization that promotes sustainable business partnerships with world-class producers.  Battling through economic obstacles towards GHG reductions and a low-carbon economy by facilitating companies to achieve ambitious emission reduction objectives in a profitable manner, a number of big name companies such as IBM, Sony, Nokia, National Geographic, TetraPak, Coca-cola and recently Volvo, have already established this relationship with the World Wide Fund for Nature.  As a world renowned NGO, the image created by a partnership with WWF is a necessary step for Mengniu to regain positive status, and is now leading the way as the first company to join the Climate Savers in China.


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Pangolins and TCM

If you’ve ever rambled through the  rainforests of the Asian tropics, then you may have inadvertently meandered into the habitat of what appears to be a living, breathing, gargantuan pinecone called a pangolin.  Otherwise known as the scaly anteater, this creature is another one of those absurdly bizarre animals that often peak my interest.  Like the nickname suggests, its diet primarily consists of ants and termites they capture using a sticky, glue-like saliva, hence the toothless countenance and grossly elongated tongue.  Sheltered throughout its body by a massive coat of armour-like scales, its description sounds like that of a reptile but in fact these scales are keratinized, meaning they’re actually made of the same material as human fingernails; this anomalous characteristic makes them one of the most unique mammals in the world.

Pangolins are good at protecting themselves and have a variety of very efficient defensive mechanisms.  First, similar to skunks they are able to release a pungent stench by contracting their anal glands, also like an armadillo they have the behavioural instinct to roll up as a ball when provoked.  In this position, not only are they extremely difficult to pry apart, but pangolin scales are like razor edges fully capable of severing your finger or causing immense damage to the paws of large carnivores, causing even leopards to think twice before attempting to hunt one.  Unfortunately, there is one type of predator who has a particular taste for pangolin meat.


Now, I’m not here to point fingers or anything of the sort, but I’m inclined to inform you there are certain people from a certain country you may or may not have heard me mention before that starts with a C and ends with an a and is not Canada that has been blindly overharvesting pangolins for their meat.  As a result, pangolin populations have declined sharply in the past decade and in 2008 several species became endangered.  TRAFFIC, a joint organization between IUCN and WWF to ensure wildlife trading doesn’t threaten nature conservation, reveals that pangolin traders are the most common criminals convicted during animal trafficking stings in all of Asia. Interestingly, these pangolins were not all being hunted for their meat, but rather for another purpose…TCM, or Traditional C**nese Medicine (again, nothing of the sort).

In this undisclosed country Pangolin scales are known as Chuan Shan Jia, and are used to disperse blood stasis, promote lactation, dispel pus and reduce swelling.  They’re removed in a brutal process immersing the poor animals in scalding hot water, boiling them until the skin is soft enough to simply peel off the scales, which I would imagine feels a lot like getting your fingernails and toenails ripped off, except that you have them all over your body.

Because of their scarcity and nocturnal lifestyle, the scientific data currently available will not suffice and further research combined with the expertise of local hunters may be necessary to better understand their current distribution before implementing conservation measures.  Despite increased legal protection since their classification as an endangered species, proper enforcement of these laws and regulations continues to be a problem in developing countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam and China.

Oh…………. woops.


Newton, P., N. Van Thai, S. Roberton, and D. Bell.  2008.  Pangolins in peril: using local hunters’ knowledge to conserve elusive species in Vietnam.  Endangered Species Research 6: 41-53.

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South China Blues

Thus my journey begins.

It’s May 2010 in Hong Kong and I take my first step onto Chinese soil to find it feels oddly… different, from a year ago.  This is no five week vacation… this time I am here for good or at least until I’m satisfied with my accomplishments.  I’m not here to shop, nor am I here to party… too much.  This time, I am here in hopes of finding an opportunity to finally kickstart my long awaited environmental career.

My first impression: gotta love this city.  I fell in love with the architecture, the urban lifestyle, the professionalism, the efficiency… the ocean.  I don’t get a lot of chances to see the ocean where I’m from so curiously I spend my off days at the pier, staring out at the horizon.  The world is such a beautiful place.  I love the bustling nitelife and how a beer costs me a great Canadian buck a 40. I love the late night dai pai dongs and how I can wake up at 3am, walk downstairs for a bite and be back in bed in a half.  For all my fairer colored friends  (oh, and also my darkness brothers), a dai pai dong is an old school Hong Kong style food joint.

There’s no such thing as perfection in this world, however; I seem to dislike the attitude of some of the locals here in this city.  My flight arrived at 6am on a scorching Friday morning and I am in a rush to catch the 7am bus.  I approach a ticket stand and Buddy at the counter tells me I’m at the wrong place.  So I ask, “Then, where do I go to purchase a ticket for bus A41P?” He points at a counter down the hall.

“Alright, cool. No problem.”

So I go there and ask for the ticket.  Dude tells me I’m at the wrong place.  So I ask, “Then, where do I go to purchase a ticket for bus A41P?” He points at a counter down the hall.  I’m like wait a minute, isn’t that the one I just came from?  Confused, I walk around the airport for a bit to find a sign that explained everything: the ticket stands weren’t open for another 15 minutes; Buddy and Dude were being total douchebags.

Whatever. That’s nothing, really.  What bothers me a lot more is the immediate response I get from a lot of people when I tell them I am on my way to Beijing to look for a career in the environmental industry.  Apparently to them, there is no such business.  People here don’t care about such a thing.  I should pursue a career where I can make some real money… otherwise I should go home.  But I’ve done my research.  You didn’t.  I did.  I have a real idea of what’s out there and I know what I’m getting myself into, as long and arduous a road as it may be.

It’s unfortunate it appears that people here think that the world revolves around a giant wad of cash.  Their mindset is so financially fixated that they seem to forget the single-most important rule in life:

Rule #1: Enjoy the simple things.

I find myself increasingly disgusted by the lack of public concern for environmental management.  To say that I am angrily annoyed with people would be an outrageous understatement, but I like to retain a sense of professionalism in a scientific blog.  I see glimpses of hope here n’ there and I send my props to the government for making an effort, but have they really done enough to initiate change?

Sure, the city has tried to reduce plastic waste by charging people for grocery bags.  They cost 50 cents each, so let’s see… 0.50 HKD divided by 7.417 equals 0.0674 CAD.  Doesn’t really sound like it’ll dissuade a lot of people to me.  I’m not about to conduct a feasibility study in Hong Kong, but perhaps the encouragement of reusing more durable bags or bins like we do in Canada is a smarter alternative than a miniscule financial deterrent.

I notice a few recycling bins scattered throughout the city, too.  They come in trios: one for paper, one for aluminum, and one for plastic.  But what about glass?  I have to point out, I’ve never actually peeked inside one of these bins either and it’s difficult to say whether or not people are actually using them for its intended purpose or if it’s just another waste bin for them to stick their trash.  Trash cans and their associated ashtrays can be found on every other street, but these recycling bins are far and few in between.

There is a hefty fixed penalty of $1500HKD for littering which is a lot more than a slap on the wrist, but if environmental legislation and the people of Hong Kong are anything like a parent and child, well… if you punish a kid by taking away their favourite toy, they’re not going to be very happy and I think it could create a lot of unnecessary tension between the government and the public.

With that said, I think things are slowly but surely on the right track.  Instead of employing destructive preventative measures like fines, Hong Kong has initiated other, more constructive ways to prevent pollution.  There are educational institutes in the city such as the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre at the peak of Hong Kong University.  I do have to admit, though, this centre was borderline lame.  Maybe I didn’t visit the centre thoroughly because of time constraints but my first impression was, well, I guess I wasn’t very impressed at all.  And I chuckled a bit as I left at the thought of the actual number of people willing to make the 15 minute hike to the top of a steep grade in the heat to visit this tiny place.

Furthermore, I’m glad to see some investment in the eco-tourism industry with the establishment of the Hong Kong Wetland Park.  I haven’t yet been there but it’s nice to see the city attempting to increase the number of nature lovers out there.

If only my Chinese were as good as my English then maybe I could reach out my ideas to the public more effectively, but I guess that’s another really good reason why I am here right now.  C’mon people, I know that I am not alone here.  What can one man, an over-ambitious Chinese Canadian 25 year old going through that dreaded quarterlife crisis searching for the right career opportunity, possibly do to change the mindset of over a billion people in a developing country struggling to coincide economic growth with sustainability?

Yes,  I understand that I am ultimately Canadian inside but I come from a country where multicultural diversity is the norm and lost as I am in this giant of a world I do indeed feel a sense of belonging to the city of Hong Kong, my birthplace, and I do have a right to care.  I absolutely refuse to believe that there’s nobody out there who shares the same views as me.  There has GOT to be an organization out there somewhere.  And I’m not talking people who work for an environmental company as just another job.  I’m talking about a small group of like-minded individuals who genuinely have the desire to try and make a difference in the world, and it’s about time I put my networking skills to the test.

I would like to take a moment to be blunt, just to make sure I get my point across:


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Sustainable Fashion

I read about this on my news feed the other day and thought it was pretty neat:

Newspaper ballgowns, recycled plastic sandals and coats made of wool from “happy and free” sheep — designers are showing clothes to make Mother Nature smile at GreenShows Eco Fashion Week. After a first run last September, the event’s second fashion week kicks off on Sunday, with 10 designers sending models down runways at an East Village building in New York City.

Even the location is environmentally friendly, complete with LEED-Gold certification — a high standard of environmentally sustainable construction. Models will strut their stuff for four days for GreenShows, timed to coincide with stylistas and tastemakers from around the fashion world flocking to New York City to view Autumn-Winter 2010 collections on display at Bryant Park.

While designer superstars, including Diane von Furstenberg, Isaac Mizrahi, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs and Catherine Malandrino, prepare to unveil their latest collections at New York Fashion Week, Samatha Pleet is putting the final touches on her line. The 28-year-old designer is planning to show 35 pieces next Tuesday at Eco Fashion Week, which is co-sponsored by natural cosmetics manufacturer Weleda and features hair and makeup demonstrations on the sidelines of the shows.

“You see this parka, it has a cracked paper look,” she said, pointing to a light brown matte jacket. “It’s silk created in China, buried in mud for two months, and then they use yams to dye the silk. It’s a traditional Chinese method,” the Pratt Institute graduate added.

Alongside the coat hangs a bustier dress made from a recycled polyester micro-fiber that looks like suede and a silk blouse dyed with pigments derived from pumpkins and red fruit. Pleet showed visitors flannel capes lined with organic wool. “This organic wool comes from Vermont, no chemicals are used and the sheep live a happy and free life. They only use pigments, no (chemical) dye,” she added.

Gary Harvey, a British designer who will be showing his recycled material line, has big plans in mind. “I believe we can contribute to an ethical fashion revolution,” he said. Harvey created a sensation in London in 2007, when he showed a couture-inspired tutu dress with a skirt made entirely from 30 copies of the Financial Times newspaper. At the Kaight boutique in Chinatown, Kate McGregor proudly displayed items by many of the eco-friendly designers who will present their work at GreenShows.

She also sells Vivienne Westwood shoes from a collaboration between the eccentric British designer and Brazilian brand Melissa. Fresh from collaborations with France’s couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier, Melissa’s factories are world specialists in the use of “Mel-flex” a flexible and sustainable plastic material used in shoes that range from ankle boots to high-heeled, peep-toe slingbacks. “Melissa has a closed loop system, no waste is generated (and) Mel-flex is a non-toxic plastic,” McGregor explained.

According to the Brazilian company’s website, Melissa shoes use no animal products and the manufacturer vows to treat its workers well and pay them fairly. GreenShows organizer Eric Dorfman said he was surprised by the event’s success. “I did not expect such a result. I had the idea to get eco fashion brands together and to do fashion shows,” he said. “Eco is more than a way of producing clothes, more than fair trade or fair pay. It’s about consciousness of life.”


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Beauty in the Beast

Happy Chinese New Year!

Under the spotlight this time around is the South China or Xiamen Tiger Panthera tigris amoyensis, symbol of bravery, dignity, courage, wealth, power and unpredictability.  At approximately 8 feet long and 330 lbs (scary if you ask me), it’s surprising that this subspecies of tiger is in fact one of the smallest, making it among the most delicate and perhaps most vulnerable felines in its clade.  Listed on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered, it saddens me to think that such a magnificent beast could be reduced to only tens of individuals remaining in the whole wild world.

Its persecution began in the 20th century, largely considered as pests and man-eaters by Chinese farmers and villagers under influence of the revolutionary Mao Zedong.  In just a short period of time, the South China tiger has become virtually extinct in the wild and it wasn’t until 1977, near the end of Mao’s leadership that the Chinese government imposed hunting bans, putting an end to the perverse trade of tiger farming in a desperate attempt to revive their populations .

In contrast to other beliefs, I personally don’t feel it’s too little too late.  The most optimistic conservationists hope to restore their numbers, breeding thousands of tigers in protected captivity though it likely won’t be for a while until they are ready to return to the jungle on their own.  Reintroduction of a captive species into the wild is a complicated task, as it may take generations to condition the tigers to hunt and self-satisfy their completely carnivorous diets, weaning them from the support of a few caring humans.

Like the Giant panda, the Xiamen tiger is a charismatic flagship species and 2010 serves as a good reminder to the Chinese as well as the general public.  Hopefully their additional attention this year gives them a bit of a boost in positive contributions over at least the next dozen years towards raising awareness of their critical situation so that the Panthera tigris amoyensis can, in all their glorious digitigrade prowess, stand tall as a species… once again.

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