Friday, April 26, 2013

Critically Thinking about Research: (Thoughts on Autism)

(EcoYogini discusses the misrepresentation of medical research in the media, the environmental aspect of health and the importance of critically thinking about medical research)

My day job (or alternate identity) is a paediatric Speech-Language Pathologist. I love my job, I get to work with families of children with a variety of disorders, delays and diagnoses. I spent two years as part of the Autism Team in British Colombia and loved every single minute of working with such fabulous families.

Communication is such an integral part of every single thing we do as humans. It forms the basis with how we interact with others, the language and associated memories and feelings we have with words shape how we think and perceive our world. Language skills are also essential for academic success. Finally, integral for emotional attachment and connection between parent and child, communication becomes one of the priorities in early childhood.

Because of this, you can understand how parents and caregivers would do or give anything to help their children communicate. Unfortunately, there are many organizations and programs that would capitalize on this need in order to make a profit from their vulnerability.

It's so unfair to expect parents and caregivers, who often are reeling from a recent diagnosis and shift from 'my child's future without_____' to 'my child's future with_____', to take the time to wade through scientific research, claims and evidence based practice. That's our job as professionals.

But often, professionals are quick to scoff at any sort of alternative treatment. Mostly because so many of them are scams, cost money or require huge changes in lifestyle. However, I feel that as professionals we need to listen with an open heart and mind, and give unbiased perspectives and recommendations after investigation and careful thought.

(there's a link to the environment coming up, truly!)

For example, recently there has been a research study discussed in the media regarding 'creases in the placenta' and a 'link' (NOT causation) to Autism. Honestly, the media has a terrible history of incorrectly interpreting or reporting medical research.

The researchers actually studied the placentas of the second child of families with a child already diagnosed with Autism (and as such are already at higher risk for a second child who will be diagnosed). Important to note: the differences in placenta were NOT 100% across mothers. Differences were noted as higher levels of 'trophoblasts' on the placenta, which researchers are clear to state do not, to scientific knowledge to date, affect the neurodevelopment of the child. Further, the researchers found a correlation for non-genetic RISK marker of Autism and not Autism itself (which, these children were already identified as higher risk due to their sibling with a diagnosis).

What is interesting about this study, is the potential for earlier diagnosis, or at least earlier flagging children who may be at risk for a later diagnosis of Autism or other developmental disorders. This is a positive thing because of the placement of earlier intervention ("speech therapy" should be renamed 'communication therapy' and can be helpful before the child actually begins speaking).

The risk, of course, is the mis-labeling of children at risk and use of intervention unnecessarily. (I am not of the idea that we could overdiagnose Autism. At least not in Canada, as a diagnosis is extremely intense, involves an entire team of professionals and due to the money attached to a diagnosis is NOT done lightly). 

What is interesting about this study is the mention that the higher trophoblasts on the placenta could be caused by a variety of environmental triggers, including endocrine disrupting chemicals in the mother's environment. Unsurprisingly, I am of the mind that we currently have no idea the extent the chemical soup in our daily lives are affecting our health, and our children's health.

That said- it's so so important to recognize that this is an INITIAL study, further study and research is necessary AND we really can't link developmental disorders or Autism ONLY to our exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals. We just can't.

As citizens, parents and professionals we can just be aware of the research being done, take all news reports (including this blog post!) with a grain of salt and discuss questions and concerns with a trusted health professional.

AND Especially be EXTREMELY weary of any treatment, claims (ie 'placenta health!'), health regimes and products that would require a monetary investment.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Why Do You Blog?

(EcoYogini shares her thoughts on why she blogs)

Recently, a friend of mine decided to encourage the bloggers in our local facebook group to share why they blog. I'm not sure why I find these posts so interesting to read... but the "Why am I blogging" question often factor in what I post over at "EcoYogini".

Step 1: Blogging to inform.
I began blogging for a very specific purpose in 2009: I wanted to share how yoga relates to protecting the environment. I wanted (I still do) to share concrete information, shed light on greenwashing and find the best eco-yoga products and activities I could.

Eventually, I kinda ran out of things to say about yoga and the environment and now my blog reflects a general path to leading a more environmentally friendly life. With yoga in there somewhere.

I don't blog so people will know who I am.
I don't blog to share a lot about my personal life. Although I know it wouldn't be impossible to find out who I am behind "EcoYogini", and I have shared pictures of myself in the past, it is very important to me that I keep at least the illusion of privacy. I don't want my employer reading my blog. This means that I don't have a facebook page for EcoYogini, all of my gmail and twitter accounts are separate from my personal information and I have had to ask sites to remove my full name when I've done guest posts.

I don't blog so I can get a lot of hits on my site.
Although I do love comments... I try hard not to write a post simply for the shock (and click) value. It was something I learned I didn't want to do when I considered writing for Elephant Journal- their instructional video made me feel so uncomfortable it was the deciding factor to decline the invite. (how to write a title to gather the most hits, how to write a provocative post, how to use specific vocabulary to garner hits with words like "nudity", which tags to use-blegh).

Once I made this decision to not post for hits, it made choosing post topics and deciding how often I post so much easier. Even the strange, subtle undercurrent of competition between bloggers seemed to fade. Instead it left room for more sincere connections and growth.

Blogging meets my inner protestor.
In the beginning, blogging met my inner need to be an "activist" like I've always wanted. I really had this impression that by blogging we could make a difference. We could share ideas. I still feel this way, just to a slightly lesser degree. I blame the "click to make a difference" trend where I can see that sometimes more than just writing about it is necessary. I'm a little jaded now.

However, that little spark is still burning in my little blogging heart and when push comes to shove I firmly believe that our blogs are reaching out. Changing what people feel is culturally acceptable (and what is not). Encouraging discussion.

Blogging equals connection.
Now blogging has become more of a community. I like connecting and reading regular commenters thoughts. I love being part of my three blogger facebook groups and weirdly (I think) I have many blogger facebook friends.

(Me, the first autumn of my blogging life. 2009 Halifax NS)

Although we live in different parts of the world, with different lifestyles and challenges, we really aren't that different. And that, to me, is the crux of yoga-environmental blogging.

Why do YOU blog?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Greening Your Spring Cleaning Routine

The Climate Crusader is enlisting her daughter to help her clean this spring, and she wants to keep it green.

Recently, my eight-year-old daughter asked me if we could do some spring cleaning. I have spent enough time in the parenting trenches to know that when your kid's enthusiastic about cleaning, you capitalize on it, you don't ask questions. I told her that of course we could. But this raises the question of what we should be cleaning with.

As a self-proclaimed green mom, it's important to me that I don't expose my family to toxic cleaners. While it's possible to buy less-toxic, more sustainable cleaning agents, the truth is that these are often very expensive (and, sadly, sometimes not as effective as their conventional cousins). Many people who are seeking to live more sustainably opt for a third option - making their own cleaners.

A quick internet search for "green cleaning agents" will give you lots of information. Here are a few of my favourite resources:
Trying to replace all of your favourite cleaners at once is a little bit intimidating. The good news is that you don't have to. As you finish a bottle, box or tube, replace it with something less toxic and more sustainable. This is an easy (and affordable) way to reduce your family's exposure to toxins that can cause a host of problems. This way, if you're lucky enough to have a child volunteer to help, you don't have to be afraid that your little one is getting a dose of respiratory irritants and suspected carcinogens as they clean.

If making your own feels like too much work, here are a few things to look for on the bottle to help you make a greener choice:
  • Make sure that all ingredients are listed. If they're not, the manufacturer may be hiding something.
  • For the ingredients that are listed, less is more. A whole lot of long, hard-to-pronounce chemical names on the label isn't a good sign that what's inside is safe.
  • Opt for fragrance-free. "Fragrance" or "parfum" on an ingredient listing is a catch-all phrase that may include harmful chemicals such as phthalates.
  • If you choose a scented product, make sure that the label explains exactly what's in the scent.
  • Look for third party certifications to back up green claims. These third party certifications aren't guarantees but they do provide some reassurance that the product has met specific criteria.
If you're looking for me, I'll be manning the vacuum cleaner. In the meantime, what are your green spring cleaning tips?

Friday, April 12, 2013

What I Told Barack Obama

From the bean of Green Bean.

It was early.  7:50 in the morning.  I'd had to bribe my husband to drive the carpool.  I wondered what my partner in crime had done with her kids when I pulled into her driveway - 5 minutes late.

She popped out of the door - raincoat and umbrella.  Heading toward the main road, I confessed that my husband was worried about me being arrested.  "I don't even have my ID," she patted down her pockets as if perhaps she had brought it after all.

"I don't think that will happen. It's Atherton for God's sake."  Atherton is a very upscale neighborhood in Silicon Valley and about 10 minutes from my home.    

"I didn't bring a sign, either," she admitted.  Who could blame her?  I'd recruited her late last night when I realized that going to a rally would be WAY more fun with a friend.  You see, as far as protests, and rallies go, I'm a virgin.  I've blogged forever and have hit a few city council meetings, belonged to some city and school green teams but to go and hold a sign and chant slogans with a bunch of random folks, newbie!  I've reached a point in my life, though, where I don't think we can organic garden and second hand shop our way out of this mess.  I think the only way to make a dent is to make a lot of noise, grow public support and force our leaders to lead.

I showed my friend the sign I had scribbled last night with my boys' dried up markers.  "But I think they'll have signs there," I assured her.  

Apparently, Barack Obama's motorcade was driving past the designed meeting area en route to a fundraiser.  I wondered if we would be the only fools out in the rain at 8am to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline.  

We were still a few blocks away when we breathed a sigh of relief.  We spotted one sign, then a few folks walking toward the fire station.  As we rounded the corner, my heart raced.  We wouldn't be alone after all!

Approximately 100 people gathered that morning in the rain for a 20 second opportunity to let the President know that it is past time to act.  That the Keystone Pipelines, tar sands, fossil fuels are not good for anyone.  That there are no jobs on a dead planet.  

We joined the crowd and were offered signs saved from the last night's rally in San Francisco.  Passing cars honked and driver's flashed thumbs up, giving us a jolt of adrenaline.  

Several police cars came and bickered over whether we could be there.  Over her loudspeaker, one officer repeatedly demanded that the crowd move across the street.  Another got out of his car and promised that as long as the Constitution was in effect, we could gather wherever we wanted.

Suddenly, the motorcade was there.  Sirens flashing on wet pavement.  Four black SUVs with the darkest tinted windows I've ever seen. 

Photo from San Jose Mercury News.  All you can see of me is the red sign on the other side of the SUV.

Mr. President, I hope you heard me.  I hope you saw that sign I held. I hope you realize that the situation is dire enough to get an introvert out of her house, to stand on a cold street corner with a bunch of strangers.  Mr. President, we must act now!

 Photo from Sara Shor, the rally organizer.

Once the motorcade passed, my friend and I returned our signs and headed for the car.  The whole ride home, we grinned, gave each other high fives and pats on the back.  That morning, we moved past personal environmentalism.  We stepped out of our comfort zones.  We stood up for what we believed in and it felt awesome!

** This post is part of a carnival on the Keystone XL Pipeline.  On April 18th, please go visit Retro Housewife Goes Green to see how other eco-bloggers feel about the pipeline in specific and tar sands in general.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring Green Confession

This is going to be short as we have severe weather coming in and I want to hurry and get this done before we possibly lose power.

Today was beautiful and I'm longing for spring (which is here I guess but we keep having freezes) so  I decided while out running errands to get some garden supplies. Now earlier this month I met Beth Terry and she had invited me to be apart of a talk she was giving on plastic, so you would think I would plant flowers from seeds and such to avoid plastic but you would be wrong.

I ended up getting top soil in plastic, garden soil in plastic, recycled mulch (for flowers NOT food!) in plastic and it is plastic, annuals in plastic, and lavender in a biodegradable pot but with a plastic label. And none of it is recyclable in my area!

I also bought perennials from the local co-op, not sure how those will come but at least those last. I'm trying to switch my yard to all perennials so I don't have to buy so much plastic. With the very hot summers Oklahoma has been having and our three year long drought, I have been looking for very heat and drought resistant plants. Last year went pretty well so hopefully this year will go well and next year I will be able to keep myself from buying any annuals.

Do you have any green confessions to make? No one is perfect, it's good to remember that. Tomorrow will be a better day, I don't plan to leave the house, ha.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Friday Question: When Shopping for Food, What Matters Most to You?

Eco-novice wants to know your food priorities.

Between California's recently defeated Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of GMO foods, and the recent so-called Monsanto Protection Act (protecting biotech companies from future litigation if it turns out that GMO seeds are dangerous), GMOs and how to avoid them have been all over the news and blogosphere during the past six months.

Which has made me realize, GMOs have never been a top issue for me.

Sure, I avoid them. I switched to organic canola oil (which I use in large quantities for bread and most high-temp cooking) when I read that almost all conventional canola oil is GMO. I know that almost all corn is GMO, so I do try to buy most things with corn as a main ingredient organic (organic products cannot contain GMOs). I would never eat a genetically engineered animal on purpose.

Of course I supported California's Proposition 37. I would like to be the one to determine whether scientific innovations in agricultural with very short track records and questionable research are relevant to my food purchases or not. 

And, yes, I think GMOs are a bad idea. Or at the very least, an idea that doesn't have enough rigorous science behind it to merit their widespread and ever-growing creation and application.

But I've never participated in a GMO-free month or scrutinized blog posts with lists of items that might or do contain GMOs. I've never gone through my pantry to identify and toss any item that might have GMOs. Honestly, I'm not sure exactly why, but it just doesn't push my buttons the way other food issues do. I often buy conventional chips as long as the ingredient list is short (potatoes, oil, salt), knowing full well that the vegetable oil might be GMO. I guess I think I'm better off putting my money and energy into finding healthy alternatives to the chips, like a new homemade snack.

All this GMO business has made me think about what ARE my food priorities. What matters most to me when I shop for food? Where do I draw the line and when am I willing to compromise? 

I'm not sure it's possible to determine which factors matter THE MOST in terms of the environment or health. A lot depends on what values or issues are most important to you: animal welfare, social justice, exposure to toxins, sustainability, water pollution, slave labor, climate change, antibiotic resistance, supporting local farmers, etc. There are so many things wrong with conventional agriculture and livestock, so many issues to choose from!

So what matters most to me? When I'm shopping for food, my priorities (in rough order) are:

For packaged/processed foods

Luckily I don't drink much besides (filtered tap) water, (local organic) milk and the occasional juice, so at least I don't have to think too hard about the beverages I drink. I'm trying to be more conscious about the rain forest (palm oil) and slave labor (chocolate) as well. But honestly it's sometimes tough to keep track of all these issues. Instead I find it easier to focus on eating as many whole unprocessed foods purchased directly from local producers as possible.

What are your food priorities? And why?

Photo credit: NatalieMaynor

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Following the Frog

Since I didn't have time to write a new post today, I thought I would share this (very amusing) video put together by the organization I work for, Rainforest Alliance, which is an international conservation NGO.

The video explains that you don't need to go to the ends of the earth to protect the planet - you can start by "following the frog." By purchasing goods like coffee, tea, chocolate, and juice with the Rainforest Alliance frog seal, you can rest assured that your dollars are supporting farmers who are earning a good wage and growing responsibly in a way that conserves ecosystems and wildlife.

People want to know what they can do to help protect the environment. They fear that their personal actions are not making enough of a difference. But, through my job, I've been impressed to see how small purchasing decisions do contribute to transformative impact.

As the consumer demand for eco-friendly products grows, companies are realizing the importance of greening their supply chain. This in turn creates more opportunities to work on the ground to help communities adopt sustainable practices. For example, in just a few years, the Rainforest Alliance has trained over half a million small holder tea farmers and has certified 10% of the world's tea. So whether you look for organic or local or Rainforest Alliance or Fair Trade or FSC or some other sustainable label, the decisions we make every day about what to buy can make a difference around the world. How much attention do you pay to certification labels when you buy things?

Monday, April 1, 2013

How Green is Your Vacation?

The Climate Crusader is about to fly off for a family vacation, and she's experiencing eco-guilt.

It's Spring Break right now in the Vancouver area, and my family is taking advantage of it by planning a trip to Disneyland. My eight-year-old and four-year-old are beyond excited. As for me, my feelings change by the minute, ranging from excitement to terror and everywhere in between. And somewhere in the mix there, I'm also feeling a healthy helping of enviro-guilt.

Carbon Emissions

I entered my flight details into an emissions calculator, and it told me that I'm producing some 0.27 tonnes of carbon dioxide - or 0.54 tonnes round-trip. This is about the same amount as I produce in six months of driving my car around town. And I haven't even calculated the cost of the convenience food I will likely consume, the souvenirs we'll buy the kids, and the general overhead that I'm sure it takes to run a place like Disneyland. When it comes to getting away from it all, a family trip on an airplane to a large amusement park isn't exactly the greenest choice.

I'm not trying to beat myself up. This is a rare treat for my family. This is the first plane trip for my son, and only the second for my daughter. Most of our vacations are close to home, within easy driving distance of our home. We're also big fans of the staycation. I'm determined to enjoy this trip. But I'm also hoping to reduce the environmental impact a little.

Baby Steps for a Greener Vacation

Here are a few steps I'm taking for a greener vacation:
  1. We'll all be carrying reusable water bottles, which we'll refill from the tap. By doing this, we can avoid the environmental impact that comes with buying water in plastic bottles.
  2. I will re-use towels in the hotel. You know how they usually have that card that says a towel on the floor or in the tub will be washed, while a towel on the rack will be left for reuse? I hang my towels.
  3. Our hotel is within walking distance of Disneyland, and we won't be going anywhere else. Once we get to our destination, we won't be doing any more driving.
  4. We'll be looking for snack and meal options with minimal packaging. I'm not going to promise that there won't be plastic wrapping and the like - that would be unrealistic. But I will do my best to minimize it.
They're small steps, but if every little bit counts, then I'm trying to do my part. I could use some more tips, though.  How do you green your vacation?


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