B-au naturel

A rediscovered post from last August, when i was travelling:

Those who know me won’t be surprised by the true confession that i don’t use deodorant. Apart from a brief stint in my impressionable teens, when my parents tried to convence me that deodorant is the very glue that holds civil society together, i could never get past the idea that smearing or spraying chemical gunk on a fairly permeable area of one’s skin was a smart thing to do. I also didn’t buy that human odour was necessarily offensive to we creatures who have been smelling it, presumably, since we dropped from the trees.

Sure, there’s a point at which. But given basic hygiene, the occasional shower and the odd load of laundry, we should be able to put up with each other au naturel, no?

However, it has been a long, hot summer. And i’ve been travelling by Greyhound bus, spending much time in close proximity with strangers And i’m living out of a small backpack, with just three shirts to my name, in hostels and other accomm’s with limited laundry facilities. Sometimes — i admit it — i stink.

Last week i decided to see what i could do about it, and went into a drugstore while my clothes were drying in the laundromat, to check out … gulp … the deodorant aisle. There were dozens of products, arrayed in colourful packaging along multiple feet of shelves, that one could roll, wipe or spray on, in tantalizing scents from none through floral or spicy straight into industrial. They all cost in the $3-4 range, except for the frightening “extra strength” products, which were up around $8. But a quick check of the ingredients list was sobering. Here’s the formula for Old Spice Classic Antiperspirant & Deodorant Stick (from this link):

Active ingredient: aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly (16%) (anhydrous)

Inactive ingredients: cyclopentasiloxane, stearyl alcohol, talc, dimethicone, hydrogenated castor oil, fragrance, polyethylene, silica, dipropylene glycol, behenyl alcohol

    Gak! I don’t know about you, but none of that sounds like stuff I want to smear on my skin on a regular basis, never mind wash all that crap down the drain into the water system (an aspect of product use we don’t generally think about).

    A quick Google search for “toxic deodorant ingredients” yields a thousand reasons to stay away from all of the above.

    But the invisible hand of the market being the thoroughgoing extremity it is, there’s usually a “green” alternative to most everything these days. Exploring further on the drugstore shelves, i noticed a small “natural” deodorant section, with about half a dozen choices. I finally settled on one that is, basically, just a stick of salt — not table salt (sodium chloride) but ammonium alum, a mineral salt. The chemical name for its lone ingredient is aluminium ammonium sulfate — something i can actually pronounce — and its chemical formula is [Al(NH4)](SO4)2 (Wikipedia entry for chem nerds).

    What you do is wet the top of the salt stick with water, then rub it on your pits, kind of like you might season a turkey. You’ve gotta do the scarecrow thing with your arms for a minute until it dries, but then … protected!

    Did it work? Bearing in mind that i have no baseline to compare it to, yes. Pretty well. Nobody ever moved to another seat in disgust. I’ve still got the stick, and use it before any potentially high-stress, nervewracking situation. Although my first line of defense against such annoyances is to avoid them in the first place.

    The Munk-eys debate

    Hah! Did you watch the Munk debate on climate change last Tuesday (viewable online at the link, i think)?

    George Monbiot, journalist, and the Green Party‘s Elizabeth May versus Bjorn Lomborg, environmental skeptic, and Lord Nigel Lawson, former financial journalist and ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, two high-profile deniers. Most instructive.

    I’d say Bjorn pretty much won, by cleverly steering its focus to the word “defining” in the (poorly framed) question under debate: “Be it resolved climate change is mankind’s defining crisis, and demands a commensurate response“. He argued that there are other serious crises that deserve the world’s attention too, which the pro side could hardly disagree with. So the whole thing devolved into a wrangle about that.

    Surprisingly, neither “denier” actually tried to deny that climate change is upon us; rather, they (Bjorn in particular) openly acknowledged that the climate is changing. So apparently that point is now conceded, and we now need a different word for that camp. In their eyes the wrangle is now about where we direct our effort — meaning, of course, money, which seems now to have entirely eclipsed principle, moral duty or anything else not readily summed up in billions, as the basis for our decision-making.

    They say we should spend our money and effort (and money, did i mention money? They sure did, over and over) not on retooling our energy system to keep CO2 levels from increasing in the atmosphere. Instead, we should spend it in ways that will save lives now — on things like HIV/AIDS and malaria and making starving, isolated African tribes wealthy. (Bjorn’s example, not mine.) Because that will save more lives in the short run. And besides, it’s evident that we here in the West will not suffer too badly from climate change, insulated as we are by our wealth (and geography). So the same reasoning (except maybe for the geography part) should apply to the tropical world that will bear the brunt of climate change effects in the next century.

    Exactly how this applies to the Maldives, for example — which are forecast to be entirely underwater sometime during this century — was not clear. Maybe everybody there will be rich enough to own a yacht. As for the millions we save now from disease, well, let’s hope they can all eat “the sand which is there” when their agricultural lands desertify. Ha ha, i kill me.

    Pundits to the left of them,
    Zealots to the right of them …
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do & die,
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six billion.

    (With apologies to Alfred Tennyson.
    And the whole ecosphere.)

    True North censured over climate stalling

    Here’s a serious piece of leverage against Canada’s stalling and obstructing on climate change (emphases mine). If i were Stephen Harper i’d be in a bit of a sweat right now. Not only do three-quarters of Canada’s population poll as being embarrassed over his stalling on climate action, but this new censure adds potential economic teeth to the consequences of his government’s inaction — something the PM will understand.

    So it seems he now will be personally attending the Copenhagen conference — at which both Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao will now be present. (I read that Jintao has pledged to cut Chinese carbon intensity almost in half.)

    Poor Stephen. Think i’ll give him a call tomorrow to urge him to save his own ass. Not to mention the rest of ours, here on Planet Earth.

    Scientists target Canada over climate change

    Prominent campaigners, politicians and scientists have called for Canada to be suspended from the Commonwealth over its climate change policies.
    The coalition’s demand came before this weekend’s Commonwealth heads of government summit in Trinidad and Tobago, at which global warming will top the agenda, and next month’s UN climate conference in Copenhagen. Despite criticism of Canada’s environmental policies, the prime minister, Stephen Harper, is to attend the Copenhagen summit. His spokesman said today: “We will be attending the Copenhagen meeting … a critical mass of world leaders will be attending.”
    Canada’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are among the world’s highest and it will not meet the cut required under the Kyoto protocol: by 2007 its emissions were 34% above its reduction target. It is exploiting its vast tar sands reserves to produce oil, a process said to cause at least three times the emissions of conventional oil extraction.
    The coalition claims Canada is contributing to droughts, floods and sea level rises in Commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh, the Maldives and Mozambique. Clare Short, the former international development secretary, said: “Countries that fail to help [tackle global warming] should be suspended from membership, as are those that breach human rights.”

    Full article at the excellent Guardian.

    Vitamin DREAM

    This seems incredible, but who knows, there might be a correlation.

    i recently started taking my daily dose of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. I take 1000 IU a day, just before bedtime, from about fall equinox (Sep. 21) to spring equinox (Mar. 21), because there’s mounting evidence that we northerners don’t get near enough of the stuff (generated by exposure to sunshine) during the winter months.The corresponding health risks include multiple sclerosis, bone strength, various cancers and autoimmune disorders — no thanks!

    Anyway, i’ve been having incredibly vivid dreams for the past week. More unusual still, i’ve been remembering them (more or less), which rarely happens. Last night’s involved my father in his younger days, a job that i liked but was ducking, and some kind of tropical watersport that made me feel really happy.

    I just made the coincidence today between my enhanced dream life and starting to take the vitamin D. Thing is, i also just remembered that my Victoria friend Fil told me a couple of weeks ago that he had to start taking his vitamin D pill in the afternoon, because he was losing sleep over all the dreams he was having — so wild they kept waking him up. I was skeptical at the time, but now….

    So maybe there IS a correlation. I googled up “vitamin D dreams” on the World Wide Web and found almost zero references linking vitamin D and nighttime dreams. So, all you vitamin D users out there … let’s do some SCIENCE. Has there been any change in your dream life?

    Dead on

    Thursday’s D.I.Y. Dharma class in Vancouver touched on contemplating your own death, a well known Buddhist object of meditation. Coincidentally, so did the previous Sunday’s meditation session with Zen monk Wayne Codling (Sojun Enso) in Victoria.

    All of which reminded me of the following passage early on in David Darling‘s provocatively titled 1996 book Zen Physics — the Science of Death, the Logic of Reincarnation. As walking “meat-based time machines” (per Vic slam poet Skawt Chonzz) with built-in expiry dates, this is uncomfortable information we should have.

    As soon as a person’s heart stops beating, gravity takes hold. Within minutes a purple-red stain starts to appear on the lowermost parts of the body, where blood quickly settles. The skin and muscles sag, the body cools, and within two to six hours rigor mortis sets in. Beginning with a stiffening of the eyelids, the rigidity extends inexorably to all parts of the body and may last for between one and four days before the muscles finally relax.

    Two or three days after death, a greenish discoloration of the skin on the right side of the lower abdomen above the cecum (the part of the large intestine nearest the surface) provides the first visible sign of decay. This gradually spreads over the whole abdomen and then onto the chest and upper thighs, the color being simply a result of sulfur-containing gases from the intestines reacting with hemoglobin liberated from the blood in the vessels of the abdominal wall. By the end of the first week, most of the body is tinged green, a green that steadily darkens and changes to purple and finally to black. Blood-colored blisters, two to three inches across, develop on the skin, the merest touch being sufficient to cause their top layer to slide off.

    By the end of the second week the abdomen is bloated. The lungs rupture because of bacterial attack in the air passages, and the resulting release of gas pressure from within the body forces a blood-stained fluid from the nose and mouth — a startling effect that helped to spawn many a vampire legend among peasants who had witnessed exhumations in medieval Europe. The eyes bulge and the tongue swells to fill the mouth and protrude beyond the teeth. After three to four weeks, the hair, nails, and teeth loosen, and the internal organs disintegrate before turning to liquid.

    On average, it takes ten to twelve years for an unembalmed adult body buried six feet deep in ordinary soil without a coffin to be completely reduced to a skeleton. This period may shrink drastically to between a few months and a year if the grave is shallow, since the body is then more accessible to maggots and worms. However, soil chemistry, humidity, and other ambient factors have a powerful effect on the rate of decomposition….