The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

This week’s blog post will be a little more phiosophical, dealing with a topic that’s been debated for a very long time, animal rights. I’ll be taking some well-known opinions that we have been analyzing in school and extending them to whole ecosystems. Enjoy!

The issue of animal rights is no new concept. Animals are deeply integrated in our modern lifestyles to the point where interactions with them are inevitable and occur on a daily basis. Decisions regarding how each individual human interacts with non-human animals are made each day by the consumption of cosmetics, food and other objects (Korsgaard, 2009). On a broader scale, the Western world faces problems of overconsumption and many unsustainable practices that are wreaking havoc on the Earth System. Human population is growing at an alarming rate, leading to the destruction of habitats and ecosystems that are vital to the functioning of the Earth System. The question at hand is that if we have moral duties toward non-human animals, then what are our moral duties regarding the whole ecosystems to which these species belong? We need to look at the whole, and not just the parts.

Korsgaard’s views can be extended to ecosystems in general. She argues that the difference between humans and non-human animals is that humans understand the implications of their actions and can therefore evaluate situations and make decisions about whether or not to act on their emotions, instincts and desires. In other words, humans have the capacity to self-govern. It is natural for life to prey on life, however our human nature obliges us to hold ourselves to higher standards than nature has given us. If we are considering ourselves superior to animals in this sense, then we should not act savage like them, we have duties to respect them (Korsgaard, 2009).

Extending to ecosystems, Korsgaard’s views and reasoning can give insight as to why it is our duty to respect and protect whole ecosystems. Korsgaard argues that it is a uniquely human characteristic to have the capacity to recognize the implications of one’s actions and base our decisions as to what is right and what is wrong on that (Korsgaard, 2009). Through this, we have the duty to protect the ecosystems to which the species that we owe moral standing to belong. Ecosystems, are just that, systems. All components interact, and everything affects everything. By disrespecting and destroying the physical environment, we are disrespecting and destroying every other component of the ecosystem, including the non-human animals. If we as humans are able to realize this we can evaluate our actions that cause destruction to habitats and ecosystems. In order to respect the parts, we must preserve and respect the whole.

Finally, Korsgaard argues that it is difficult to treat animals rightly, as their harm is deeply embedded in our lifestyles. She also states that is this is no reason to not try harder to do so, and this can be applied to whole ecosystems as well (Korsgaard, 2009). Our culture is built heavily around the destruction of the environment and the modification of the Earth System that it is extremely difficult to change one’s lifestyle to treat animals and ecosystems rightly, having no negative impact. If we use this inconvenience as an excuse to continue on with our unsustainable practices, then we are not moral and we cannot advance. The Earth as a whole, has given us life and allowed us to become what we are. We realize this as humans, and thus it is our duty to respect and protect the whole, if we wish to respect the parts to which we owe moral standing.



Korsgaard, C. M. (2009). Facing the animal you see in the mirror. The Harvard Review of Philosophy, 16(1), 4-9.


Some Interesting Perspectives on Water Usage

In class this week, we had a long discussion about daily water usage. My profs, both being hydrologists, had quite a bit to say about the topic, and brought many interesting facts and questions to the table.

The main one being, how much water do you use per day? This website is a great way of seeing how much water your household uses. It is customizable by area and all the appliances that are used in the house, as well as their specific frequency/intensity of use. It also give great insight about which places your household can save water.

I was astonished to find out that one toilet flush uses between 5 and 20 L of water. It made me seriously consider trying to save some flushes here and there. Next, showering can take anywhere between 20 and 80 L, how crazy is that! This fact got me thinking about something I saw on Facebook the other week: The Smart Showerhead. It monitors how many liters of water you use in the shower and it notifies you with different colored lights. For instance, it turns green once you have used 10L, then purple after you’ve used 50L. It even connects to your smartphone, to keep track of all the water you use in all your showers.

Dishwashers only use about 4L per day (per person) whereas cooking and hand-washing dishes uses 25L per day per person. All that and other daily water uses, comes out to an average of 162L per day per person, and this is only direct water use. This means that all the water that went into growing, transporting and processing all the plants and animals that compose your daily diet is not included. Once this is included, daily water usage shoots up to 2000L per day.

       To add to this, the clothes you wear and leisure items that you use also use water. For instance, a pair of jeans takes 8000L of water to produce, 1L of beer takes 7L of water and 1 kg of paper takes 320L of water. There is literally water going into just about everything, which makes a lot of sense considering it is basically the universal solvent and the only substance found in liquid form on Earth other than Mercury. It is also the major constituent of living things and is composed of the most common element in the universe (hydrogen). It makes a ton of sense why this stuff is in everything. Which leads us to the question of how much of this should we concern ourselves with?

            To start off, if we are going to use things like clothing, computers and books were going to have use some water. The question here is how much is too much? I’ve looked around and there seems to be no clear indication of what is an “OK” amount to use, but the main idea in the literature is that whatever we are using, it needs to be reduced.

How do we reduce our water consumption? Of course it is impossible and unrealistic to consume no water other than drinking water, this is not the point I am trying to make. I’m getting more at the low-impact lifestyle. How to live a desirable life while making the lowest environmental impact possible. To start off, from this list,

hidden water use

eating meat appear to be the worst thing you can do when it comes to wasting water. Secondly, buying used clothes (or used-anything) will also lower your water footprint, as it eliminates some demand for new products, thus saving some water in manufacturing there. Thirdly, take shorter showers. No one really needs more than 5 minutes in there. As I mentioned last week, we must be willing to trade some element of convenience for the sake of leading more sustainable lifestyles. Lastly, have a beer and not a book (I hope you caught my sarcasm)!














Trading Convenience for Sustainability

I don’t tend to boycott a lot of things, but one thing that I never allow myself to buy or use is plastic (non-reusable) water bottles. I sometimes feel the inconvenience of having to take up space in my school bag with my empty water bottle, or not having water then I’m really thirsty and not being able to buy one (because I won’t allow myself). This is just a small price to pay for saving water and landfill space, which is all promoting sustainability.

Disposable water bottles may be super convenient in our culture but are an enormous source of waste many ways. First of all, the production of one water bottle will use 3 times more water than it can actually hold. As if that isn’t wasteful enough, 30 million bottles end up in landfills or in the ocean every day. Yes you read that correctly, 30 MILLION EVERY DAY. On top of all that, the plastic in those bottles take 700 years before they even start to decompose in the landfill and the ones that end up in the ocean can seriously harm marine life. If you are still going to consume bottled water, the least you can do at that point is to recycle the bottle.

The concept of an edible water bottle is certainly interesting and could, in theory, be the next greatest innovation, but I don’t think world is ready for it just yet. From what I see in this video, I think we should stick to reusable water bottles for a little while longer. Don’t get me wrong, the concept has potential, I just think it needs some improvement before I would actually buy it. 

To start off, it’s really tiny! It appears to only be able to hold a few sips of water. You’d have to pack many of them to be able to hold as much as a regular sized reusable water bottle. Secondly, it looks pretty flimsy… I wouldn’t want to be carrying that around in my bag, I’d be too afraid it would just burst if it gets tossed around too much or accidentally squished. That would defeat the entire purpose. Lastly, it doesn’t seem all that practical. The girl in the video that drank from it spilled it everywhere. I’m all for trading in convenience for sustainability, but this just makes no sense. I think we should stick to normal reusable water bottles for now!

Zero Waste Week at McGill

This week at McGill, ECOLE is hosting a series of events for The Zero Waste Challenge that will last all week. I’m excited to say that I’m joining in on this challenge, however I won’t be able to attend any events, with my crazy busy life. Today, they are screening The Clean Bin Project, which is a documentary about living in the city with the goal of producing no waste and not buying anything new. Throughout the week there are many events such as field trips to buy bulk groceries, used clothing and a trip to a recycling centre. At the end of the challenge, there is a little party and weigh-in of the waste produced by everyone who participated that I will make great efforts to try to attend.

This is my personal challenge for the week, and I invite you all to join in! I realize this is not easy, but it’s also not impossible. I’m very aware of the amount of waste I produce and I always make efforts to reduce it, but this week I’m going to be a little more extreme and careful, aiming to produce no waste at all.

Where to begin? How does one go about eliminating all waste? What are we considering as waste? Defining your own scope of what “zero waste” really means is key to this challenge. I tried to start a discussion about this at work to get some opinions and insightful perspectives, but was unsuccessful. This reinforces the fact that a lot of people don’t think about this the way I do and really have no idea of the impact of their consumption habits.

When defining your scope of zero waste, you need to consider what is feasible to you. Of course, there will rightfully be some inconvenience and compromise, but the important part is doing what you can to live more sustainably.

This week, I will consider waste to be anything that is a non-organic by-product of something I am consuming that cannot be re-used. For example, a compostable coffee cup and a recycled disposable water bottle are considered waste, but an apple core is not (as long as it is composted and not thrown in the trash). I believe this a reasonable scope of waste, although some may disagree and take it a step further.

The other week I was sitting on an extremely long bus ride and decided to pick up the Metro newspaper on the seat next me. I found a great article about a girl named Julie Gagné (she also has a wordpress blog!) who lives her everyday life, producing little to no waste and blogs all about it! If you can read and understand French I suggest you check her out on the link above. Some people would consider this to be a really extreme lifestyle, but I think she is inspirational, and she’s doing this-planet-saving-thing right! I don’t think there is such a thing as “too extreme” in terms of reducing waste and consumption because this is what our planet needs. If you take a look at the link to the trailer of the Clean Bin Project above, you’ll get the shocking facts of the waste problem that the western world is facing due to over consumption.

This is why I feel this Zero Waste Challenge is important. Even though it’s just one week, it will teach students and participants about more eco-friendly and sustainable ways of doing day-to-day tasks (such as grocery and clothing shopping) that are equally as feasible as their more wasteful counter-methods. Once you get into different habits, you’ll be likely to continue them after the challenge. It requires effort and compromise, but it is definitely worth it. It needs to be done to save our planet, the very thing that allows us to be what we are. We need to protect it and treat it right.