12:53:44 pm on
Saturday 04 Jul 2020

Billions Billions Billions
David Simmonds

It’s been a week for absorbing numbers in the billions. To start off with, I came across the following headline in the National Post: “Your cup of tea could contain billions of microplastic particles, McGill study finds.” Wow, that doesn’t sound so good.


Silken tea bags are at fault.

A closer examination of the article reveals the offending cups of tea steeped with silken tea bags, rather than a paper tea bags. Silken tea bags are food grade plastics. The study concludes 11.6 billion microplastic particles, each roughly the diameter of a human hair and 3.1 billion nano-plastic particles, each roughly 1,000 times smaller, are released in your average silken teacup, which is at a level thousands of times higher than for any other food.

The research involved a straightforward process. Researchers bought themselves some silken tea bags at four shops around Montreal, took out the tea leaves and steeped the bags in the laboratory. They measured the concentration of plastics using electron microscopes.

The researchers say that while they have no evidence that the plastic particles are harmful to human health, consumers may want to avoid using silken tea bags, on the basis that they are already out of bounds as a single use plastic. Most tea bags, as with the industrial strength stuff I ingest, are paper. For once, my lowbrow tastes have spared me from risk.

The next headline to grab my attention had to do with birds. Since 1970, more than a quarter of all birds have disappeared from North America, according to a study conducted at Cornell University and reported on by Vox online magazine. Our total continental bird population, to put the conclusion in starker terms, has declined by three billion during that period.

The most affected species are American sparrows, wood warblers and blackbirds. The way the decline in the bird population is going, we will soon be seeing Tilley-Endurables-outfitted birdwatchers with high powered field glasses descending upon Wellington County in search of the now elusive red-winged blackbird. On the plus side, raptors such as the bald eagle as well as geese and ducks have increased their numbers. News of the increase in the goose population will come as no surprise to West Lake residents with lawns.


Lawns do nothing for birds.

There is a website devoted to the what-can-I-do-about-it reaction (#bringbirdsback). It lists several steps, including putting reflection reducing panels on windows, keeping your cat indoors, drinking shade grown coffee, avoiding pesticides reducing littering and the use of plastics, presumably including silken tea bags, although they are not singled out for criticism. The website also suggests planting trees in the place of lawns, as lawns are of no use to birds.

This takes me to my third encounter with a substantial number. Prime Minister Trudeau has promised that, from the profits from the yet-to-be-expanded Trans Mountain pipeline, Canada will plant two billion trees over the next decade. I have already opined about the needless linkage of the pipeline to the funding of environmental measures, so I will keep my mouth shut on that one.

Trees, writes Diana Beresford-Kroeger in the Globe and Mail, “offer us the solution to nearly every problem facing humanity today from halting global temperature rise to defending against drug resistant bacteria.” Michael Christie, also writing in the Globe and Mail, states that a tree is a “highly advanced, solar powered automaton, one that captures carbon, protect watersheds, streams and rivers, increases its own mass incrementally each year, prevents soil erosion and desertification, manufactures a wonderfully biodegradable building material and even self replicates.” Sounds like the wonder plant.

Two billion trees, even over ten years, is a great deal, isn’t it Well, it depends on your benchmark. The Scots, with one seventh of the population of Canada, planted twenty-two million trees just in the last year. If you do the math, it equates to a Canadian target of 1.5 billion or so trees. In Ethiopia they recently planted 224 million trees, in a single day. Although the planting target might seem like a stretch, it seems doable.

Christie, in the Globe and Mail, exhorts individual Canadians to do something useful, such as planting a tree or three, maybe taking a family vacation at a tree planting camp. HIs article published the day after Trudeau announced his two billion trees promise, and he probably didn’t have time to update it.


Betcha Andrew Scheer wants to keep federal government out of tree planting.

I’m confident Christie would endorse the target and keep the “I can do something to help rather than letting the government do it” spirit behind the proposal. Is Andrew Scheer reading? It sounds like the “don’t rely on government to do everything” proposal he could get behind.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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