Enviro/Social Issues and related.

My concerns

For a good part of my life I've been realizing that our modern society, for all its progress and technology, has not been very grown up in its dealings with the living world around us. While some of the technological benefits have been enormous, so have some of the costs, which we are just starting to realize now on a world-wide basis. We do have some incredible things happening due to technology (for instance, the idea of the Internet was very Sci-Fi just a short time ago), but it seems we have paid a price somehow, be it by environmental degradation, over-consumption of non-renewable resources, etc. The average person in our society has riches beyond the wildest dreams of ancient Kings, but at what cost?

The best we can do is to be aware of the impact we have when making choices. If one can learn what the long-term effect to each decision might be, then we can make responsible choices. But our society is more tuned to instant gratification than stopping to think for just a moment about any possible consequences. The old saying "are you part of the solution or part of the problem?" may seem trite to some, but it really does hold water. We are all in this together; by the air we breathe, the communities we live in, etc., so we really should look out for one another. And that includes thinking about how our choices may affect others around us.

So, what to do about it?

Ride yer bike!

One cannot turn back the clock, but one can decide to choose the technology carefully, and pay attention to where it comes from, how it got here, what price was paid by pollution, etc. One of my favourite ways of choosing technology is to ride my bike, instead of having a car. I think bikes are a wonderful bit of progress, and it would be wonderful if more people could discover its benefits. Compared to a car, most folks can learn to fix a bike themselves; and you get fresh air, exercise, and a sense of your local surroundings that you don't get from inside a motor vehicle. Bikes, especially when equipped with a trailer can also be used for transporting goods (or better yet, a pedal-powered pick-up truck like my cargo trike). And properly designed lightweight trikes and quads are available for those with disabilities.

The re-Cycles Bicycle Co-op

Speaking of fixing up bikes, since 2001 I've been volunteering at a place here in Ottawa called re-Cycles Bicycle Co-op (and am currently the "Director", or "he who tries to gently guide and motivate"). The Co-op's mission is to repair old bikes that have been donated, and sell them to students, seniors, or anyone else that needs an inexpensive bike. The on-duty Head Mechanics assist the volunteers, so no previous experience is necessary. And the public can also come in to work on their own bikes at a cost of only $5 / hr. (or if you volunteer, you can trade each hour of time helping us for time to work on your own bike). We provide the tools and advice, and you get to learn about your vehicle and the fact that you can fix it yourself!

photo of coop volunteers

At the shop. Ritu, Rob, Claude, and Artur are hard at work in our old shop.
(When they weren't posing...)


While we don't tend to have fancy full suspension mountain bikes, we do have plenty of serviceable steeds, be they hybrids, old 10-speeds, 3-speeds, or the occasional older mtn. bike that does come in. The co-op takes in all unwanted bikes and parts, so if you have an old clunker lying around we'll gladly take it off your hands! And volunteers are always needed to help fix these bikes, so please come and check us out if you're interested. It's a nice feeling one gets while helping out there, knowing that you're keeping bikes out of the landfill site, as well as meeting and working with like-minded people that are likewise donating their time. You can find out more via the Co-op's website, and also check out my Photo Gallery for links to photos of the co-op and its activities.

My director position, like all the others there, is voluntary. And I have learned a tremendous amount in my time with re-Cycles, be it improving my interpersonal skills when dealing with volunteers and outside requests, or trying to build concensus, or sometimes just plowing ahead with the group's consent to get things done! I encourage everyone to get involved with your local community-based organization. They need your help, and the rewards for your contributions can be grand indeed.


Cyclin' Sisters

The bicycle was also there at the early beginnings of the Women's Movement. When bicycles started to be mass-produced, the price came down, and many folks started to ride. Women found out that you couldn't really ride a bike with the clothing of the day. Girdles and big hoop skirts made it awkward at best. Daring women took to wearing bloomers! (Named after Amelia Jenks Bloomer of Homer, New York who adopted and popularized the style as a kind of rebellion in the mid-1800s.) There were thunderous Sunday sermons on the evils of the bicycle, as women could hop on their bike and ride away from their escorts (usually a male member of the family). Think about it - back then, most women didn't travel unaccompanied. And even the ones with family money couldn't just call for the carriage driver and go off alone. Unthinkable! But the bicycle helped to change all that. Women could start going wherever they wanted to, and see whoever they wanted to! (How shocking!!) There's a book out called Cycling for Women, which has a chapter on this subject, and that chapter can be read at mothernature.com. (They also quote other parts of the book as well.)


Learning to do my part: The Peace and Environment Resource Centre.

When I moved here to Ottawa in '92, I was starting afresh, and needed something to do while I was sorting out my options. After visiting the Ottawa Volunteer Centre for ideas I ended up at the Peace and Environment Resource Centre (PERC). After an interview with co-ordinator Mike Kaulbars, I was put to work, and over the years I've done many things there. For two years I was editor of the PERC Volunteer News (PVN), our internal newsletter. This was kinda fun, as I had no previous experience with editing any sort of paper. But it needed to get done, so I jumped in and (as one often does in volunteer organizations) learned as I went along. I also served on a few committees, served a term on the Board of Directors, and I'm also one of the distributors of our newspaper, the Peace and Environment News. I even ended up bringing my tools to the Centre and building shelves and storage space, as we seem to keep growing, albeit in rather cramped quarters!

I learned a tremendous amount about the issues that face our society during my time at the PERC, and we have a well-stocked resource library for those that are interested in learning more as well. The best place to learn about the PERC itself is at, of course, our website. While perusing those pages check out the extensive links section as well. You can also read back issues of the PEN.


This past September ('01) I had an article published in an online magazine. Bryan Ball, the Editor of "Bent Rider OnLine", a recumbent bike cycling zine, saw my reply to a cycling newsgroup posting about simplifying one's life. He emailed me and asked if I would like to write further about this subject. You can read my contribution in the Volume 9 edition under Elegant Simplicity.


I could probably go on for a while about my social and environmental concerns, but perhaps it'd be far less tedious if I just provide some websites to check out! May you find some of the links below to be of interest...

Independent Media Center - "Indymedia is a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage. Indymedia is a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth."

Living Room.org - "Living Room is a place for exploring the physical and social structures of human society and their relationship to the rest of life."

Envirolink - This is the best place to start for any info on Environmental issues. Links galore!

The Simple Living Network - I guess the name is rather self-explanatory!

Veggie Pages - For those who are vegetarian, or who are at least curious about a meat-free diet.

Intersection Online - "Intersection is a resource, meeting and office space for folks interested and involved in sustainable transportation."

Alliance for a Paving Moratorium - Again, the name says it all.

Social Impact of the Bicycle - Site of "The Bicycle: Vehicle for Societal Change".

Auto-Free Ottawa - "Auto Free Ottawa is a small group of people who have joined together with the hope of making the world a better place."

Carfree.com - Carfree cities past, present, and future: solutions to the problem of the urban automobile.

Self Propelled City - "...working on a self-propelled future in our urban environments."

Transportation for Livable Cites Network - "A resource for people working to create more livable communities by improving transportation."

Intersection Online - "Intersection is a resource, meeting and office space for folks interested and involved in sustainable transportation."

Arbour Environmental Shoppe - If one has to shop, it's always a good idea to patronize those stores that try to make a difference. Some good friends of the PERC run such a store right here in Ottawa.


Copyright 2006 Mark Rehder; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.