Asbestos mine

Asbestos mine

Canada will finally be reversing its controversial status on asbestos, thanks in part to the PQ’s new anti-asbestos policy. What this means in terms of actual exports though, is less certain.

During the recent election, the PQ said they would cancel a $58 million loan promised to the Jeffrey asbestos mine, the last of its kind in Canada, promised by the Charest government. After closing its doors in 2010, the mine looked like it would not reopen without a government loan.

The federal government is now following suit as well, saying they won’t block the addition of asbestos to the United Nations Rotterdam Convention, a “global list of hazardous substances.”

However, investors in the Jeffrey Mine told the Montreal Gazette today that the mine would reopen, despite their failure to receive a government loan. Mine executives were also critical that the federal government might be motivated by more than a desire to compromise with the PQ or become more green friendly.

Bernard Coulombe, a top executive at the Jeffrey mine, suggested the Harper government has made a U-turn on asbestos to help secure a free-trade agreement with the European Union. Negotiators will meet in Ottawa Sept. 17 to 21.

Nevertheless, should the mine reopen, its owners may find themselves in a different political and economic climate with new limits on exports.

Asbestos quebecCanada’s historical defense of the asbestos industry has been seen as a black mark on the country’s health record within the international community. The cancer causing material has been linked to cancer and other health related problems, and is only mined in a handful of countries like Kazakhstan and Russia.

The Globe and Mail explains:

“As recently as 2010, Canada was producing 150,000 tonnes of asbestos annually, all of it in Quebec, and exporting 90 per cent — worth about $90 million — to developing countries. More than 50 countries ban the mining and use of asbestos because it causes cancer, but Canada, traditionally a major exporter, has successfully lobbied in the past to keep it off a UN list of hazardous substances.”

The federal government has also promised Asbestos, Quebec $50 million in recovery funds – in addition to funding from provincial government. Between 400-500 workers will not get their jobs back if the mine fails to reopen.

Top image: (Canadian Press)

fish

There were three environment stories in the media today that, though seemingly unrelated, are pretty typical of Canada’s environment news, at least under the Harper regime.

Item 1: Bizarre environment story, with lots of vagueness in the media as to who is responsible

Headline: Tens of thousands of fish rotting on Lake Erie Shore (The Toronto Star)

Point: Scientists are befuddled by thousands of fish that showed up dead on the shoreline. They say it was probably caused by lake inversion (from cooling water) though residents are suspicious it may come from runoff from a nearby pig farm.

Item 2: Let’s save Canada’s environmental resources, but not look at the obvious culprits inhabiting the TSX, and talk about it at this conference

Headline. Scientists want to save “Amazon of the North” from jurisdictional scramble (Ottawa Citizen)

Point: 1.8 million square kilometres of the Mackenzie River basin can be saved by better unified management not a federal patchwork of management + joke about how it’s not just the tar sands/Hydro Quebec that will kill it

Oh, and the Arctic is melting.

Item 3: Enbridge pipeline moving along in its plan to transport toxic tar sands oil across Canada via Northern Gateway pipeline, boost stock of wealthy Canadians

Headline: Enbridge likens Northern Gateway Pipeline plan to nation-building (Financial Post)

Point: Enbridge pipeline being rebranded to get more support, screw the environment and First Nations who inhabit/own land that it will be built on.

So these stories are about different things, two of them related to energy issues and the other about an environmental clean up. However they are pretty typical archetypes of the kinds of environment stories you see over and over again in Canada. The wacky story. The light solution story. And the story about a Faustian oil pipeline.

They’re all, however, typical of the kinds of stories and attitudes you often see in the media: environmental ennui.

Story 1 has a kind of dark comedic tone to it. Isn’t it funny that all these fish showed up dead? But nothing to see here folks! Isn’t the environment wacky sometimes?

Story 2 and 3 make references to environmental antagonists—the tar sands, Hydro Quebec, global warming, etc.—as if they are tropes to touch upon. Yes! We know these are problems! But we’ve talked about it so much everyone knows it by rote…

Sure a big part of media is to find a new angle and a new story, and who wants to read the same story over and over again. What would be nice to see is some gravitas in environment stories every once in a while.

The trouble is one of the reasons the public takes the environment less seriously is that it’s still seen as either an “occasional wacky story” or something very dull that can be put on the shelf for later when there’s anther wacky story (freak weather, snow monsoon etc.). It also makes it a lot easier for the environment to be portrayed as a fluff issue, or one requiring less funding by Parliament.

So what’s the lesson? Well the media isn’t responsible for the country’s/province’s attitude towards the environment; that’s a collaborative effort. However, something to think about is the way we talk publicly about the environment. Is it boring? Or weird? Why can’t it be something we take as seriously as gun crime, because environmental disasters (many cause by humans) can be just as deadly? Just some things to think about.

 

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It’s time for your weekly dose of environment news—student strike edition!

With university back in session, the cops are back on the beat, arresting protesters and racking up overtime. Radio Canada found the SPVM logged $5.6 million in overtime from February 1 to June 27, y’know, keeping track of protesters. As of July 13, it had reached $7.3 million.

Another story came out this month that the use of specially trained units at protests also cost a possible $2.5 to 3 million. So you can add that cost on too.

Here’s what the city could have gotten for its $7 million in overtime hours, or its $7 million more in anticipated overtime.

–       A dent in filling all those fucking potholes around the city. Apparently the city has between 35,000–50,000 potholes, which cost around $20 each to fill. Assuming the city’s construction bosses take a healthy cut, that’s still only $1 million. That leaves say, $6 million for the Rizutto family and city hall. Everybody wins!

–       5% of the funding ($107 million) needed to make repairs to 50 different infrastructure sites around the city, not counting the crumbling Turcot interchange. Way to go M-T-L planning department.

–       21 small WEMI industrial composters (more than one for each borough at $323,000 each!) or 9 large WEMI composters ($765,000 each)

–       Set up 155 10kW solar panel installations ($45,000 each) or 311 5kW solar installations ($22,500 each) on Montreal’s rooftops

–       The cost of most of Montreal’s new bike paths (or even more), which at $10 million will add 78 kilometres of bike path to 10 boroughs over the next few years.

–       Alternatively, Montreal could go the Chicago route and build some protected bike paths, which cost around $140,000 per mile (something like $86,992 per kilometre). So that’s 80 kilometres of protected bike lane.

–       10 more diesel electric buses, though the STM is already spending $471 million on a fleet of 509 more energy efficient buses between 2012 and 2014.

–       The salaries of the city’s 40 directors of the STM, which amount to $6.2 million, some of the highest paid civil servants in the city.

–       40% of a snowstorm – The cost of removal per snow-monsoon costs the city’s boroughs around $17 million.

–       1,400,000 size-small poutines from The Main, nearly one per resident. (200,000 or so would lose out, but you have to account for non-poutine aficionados and vegans)

And there you have it. Look at this list of things we could have accomplished, instead of chasing protesters around.

 

*Photo by davidcwong888 via Flickr (used under a Creative Commons license). 

1252799438_733ffe8ebc

There have been a lot of stories lately about climate change and other dire warnings of a global nature, so this week I thought I’d keep things local.

Expo-67 legacy on the chopping block

If you missed it in yesterday’s Gazette, city councillor and long time QC politicion Louise Harel told the paper that Montreal’s biosphere (that giant dome thing in Parc Jean-Drapeau) could be affected by federal cuts.

A remnant of Expo-67, the biosphere is now an environmental museum run by Environment Canada. And, like its American counterpart, the Environmental Protection Agency, it has been targeted by conservatives for funding cuts. The city holds a 25-year lease—set to expire in 2016—on the land surrounding the biosphere.

Now that Environment Canada has to cut 700 jobs in Quebec, according to the Gazette, the museum’s 25 employees may be on the chopping block. As usual, Environment Canada employees did not want to comment for the article, but it seems unlikely that the museum will shutter completely given that around 150,000 people visit it each year.

More likely is that the museum will eventually move under the umbrella of the city from the federal government, or that maybe the museum will cut down its hours.

Condos are going to take over because the City needs tax dollars

Yesterday’s Gazette also featured a lengthy meditation on the problems of condo living in Montreal—with the main problem being that our view of the Olympic Stadium and the St. Lawrence will inevitably be obscured by some new project.

Despite the downturn in the real estate market in the past few years, Montreal has 36 projects on the books. The City also changed zoning laws in April, allowing for denser projects.

In April, the city of Montreal approved new zoning that would allow developers to build higher, denser buildings in certain parts of downtown. The change was approved to facilitate the conversion of empty parking lots into towers, which bring in added tax revenues to city coffers.

Since then, three other projects exceeding 35 stories have been announced for the area around the Bell Centre, including the twin-tower Roccabella, l’Avenue and the Tour des Canadiens.

Someone needs to go out and buy the city’s planning commission copies of The Death and Life of Great American Citieswhich details over 400 pages the problems with building high rise dense communities. Basically, they kill the local life around them, and often end up less integrated and less safe.

Province could take over environmental assessment, Mafia likely happy

The centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party told Global Montreal that all things environment should be handled by the province, not by the federal government. Francois Legault initially said he wanted provincial power over all “federal powers and functions in environmental matters,” though the party has since side stepped to “obtain all powers over environmental impact studies” and then aim for more.

In theory, this may not be a bad idea given the current government’s love of the environment.

But let us not forget that in Quebec, decisions concerning “city planning,” “construction,” and the “environmental assessment of projects” aren’t always made with the province’s best interest in mind, but rather those of developers, who more often than not seem to have some sort of tie to organized crime or engage in other shady dealings at City Hall.

Think that sounds like paranoia? A recent poll in the Globe and Mail stated the majority of Quebeckers feel their government is corrupt. (My feelings are it doesn’t just stop with the party in power, there are way too many institutions and relationships in place to clean up with one election.)

*Photo by Idjaffe via Flickr (under a Creative Commons license)

smokestacks-smog

It probably comes as no big surprise, but Canada may be drastically off its emission targets, despite contrary promises from the government.

Though the Harper government says Canada is halfway to reaching its 17 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020, critics say the country has only cut emissions by as little as 3 per cent.

The devil, it seems, is in the details, according to CTV.  The Montreal based environmentalist group Équiterre says the government is skewing the data to make it look more palatable.

Canada’s 2020 emissions target of 607 megatonnes is based on the projection that 850 megatonnes of harmful gases would have been released into the atmosphere had the federal government done nothing to reduce emissions.

By using that projection as a starting point, instead of the roughly 750 megatonnes of greenhouse gases Canada emitted in 2005, the government can say it’s halfway toward reaching the goal. However, emissions are currently down only three per cent from 2005 levels, at 720 megatonnes.

Other projections have placed Canada’s 2020 emissions as much as 19 per cent higher than its goal. This is good news, though, according to The Province, but only because its emissions targets have been so bleak.

Environment Canada’s previous estimates from 2011 projected the country’s annual emissions would be 29 per cent above Harper’s 2020 target, set under the 2009 Copenhagen climate change agreement.

Perhaps the contributing factor is the government’s lax stance on emissions from the tar sands. The Environment Minister Peter Kent said the government doesn’t want to inhibit job growth. This winter Canada also earned some well-deserved international ire when the country pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, joining the United States, Afghanistan, Andorra, and South Sudan.

However, with global warming in full swing, Alberta can expect to be scorched anyway by 2100. Maybe the seat of the Conservative Party will have to acknowledge the “climate change” problem by then?

*Photo by Guy Gorek (Creative Commons)

Photo: Wikipedia CC

Photo: Wikipedia CCI’ve always liked the joke that the quote on Quebec license plates “Je me souviens” (I remember) isn’t a statement of national pride but actually a reference to the winter. It’s always there, lurking, in the shadows of Mont Royal.  Yet as much as winter is an integral part of the Canadian identity and image, this won’t be the case for much longer.

Though temperature changes of a few degrees of the earth’s surface might not sound like a lot, it will have a drastic impact on Canada’s geography. It is predicted that global climate change will result in almost 40 per cent of land-based ecosystems making changes from one ecological community type – such as forest, grasslands or tundra – toward another.

So here’s what your kids and grandkids can expect by 2100 (88 years from now):

A milder, muggier Montreal and Toronto, a drier Vancouver

The St. Lawrence region will see more precipitation (25 per cent) but also milder temperatures, meaning Montreal  and Toronto will probably turn into Chicago, which is currently turning into Mobile, Alabama. (For real, they are planting Southern trees)

And Vancouver, after thousands of years of suffering through the rain in the summer will see a lot less. This might sound nice to some of its residents who are sick of the rain, but it will have a pretty big impact on B.C.’s aquatic community

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta will be hardest hit

NASA says the hardest hit will be Western Canada, particularly the prairies and the boreal forest, which are expected to retreat northwards. What this means is that as the region heats, the prairies can expect a drastic change in ecology and lifestyle.

“So anywhere in Canada where you are currently at what’s called an ‘ecotone,’ or the transition zone between the prairie plant communities and the boreal forest plant communities, that’s where the greatest change will be observed,” said NASA collaborator, Jon Bergengren, a global ecologist and earth systems scientist.

This is the sort of thing that has led to the collapse of civilizations in the past,  but in our modern world plentiful water and tree-lined streets  of Alberta and Saskatchewan will be rationed to the 1%.

(Umm…paging Stephen Harper…)

Drier Southern Alberta and Ontario

Southern Alberta and Ontario in particular could face strains on their water as rising temperatures increase evaporation, according to the University of Waterloo. A similar effect will be felt in Ontario, as the Great Lakes water levels start to drop.

Retreating forests

As temperatures rise, Canada’s famous boreal forests will recede farther and farther north. More than half of the forest is predicted to vanish in the next century, according to the Canadian Wildlife Federation. And drier conditions further south mean more forest fires of increasing intensity.

A smaller and less healthy Arctic

It’s not exactly news that the polar ice cap is shrinking and sea levels are rising thanks to a warming earth. What is becoming more apparent though is thevariety of ways this can screw with the planet, from extreme weather to sinking cities. In Canada’s Arctic regions the temperature has already changed four degrees celsius, which is leading to more waterborne illnesses, according to National Geographic.

Which means that

Ecologically speaking, Canada is about to go through some kind of climate change vortex. Changing temperatures, retreating forests and glaciers, more rain, more forest fire will tip the balance in many ecosystems.

Or as NASA says:

While Earth’s plants and animals have evolved to migrate in response to seasonal environmental changes and to even larger transitions, such as the end of the last ice age, they often are not equipped to keep up with the rapidity of modern climate changes that are currently taking place. Human activities, such as agriculture and urbanization, are increasingly destroying Earth’s natural habitats, and frequently block plants and animals from successfully migrating.

*Photos from Wikipedia, arbyreed (via Creative Commons), and 

corn field

Flying in over Chicago two weeks ago, it was hard not to notice the network of brown and yellow lawns and parks throughout the entire city – even in its more affluent neighbourhoods that regularly flout water conservation ordinances.

This is because Chicago, like 56% of the continental U.S. is officially in drought, with 26 states having already declared they are in a “natural disaster.”

While in the short term it means temperatures in the high 30’s and even into 40 degrees Celcius (90 and 100 degrees Farenheit)– it will have a lasting impact on world food prices.  The Guardian reported yesterday that the U.S., one of the largest producers of corn and soybean, is officially running out of its reserve stocks.

This is big, big news not just for the U.S., but also for the rest of the world, including Canada. (And yes, Montreal!)

While the livestock industry in the U.S. is already reeling from shortages of arable land and high prices of feed, immediate impacts are expected on food prices in countries like South Korea, Japan, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador and Columbia, and East Africa that import corn.

There are already grumblings in the international media of what this could mean politically. The Arab Spring was tied to high food prices, and it’s possible there could be a second wave of global protests, according to the Guardian.

“The high prices of food have resulted in accumulations of inventories at the same time as people can’t afford food,” said Bar-Yam, who noted that the Arab spring was triggered by the food-price bubble. In fact, Necsi’s quantitative model of speculation predicted the uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and warned that if food prices remain inflated, riots and revolutions will go global sometime between July 2012 and August 2013.”

So, stay tuned for that.

But interestingly, it’s not just the weather that’s playing an antagonistic role. The other major factor is the way we trade corn in the U.S, which can lead to speculative practices regularly slammed by institutions like the United Nations and the World Food Programme. Institutions like the former Chicago Board of Trade/Mercantile Exchange (now merged) are credited with the last international food crisis in 2007-2008 that the WFP says “pushed millions of people deep into hunger.”

One reason for the recent spikes in corn prices is the biofuel industry, which consumes 40% of U.S. corn and has renewed interest in the crop by investors in futures markets. They essentially bet on the future price of crops – which back in the day was supposed to give farmers financing for the next years.

Last year Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam at the New England Complex Systems Institute (Necsi) told the Guardian:

“International thirst for biofuels has put a strain on arable land previously reserved for food production. At the same time as the rise of the biofuel mandate, the rise of investable commodity indexes and other electronically traded funds has offered investors of all stripes a chance to sink their cash in a sparkling new casino of derivative products. As a result, an ever-flowing spring of speculative capital sustains the status quo.”

Photo courtesy of Parker Michael Knight via Flickr 

Barriere Lake Solidarity protest

Seemingly seeking to outdo itself with bad PR, the Charest government has granted a Montreal-based forestry company permission to log on Algonquin land in Northern Quebec.

The Algonquin community at Barriere Lake, however, say that they were not consulted and that the new clear-cutting logging project at Poignan Bay violates a trilateral agreement on resource co-management they signed with the province in 1991.

According to the agreement, any logging project should be initiated in consultation with the community and allow them to maintain their traditional way of life. They have also asked for a $1.5 million share of the $100 million expected haul for Resolute Forest Products, according to Barriere Lake Solidarity.

In response community members have camped out near the proposed logging site at Poignan Lake, which they say is on traditional hunting grounds, and have sent two letters to the Charest government stating that without their consent the logging is illegal.

CUTV has a pretty neat minidoc about the conflict, particularly the police presence prompted by the camp out. Montreal police officers have joined the Sûreté du Québec to keep track of the peaceful camp out.

Interestingly, Resolute has a pretty green-friendly corporate website, with a slew of information on its sustainability initiatives and advertising its membership of the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers program, and contains a section on “Stakeholder partnership,” with the pledge:

“Resolute maintains positive business relationships with numerous First Nations. We are also committed to openly engaging with environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) to find solutions that address our mutual interest in the sustainability of forests.”

As Rabble’s in-depth coverage of the protest notes, conflict between the Barriere Lake Algonquin community and the Quebec government is nothing new. In 2008 the community constructed two blockades of Highways 117 when the government refused to honour its 1991 agreement.

Photo courtesy of Danielle Lorenz via Flickr

North Pole

I am returning to the U.S. today for a week, so it seems timely to say something about climate change denial.

While climate change denial is often associated with anti-science right wing rhetoric in the U.S., it’s deeply rooted in Canada as well. Just this week, Canadian scientists slammed Harper for his cuts to environment research and oversight.

In fact, Harper seems to be even more successful than his American counterparts in slashing environmental programs, a fact that should alarm most Canadians given the country’s lingering self-image as a semi-Nordic Trudeau land.

Understanding the arguments behind climate change is important because there’s lots of misinformation out there, thanks to some very powerful interest groups. It’s also handy to have the facts down should you find yourself at a family reunion with politically divergent relatives, or if you’re trying to get someone to leave you alone at a bar.

One of the major arguments associated with climate change is what has caused the most recent wave of global temperature spikes. For the past 650,000 years, the earth has gone through a series of heatings and coolings, responsible for massive human migration and other major historical events.

 Since the 1970’s, the earth’s temperature has increased 0.4C, and this is where the debate comes in. Opponents of climate change say this is just another natural trend in the earth’s fluctuation. There was even a Little Ice Age during the 13th-19th centuries.

Actually, NASA (those people who sent humans into space, etc.) says the rate of heating is far greater than it has been in the past, suggesting something’s up.

NASA states that:

“Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.”

Thanks to their satellites and other technology, their excellent climate change website has a variety of indicators and evidence that would lend credence to this: from warmer oceans, to melting ice caps, to extreme weather events. Or the fact that the cities like Chicago are now planting only Southern-variety trees to withstand rising temperatures over the next century.

 Or there are reports of the expected real estate boom in Siberia in the coming decades.

 You’d be surprised though, how few people believe this. For one thing, it’s kind of scary, and it’s a powerful argument that we need to change our life styles – something a lot of people don’t want to do.

Another reason is that every so often there’s media hoopla that certain study X or Y says that climate change isn’t happening, some scientist at some university has found definitive evidence that it’s not true. News outlets, particularly cable news, love these stories because they get people charged up. “Ah hah! Science was wrong!”

The most famous incident of this was “Climategate” in 2006 when the University of East Anglia’s computers were hacked, and some emails and documents allegedly pointed to doubts or skepticism about climate change – though this was later debunked.

However, most of these studies become less credible if you read the fine print. Whenever a study comes out, look into whether or not it was peer reviewed, the gold standard for research publication. Peer-reviewed means other experts in the field look at a study before it is published and evaluate if it seems credible or not. Then there’s the question of if data can be reproduced.

You might also want to check the fine print for who’s funding the study.  Oftentimes, cross checking many of the funding grants and donations for anti-climate change research in the U.S. and Canada leads to a relatively small interest groups – most famously the Koch Brothers profiled in Mother Jones:

“Indeed, the brothers have spent $31.3 million since 2005 on organizations that deny or downplay climate change, according to a forthcoming report from Greenpeace that updates its report on Koch’s climate denial work released last year. But it’s the web of media influence the Kochs have created that perhaps accounts best for their power—particularly when it comes to sowing doubt about climate change.”

By contrast, something like 98% of the scientific community endorses climate change, though this number is under some scrutiny now.

The main reason many of these groups fund anti-climate change projects, besides a possible skepticism, is the attributed cause of climate change: carbon emissions, or that shit that comes out when you burn fossil fuels. And the conglomerated fossil fuel industries are some of the most powerful lobby groups in North America.

Well it’s true that a certain amount of carbon in the atmosphere is natural, but thanks to jumbo jets, cars, technology, and the North American lifestyle, humans have put unprecedented amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in the past 30 years.

Photo courtesy the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr

Boiling water

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you may have heard that Harper made some major cuts to Environment Canada in his most recent budget released this spring.

On the chopping block were “redundant” air quality monitors, but also the Sustainable Water Management Division of Environment Canada. The rationale of the government was that their work is being duplicated provincially and by municipalities, though smaller cities and towns will also be losing some of their conservation and wastewater programs.

Maybe the state of water in Canada is better than a decade ago, but the folks at the Sustainable Water Management Division say Canada needs a water charter, possibly because safe water could be considered a human right.

So just for kicks, let’s look at drinking water in Canada, à la Harper’s magazine Index:

Number of boil water advisories put in place across Canada in the past week: 15

Number of sites de-listed in the past week: 21

Number of precautionary advisories given in the past week: 39

Number of advisories currently in place across Canada: 1154

Number of code “red” warnings, telling communities not to consume their tap water: 45

Province leading in number of warnings: Quebec (172)

Province leading in number of red alert/“Do not consume” warnings: Quebec (32)

Number of warnings in place in 2008 in Quebec: 1760

Communities across Canada advised to boil water: 888

Province with most boil water warnings: Saskatchewan

Number of warnings there as percentage of total boil water warnings in Canada: 23%

Percentage of water advisories in First Nations communities: 6.8% (79 orders)

Total aboriginal population, as a percentage of Canada: 3.8%.

Percentage of reserves facing a health risk in 2001 from unsafe drinking water: 75%

Number of provinces where boil water orders disproportionately/entirely exist on aboriginal communities: 3 (Prince Edward Island, Alberta, and Newfoundland/Labrador)

Most recent CBC exposé of water boiling in aboriginal communities: 2006

Funding channelled to First Nations water and wastewater action plan in 2008: $330 million plus $165 million for priority water projects.

Photo courtesy of Scott Akerman via Flickr

Air pollution

What does it mean when your community makes the news? (Not always that much).

Five years ago, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation on the St. Clair River near Sarnia, Ontario made national headlines for their birth rates: between 1999 and 2003, only one third of babies born in the community were male. From 1995-2003, the male birth rate was still only 41% according to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The reason? Aamjiwnaang reserve is situated next to one of the most polluted areas in Canada. Within 25km of Sarnia there are 62 large industrial facilities, which in 2005 were emitting around 1800 kilograms of air pollution per resident. That was around 131 992 metric tonnes of pollution, according to Ecojustice, the non-profit that broke the story in 2007.

Besides causing birth defects in local communities, high exposure to chemicals from these facilities are linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

But despite some in-depth reporting by the CBC and a flurry of articles and a documentary in the mid 2000’s, Sarnia remains one of the most polluted cities in Canada. In 2011, the World Health Organization gave the city the worst ranking in Canada for air pollution, though Ontario as a whole had reduced air pollution.

Ecojustice reports that many of the facilities are continuing with business as usual, or even increasing production.  In 2011, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment even gave the green light to Suncor Energy Products to increase production by 25%.

Ecojustice is currently representing Ada Lockridge and Ron Plain, two members of the 700-resident Sarnia 45-Reserve who are attempting to block expanded production of one facility, which was approved by the Ontario Ministry of Environment. Lockridge lives just 1.4 km from a Suncor petroleum refinery, while Plain said he left the reserve because of the high level of pollution, according to an EcoJustice report for the Environmental Law Centre at University of Victoria.

The case is currently under review by a judge as Suncor is trying to block it, so the Ecojustice lawyers weren’t too keen to talk yet when I emailed them, but they are essentially arguing that this is a case of environmental racism. According to their blog they have submitted over 2000 pages of evidence and  have 13 witnesses.
They also have a nifty timeline about the community on a blog post.

Some factors in this argument include the fact cultural and economic barriers make it difficult to move away, the pollution impacts their ability to practice cultural activities, and that the adverse health effects are passed down through generations.

Or from a similar report on environmental racism in Canada:

“Related to the race or class debate, largely due to the role of the housing market as a systemic sorter of individuals and communities, is the “chicken or egg” polemic. On the one hand, hazards may concentrate disproportionately in existing communities of least resistance. On the other, hazards suppress land values making properties affordable to those of lower status.”

Eco Justice has a blog about the case, you can follow, but it seems like they are up against some pretty steep odds. But we’ll keep following the story to see what happens next…

food+waste+2

A new trend sweeping the Internet shows the problem of our disposable society. I am of course speaking of the now famous “flushing” videos. Flanroan, in the video below, makes a point to waste cereal to show how we are “ex-spiraling” out of control.

These types of food wasting videos on Youtube are very effective in bringing out the angry comments, but it is exactly the kind of shock we need to raise awareness about our growing food waste. In America an average household wastes 40% of their food and on average around 22 pounds of food a month. Much of it from excessive shopping and eating out in restaurants.

Oftentimes a restaurant will put you in that difficult situation serving more food then you can handle in a heaping plate that just won’t end. Probably the worst thing you can do now is overeat.

I remember the time I went visiting Seattle with my friend Dave. In the early afternoon of the first day, we went to a Thai restaurant. It was there I experienced the biggest lunchtime meal of my life. I was sweating trying to chow down as much food as humanly possible.

I was expanding. Not to Monty Python mint wafer sketch levels, but I felt a slight tug on my belt buckle. I had planned on sightseeing with my touristy grin, and now because the potions were so large, I was being asked to take the meal with me. I also didn’t want to smell like garlic on my adventure, but it was already too late for my breath.

The restaurant put me in a wasteful situation by serving me this ridiculously large portion. If only I had an option on size. Why not offer different sizes? If McDonald’s can have a “super-sized” version of their meals, why not offer diminished sizes so customers are not forced to overeat.

Unless the plan is to bring food home, people shouldn’t waste food. Especially in world where one in seven people don’t get fed enough or are lacking proper nutrition.

How effective is this YouTube video? Well, it might be able to undo the bad childhood influences I had from watching Rocket Robin Hood. Unfortunately, that show taught me to relish my gluttony:

You may have been like me, heavily influenced by the Friar Tuck character in Rocket Robin Hood, throwing away all those delicious banquet snacks. One day I tired it. I took a bit out of an apple and threw it away, like it was nothing, right over my head. Damn you, Friar Tuck! Those drumsticks look delicious!

On many occasions I’ve left food behind while my ears ring with my mother saying “finish everything on your plate, young man!” But I think it’s important to be clear about something: while wasting food is a serious environmental problem that needs to be addressed, overeating will only make it worse. Sorry mom.

What we really need to do is change eating habits and make eating out a customizable experience. In the west, most of the average restaurant patrons suffer from having eyes bigger than stomachs.

Think how much money could be saved. Think also, how resources and energy are used to bring that food to your local supermarket, then to your plate. If everyone was able to command their appetite and master the craving for midnight pickle snacks, oh, what a different world we would be.

Since it is a question of how can individuals change, I think videos like Flonran’s “Flushing of the Cereal” expose this problem. Maybe even it will get people to think about our over-consumption and our waste and what we can do to change the eating habits of this predominately industrialized world problem.

For one thing, people need to stop not being embarrassed about everything. Like taking food from a restaurant. Who cares? if you’re not going on a long journey, bring the food home in a doggybag. They even have a service for it, it’s called Take-Out, only you’ve already had a bite. There is nothing shameful in not eating your meal. Stop trying to be so high class! Rich people take food home, why not you?

Do something with your expired food. When your food passes the expiration date, and you know it still good, then eat it or give it away. There are many food banks that are in dire need of items all over North America.

Controlling the amount of food that we intake will eventful shrink our stomachs and this will help us get into good eating habits. Being less demanding of larger quantities of food is preventing the problem from the source, our bottomless pit of a stomach.

We must learn to train our brains to eat the correct portion of food. Simple neuroscience you say, but it’s easier said than done. Learning about one’s own body and intake takes years to master, but through having size choices, eventually people would have at least a closer option, rather than waste food.

Imagine with the option of a smaller portion, you could finish the plate and live guilt free!

TAR PONDS FENCING

According to our Conservative Government, members of other Canadian political parties are pedophiles and environmentalists are terrorists…welcome to the new Canada.

As unbelievable as it sounds, Public Safety Canada listed environmentalists among other “issue-based domestic extremists” that could pose a threat to Canadians.

Public Security Minister Vic Toews announced last week a new domestic counter-terrorism strategy which listed a number of groups who will be the focus of increased domestic security surveillance – in effect extending the reach and impunity of domestic security already working within Canada.

Canada’s new counter-terrorism strategy lists environmentalism next to white supremacy as an “issue-based” terrorist threat.

Unfortunately, environmentalists were not the only “trouble-makers” to make the government’s hit-list this week – in a stubborn assessment of the government’s on-line privacy bill, the minister referred to anyone who would not support the government legislation as “pedophiles”.

Mr. Towes created a furor Monday when he declared in the Commons, responding to questioning from an MP regarding the provisions of the on-line privacy bill, “he can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”

Member of the Opposition in Parliament, Charlie Angus summed it up this way: “The Conservatives have hit the ultimate low. They are accusing anyone who stands up for the principle of due process and the right of a citizen to privacy as being supportive of child pornography. What a sick distortion of the facts”.

It is most unsettling to see our government resort to such base name-calling to label anyone who does not support their legislation. It is even more unsettling to consider that our current majority government simultaneously will not address issues that are basic priorities for a majority of Canadians.

What is not a sick distortion of the facts, and may be most disheartening of all to Canadians is this government’s actual record on the environment, both domestically and in terms of international co-operation. From as far back as the appointment of this government’s first Environment Minister, the under-prepared Rona Ambrose, to the global embarrassment Canada experienced at the Nairobi and Copenhagen climate conferences.

We witnessed Conservative members of the unelected Senate kill the Climate Change Accountability Act without even considering or debating the bill. I shudder to think what disparaging moniker Vic Toews would have come up with to label those Senators who killed that bill, had the legislation been introduced by the Conservatives. The problem is, then as now, that the bill was not introduced by our current government and nothing friendly or helpful to the environment ever seems to be.

Add the ongoing degradation of Canada’s own lands in the Tar Sands to the absolute refutation of global environmental partnership when we weaseled out of our signed commitment to the Kyoto Accord and you have a country that is on the outside looking in at the global community. Remember how the voting for the UN Security Council seat turned out?

And we haven’t even begun to be held accountable as Canadians for the environmental damage our mining companies have created in other countries.

So while the name-calling involved with the on-line privacy bill may have more grab for a headline of the day, the long-term effects of this government’s relationship to the environment will linger long after this government is gone. Maybe that is why so many, a majority in fact, Canadians have recognized our relationship with the environment as such a critical issue and do get so “fired up” about the issue. But does that make us terrorists? Hardly.

Former Green Party Communications Director and current Executive Director of the Sierra Club Canada, John Bennett summed it up this way: “The only real environmental terrorists are in the Federal Cabinet.”

Irene versus the St-Laurent Street Fair in Montreal

Irene versus the St-Laurent Street Fair in Montreal

As the remnants of Tropical Storm Irene pounded Montreal this past Sunday, I hunkered down in my apartment. Listening to the winds blow and the rain fall, I thought to myself: “I should really close the living room window, my roommate’s XBox is getting wet.”

If you were expecting my rainy day thoughts to be something more profound or at the very least profound-ish sounding and dealing with the nature of nature and its relationship to our very unnatural culture, well, that’s not the case here. And why should it be?

Yeah, I had been outside earlier in the day. I had felt slightly stronger-than-usual winds press up against me as I ran some errands. I witnessed the closest thing my neighbourhood got to destruction: near desolation at the St-Laurent Street Fair which had been buzzing with people the day earlier. I had my interesting and relevant pic to post to Facebook (of the aforementioned desolate street fair) and I heard the   complaints from people as they entered my apartment. I had had my fill of Irene.

Apparently, New York City had had their fill as well, and it wasn’t anything close to the catastrophe the media had been predicting. Just a smattering of downed trees, power outages and a bit of flooding. When I turned on the news, I discovered that there were some downed trees and power outages in Montreal as well. That sucked, but I was fine and I fell asleep.

The next morning, I learned on Democracy Now that things weren’t so pretty in Vermont, a state known for its natural beauty almost as much as it’s known for progressive politics. There was massive flooding. There were power outages everywhere. Historic covered bridges that had survived the previous great storm of 1927 simply got swept away by the waters.

This wasn’t a story on the larger corporate media outlets until Monday evening. In fact, coverage of the aftermath of the storm’s very real and still lasting effects seems to have dwindled. Instead we get stories about Michele Bachmann saying that Irene was God’s way of telling the US congress to get the economy in order.

Now I’m all for stories that expose some of the Republican contenders for president as the nutjobs that they are (she later claimed her statement was a joke, kind of like her campaign for president), but I think a better thing to cover would be the ongoing mass protest in front of the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline that’s supposed to transport tar sands oil from Alberta to the US.

Don’t get me wrong, the media has mentioned the protest, celebrities going to the slammer will do that. But pretty much all of the coverage has dealt with the close to 600 arrests and not the issue at hand. It is also not being linked at all to coverage of Irene. As far as I can tell, only independent media like the aforementioned Democracy Now mentioned the two in the same breath.

While there have been huge storms and hurricanes before, this one seems a little different. The destruction in northern areas seems considerably more rough and widespread to the point that it’s easy to wonder just how much affect a changing climate had on it.

While it may be easy to wonder and speculate a link between climate change and Irene, I don’t think many will. Just as the storm’s destruction is happening, for many of us, myself included, elsewhere. Very close to home in some cases, but still elsewhere.

Climate change is also happening elsewhere and unless something affects us directly and in a major way, there’s a strong chance that we may ignore it and go about what we’re doing. If it was like that for me last Sunday, it can be like that for you, too, not to mention for politicians and those in a position to directly do something about the situation.

Unless we start realizing that elsewhere could be here very soon and thinking about what we can do right now, things will get worse outside. Until then, we’ll just close the window. At least the Xbox won’t get wet.

vegetables and people in an indoor market

food on a grocery store shelf and in a dumpster

With the world’s population projected to hit seven billion later this  year, a stable supply of food has never been more important.

Recent spikes in food prices have set off riots around the world and  have been linked to revolutions in the Middle East and the famine  devastating the horn of Africa. Even here at home, rising food prices are making people think more  about what they eat and where it comes from.

vegetables and people in an indoor market

But what people may not realize is just how much of the food we  produce is going to waste.

The documentary, Wasteful Thinking, takes a close look at the food  system in Quebec from the grocery store to the phenomenon of dumpster  diving and the growing demand at Quebec’s food banks.

Co-Produced by Judith Jacques and Tomas Urbina

screen capture of forum schiste website

screen capture of forum schiste website

Canada’s shale gas industry is turning to social media for a cure to its tattered public image in Quebec, according to the Canadian Press. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has contracted the services of social media company Parta Dialogue to create forumschiste.com, a website billed as a place to discuss issues and share information about shale gas.

With the official launch of the website set for Tuesday, one of the industry’s most vocal critics, the Association Québecoise de Lutte Contre la Pollution Atmosphérique (AQLPA) is already calling into question the motives of the effort. “Is this looking at environmental questions or is this damage control?” said Kim Cornelissen of the AQLPA in a phone interview.

Two rounds of vocal public hearings, a march through Quebec culminating in a large rally in Montreal and reports of gas leaks in wells have left the shale gas industry reeling in the province over the last year.

Still, Stéphane Gosselin, head of the Association Pétrolière et Gazière du Québec (APGQ) told the Canadian Press that the new site is not intended to restore the image of the shale gas industry in Quebec, but was built as “way to dialogue.”

Questions have also been raised about the neutrality of the site, given that it is funded by the CAPP. Cornelissen added that environmental and community organizations were not consulted in the development of the social media space. Parta Dialogue, the site’s creator, has stated that the site is intended to allow open and respectful dialogue between all stakeholders.

The website is already active online and features several videos from Gosselin, as well as two from the head of Greenpeace Quebec, Éric Darier.

Cornelissen, however, isn’t convinced the site will do much to change public opinion. “This is not a question of public opinion; this is a question of public health and the environment,” she said.   “It’s like talking about the problem of a single cigarette instead of questioning the practice of smoking in general.”

Gosselin also said the site is targeting “moderates” with “good information” and seeks to “demystify” shale gas. But Cornelissen said she has been impressed with how informed citizens have been, especially those most affected by shale gas exploration.

As for the government’s role, Cornelissen and Quebecers will keep waiting for the results the of the strategic environmental evaluation on shale gas, whose committee came under scrutiny in June due to conflicts of interest.   Jean-Yves Lavoie, president of the oil and gas company Junex, stepped down from the committee under pressure from several groups, though others in similar circumstances remained.

While the industry is hoping for a fresh start with the public, it may already be too late in many parts of Quebec. Cornelissen and the AQLPA are already looking forward to the growth of and continued government investment in the biogas sector and point to companies like Gaz Métro that are getting involved. Biogas is natural gas captured from decaying organic matter, including food and farm waste.