govt-grant-permits-06-09

The National Energy Board cannot be allowed to review any projects until it’s completely reformed, pleaded 50 organizations in a letter sent to the Prime Minister on Wednesday. Signatories argue that the NEB has lost the legitimacy to approve massive pipelines like TransCanada’s Energy East or Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain.

“We are calling on you to put aside the fundamentally flawed work that has been done by the NEB to date. Overhaul the NEB, renew the confidence of Canadians in the federal government’s pipeline review process and, only after this has been accomplished, assess these projects in an atmosphere that is not plagued by the legacy of the Harper era.”

The letter is signed by multiple environmental activist groups, as well as the WestCoast Environmental Law Agency and the Aboriginal People’s Council.

Last week, the NEB was forced to suspend consultations on the Energy East Pipeline when it became clear that the concerns over the neutrality of its commission board were not about to die down.  The National Observer had previously revealed that two of the three commissioners on the board had covertly met with Jean Charest, then acting as a lobbyist for TransCanada.

The NEB first denied that it happened, then apologized for it but allowed the review to continue with all commissioners still on board. Last week, after protesters successfully disrupted the consultation in Montreal, the NEB agreed to suspend the Energy East consultations while they decide what to do with the two problematic commissioners.

A Band-aid over a bullet hole, claim the harsher critics of the NEB.

“Of course the board members who acted inappropriately should recuse themselves, but this will not solve the credibility gap that is plaguing the pipeline review process in Canada,” argues the letter.

The Problematic History of  the NEB

Misconduct of commissioners is not the NEB’s biggest problem; its entire history is. The National Energy Board Act is a 1985 reworking of legislation from the early sixties. It was meant to evaluate the safety and the practical matters of energy infrastructures. This only changed four years ago when Stephen Harper abolished the Environmental Assessment Agency and assigned the NEB to take over part of its duties.

It’s now clear that the NEB’s structure has failed to adapt to its new mission.

Commissioners of the NEB are politically appointed and many of them have been employed by oil businesses at some point in their careers.

Their public consultations are often criticized for their lack of accessibility. Anyone who wants to be heard must prove that they are directly affected by the project in question and register several months in advance.

The scope of their assessment is limited to direct consequences, which is in itself an archaic concept. Modern environmental assessments cannot refuse to consider impacts of oil production or tar sands development or of an increasingly oil-dependant national economy. All these matters are classified as upstream activities or downstream effects and as such, they are not considered by the NEB.

All of this might explain why the National Energy Board only rarely rejects a project. It had even approved (under 200 or so conditions) the Northern Gateway Pipeline, despite overwhelming opposition from the communities near its path. In fact, the appeals court later reversed their decision, judging that aboriginal communities had not been adequately consulted.

The NEB’s credibility is more than a little compromised. A CBC poll from last march suggests that 51% of Canadians have little or no confidence in the National Energy Board. People from Quebec and British Columbia, respectively affected by the Northern Gateway and Energy East, were most skeptical.

Just a couple of days ago, Ipolitics’ Chris Wood published a particularly scathing opinion piece on the matter: “The NEB is obsolete, an anachronism, a captive service agency for one particularly toxic, last-century industry, rather than a police force for the public interest. Increasingly, it’s also a laughingstock.”

“Modernization” in progress

The government recognized that the National Energy Board review process was facing a crisis of confidence long before the mess of the Energy East consultations. In fact, “restoring the population’s trust in the National Energy Board” was a key promise of the Liberal electoral platform.

An expert panel is already mandated to examine the National Energy Board’s functioning as part of a large review of environmental regulations launched this summer. They should provide the Ministry of Natural Resources with a report full of recommendations about how to modernize the NEB by January. These recommendations, if the government decides to listen to them (which is not a sure thing, history tells us), should be implemented by June 2018. Interim measures have been defined, but they do not seem to alter much of the process.

Meanwhile, the assessments of Energy East, Trans Mountain and other projects mostly piloted by NOVA Gas Transmission and Enbridge are allowed to go on unimpeded.

Environmental groups are pressing Trudeau to be consistent. Now that he has recognized that the NEB needs to be modernized, he should not allow it to take such major decisions until it is.

* Featured image from More Canada! Twitter

dakota access pipeline protest

As the Sioux of Standing Rock persevere in their legal battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the promoters are resorting to violence to disperse peaceful protesters.

Energy Transfer Partners’s private security attacked the protesters with pepper spray and dogs on Saturday, near the camp set up by indigenous activists in Southern North Dakota. The same day, the company bulldozed sacred burial grounds on private land.

A video report from Democracy Now! shows a group of persons trying to disperse the crowd with dogs and pepper spray. We can see several protesters who have clearly been maced in the face and a man showing the bloody dog bite on his arm.

Activist Martie Simmons, who was present, tweeted that six protesters, including a pregnant woman were bitten. Four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured, according to the local Sheriff’s Office (Morton County). The nature of the injuries suffered by the dogs and the guards were undisclosed but eyewitnesses affirm that the dogs were out of control, and bit the guards too.

Police say they received no reports of injured protesters.The sheriff’s office confirmed there was no officers present at the confrontation.

Indigenous resistance to the DAPL

Standing Rock’s Sioux tribe has organized opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline ever since the project first became public two years ago. The trajectory of the pipeline is set to skim their reserve and cross the Missouri River twice, causing concerns about water contamination and protection of cultural heritage sites.

Thousands of indigenous people from the US and Canada responded to the call of the Sioux of Standing Rock and set up camps near the Missouri River. Over a hundred tribes are represented in what became known as the oil protest camps, what could be one of the biggest assemblies of Indigenous Peoples this century. Non-native activists also joined the ranks.

Meanwhile, the Sioux of Standing Rock are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for fast-tracking construction permits without consulting them.

The DAPL is a $4.88 billion pipeline that should conduct half a million barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken Oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline will be just under 1900 km long and run through four states.

According to the Chairman of the Sioux Tribe of Standing Rock, Dave Archambault II, the pipeline threatens the lives of the people on the reserve and of the millions of people living downstream on the Missouri River, as well as ancestral Sioux sites.

“We never had an opportunity to express our concerns. This is a corporation that is bulldozing through,” Archambault told Democracy Now!.

His tribe is currently challenging the permits of Energy Transfer Partners in federal court on the grounds that the promoters did not adequately consult First Nations. They called for an emergency, temporary stopping of the construction on Tuesday, claiming that the company is already desecrating their burial sites. The federal court will announce its verdict on September 9th.

A Canadian Company

The DAPL is co-piloted by the American company Energy Transfer Partners and the Calgary-based Enbridge. Enbridge is no stranger to controversy, as it was recently forced by Canada’s federal court to give up on the Northern Gateway pipeline for similar reasons.

The $7.9 billion pipeline meant to export Albertan petroleum to the west coast had first been authorized by the Conservative government, despite the strong opposition of the native communities near its trajectory. However a federal appeal court revoked the permits in July, ruling that the Enbridge had not adequately consulted the affected aboriginal communities.

In 2015, Enbridge broke records by racking up $264 000 in fines from the National Energy Board, mostly because of safety and environmental hazards. However, the NEB ended up cancelling most of the fines due to lack of evidence.

Enbridge incidentally made the news today for acquiring Spectra Energy. The $37 billion transaction, if it is approved by appropriate authorities, could make Enbridge the biggest player on the North American market of energy infrastructure.

ecoqc

On Tuesday, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced the suspension of all their consultations on the Energy East Pipeline after opposition to both the pipeline and the assessment process hit a new high in Montreal.

The first of the three scheduled panel sessions in Montreal was aborted as soon as it started on Monday morning after protesters irrupted the proceedings in the Centre Mont-Royal.

A few people disrupted the assembly, brandishing banners and chanting for about thirty minutes before the police forcefully removed them. Three people were arrested. In a communiqué published later that night, the NEB called the incident “a violent disruption […] which threatened the security of everyone involved.”

Multiple activist groups, MNAs and Mayor Coderre himself have been asking for the National Energy Board assessment of Energy East to be suspended since concerns over the integrity of two commissioners have been raised. It was recently revealed that Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier had secretly met with a TransCanada lobbyist – who happened to be none other than Ex-Premier Jean Charest- in early 2015.

The Front Commun Pour la Transition Énergétique (FCPTE) organized a “greeting committee” for the Montreal consultations on Monday. Environmentalists, but also some political representatives (namely from Québec Solidaire) were present.  Carole Dupuis, member of FCPTE and general coordinator of the Regroupement Vigilance hydrocarbures, described the protest as coloured and joyful.

In a short phone interview, Mrs Dupuis said that her organization had no plans to interrupt the session. According to her, the incident was the initiative of a lone individual that gathered spontaneous support:

“Actually a man ran to the front and then others joined him to chant slogans.”

After the no-go session of Monday, the NEB announced the postponement of the session scheduled Tuesday, citing security concerns. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, they stated that all consultations are suspended until they decide what to do with the two commissioners who met with Charest:

“Given that two motions have been filed asking for the recusal of Panel Members, and given that the Board has invited written comments by September 7, 2016 on the these motions, the Board will not proceed with further Panel Sessions until it reaches a decision.”

What’s the problem with the National Energy Board?

A couple of days before the NEB arrived in Montreal, Coderre joined the calls for the suspension of the consultations. He said he was “ill at ease” with the fact that two of the three commissioners had met with Jean Charest.

Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier, along with the director of the NEB, met with Charest while he was working for TransCanada, in January 2015.  The NEB first did not disclose that it had a meeting with a TransCanada lobbyist.

When it was discovered, they insisted that the subject of Energy East had not come up in the discussion. But thanks to the Access to Information Act, the National Observer got hold of some documents that proved the exact opposite. Handwritten notes from one of the participants included mentions such as “safety of the pipeline”,  “economy needs investment” and “what profits for Quebec?”.

The NEB apologized for lying but refused to remove Gauthier and Mercier from the Energy-East committee, until now. All appearance of partiality aside, the deficient French platform and the lack of accessibility of the NEB’s consultation have also been criticized.

Prior to 2012, the NEB had no experience whatsoever with public consultations. It’s only when the conservatives adopted a mammoth law abolishing the Canadian Environmental Assessment agency that the NEB’s role was redefined.

The National Energy Board is an independent federal organisation. Its purpose is to regulate the oil, gas and electricity projects that have international or inter-provincial reach. Although it often gets heaped with organisations like BAPE (Quebec’s Bureau of Environmental Public Hearings), its mandate is fundamentally different.

The NEB is foremost mandated to evaluate the safety and the practical aspects of the projects.

In 2014, it ruled that it did not have to consider upstream activities or downstream results in its assessment of a project. In other words, the consequences of EE on climate change, oil dependency or tar-sands development will not be examined by the NEB.

The Energy-East Pipeline: A Quick Rundown of the Facts

Energy-East pipeline is a TransCanada project destined to transport oil from Alberta to New Brunswick. The idea is to convert 3000 km of an old gas pipeline and extend it by 1600 km, to have a brand new 4600 kms of pipeline transporting 1.2 million oil barrels daily. It’s worth $15,7 Billion.

Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons
Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons

It will run through six provinces and under 860 watercourses, including the Outaouais River and the Saint-Lawrence River.

The divisive aspect of the pipeline climbed to new levels as other pipeline projects (namely Keystone XL) fell through, leaving EE as the last route to export Alberta’s massive oil production.

Supporters of the project argue that it would allow Alberta to boost up the exploitation of its tar sands and at the same time allow the rest of Canada to drastically reduce its oil imports from Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. TransCanada is also promising the creation of numerous – if temporary- jobs throughout the country.

 

Associated Minor Scandals

However, the oil travelling through the pipeline is not destined for Canadian consumption. Only a meager percentage of the product would be treated in Quebec’s refineries and the rest would be exported overseas from New Brunswick.

BAPE public consultations have also taught us that the oil will be extracted partly from Alberta’s tar-sands and partly from North Dakota. As Alexandre Shields once pointed out, Energy East will, to some extent serve to transport US oil to other US territories.

Environmental groups have raised red flags about the rivers affected by the pipeline’s trajectories. One of the primary sources of concern is the form of the oil in transition: a substance called dilbit. Dilbit is diluted bitumen that is easier to transport than crude oil, but it is very difficult to clean up in the event of a spill.

It is especially risky in rivers, where it rapidly sinks to the bottom before it can be recuperated. A detail that might be even more challenging in the often iced water of the Saint-Lawrence.

I personally believe this pipeline is an overall terrible idea and I could easily write another 6000 words about all the reasons why this project has been a complete trainwreck so far. Now I know this has been dragging on, so let’s take a moment to revisit some of TransCanada’s greatest moves:

  • Trying to build a port in an endangered species’ nursery
  • A leaked “press strategy” that erred somewhere in the area of barely-legal-and-definitely-unethical.
  • Refusing to comply with Quebec’s environmental law
  • Failing to provide proper documentation in French
  • Providing such unreadable gibberish in lieu of the documentation required by federal law that the NEB had to ask them to start over.
  • Responding that they will have something ready by 2018 when commissioners of the BAPE pointed out that they had no clear strategy in the case of an oil spill in the Saint-Lawrence.

* featured image from ÉcoQuébec’s twitter account: “greeting committee” for the NEB consultations on Monday

bike-montreal

A young cyclist died after a collision with a truck on Monday afternoon in Montreal. The driver didn’t see the 24 year old woman when he made a right-turn at the intersection of Iberville and Rosemont. The opposition in City Council, along with advocacy group Vélo-Québec, are calling, once again, for enhanced protective measures for cyclists.

“It’s terrible,” said Luc Ferrandez from Projet Montréal, as quoted by Radio-Canada. “We are lagging behind. And Mayor Coderre is the mayor of these citizens who are getting hurt and who are dying. He should do something.”

Coderre responded by underscoring the work that is already being done on some intersections to make their configuration safer for cyclists. He also reminded the opposition that some changes have already been implanted in the existing regulations (namely law 107).

The issue keeps resurfacing as accidents keep happening. A few times a year, a cyclist gets run over and the city council promises that they are working on ensuring fair and safe sharing of the road.

Now, there is another phantom-bike to add to the city’s rapidly growing collection.  At the rate we’re going, they will soon be as much of a banal part of our urban landscape as the infamous orange cones.

Rising Accident Rates

Montreal is by far the Canadian city with the biggest number of cyclists and the largest number of bicycle lanes. While there is no doubt that Montreal’s bike culture is alive and well, the same can’t be said for its cyclists.

The number of bicycles on the road is on the rise and so are the number of accidents. There were 763 recorded bike accidents in 2015, including three lethal ones: a 16% increase compared to the previous year.

In fact, a study published in 2015 crowned the city as the Canadian queen of bike accidents. According to the Pembina Institute, Montreal has seven bike accidents for every 100 000 rides; much more than all the other large population centres in the country. In fact, a bike ride in Montreal is seven times more likely to come to a brutal end than it is in Vancouver.

These findings were based on data from 2008. However, considering that both the number of bicycles on the road and the rate of accidents have risen since then, the current numbers are probably even worse.

We Need to Keep Up

But wait, isn’t Montreal the most bike-friendly city in North-America, or something? Well, it was.

In 2013, Montreal ranked as the 13th most bike-friendly city of the world in the Copenhagenize Index. It was the only North American city in the top 20. But we’ve been slipping since then and Minneapolis (Minnesota) has surpassed us.

Montreal desperately clings to the 20th spot in this year’s ranking.

As population growth and air pollution put more and more pressure on urban centres, cities around the world are wising up. Investing in biking infrastructure is not progressive and cool anymore; it’s necessary.  It seems that our political leaders have failed to recognize that in today’s context, not going forward means falling behind.

Quebec’s ambitious plan of reducing its greenhouse gas emission by 38% in the next 14 years does not even contain any consideration for encouraging cycling as alternative transportation. And the strategy it put forward instead to address car-related pollution is being called into question.

According to the City of Montreal’s own numbers, there are now 1.3 Million bike riders on the Island. Consideration for their safety should amount to more than a couple of days of indignation after every tragic accident.

Getting our respectable number of protected lanes connected into a coherent network, and, for the love of God, ensuring their proper maintenance, would be a great place to start.

As the Copenhagenize Index recommends:

“Better winter maintenance is a must, cycle tracks along main arteries should be a no-brainer (especially with the shocking state of the asphalt on the roads), and feel free to borrow traffic-calming inspiration from Paris and Barcelona.”

* Featured image: homeexchange.com

squamish river

A panel of experts has been mandated to review Canada’s environmental assessment process. On Monday, Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna presented the four members of the committee in charge of this effort to modernize our environmental laws.

The committee is tasked with producing a report “in early 2017.” To do so, they will “engage broadly with indigenous groups, the public and a wide range of stakeholders across Canada,” according to the government’s website.

Who is on This Committee?

The chairwoman of the committee is Johanne Gélinas, a leading consultant on environmental law. She was the Canadian Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development from 2000 to 2007 and also served ten years in the Environmental Public Hearings Office (better known as BAPE) in Quebec.

Also sitting on the Panel are René Pelletier, a lawyer from the Maliseet community who specializes in Aboriginal rights and environmental law, and Rod Northey, another prominent environmental lawyer. The last member is Doug Horswill, who previously served as Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources of BC and as chairman of two Mining Associations.

What Will Happen Now?

The committee presented by McKenna will get input from Canadian citizens and organizations during September. People can already communicate their opinions via the internet. Dates for in-person hearings should be decided shortly.

By early 2017, the panel will present a summary of the input received along with its conclusions and recommendations. The Ministry of Environment will then “consider” the recommendations and “identify the next step to improve federal environmental assessment processes.”

Promises, Promises…

This is a step towards making the process more “open, transparent and inclusive,” according to a press release from Minister McKenna.

The review of the environmental assessment process is one of the three parts of the Liberal plan to improve environmental regulations that was officially launched this summer. The two other parts are modernizing the National Energy Board and restoring the protections under the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Act that were lost under the Harper government.

The Liberal environmental platform is mostly defined by two key points repeated ad-nauseam since 2015: restoring the population’s trust in the environmental assessment process and insuring that their decisions are based on “evidence, facts and science” (because redundancy sounds much more inspiring).

During and since the elections, they have advertised their intention to involve the population, and especially the aboriginal communities, more directly in the approval of projects that could be dangerous to the environment.

Indeed, they have launched and publicized many public consultations. They also announced up to $223 000 of funding for Indigenous participation to Federal Government reviews of Environmental Assessment Processes and National Energy Board Modernization.

They will hear the opinion of Canadians and they will “consider it.”

Consultation after consultation, the government is working to make the population feel more involved and to restore their trust in the system. But is it working to insure that this trust is warranted? They have yet to take any concrete action to put science and research at the base of their policies on environmental issues.

* Featured image of Squamish River by James Wheeler via Flickr Creative Commons

Alberta wildfires

Fort MacMurray and large swaths of Northern Alberta have been burning for a few days. Homes and communities have been destroyed and people have died, too.

This is a time for everyone in Canada and beyond to come together and try to stop the fires and assist those who have been forced to evacuate as much as they can. That has been happening. There have been stories circulating of everyone from the people of Lac Megantic, Quebec to recent Syrian refugees pitching in.

Politically, though, there has been a fire of a different sort. At first, there were those online suggesting that the fires were directly caused by the oil being pulled out of the ground, but when it was clear that the fires did not start at the extraction site and had no specific correlation to the most prominent industry in the region, those rumblings gave way to a political argument about whether or not the wildfires were the result of climate change.

Ottawa Weighs In

Green Party leader Elizabeth May fired the first shot, so to speak, when asked if the fires were linked to climate change:

“Of course. It’s due to global emissions. Scientists will say we know with a destabilized climate, with a higher average global temperature, we will see more frequent, more extreme weather events … due to an erratic climate, due to our addiction to fossil fuels.”

Later in the same day, she walked that statement back a bit, saying there was no specific correlation and that “no credible climate scientist would make this claim, and neither do I make this claim.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got the question next and responded like this:

“It’s well-known that one of the consequences of climate change will be a greater prevalence of extreme weather events around the planet, however any time we try to make a political argument out of one particular disaster I think there is a bit of a shortcut that can sometimes not have the desired outcome.

Pointing at any one incident and saying, ‘Well this is because of that,’ is neither helpful nor entirely accurate. What we are focussed on right now on is giving the people of Fort McMurray, and across Alberta, the kind of support that they need.”

Now, I, for one, am loathe to agree with Trudeau anything, let alone on environmental issues. He is, after all, the one who seems to think pipelines will lead to our green future. I also believe that most of Alberta’s oil should stay in the ground. In fact, I experienced quite the dilemma a few paragraphs back in this article. I absolutely refuse to use the term “oil sands” but thought that “tar sands” was a little too hardcore a term to use for the “coming together” point I was trying to make.

That dilemma is nothing compared to the one faced by people whose homes have recently burned to the ground. In fact, not all of those fleeing the wildfires are oil company executives, very few are. These are workers, their families, activists opposed to pipelines, First Nations communities and others who, a week ago, were fighting against the destruction the oil industry would bring to their home, and now are fleeing from their home.

With that in mind, I have to agree with Justin Trudeau. This is not the right time to be talking climate change.

Put the Fires Out First

Are these fires the result of climate change? Maybe. Could they also have been caused by inconsiderate campers? Maybe. Are wildfires a natural occurrence in the area? Yes. Do these fires have no other explanation? Maybe. These are all good questions that can be answered later.

Right now shit is burning and stopping that and helping those affected has to be our first and only concern. There will be time to talk cause and assign blame later.

When a spree killer is chasing you down the hall, you don’t stop running, turn around and pontificate on the lack of gun control or our failing mental health system, you get the hell out of there and hope the killer is stopped before he gets to you. If you survive, there will be plenty of time to talk about and hopefully stop the root causes of what happened.

Right now, metaphorically, we’re still running down the hall. The fires are still raging and we need to stop them and find a way out.

It’s fine to criticize the government at a time like this, but only on things they aren’t doing or could be doing better to deal with and hopefully end the situation (like not letting the Russians help). Linking the disaster to climate change at this point isn’t one of them.

I know that I may be annoying some people whom I otherwise agree with and may agree with on this issue, except that I don’t think this is the right time to be on a soapbox about it. I don’t really care, because, here in Montreal, I still have a roof over my head, which is more than some in Alberta, Manitoba and now Ontario can say.

When your soapbox is burning, run away.

verticrop

We tend not to see food security in the headlines. Yet sustainable food systems underlie nearly every hot issue—from economy to foreign policy to health. Save for passing mentions at rhetoric-heavy Climate Change conferences, food systems remain in the shadows when it comes to everyday news.

Yet to many food advocates, researchers, farmers and workers, two hard numbers remain the serious fixation.

The first is 2050. The once far-flung year is suddenly within view.

The next is 9, or rather, 9 with 9 zeroes. That’s the number—9 billion—we’ll need to feed in 2050.

Far from some sci-fi fantasy, this is the massive problem at the core of humanity’s other crises.

You’ll hear from the UN that we produce enough food to feed every mouth. You might have heard that the waste, corruption, national squabbles and inefficient distribution systems our largest barriers to this goal.

Yet in the shadows, huge things have been happening. Here are three random food stories you should watch. Not only do I predict that each will grow immensely, creating huge waves when they do, they’re each connected to several other issues, representing the importance of food when it comes to climate, politics or economy.

Turbo Urban Growing & Open Source Planting

With the swell of urban populations and energy crises, urban veg growing has become something of the designer issue. Though many individuals boast of their container veg, few organizations have truly cracked the field wide open. In the end, urban food production, nice as it makes us feel, must increase its scale and efficiency hundreds of times to really be a factor in feeding urban populations.

In a recent Wired piece, one such game changing startup is mentioned. PlantLab has developed methods to (purportedly) increase production efficiency by 4000% while using 90% less water (which is the other big problem facing urban growing).

…it’s holding as proprietary secrets methods claimed to be 40 times more productive, using 90 per cent less water, for growing food that is ten times more nutritious.

Huge developments. Keep your eye out. Though the MIT folk who have been working on this issue say that the other thing to watch out for is the “joining up” of these solutions, in the open source fashion that created the Internet. If this type of cooperation happens, we could see disruption on the same scale.

“What we need,” they say, “is an open, joined-up approach to solving a significant global problem.”

Fish Farming Explosion

GMO salmon
Genetically modified salmon, made by AquaBounty, is one huge upcoming driver of fishfarming growth, not even accounted for in the massive growth mentioned in the article

The story that’s been passing us by lies underwater. Once again, while overfishing was the big issue of the end of the 20th century, the inefficiency of meat is the big issue of the 21st so far. Yet meanwhile, the FAO (UN Food & Agriculture Organization) has been tracking the rise of fish farming. Fish farming is simply the production of fish in controlled environments, the way agriculture did to plants and animals. Once the stuff of negative stories (ie salmon, etc.), fish farming is now simply the status quo.

It will be huge going forward. It’s the fastest growing food sector. Just pause and take that in. Considering this fact, when’s the last time you heard stories on fish farming?

Furthermore, next time you bite into some fish, consider that there’s more chance it’s farmed than caught by fishermen, even the trawler-types. The FAO tells us that it makes up

More than half the fish consumed in the world now comes from aquaculture, outpacing fish caught in the open ocean.

Furthermore, it’s made over 90 million tonnes in the past decades, making it the fastest growing food sector.

Veggie Cheerleading Has Sunk Us

We’re still eating too much meat. Yet the social factor of being omnivore might be destroying real progress. The food movement and social politics have led more and more in the US, say various new studies, to claim we’re curbing our meat eating.

In reality, we’ve hardly changed our meat consumption since the “food movement” and folk such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman made us aware of the wider impacts of eating meat, both ethically and environmentally. Here’s one quote from one researcher on National Public Radio:

In a nutshell, Americans’ meat-eating habits haven’t shifted much. “There’s no significant change in the number of times per week people eat meat in the last few years,” Mike Taylor, chief medical officer for Truven, tells us.

If anything, the social factor — and I don’t hold the ‘food movement’ blameless here — has led us to become “veggie cheerleaders.”

One more quote from researcher Roni Neff:

“We are still seeing a lot of people saying they are eating less meat, and a lot who want to eat less meat.”

I’d like to think that’s good.Though I fear it’s worse.

For if we “feel good” we usually don’t change. This is worth watching, given our rate of meat consumption is becoming less and less sustainable, certainly in light of 2050’s population numbers.

cold shower

Now that world leaders and their negotiators have left Paris following the climate change pow-wow, the focus now shifts to the work needed to make a paper agreement hold together in practice.

Greenhouse gasses, overflowing landfills and destructive chemical waste pollute our atmosphere at unsustainable rates. That is clear. But while we put this pressure on governments and corporations to clean this up, shouldn’t we also ask ourselves what we can do, as individuals, to reduce our destructive environmental impact on the planet?

But I can’t point my finger at anyone else before shining the mirror on my own lifestyle. What I saw in reflection, was a small scale environmental disaster.

Facing this need to turn a new and greener leaf, I was inspired by a UK-based blogger, Joanna Yarrow, author of Beyond Green and the eye-catching philosophy on living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.

“Sustainable living is a bit like teenage sex. Few are doing it, and fewer are doing it properly.”

Sustainable living revolves around a few simple principles, according to my research. Consume less, and waste less stuff. Consume less energy and other non-renewable resources. Reduce our environmental footprint in ways that may seem indirect, such as paying attention to the way we travel and the way our food travels to us.

With that as my inspiration, I tried to kickstart a new way of life that is kinder to the planet, albeit in an incremental way. Many advise trying out these drastic changes for the manageable period of one week. That’s hardly enough effort to reverse the impact of years of damage to the environment, but enough time to test some new waters.

The water that that would be poured over my enthusiasm on day one was cold. Starting the week with a cold shower made me realize that it might be a better to attempt the energy conservation part of my plan closer to summer. Still, I knew that I would still have to cut down on the leisurely long hot showers that I normally enjoyed, drastically limiting my shower time to a maximum two minutes and reducing the eight litres of water that this part of our morning routine dumps down the drain every minute.

As for eating, I was prepared for how this passion in my life would be affected more than anything else during the week. If only keeping a keener eye for locally produced products was the only issue I’d face, I could easily breeze through this. Discovering Montreal’s burgeoning organic food market, which makes better tasting food more widely available was a bonus. But organic food, which is produced without dangerous by-products which are washed back into the water table, was also more demanding on my strict budget. So I’d have to find other ways to reduce my food budget.

Image: archinect.com
Image: archinect.com

Reducing the consumption of meat not only saves money, but it brings reported health benefits and is more sustainable for the planet due to the way that the production of meat devours more of the earth’s scarce land and resources. But cutting out meat ‘cold turkey’ was a drastic move for a carnivore like me so I found ways to merely reduce my meat intake and some delicious ways to replace it a couple of times a week.

Certainly my fast food habit had to be broken, if only to conserve the mountains of paper, cardboard and plastic produced by the fast food chains which are the biggest contributor to street litter, according to one study, and is not always successfully recycled.

Another form of recycling is a boon to those of us who hate shopping: Use it pp, Wear it out, make it do or do say anti-consumption groups who believe that most of us are buying stuff we don’t actually need. The impulse shopping habit absorbs precious resources by producing products to fill demand for new stuff while filling landfills with older stuff that’s often still usable.

I spent some of that shopping time at home mending, repairing, and patching up things I would have replaced instead, like replacing my old pair of jeans with a new pair that would probably look just as worn out and patched up.

Fruitful explorations of Montreal’s second hand stores, like Notre Dame West’s Salvation Army, turned up lots of gems among the junk, including furniture and house wares that often look as good as new, with the most significant difference being the price tag.

Avoiding these shopping trips also allows us to cut down on the use of a car for short local trips. I rekindled my latent passion for bicycle riding while visiting second hand stores. The bargain bike I picked up for $50 only needed some air and the tightening of a few bolts to get on the road. But the onset of winter is not great timing for a rider to get back on a bike. The late onset of the snow has been a blessing, but an Opus card might still soon come in handy.

But back at home there were a few things to sort out to make a more sustainable home that will last beyond this week. Turning down the thermostat one barely noticeable degree in winter saves lots of energy and more money than you might think, according to Hydro Quebec.

An audit of my water use showed that one flush of my toilet whirls more water down my toilet drain than many families in some parts of the world use in one day. I discovered the handy online tip of filling a plastic container with water and placing it in the toilet which tricks it into thinking it is full, saving some 1325 litres a year, according to the New York Times.

Useful tricks like these, along with understanding the benefits of buying less and thinking more about what I eat were all part of a very interesting experiment. But would the benefits weigh up against the inconveniences well enough to make this new lifestyle permanent?

The effect on my budget was probably neutral. The food bills went up, but utilities bills, when they arrive, should shrink. Time and money was better spent away from the mall, and I noticed my garbage containers are less than half full. But some changes were easier to implement than others. Cold showers and veggie food come quickly to mind.

Perhaps the greatest ongoing effect of the week was the level of consciousness brought to the impact of almost everything that I do, and how that is related to a sustainable future on this planet. Even if my contribution is only a little bit for a little time. That’s a little bit that helps.

* Featured image by Andrew Seaman (Flickr/Creative Commons)

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It’s taken decades for dumpster diving to nudge from the fringes to the mainstream. Hell, ten years ago, it wasn’t even the explicit goal of the practice.

When it was mentioned in the media, dumpster diving has always been something of a caricature: a bit part in stories of folk on society’s edge: the homeless, the penniless student, or the militant environmentalist.

Well, like local chicken and artisan popcorn, dumpster diving might have been bound to hit hipsterdom–or even possibly policy debates–once it got the prescient Portlandia’s treatment.

Pardon the pun: when it comes to vegetable-burdened garbage vehicles, 2014-15 has been the tipping point

From the reach of European Ugly Fruit & Veg campaigns to global glee when French banned supermarket waste.

The prominence of food waste might have reached the pinnacle last week: UN delegates were served a haute cuisine tasting menu of dumpster fare—prepared by elite American chefs, notably Dan Barber himself.

The delegates, including Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, munched on Landfill Salad, which, to quote the menu, consisted of:

  • vegetable scraps
  • rejected apples
  • …chickpea water

Next up, “BURGER & FRIES,” elegantly described in the roped menu: “off-grade vegetables, repurposed bread…cucumber scraps…”

The food was no doubt fascinating and faultlessly executed; witness:

“cocoa husk custard” dessert created with parts of cocoa beans usually discarded when making chocolate

Though food waste has long been a global crisis, its recent win seems due to piggybacking on something much more glamorous: climate change. Now that the two are finally seen as utterly inseparable issues, world leaders and mainstream media have a safe bet trumpeting the cause.

To what end?

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It’s hard to know if it’s too late, or if such events are anything more than fun food writer fodder. Certainly scholars and academics seemed markedly split. Some saw it as gimmicky or simply elitist, while others welcomed the PR for its far-flung benefits.

However we should be wary that it remains to be seen what really happens from this stunt.

European leaders, for example, who dined on Barber’s dumpster bites were likely unphased: they’ve been part of the swift sweep of the food waste over their political and industrial landscape—from the supermarket waste ban in EU debates to corporate responsibility measures in many of its largest supermarket chains.

Here in Canada, it’s much less obvious what effect—if any—such food waste celebrity status will have.

For someone small-minded like me, my mind goes to dumpsterized celebrity chef speculation. Who would be our nominee to stage similar recycled meals for Canadian leaders?

Perhpas Chuck Hughes digging through empty wine bottles in an Old Montréal alley, spinning out some renewed mullusk-shell bisque laced with dregs of private imports from his bacs de recyclage. Or a blazer-clad Mark McEwan scrubbing still-crisp carrots from the bins of his high-end Toronto store, repurposing them in day-old baguettes from his in-house bakery, all with a skeptical scowl.

Of course, none of this would happen here. If anything, we can hope for more events like Metro Vancouver’s mass free lunch of “rescued” food. In true low-key Canadian fashion, the 5000 people this event fed got one tenth the press ink of Chef Barber’s 20 precious plates.

Downplaying splashiness, however, goes hand in hand with Canada’s habit of downplaying food security altogether, to the point that we’re embarrassingly lagging behind other industrialized countries. Lest you jump to CPC-blaming, know that it’s far from just a diplomatic problem. It’s just as seriously a societal and cultural one. Old illusions of boundless natural resources and agricultural surpluses remain firm, not to mention the fact that most Canadians are urban-concentrated, downplaying rural and remote food crises: “out of sight, out of mind.”

Food Secure Canada, the leading umbrella group of scholars, advocates and policy coordinators when it comes to food issues, have been trying to hammer the severity of the issues for years.

With elections looming, it’s even more striking that the UN & Dan Barber style mega-attention on food waste remains mostly lacking here. Campaigns such as Eat, Think Vote, an initiative meant to bring citizens and their riding candidates together for a meal to discuss Canadian food issues, have helped nudge the issue forward, evidenced by some discussion at this Monday’s debate.

The nefarious effects of cosmetic produce took years longer to come to Canada after Europe, and even to this day, has trickled to market in frustratingly tentative fashion. My previous notes on the our slow-moving supermarket industry is helped by, for example Moisson Montréal’s widened food recuperation operations in Québec. Yet these are drops in the bucket, largely outside the mainstream mind or political debate.

It remains to be seen how this UN splash will speed up the Canadian progress on food waste

Thank you for shopping face down

Oh, supermarkets, what are we going to do with you?

It seems you’re embroiled in a certain love-hate relationship with many of us.

Think of those farmers: they stock many of your vast shelves, yet often remain resentful for being squeezed. Or the upwardly-mobile, who slag you off in public, all while filling your coffers. Even food waste activists, perhaps your most virulent critics, have also been known to sing your praises.

However you slice it, dear supermarkets, it seems we just can’t take our eyes off of you.

Here in Canada, for example, you recently roused our spirits by bringing ugly fruit to your shelves, all while appropriating it as a new, cost-saving “brand” promising to quell food waste.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, you waded into the edible insect trade, only to pull them from the shelves two days later without telling us why.

In Alberta, you convinced the Blood Tribe of your merits, who hope to leverage your model on their land.

Yet this nagging question remains: do you really help us gain access to food? Or do you just stand in the way—-you big, boxy bully?

Over in the Bronx, a recent high-profile study seems to suggest the latter.

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The NYU report investigated the effects of a 17 000 square foot Associated Foods supermarket in a known food desert, Morrisania, a neighbourhood with high rates of: “heart disease, obesity, diabetes…depression, infant mortality, mental illness and HIV…”

Its $1.1M 2010 opening costs were incentivized to the tune of $449 000 (about 40%).

However, the team reported no “significant changes in household food availability” to neighbourhood children, with an equal dearth of improved “dietary intake.” Don’t dismiss this as a one-off, supermarkets: the study’s vast sample size (about 2000 children) and lengthy duration (before, during and after the opening) suggest that even your government-fuelled spinoffs might fail to offer tangible benefit to those most in need.

Another recent article goes even further, claiming that you might be causing some of these problems to begin with.

In “Supermarkets are the problem,” Deborah A. Cohen at Slow Food USA surveys research on impulse purchases at the cash register alongside nefarious-sounding “slotting contracts” in your end-of-aisle displays. In a decisive verdict, she holds you structurally accountable for obesity and chronic disease.

Now listen up, supermarkets, because what I’m going to say might surprise you. I think we should cut you some slack.

First, determinist conclusions like the latter should be taken with a grain of your finest No Name salt.

It’s not only deceptive to pluck out and blame you from within a living, breathing, increasingly-complex wider food picture, it’s dangerous. By over-emphasizing government regulation as an ultimate cure, it effectively disempowers us everyday eaters of the education, choice, and agency we already possess—the type of things we really should be encouraged to strengthen.

If for no other reason than you’re not going anywhere soon, we’ve no doubt got a lot to negotiate.

Practically speaking, we all find ourselves in your aisles from time to time. Sometimes we’ve driven a long distance to greet you. Other times, we’ve just met you halfway.

Other times, for many of use, we just get squeezed for options and feel almost forced to wander your aisles. Yet rather than praying to be saved or averting our gaze, it would be better to simply open our eyes.

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Back in January, I speculated that Canada’s world-leading habit of food waste might soon become too embarrassing to ignore. Following the (real) experts, I pointed towards supermarket waste reform in particular as a key to stemming this horrid tide.

It seems that last week, one food giant stepped up to the plate.

Well, sorta.

Though it didn’t touch on the waste problem directly, Loblaws announced that it will roll out the sale of blemished produce.

So, in what is perhaps a first for Canadian corporations, a supermarket giant acknowledged that un-cosmetic produce was actually fit for human consumption.

Sure, it’s a damn small victory. And despite the welcome news, Canada is a latecomer to the ugly fruit game as far as supermarkets go. UK chains began the practice in 2012, while France’s Intermarché giant scored a hit with their Inglorious vegetables campaign last year.

What’s more, if you’re reading Forget the Box, you probably get your fruit from farmer’s markets, “Good Food” boxes, overpriced épiceries, dépanneurs, or hell, any other store than a supermarket. So, you’ll probably be quick to chastise Loblaws that this particular brand of “responsibility” is about ten years too late.

Still, could it help our society, in some tiny way?

Let’s look at what we do know.

The Loblaws produce will come packaged under the label “Naturally Imperfect,” and will stand alongside its picture-perfect cousins, boasting near-equivalent taste. The brand will apply only to apples and potatoes at first, though others are said to be on the way.

Those deeply-discounted apples in the saran wrap (think pink 50% off sticker), will not be affected due to this change.

Rather, couched in packaging that hearkens back to their popular, 90s-era “Green” and “No Name” brands, the cut-rate, yellow-bagged produce will stand as its own brand, buffered by similar rhetoric that brought the latter to fame.

“If you were to grow produce in your backyard,” says Loblaws senior Director Dan Branson in the Financial Post, “there’s a lot that would grow that wouldn’t look as pretty as what you would see in a grocery store.”

He goes on, reminding us that even “Mother Nature doesn’t grow everything perfectly.”

You can almost feel the spirit of Arlene Zimmerman rising from this golden marketing-speak.

I imagine her leaping from her Dragon’s Den armchair, blemished McIntosh in hand, telling a would-be entrepeneur, “I’m in. Knotted, ugly vegetables are 100% on-trend.”

So while “Naturally Imperfect” promise a return to the mass market for tonnes of neglected apples and potatoes, it is also a new “product” in its own right.

The homely castaways seem expertly engineered to cash in on a portion of the market that—for some insane reason—other chains have been afraid to tap.

The product is already selling PR-wise. Loblaws’ official announcement last week was a runaway media success, with nearly every single mainstream news organizations picking up the press release—most funnelling it through largely untouched. Even hip restos got behind the announcement, sharing it in droves.

You have to wonder why an influential brand like Loblaws waited so long to cash in.

All hype aside, I truly do hope this will have some meaning.

Perhaps the trend will ripple through other chains.

Or, at the very least, perhaps a sheltered Canadian child might get to see what normal vegetables look like—possibly for the first time in their lives.

 

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Another year, another round of increasing challenges–and opportunities–when it comes to feeding the world. Closer to home, we can see many of our most salient national issues (healthcare, climate change, aboriginal rights) refracted through the eye of a handful of food questions.

Food is just that: a flashpoint around which all else swirls. Here are a few simple food questions to keep tabs on this year. As you’ll see, they speak volumes on wider issues we face from sea to sea.

Can school lunches stem an obesity epidemic?

Though five provinces already offer lunch (or breakfast) programs, Canada’s one of the last holdouts among industrialized nations when it comes to a fully fleshed-out national program. It’s not just a question of quelling hunger. Could a properly-designed school lunch program help stamp out childhood obesity, thus reducing affiliated diseases and quashing healthcare costs?

A coalition of food organizations seems to think so. The proposal for a national program will be a bumpy ride, however: getting all provinces–and politicians–to agree on details, not to mention the parliamentary maneuvering needed to pass something of such magnitude.

Finnish_school_lunch

However, the longer a potential fight, the more hastily one should get in the ring so as to not avoid eventual burnout… as we learned from our neighbours to the South.

It’s up to us. What do we want our elected officials to focus on? Prevention? Exercise? Mental health? Could something like this help the next generation of Canadians enjoy a healthier childhood and a longer life?

Read an interview about it in the Tyee.

Canada: world’s biggest tossers?

That’s not a character judgement. I’m talking about household waste. We allegedly threw out the most garbage in the world per capita in 2013. We continue to be one of the planet’s most egregious food wasters, squandering enough to feed a small country. Or maybe a large one.

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There’s also that pesky issue of the emissions caused by moving around so much wasted food. Oh, and the $31B we’re flushing down the drain. How stupid. And sad. And avoidable.

If we don’t begin to turn this around quickly, the economic and environmental impacts may well see us drowning in our own waste. On a more hopeful note, campaigns like UK’S “Love Food, Hate Waste” are coming to our soil this year, and programs like Second Harvest are helping to make a difference. More is needed however.

Beyond handy checklists, we need to lobby lagging local governments (such as Montréal) to adopt compost pickup or to punish supermarkets or large restaurant chains for the added strains they are putting on the system.

Yet, if the real problem is with chains, how can we really stop them wasting so much food? We can’t. However, they can only waste food if they have customers to produce it for. Avoiding the big chains in favour of farm boxes, other delivery schemes, growing food in community garden plots, etc. are tiny ways to stem the flow.

Can we solve food insecurity in the North?

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A chronic problem, it’s one about to grow in 2015. With the population of places such as Iqaluit growing quickly, an already-difficult situation is being compounded by one of the youngest populations in the country. Less and less people are hunting. Food prices continue to spike and food banks can barely keep up.

Parliament exploded with this issue late in 2014 (after the UN got involved in 2012), yet very little action can be deciphered. Let’s hope 2015 sees that happen.

Follow this column for writing on food issues (and hopeful initiatives!) both in Montréal and worldwide.

Images from the September 21 2014 Montreal Climate Change March by Gerry Lauzon

Thousands of Montrealers braved the rains yesterday to speak up about climate change. This was one of many demonstrations held around the world leading up to UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon’s World Climate Summit to be held in New York City.

FTB’s Gerry Lauzon was at the Montreal march and brings us these pictures

(CLICK THE FIRST IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY)

Climate Change March Montreal
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For over eight weeks, photographer Robert Van Waarden travelled from Hardisty Alberta to Saint-John New Brunswick in order to talk with and photograph residents living along the projected path of TransCanada’s EnergyEast pipeline. He has chronicled his many stops and is now in the process of curating his images and short films for an upcoming travelling exhibit that will revisit the communities he visited along the pipeline’s route.

While travelling the country by car, he has witnessed first-hand the generosity and hospitality of countless Canadians. Van Waarden has been able to discuss at length with those who will bear the brunt of the risk if ever the pipeline is built, and says that the main concerns residents have with the project is water safety, spills and climate change. These are legitimate concerns.  Gaspé is fighting Petrolia over regulations that would protect the town’s drinking water from harm caused by hydraulic fracturing while in Alberta, the lakes surrounding the oil sands are being polluted at an alarming rate.

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TransCanada’s EnergyEast pipeline is slated to cross the Nipigon River which flows into Lake Superior, the world’s largest fresh-water lake that millions of Canadians and Americans rely on for drinking water.  Van Waarden interviewed Keith Hobbs, mayor of Thunder Bay and Chair of the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities, an opponent of  the EnergyEast pipeline.   

Despite environmental concerns, some see the pipeline as a positive economic force that will create jobs and stimulate Canada’s economy. Some figures seem to back them up: in the last year, nine out of ten new jobs in Canada were created in Alberta, and while countries across the globe still struggle to reboot their economy, Canada’s export markets has become an engine of growth.

Some people are ready to take on the immediate environmental risk to their community (let alone the global reach of tar-sands pollution) for the promise of some direct or trickle-down economic gain. It’s unfortunate that people are being put in this situation and that the discussion is constrained to tar-sand jobs vs. no jobs when in fact, green energy initiatives have the potential to create even more jobs , stimulate technological innovation and sustainable growth with less risk for both people and the environment.

Van Waarden also met with First Nations people who have opened their homes and hearts and shared their experience among them Kanesetake Grand Chief Serge Simon who discussed his community’s oppositions to the pipeline.

Along the Pipeline | Serge Simon, Grand Chief Kanesatake, Quebec from Robert van Waarden on Vimeo.

If First Nations have often been sidelined when it comes to natural resources development and extraction, the recent Supreme Court decision in favour of the Tsilhqot’in in British Columbia will no doubt shake things up a bit. Van Waarden says that the “First Nations could stop this pipeline and that they are taking it seriously. From what I have seen and heard they are going to be a force to reckon with.”

“We live in a beautiful country and there is an incredible amount of land and people that would be impacted by this pipeline. There are many strong voices and opinions in this country and the common thread throughout is that Canadians and First Nations are questioning the direction we are headed. It has been an honour to listen to and photograph so many diverse individuals and communities”

For more images and video, please visit link http://alongthepipeline.com

robert van waarden along the pipeline

You may have heard of the controversies surrounding the Canada-US Keystone XL pipeline which would bring Alberta’s oil  all the way down to the Gulf Coast. The resistance to that project is fuelling the push to bypass the US and create a homegrown version, Trans Canada’s Energy East pipeline, whereby 1.1 million barrels a day of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil-sands would be pumped through 4600 kilometers of pipes; Canadian refineries in the east would then process it after which it will be exported abroad.

By allowing  this pipeline to pass through their lands, communities across the country will be supporting further development of Alberta’s oil-sands. Conversely Canadians, who may feel powerless against Alberta and our federal government’s pro-oilsands position, can now mobilize against the Energy East project and directly curb the expansion of the tar-sands.

robert van waarden serge simon

Joining his voice to the choir of activists is Canadian photographer Robert Van Waarden who is setting out on an eight-week Canada-wide journey to capture in words and on film the many faces of those who will live along the pipeline’s proposed route. For his Along the Pipeline project, Van Waarden will meet, discuss with, and photograph those who would shoulder the brunt of the risk associated with living in close proximity to the pipeline as well as those who may benefit from job opportunities it would create along the way (a claim challenged by major environmental groups).

We have all seen images of Alberta’s tar-sands intended to shock us into action and expose us to the reality of where the oil, that we all use on a daily basis, comes from. But these shock-and awe images are a double edged sword: we are simultaneously faced with the devastating environmental consequences of living in an oil-dependent society and dwarfed by the system that has consented to its destruction. The scale of the environmental degradation runs parallel to the economic and political power that allow the oil-sands to exist.

By focusing on the people directly affected by the pipeline, Van Waarden is seeking out “individuals working on change, pushing our world towards a more sustainable place [and whose] story is one of inspiration, empowerment and co-operation.” Since this mighty piece of privately-owned infrastructure will link people and communities on a national scale it seems worthwhile to understand what meanings this connection holds to those concerned. By humanizing those affected by the pipeline and highlighting the interconnectedness of the human experience,  the struggle becomes more relateable; as more pockets of resistance come to the surface, the challenge seems less herculean.

Forget The Box is pleased to follow Van Waarden as he travels across the country chronicling the stories of those affected by the Energy East pipeline. With preparations underway, Van Waarden is seeking help from the public to support his project though his indigogo crowdfunding initiative which comes to a close on April 6. Photographs and multimedia pieces will be published throughout his travels on his website and you can follow him via Twitter and Instagram.

robert van waarden bernard organic farmer

If VanWaarden is on a tight schedule, so too is TransCanada. They must file their project application by this summer, after which the National Energy Board has fifteen months to make a decision. Understandably, they are lobbying hard. Town meetings are sponsored all along the pipeline’s route to convince residents to not block their $12-billon project.

Here in Quebec, the Fédération québécoise des municipalités will gather its members in Drummondville on April 8 to discuss the impacts of the pipeline weighing envrionmental concerns with potential economic benefits. One look at the FQM meeting’s agenda and it becomes clear that TransCanada is targeting all political decision-makers and potential opponents with their lobbying efforts.

It’s not because we benefit from and are dependant on oil that we forfeit the right to object to the expansion of the oil-sands. Why do some people support the pipeline? What acts of resistance, large and small, are being carried out against it?

Through the medium of photography Van Waarden will contribute to the ongoing discussion and will capture not only what the Energy East project “means to this nation but what sort of community, country, and world we want to live in.”

Images courtesy of Robert Van Waarden. You can help make Along the Pipeline happen by donating to his crowdfunding campaign

 

 

PetroCultures (21)

This past Thursday and Friday, a wide range of accomplished doers and thinkers gathered for the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and the University of Alberta’s Petrocultures Conference. Presentations took many interesting turns, from Brenda Longfellows’ interactive documentary Offshore to Lynn Millers’ discussion of how to save oil-soaked birds. Most presenters focused on the current and future state of Canada’s energy-producing resources as well as on the cultural, social, political and economic implications of shifting toward a sustainable green economy.

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Tzeporah Berman, the former co-director of Greenpeace International’s Global Climate and Energy Program, Executive Director and Co-founder of PowerUp Canada and Co-founder and Campaign Director of ForestEthics

For some, technology was advanced as the solution. Cenovus Energy, one of Canada’s “green” oil  companies sees technological solutions remedying the array of problems plaguing their industry, from reducing air-born pollutants to minimizing the impact of drilling by using helicopters to access remote wells.

For others, technology is no panacea. Darin Barney, Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship at McGill instead sees politics as the arena where problems will be resolved. His talk focused on the prevailing discourse that  promotes oil-sands through a nationalist and especially a technological-nationalist discourse. Though this is viewed as a last resort strategy on the part of oil-advocates, appealing to nationalist sentiment nonetheless remains effective in quieting dissent and excluding alternative opinions by delegitimizing opponents as radicals and un-Canadian.

This nationalist veil also serves to mask the fact that, far from being a country-wide project benefiting all Canadians, it is the people who shoulder both the risks and costs while subsidies and profits flow directly into private coffers. Barney stated that while only 13% of oil reserves world-wide are privately owned, 51% of those are in Alberta.

Every year, oil industries benefit from over $1.4 billion in government subsidies. If you think this cash contributes to impressive job-creation stats you would be mistaken. Equiterre’s Steven Guilbeault stated that for every $1 million invested in the oil industry only 2 jobs are created, compared to 15 jobs in the green energy sector.

According to Tzeporah Berman, investing $1 million in any other sector yields more jobs than investing that same amount in Canada’s petroleum industry. Berman, a leading Canadian environmental activist, delivered one of the most memorable, informed and impassioned speeches reminding us that safety and health must trump the current trend of subsidies, production and pollution.  “We have a right to debate,” she said “and a right to the right debate.”

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Sun News’ Ezra Levant talking about “ethical oil” (image published over the objections of the author who thinks this man gets too much free publicity already)

Preceding Berman’s talk, Ezra Levant, our national court jester, appeared as his usual brash and boring self. While he was light on the reasoned argument front, he scored points nonetheless for giving the loudest speech (yet not loud enough to cover the audible derisive snickers from the audience). It was a wise decision on the part of the moderator to quash Levant’s question period; he was the only speaker to merit the distinction. Let’s give him another point for that too.

While Levant may have been the loudest, the students involved in Divest McGill were the most persistent. They came armed with relevant and hard-hitting questions, such as when Lily Schwarzbaum asked Gerald Butts, former President and CEO of WWF-Canada and current Trudeau advisor who also sits on McGill’s Board of Governors, why the university had not agreed to divest the $50 million it has invested in tar sands, fossil fuel and Quebec’s Plan Nord. He declined to answer, thus delivering a slap in the face to his fellow panellists and audience members who repeatedly called for more dialogue and openness throughout the conference.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking speech came from University of Alberta’s Imre Szeman who, echoing Mike Hulme’s Meet the Humanitiesadvocated for the inclusion of humanistic disciplines, the energy humanities, in discussing and solving the ongoing climate crisis. One of the main difficulties inherent in discussing pertrocultures is that we are all deeply imbedded in it; our daily lives are so dependant on energy that we have all become petro-subjects. Our identity and culture have developed in tandem with cheap available energy making it very difficult to untangle ourselves from that on which we have become so reliant. It has also made for easy targets; just think of when Al Gore was skewered because he would fly to speaking engagements.

The bright minds engaged in the energy humanities can help us conceptualize and move toward a viable “after-oil”  society that hard scientists, governments, and industries have been unable and unwilling to put forward. Part of the solution must involve the study of values, power, psychology, mobilities, meanings and institutions in order to finally get society to act on the mountain of facts about climate change it already possesses.

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Tenelle Starr ‘s controversial hoodie was one of the subjects discussed during Pretrocultures’ co-director, Sheena Wilson’s presentation

The Pertrocultures Conference may be perceived by some as a room full of white men, inherently conservative and exclusionary, and to some degree the accusation is warranted. Nonetheless, the conference brought together some of the smartest and most engaged players who both advocate for and act toward a cleaner and greener future. Hopefully new partnerships between allies were formed during this two-day event. Partnerships dedicated to bridging the chasm that currently exists between knowing and acting.

Perhaps the one line of thought all participants and attendees could agree on comes from Cenovus’ spokesperson: “The status quo is not acceptable.”

* photos by Jay Manafest, see the complete album on our Facebook Page