In defense of Canada’s environmental legislation.
Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself. ~Henry David Thoreau
May 18, 2012 at 10:00 AM (Environment, Health, Movement, Pollution, Water, Worldwide)
Tags: canada, conservatives, contaminants, environment, environmental protection, fisheries, global stewardship, petition, politics, pollution, protection, Science, water
My name is Naomi. I am Canadian. I worked for Environment Canada, our federal environmental department, for several years before our current Conservative leadership (under Stephen Harper) began decimating environmentalism in Canada. I, along with thousands and thousands of federal science employees lost any hope of future work. Their attitude towards the environment is ‘screw research that contradicts the economic growth, particularly of the oil sands’. They have openly and officially denigrated anyone that supports the environment and opposes big-money oil profit as ‘radicals’ (http://tinyurl.com/7wwf8dp).
Every day in Canada, new information about their vendetta on science and the environment becomes quietly public and keeps piling up. I have been privy to much first-hand information still because I retain friendships with my ex-colleagues (though my blood pressure hates me for it).
While I was working there, scientists were effectively muzzled from speaking to the media without prior confirmation with Harper’s media team (http://tinyurl.com/7bnsqp4) – usually denied, and when allowed, totally controlled. Scientists were threatened with job loss if they said anything in an interview that was not exactly what the media team had told them to say. This happened in 2008. The public didn’t find out for years.
During one of my contracts, I was manager of a large, public database set. Contact information for all database managers was available for anyone. I knew what was going on with the information and could answer questions immediately and personally. During this time, I noticed that the media team started asking me “What would I say” to certain questions. I answered unwittingly. After a certain period of time, I noticed that all contact information had been removed from the internet –eliminating the opportunity for a citizen to inquire directly about these public data sets without contacting the media team. The Conservatives effectively removed another board from the bridge between science and the public, and I had inadvertently helped.
Since then, the Conservative government has been laying off thousands and thousands of full-fledged scientific employees that have been performing research for decades at Environment Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Parks Canada (e.g. http://tinyurl.com/8xtkaro , http://tinyurl.com/7gvzc7r, http://tinyurl.com/clgn97u ), shutting down entire divisions and radically decimating environmental protection and stewardship in a matter of a couple years.
I am afraid for my country. Canada is the second largest land mass in the world – though our population is small, you can be sure that when a country that encompasses 7% of the world’s land mass, and has the largest coastline in the world says “screw it” to environmental protection, there will be massive global repercussions.
The Conservative leadership have admitted to shutting down environmental research groups on climate change because “they didn’t like the results” (http://tinyurl.com/7kpqk7d), are decimating the Species at Risk Act (our national equivalent of the IUCN Red list), are decimating habitat protection for fisheries, are getting rid of one of the most important water research facilities in the world (Experimental Lakes Area – has been operational since 1968, and allows for long-term ecosystem studies [http://tinyurl.com/cdygbdk] ), are getting rid of almost all scientists that study contaminants in the environment, have backed out of the Kyoto protocol – and the list goes on and on and on.
Entire divisions of scientific research are being eliminated. Our land, our animals, our plants, our environment are losing all the protection that has been building for decades – a contradictory stance to the rest of the world. (Please see their proposed omni-bill that basically tells the environment to go screw itself, while also being presented in an undemocratic fashion that limits debate on any of the 70+ changes [http://tinyurl.com/89ys2nf]).
David Schindler, a professor from the University of Alberta (and founder of ELA) quoted. “I think we have a government that considers science an inconvenience.”
I am writing this to implore every single person to please – look into this subject, and help us, help ourselves. Contact your MP, the Fisheries minister, Stephen Harper, anyone, everyone. I can’t sit by and just post rants on my Facebook page anymore. Share this letter, discuss, anything. Canada is an important nation environmentally, and our leadership doesn’t give a fig for science or the environment. But we do. This Conservative minority leadership was voted in on a thin string in the lowest voter election turnout in recent history, but thanks to our ridiculous voting laws, have 100% full power to do whatever they want. And in the name of short-term monetary oil profit, they have realized that progressive science and the environment are threats (obstacles) to their goals, and are doing so many things to eliminate both.
We are depressed, and frustrated, and mad, and need all the help we can get to protect the value of science and our environment. In the age of globalization, intentionally non-progressive leadership is going to affect everyone. We share our waters, air, and cycles with all of you. Science IS a candle in the dark, and we cannot let greed extinguish that flame. What happens in Canada – will happen everywhere.
A Canadian that cares about science and the environment
**Update (May 22, 2012). There has been a huge overwhelming response to this letter. Over 40,000 people have viewed it, with hundreds of comments. There are a lot of different organizations that want to be part of a larger movement. There are also quite a few scientists who may want to speak out, but still cannot. I encourage anyone who wants to contribute and organize, and may desire to do it more discreetly (ie: anonymous and or/not as a public comment), to email me at
email@example.com. Please let your colleagues know as well. I will never publish your information unless you want me to, and will be organizing interested parties somehow, so that we can effect greater change – for ourselves, our freedom, and our beautiful planet.
**Update (May 25, 2012). An excellent opinion piece by a DFO scientist on the axing of the pollution programs at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/opinion-mass-firing-of-canada2019s-ocean-scientists
March 26, 2012 at 5:09 PM (Environment, Health, Pollution, Toxic, Water, Worldwide)
Tags: Colorado River, drinking water, lakes, oceans, rivers, runoff, sanitation, streams, water, water conservation, water crisis, water health, water policy, water pollution, water usage
We need it, we like it, we are it. Water. It comprises over 70% of our bodies, and over 70% of the earth’s surface. H2O – two hydrogen atoms, one oxygen atom.
It is one of the most unique compounds in our known universe – the only one to have a solid that is lighter than its liquid form, it is the universal solvent, it is tasteless, odorless and invisible, etc.. It is both the environment life was likely born in, and the compound that all forms of life require to exist. It’s the refreshing liquid after exercise, the stunning architecture behind a snowflake, and the burning steam from the kettle. Every part of Earth and Earth’s history has been directly influenced and affected by this marvelous mystery of nature.
Well, where did water come from? No one actually knows. Our earth is 4.6 billion years old, and water appears in our earthly record at roughly 3.8 billion years ago, when the world was a fiery, chemical world with rocks just precipitating. The most common theory is that it formed from the gases released from the volcanoes that covered the world over. However, as water exists in many other places in the universe, as evidenced by meteors and other celestial bodies (Jupiter’s moon Celestia contains is covered by 160 km thick shell of frozen and liquid water – more than on all Earth!), so perhaps it arrived as a stowaway on the comets and asteroids that were constantly blasting the earth. While we can’t say for certain, we do know that the amount of water on earth has been the same throughout our geologic history. The best estimate is roughly 1.4 billion cubic kilometres of water, as projected by the Russian scientist Igor Shiklomanov. It’s not being created or destroyed, but just shifted around in varying compositions in a process known as the ‘hydrologic cycle’. The image below describes the beautiful cycle of water as it evaporates from oceans and plants, condenses in the air as clouds, falls back on earth, and is returned to the sea. There’s a myriad of offshoot processes, but that’s basically it. All rivers run to the sea, but all rivers are the sea, just at a further point in the cycle. And that’s the beauty of it. Our beautiful blue planet has this incredible system that desalinates, stores, and provides water in potable format to all living beings – free of charge.
Water is stored in many places: glaciers, lakes/rivers/streams, aquifers (natural underground storage chambers), permafrost, and the ground water (the water found deep underneath us in the earth, saturating the layers of rock). It’s all around us, abundant and plentiful. So what’s the problem? Why are many scientists projecting a bleak and scary future for water? If it’s the same amount, and always will be – que pasa?
The problem can be divided into three major issues: distribution, demand and pollution. I’ll discuss them in a 3 part series over the next week.
1) Distribution. Yes, there is water all over, and it is abundant and plentiful. But it is not distributed evenly across the planet. Some places (think Brazil, China, Russia, Canada) have more than enough water to meet local demands, even when they are outrageous. Other places (think the Sahara, southwestern USA, parts of Chile) are so dry they simply cannot meet local water demands. It’s not a simple case of uneven distribution either; even in water rich countries like China and Canada which have roughly the same amount of freshwater, we have to keep in mind China’s population has 1 billion more people than Canada. And in the case of the southwestern USA being heavily populated and demanding water, well that’s just not natural at all. They have basically irrigated a desert, and expect people to live there in the same hydrated comfort they do say, in the moist North Pacific.
So some places have a lot, and other places have little. The problem comes into play even moreso with water bodies that are shared by different nations, or worse – when the headwaters (where the water source is based) are in one country, and the outlet to the sea is in another. Think of the infamous, oft-ignored case of the Colorado River. For 6 million years, this powerful river poured forth from its birthplace in the Rocky Mountains, draining 2,250 kilometres south and west through deserts and canyons, lush wetlands, and into the Gulf of California in Mexico. In the 1920′s U.S. states began diverting water from it for irrigation, dams, and to support the booming populations of cities springing up in dry areas: Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego. In 1944, Mexico and the US came to an agreement about sharing multiple water bodies, including the Colorado, but since then the water quantity and quality (these waters are entering Mexico highly salinated after being irrigated in the US) has steadily declined – to the point that Mexican farmes are no longer able to grow their crops as before. Additionally, there’s even many inter-state conflicts in America itself over who gets how much water from the river. All the while, water levels all along the Colorado are sinking steadily, having severe ecological and anthropological health impacts. Even this superficial exploration of a single river demonstrates the complexity of distribution issues in regards to water. Who gets it? Who owns it? A consumption heavy nation with an incredibly large military and nonchalance for world resource consumption can certainly outweigh a smaller, poorer, less organized nation in water rights – but we all still need potable water to drink, sanitize, and grow food. Even when you have people like the Texas Commissioner Susan Combs who have made public outcries to just flat-out dam the Colorado and prevent any of the water from reaching Mexico over other water disputes, calling the natural flow of a river ‘giving’ Mexico water. Who’s going to monitor these situations for the greater good of the planet and the welfare of all?
**anecdote-based rant interjection** The Southwestern USA has to be one of the most wasteful regions of water I have ever been in. In high noon last year in June, I vividly recall dry, sandy cemeteries being watered by hoses pointed straight in the air, and ‘cooling’ water being sprayed outside of every shop – both evaporating almost instantly (not even mentioning Vegas and its pools and lawns). Yet they complain about droughts, and completely absorb all water that would naturally head for Mexico, depriving an entire region of their agriculture while wasting such a precious resource constantly and completely for…. nothing?
Now for the elephant in the room – global warming. Without entering the debate, IF global warming occurs at projected rates, then so will higher rates of evaporation. There will also be higher rates of melting in the snowcaps and glaciers, and we are already seeing this happen at both poles. We are also approaching a dangerous threshold where the icecaps may not be able to regenerate throughout the winter, and thus speed up the collapse of the polar ice caps.
What does this mean in the context of water usage? More than 2/3 of the available freshwater on earth is frozen. As this ice melts, it goes directly into the ocean, making less and less of it available for usage. It also encourages higher temperature, and thus higher rates of evaporation – again, making less of it available for usage. Not just for us, but for all other forms of life too.
There’s a final compounded problem that is the direct result of urbanization. Everywhere humans go, we love ease of transport. This first translated into dirt roads, then gravel, now paved. Paved sidwalks, roads, parking lots, houses. Less grass, plants, trees, and other absorbing features of the earth. When the rain falls, instead of sating the earth, saturating the soil, and percolating downards to replenesh the ground water to come out potable elsewhere (a very important sustainable source of water), it now directly runs off the pavement and often directly into other water sources or the ocean, where it is lost into the system that takes a longer time to regenerate the same amount.
This problem leads us into the next part on demand. With a growing world population and growing demands on water, all the ecological issues that the previous populations have led us to are becoming magnified and compounded. So, feel free to leave comments, opinions, and discuss this topic, while I work steadily on the next one. And don’t forget to suscribe!
*Much of this information was taken from the excellent text “Water – The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource” by Marq de Villiers, as well as a host of other awesome internet resources.
And it’s unifying! Last year I spent Earth Hour at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. While it was a rather dismal turning off of the lights there, there was a huge gathering and a buzz in the air. The WWF tents were swamped, and all the tourists milling about were there for a different reason – unity! Standing together for something positive. Even though I barely spoke Italian, I could understand the excitement of joining together with other people for something besides self-indulgence. How can you not embrace the collective energy of hundreds of millions of people performing a positive act together? A couple years before that I was in a restaurant in Toronto, and had completely forgotten. The owner came around and asked everyone’s permissions to turn off the lights, and before you knew it, a standard dinner date had turned into an amazing and memorable candlelit evening!
There are NO boundaries in Earth Hour – no country lines, no religious boundaries, no political divisions. We all stand together for a sweeping hour in the name of OUR planet. The one we all share. The one we all have a duty to protect from our own damaging practices.
So try it out. Join thousands of cities, and hundreds of millions of people and today (March 26th) at 8:30 PM , turn off your lights for an hour (or more!) Have a romantic candlelit dinner. Walk out to a park and look at the brilliant array of stars. Play Scrabble on the living room floor with your children and candles. Just lay down and feel the lack of constant electrical buzzing. Go to a famous landmark! Sign up at (www.earthhour.org) and commit to stand together with so many people. Spread the word to your family and friends!
And then beyond that. Try making sure all the lights are off when you leave the house. Turn the lights off when you leave a room. Turn your computers off at night. Have everything plugged into a power surge bar, and just turn that off when you leave. So much electricity is wasted daily by appliances left plugged in (up to 10%), and that takes both time, money, and resources to power. You’ll save money and reduce your environmental footprint. Let’s start to think for ourselves: for our big, beautiful planet that we all share.
It’s not too late. And every act counts. And together – we can make a difference.
Sorry for being so sparse between entries folks. I was traveling around Europe for 6 months, and have meandered my way into the US after stopping in Canada. I was thoroughly lost in learning about and admiring the beauty of Europe and the Mediterranean, especially in terms of food. What I’m writing about next is a five-part series on the modern food system in the West, what exactly is wrong with it, and why a major change in the way we eat is in order.
Part 1: So Far Gone
Part 2: Meet your Meat
Part 3: Fruits & Veggies
Part 4: Dairy and Dispersal.
Part 5: The Return Home.
Part 1 – So Far Gone
In order to offset some of the heavy fees levied on travelers these days, I was working in Europe primarily through an international movement called WWOOF (www.wwoof.org). The acronym stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms – largely self-explanatory. Those interested work on a chosen farm in exchange for room, board, and the opportunity to learn organic farming practices. The farms themselves vary from single-product farms, to family dwellings or agritourism. As with anything, it has its obvious flaws and difficulties, but is overall an amazing way to both travel and learn about new cultures, farming practices, and natural eating.
I confess my primary expectation was for the hosts to be truly dedicated to the North American concept of ‘organic’, i.e. heavily involved in vague certifications with cute symbols. To my astonishment and admiration, organic in Europe simply meant common sense. Grow your own food in the garden without spraying or pesticides. Watch after your own animals. Share what you grow with your neighbor that doesn’t grow the same produce, and vice versa. No tactics employed by massive corporations attempting to keep our dollars while pretending to be environmentally friendly.
Now, I will grant that I spent a large portion of time working in Spain and Italy, both with climates favourable to food production, but the European’s unassuming premise of primarily self-sustainment in regards to food struck a chord within me, and food has become extremely important to me over the past year.
Really, why should organic eating be anything but common sense? Why do we accept that all our food products are mass produced, processed, bleached, genetically modified, sprayed with dangerous chemicals and arrive in neat, dyed packages? It’s bizarre that we even have a term to describe what should be the ONLY way we eat food.
When I was 15, I took my first voyage abroad to Trinidad. My family lived fairly rurally, and the first thing that hit me was that I had to walk to the water for well. It seems funny almost to write it as a Westerner, but it still is a reality for most people – taps and immediate hot water aren’t everywhere – and surprisingly water doesn’t magically spurt from beneath your house. There is a massive system and business involved in bringing the water to your house (another topic altogether).
Anyways, one particularly sweltering tropical evening, my aunt sent me to fetch chicken. I followed the directions she gave me, and ended up at a small barn with a large yard, staring in confusion. Where were the spotless pink chicken breasts, softly lain on a white wax backing, encased in a beaming yellow styrofoam tray, and vacuum sealed with glassy plastic in the large sterile refrigerated aisle? All I saw were a hundred chickens, several large machetes, a bloody table, and some sort of boiling kettle. After getting over my initial shock, I pointed mutely in the yard when the heavily-accented man asked what I wanted. I then watched the chicken that had been in the general vicinity of my fingers aim have its neck snapped, boiled, plucked, cut and wrapped up, I was headed back to my aunts with a still-warm package of what had 10 minutes ago been a squawking chicken.
That was my first wake-up call as to what food actually was. I felt a bit guilty about it being killed, but realistically I had been eating chicken my entire life and had no idea what a real chicken even looked like. I had no clue what the food in the supermarket went through before it got there. I remember growing a bean in a paper towel in first grade, but apart from that, food had never been touched on in our school education. My mother was one of the healthiest parents (I was the kid with the whole wheat sandwich and carrot sticks, not the Wonderbread PB&J with a bag of Dorito’s), but even then, it’s difficult to teach your children in a city about maintaining cows and how to create a market garden to feed your family. The entire system of food production in the West is a maniacal business that generates billions of dollars yearly, both in disgustingly chemically-saturated junk, and in health care issues when people end up in the hospital as a result of eating poor.
In addition to generally having no idea what our food is, we also don’t really care where it comes from. I started playing the “How many countries” game when I eat – how many countries in the world contributed to the food on your plate?, and it daily amazes me. Bananas from Mexico, rice from Thailand, pasta from Italy, kiwis from New Zealand. The pollution involved in long-range transport is almost as bad as the factory pollution involved in mass production. What happened to the days when only the kings and queens could afford food that had sailed across the planet to reach their plate? It may be elitist, but it’s sure of a hell lot better for the environment than the constant international shipping that goes to serve the western middle classes on now.
Just for fun – why don’t you think about the food on your plate at least once today. Where did it come from? How did it live? How many chemicals are in? How many hormones has it been dosed with? Am I eating bleach? Was this animal covered in shit for most of its life? Could it even walk or breath without gasping? What sort of cancers do people commonly get from eating the preservatives found in this food? How many illegal workers were underpaid and abused for it to get here? How many farmers were exploited? Is the money I paid for this going to the person that sweat 12 hours a day to grow it, or to pay for that 16 year old son of the corporate owner of Tyson to get a new BMW to replace the one he crashed last month because his dad was far more focused on how to exploit and poison more people than on spending time with his son?
As a side note, I am not really going to be getting too heavily into fast food. I believe Eric Schlosser does an amazing job covering the history and problems of this industry in his book Fast Food Nation, for those who are interested.
Next week: Meet your Meat