I blog about environmental and social justice issues because I am very concerned about the health of the interdependent web of life of which we are a part.

Melting Arctic ice.......beautiful and frightening!

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More Gloom - But From Jeffrey Sachs this Time

Jeffrey Sachs spoke at the University of Toronto.
Something very dramatic is happening,” he warned a rapt audience. “We’ve entered a new global scenario with respect to food, hunger and conflict … an era where things are likely to get tougher, not easier, in terms of production,” he said. “We’re hitting boundaries that are very important to understand and very important to counteract.”  Chief among those is the fact that global demand for food – and the agricultural commodities used to produce it – is outpacing the growth of supplies. The onset of climate change, which affects everything from the water supply to crop yields, is a ballooning wedge that will continue to force those trend lines in opposite directions, Dr. Sachs said.

And from the March 25, 2011 edition of the Economist:
Peak, rather than average, temperatures are what matter most to maize. Days above 30 degrees C are particualrly damaging. In otherwise normal conditons, every day the temperature is over this threshold dimishes yields by at least 1 5. Moreover, days where the ttemperature exceeds 32 degrees C do twice the harm of those at 31 degrees C. And during a drought, things are worse still.   page 91
What does this mean?  It looks like climate change has an viscious effect on crop failure: the hotter it gets the less food we get  - on an exponential scale.  It's going to be tougher to produce enough food to feed all of humanity.  That's you and me, folks.  Oh we won't starve in the rich countires.  Our food will be very expensive, that's all.

But what can we DO?  Well, there is a federal election looming on the horizon.  Educate your friends.  Go to candidate forums and ask questions.  Write letters to the editor.  Email leaders of the parties.  Vote strategically.  Tell everyone you want Canada to live up to its promises regarding money for small holders. 
We've been failing badly on keeping our promises as Dr Sachs points out.

Dr. Sachs is particularly incensed by the failure of G8 countries to come through on a $22-billion pledge made in 2008 to establish a World Bank fund to help smallholder farmers. Improving the livelihoods and farming practices of smallholders across a host of poor countries is seen by many economists as a critical approach to tackling hunger.Dr. Sachs said G8 countries are guilty of merely feigning support.  “The G8 lied. It made the promise but didn’t follow through,” Dr. Sachs said. “Your Mr. [Stephen] Harper is so big on accountability, but there is no accountability whatsoever and there is no money in the bank.”   Although Canada is a small country. Dr. Sachs said Canada bears a share of the responsibility for the fact that wars are getting more investment than agriculture, the boosting of which is a well-known ground stone of development.
Kick up a fuss!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In the Opinion of the Writer

My neighbours are up in arms and furious with the City of Kamloops. Why?

The City is proposing to rezone six properties within the city as affordable housing. If you haven't heard about this, I've provided a link to an article in the Kamloops Daily News below.

The City is holding a public hearing on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm at Kamloops Convention Centre, Ballroom "C" (1250 Rogers Way) on this issue.

One of the lots proposed for rezoning is in my neighbourhood. My acquaintances say publicly that many people use this site, 697 Cowan, as a recreational area. Well - maybe. I've never seen anyone use it as anything but an area to walk their dogs - and judging from my shoes, leave their dog's shit in.

However, I have been told privately, and most emphatically, that social housing for low income people drives down property values and drives up crime. And that surely I don't want "those " people living in my neighbourhood!

Firstly, crime rates do not increase in the areas where social housing is built. That is a myth - an outworn, hoary, fallacious myth.
Affordable housing can help a community maintain a stable population by making it easier to retain people who already live and work there. In fact, a Denver study shows that "…there was no statistically significant evidence that supportive housing development led to increased rates of reported violent, property, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct or total crimes. These findings were equally true of supportive housing for perceived "dangerous clientele" ex-offenders, people with mental illness and recovering substance abusers." Source: "Impact of supportive housing on local crime rates" - HUD, Urban Institute, Wayne State University - 2002 http://www.cagh.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=30&Itemid=84

Neither do property values decrease.

 Studies have shown that housing developments which are well-designed do not have a negative effect on neighbouring property values. In fact, some developments may actually increase property values." (Source: "Impact of Non-Market Housing on Property Values" - BC Government - Feb. 2000 -http://www.housing.gov.bc.ca/housing/00_Jan_PropVal.http://www.cagh.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=30&Itemid=84

So , actually, I do want "those " people living in my neighbourhood. They will not have a negative impact on my neighbourhood in any way. They will probably enrich it - by open-midedness if nothing else.  And most importantly, I want an equitable and just society where the inherent worth and dignity of every person is recognized. I want everyone to have a home. And, most fervently,  I wish my neighbours would start seeing through the eyes of loving kindness rather than fear. If you support this rezoning project, please send the mayor and council an email telling them so. Better yet, go to the rezoning hearing and tell them in person.  I've listed email addresses below for your convenience.










Sunday, March 13, 2011

More Good News on Food

Low-input farming projects, not reliant on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, have brought significant increases in food production in Africa, south-east Asia and South America, according to a UN report.  Small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in Africa by using ecological methods rather than chemical fertilisers. In a review of agroecological farming projects, which focus on a minimal use of external inputs, like chemical fertilisers, in favour of controlling pests and disease with natural predators, mixed crop and livestock management and agroforestry (interplanting of trees and crops), the report found average increases in crop yield of 80 per cent in 57 less-industrialised countries. In Africa the average increase was 116 per cent....  Conventional farming relies on expensive inputs, degrades soils, fuels climate change and is not resilient to climatic shocks. It simply is not the best choice anymore today.  Schutter said in the long run agroecological farming would build long-term resilience for countries and make them less reliant on expensive imports based on oil and gas, chemicals and pesticides.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Like to Eat?

If you like to eat, we best do something about our 'lifestyle" in North America.
The UN on Thursday expressed alarm at a huge decline in bee colonies under a multiple onslaught of pests and pollution, urging an international effort to save the pollinators that are vital for food crops. Much of the decline, ranging up to 85 percent in some areas, is taking place in the industrialised northern hemisphere due to more than a dozen factors, according to a report by the UN's environmental agency. They include pesticides, air pollution, a lethal pinhead-sized parasite that only affects bee species in the northern hemisphere, mismanagement of the countryside, the loss of flowering plants and a decline in beekeepers in Europe.  "The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century," said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.  "The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees," he added.
Remember my post on the fertile soils (terra preta)  created by First Nations people in the Amazon?  The same soils that have maintained their fertility for  hundreds of years without fertilizers made from oil while being fantastically productive?  We could create the same kind of soils in Canada. and farm and garden organically.   Then, perhaps we wouldn't destory the ecosystems upon which we depend.  Our survival will be measured and secured by these kinds of step - seemingly small, labour intensive, steps that one can take ina community garden.

"But in a sense they are an indicator of the wider changes that are happening in the countryside but also urban environments, in terms of whether nature can continue to provide the services as it has been doing for thousands or millions of years in the face of acute environmental change," he added.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Climate Change is Really Happening - and Really a Problem

What makes me think climate change is a real problem?  Besides those people with the funny degrees in climatology, that is. 

Well, climate change keeps getting mentioned in all kinds of places by all kinds of people as a serious problem.

From The Economist a surprising admission:
It is healthy ....to recognise that even in an age of high technology, our propserity and well-being depend upon our natural environment, which furnishes us with air, water, food and teh natural resources on which indutry relies.
In other word, the economy is a subset of the environment - not the other way around.

Then there was the entire issue they dedicated to climate change back in the spring of 2010.  The article concluded:
The doubters are right that uncertainties are rife in climate science.  They are wrong when they presen that as a reason for inaction.
The US Navy seems to be worrying its head about climate change as well.
"Even the most moderate predicted trends in climate change will present new national security challenges for the US navy, marine corps, and coastguard," said Frank Bowman, a retired US navy admiral and co-chair of the committee that produced the report....The report, four years in the making, reflects growing concern in US military and strategic circles about the security implications of climate change.  In addition to the looming security challenges in the Arctic, the report warned that $100bn in navy installations were at risk from rising sea levels.
Insurance companies are fretting about climate change too.
In 1990, when the first report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out, Swiss Re decided that sea-level rise, desertification, and other risks of climate change are real. If the company failed to take them into account, it risked losing money. Now, Swiss Re is in the vanguard of companies and organizations that are raising the alarm about climate change. Last year, it released a detailed scientific rebuttal of the arguments climate skeptics make against anthropogenic warming.

So why isn't the Canadian federal government instituting carbon rationing? The public doesn't want them to, that's why.   That's right - you and me - we're the problem.  We think climate change doesn't affect us  - and maybe we don't worry a lot aobut our kids or grandkids.

Well - we're wrong about not being hurt by climate change.
Extreme rainstorms and snowfalls have grown substantially stronger, two studies suggest, with scientists for the first time finding the telltale fingerprints of man-made global warming on downpours that often cause deadly flooding. Two studies in Wednesday's issue of the journal Nature link heavy rains to increases in greenhouse gases more than ever before.Both studies should weaken the argument that climate change is a “victimless crime,” said Myles Allen of the University of Oxford. He co-authored the second study, which connected flooding and climate change in Britain. “Extreme weather is what actually hurts people.”

Maybe you and me should write to the Prime Minister and instruct him to take some significant steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Vandana Shiva and Climate Debt

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

From Al Jazeera

Remember those floods and droughts in  2010?  Wildfires around Moscow?  Flooding in Pakistan and Oz?  So does this writer from Al Jazeera.
2010 proved to be a model year for what the planet can expect as the result of climate change. Huge floods occurred in Pakistan, Australia, and California. A record-breaking heat wave in Russia, and the severe die-offs of coral reefs underscored the acceleration of the global trends in Climate Change. Last year was also the 34th consecutive year that global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average, and nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 due to what scientists attribute to a 40 per cent increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution began....On February 16 two new studies published in the journal Nature confirmed the link between climate change and more extreme precipitation events. Based on measurements taken from over 6,000 weather stations, results revealed that human-induced heating of the planet has already made rainfall more intense, which has led to more severe floods.  The studies suggest that the planet's climatic system may well be more sensitive to small temperature increases than was previously believed....Warmer atmospheric temperatures means increasing moisture in the air, and thus greater amounts in precipitation events.
But isn't this nasty winter proof that the climate isn't warming?  In a word, no.

The current string of harsh winters around much of the globe for the last decade is also attributed to climate change, according to scientists who published a report in December.

"Recent severe winters [in Europe] like last year’s or the one of 2005-2006 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it," Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study and a physicist at the Potsdam Institute reported.


We're going to have wilder, more extreme weather events as cliame change continues.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dangerous Stuff

The following comment was  made on Thompson Environmental Network about an educational project in an elementary school:
This sounds like deliberate indoctrination to me. How dare they recruit children for their political purposes in this shameless manner! Let it not be forgotten that there is not a shred of convincing evidence, nor even convincing theory, that the recent and projected growth of CO2 levels in the atmosphere is driving climate in any alarming manner. The idea of CO2 as a major driver of climate is not supported by the geological record over many hundreds of thousands of years (in which CO2 levels follow temperature changes, and do not precede them), nor by recent data which shows the climate displaying 'business as usual'. http://thompsonenvironmental.net/2011/03/climate-change-heroes/

The above commenter obviously has made a hither-to unheard of breakthrough in climatology.  I assume he is one of George Monbiot's astroturfers: a commenter paid to troll the internet and deny that climate change is occurring. I look forward to reading his PhD thesis on the subject as his statement is unsupported by 99 % of climatologists. All the evidence I have found indicates that manmade global warming, or climate change is happening right now - and is a serious problem. Many lines of evidence demonstrate this. From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site:

Based on comprehensive data from multiple sources, the report defines 10 measurable planet-wide features used to gauge global temperature changes. The relative movement of each of these indicators proves consistent with a warming world. Seven indicators are rising: air temperature over land, sea-surface temperature, air temperature over oceans, sea level, ocean heat, humidity and tropospheric temperature in the “active-weather” layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface. Three indicators are declining: Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere.
Check it our for yourself at

Why do climate change deniers live in denial of a very serious problem that requires action immediately? The World Bank pondered the same subject. In May 2009, Kari Marie Norgaard published a working paper for The World Bank entitled Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change. Find the araticle at:

She found that public awareness and concern regarding climate change is not a function of scientific information alone, but psychological and sociological issues as well. Moreover, people ACTUALLY WORK TO AVOID ACKNOWLEDGING DISTURBING INFORMATION in order to avoid emotions of fear, guilt and helplessness. Mr. Commenter, you seem to be working hard at avoiding confronting the biggest, most serious problem facing us: global warming.

But, Mr Commenter, you need not cope with your terror and discomfort with denial. Hope exists: it IS POSSIBLE to solve this problem as the City of Portland has demonstrated. That city has reduced greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels without any support from the federal government of the USA.

Hope is what the BCSEA and the City of Kamloops are giving children. Hope and the knowledge that actions matter. Dangerous stuff , indeed!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More Terra Preta

Terra Preta

Perhaps 100 million people lived in the Americas before Columbus and before contact. What on earth were all those people doing? In the Amazon, they created soil. Soil in the Amazon is typically orange bauxite - incapable of supporting crops - terrible stuff if you are a farmer silly enough to clear the land. (The nutrients in a rain forest are held in the vegetation.) Some anomalies exist though - large patches of something called terra preta show up where indigenous populations had their cities. Those black soils are prized by farmers as they are highly productive. When archaeologists analysed terra preta they discovered it is full of pre-Columbian ceramics, charcoal, and lots and lots of microbes. In other words, terra preta was created hundreds of years ago - and has maintained its productivity over that huge length of time.

This is good news. For one thing, we can learn from "los indios" how to create soil instead of destroying it. (Agribiz tends to "mine" soil and therefore destroy it.)  Secondly, bio char soils sequester carbon.

The charcoal, acting a lot like humus, had been colonized by myriad microbes, fungi, earthworms, and other creatures; these soil organisms produced carbon-based molecules that stuck to the charcoal, gradually increasing the soil's carbon content. ... Crops have been shown to grow 45 per cent greater biomass on unfertilized terra preta soil versus poor soil fertilized with chemical fertilizers. Page 70, Organic Gardening, Dec/Jan 2011
So if we create bio char from organic waste that goes to landfills now, we help sequester carbon while we farm organically and increase crop yields.  A triple win!  And a solution to one of the problems created by peak oil.  Chemical fertilizers are made from oil - and now we don't need them!