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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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Get Used to Wildfires

It's not even the first day of summer yet, and already the number of fires in 2012 compared to last year has more than doubled, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

American Southwest:

"An Arizona wildfire whipped up by winds and dry conditions threatened to trigger more evacuations on Sunday, just as firefighters were nearly done battling the biggest of four blazes in the state.
Fires in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado have forced the evacuation of several small towns and torched more than 65 square miles (168 square km) of forest, brush and grass in the U.S. Southwest."


"UPDATE at 9:59 p.m. PDT, May 17, 2012
After CAL FIRE said the spread had been stopped in the afternoon, strong winds caused the fire to escape containment and at about 7 p.m. PDT the US Forest Service sent seven engines, a water tender, and misc. staff to the fire. At 8 p.m. CAL FIRE said the fire on the U.S. side of the border had grown to 100 acres and was10% contained."


A wildfire on the hills near this oceanside city was only 10 percent contained on Thursday, and firefighters struggled to pen in the flames, which had destroyed 75 houses since they began on Tuesday.

We better get used to wildfires we cannot control.


"Slave Lake is not a one-off. We're going to see more communities at risk in the future, whether it's Quebec or Ontario or Manitoba or BC," says Mike Flannigan, a professor with the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta. "We've seen the fires in Kamloops and Kelowna back in 2003 and now 2011 in Slave Lake."  Those fires moved with a speed and intensity that caught firefighters off guard and proved impossible to contain. They were cousins to the so-called "mega-fires" that tore through Australia in 2009 and Russia in 2010, devastating huge regions and killing or injuring hundreds of people.

The trends of climate change are disturbingly consistent: the atmosphere is warming, the climate is changing and we are largely responsible though our burning of fossil fuels. Scientists say as the climate warms we'll experience more extreme weather events, leading not only to droughts and forest fires but to floods. Fire and flood are two of the apparent oxymoronic scourges related to climate change; Slave Lake was the unfortunate victim of both last year.

"This is only going to continue," says Flannigan. "I would argue that it's one of the first early signs that climate change is happening.""

Perhaps someone should inform the Right Honorable Stephen Harper.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What Privilege Looks Like In Everyday Life

If you have privilege, you can: 
Leave someone  who is  poor and disabled and  to whom you promised a ride  standing on the sidewalk for fifteen minutes while you rush into a family member's  house.  Suddenly,  you remember you were going to take them home.   Whoopsie!  Sucks to be them!  

Refuse to give someone who is on welfare and who is moving to another city  a reference  because their housekeeping isn't up to your standards.    Not that you ever do any housekeeping.......your maid does.  And the person who is moving has been very, very ill - but gee  - their apartment was messy.  Who'd want to rent to them?  
Tell a woman that your grandmother was a strong yet feminine woman and all women should match that standard.    Shrillness isn't necessary!    After all, you get to decide how all women should behave .....
Try to keep the poor and marginalized and old out of your neighbourhood.   Lie about your motives.  After all, this is Little Rhodesia and standards must be maintained!

Kiss your date on the lips ANYWHERE in this country  without ever, EVER worrying that doing so might attract nasty comments or even be dangerous.   

Signal in lots of different ways that people of colour are not welcome in your neighbourhood - including turning your head when you're greeted.  After all, this is Little Rhodesia and standards must be maintained!  

Have a cupboard full of food.  Stare astonished, at a little girl who says "This must be a RICH household! My mom never has enough money to buy extra food.  Sometimes we have nothing to eat but rice! "   (The little girl's mother lives on welfare.)  Explain you're not rich - no, no, not at all.   

Make comments about how First Nations should be PAST all that stuff about residential schools, shouldn't they?  Call First Nations people "Indians." 
Snap loudly and mean it " Who cares about what happens to those Africans and Pakis because of climate change?"

I've witnessed all of the above - or done them myself.

It's great having privilege, isn't it?  We who have it get to set the rules......

Affordable Housing

A presentation I made to City Council on rezonings in my neighbourhood and around the city.
Your Worship, City Councillors, ladies and gentlemen:

 I live in the City and  I am here to support all six rezonings - in particular - the two in my neighbourhood. 
Sadly, some  of my neighbours have, in private, expressed concerns that social housing increases crime rates and decreases property values.  They also siad that they didn't want "those people" in the area. My neighbours are completely  wrong about crime rates and property values - and I'm not sure who "those people" are.  Low income folks?  Single mothers?   Seniors?  
Affordable housing does not increase crime rates.  Many studies have demonstrated this fact. And to be sure that Kamloops is no different, I telephoned the RCMP.   While the crime prevention unit was too busy to provide me with a written report,  Constable George Buttles confirmed that crime rates have not increased in the vicinity of social housing units already in the City.

Neither do property values decrease.  Think about it - if lots in your neighbourhood are zoned for multi-family units, your lot just went up in value!  Furthermore, apartment buildings already exist in my area..  I haven't noticed property values tumbling due to those apartments.   Why would affordable housing be any different?

In fact, affordable housing benefits the whole city.   I'm sure construction firms and trades people will be grateful for the work in building those units.  The spin off from the  wages paid to employees will  certainly benefit the economy of Kamloops.

Secondly, increasing density is environmentally friendly - and is in accordance with our sustainability plan.   Another reason to go ahead with these rezonings.

Thirdly, experts on the social determinants of health state that reducing income inequality by providing supports to the lower end of the income scale benefits EVERYONE in society.  I've only got five minutes - if you wish to check up on this last statement, please read The Spirit Level:  Why More Equal Societies Almost always do Better by Wilkinson and Pickett.

Now to specifics re the Cooper street property.  I live in the neighbourhood and have never seen anyone using that property for anything but walking their dog. (Folks tend to play on the school fields which are green and mowed.)   Even if I missed people playing ball hockey, whose needs are more important? Ball hockey players ? or 16 families needing an affordable place to live?

I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person - including those who need affordable housing.   Therefore , I urge the councillors to vote in favour of these rezonings .  I also thank you for giving me and everyone else the opportunity to express our views.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Racism and White Privilege

Everyone - everyone who's Canadian, that is -  knows those nasty Americans are racist.  It's one of the  articles of faith we Canadians subscribe to. Moreover,  this knowledge braces up, reinforces, and shores up our feeling of superiority to  Americans.   
After all, look at how they treat Afro-Americans. True, they don't call them niggers anymore. But look at their incarceration rates! 
From Human Rights Watch:
Incarceration of Blacks

· In twelve states, between 10 and 15 percent of adult black men are incarcerated.

· In ten states, between 5 and 10 percent of black adults are incarcerated.

· In twelve states, black men are incarcerated at rates between twelve and sixteen times greater than those of white men.

· In fifteen states, black women are incarcerated at rates between ten and thirty-five times greater than those of white women.
And from :


Blacks make up 12% or so of the total U.S. population and  represent more than 40% of inmates:

U.S. population by race and then Us inmates by race:

Tsk,tsk.  Plainly racist, right?  Not like us, right?  We're a tolerant, accepting lot, right?
From Prisonjustice at (Stats are all 2005/6, unless stated otherwise. Updated Aug 2008:
Aboriginal Adults (2005-2006)
  • 4% of the total canadian adult population - (2006 Census)
  • 24% of admissions to provincial/territorial sentenced custody
  • 18% of admissions to federal prisons
  • 19% of admissions to remand
  • 21% of male prisoner population
  • 30% of female prisoner population
Gee, those stats look nastily familiar.  
But  that's all about criminals!    We don't see that out in the "normal" population! We don't ,do we? We're not racist!  That's not what research shows.
"As part of his research, Oreopoulos tailored 6,000 mock resumes to specific job requirements in 20 occupational categories and sent them to employers with online job postings in the Greater Toronto area.  Each resume listed a bachelor’s degree and up to six years of experience but the study found resumes with names like Jill Wilson or John Martin received interview callbacks 40 per cent more often than identical resumes with names like Sana Khan or Lei Li.
Oreopoulos said the findings help to explain why skilled immigrants arriving under Canada’s point system – with university degrees and significant work experience – fare poorly in today’s labour market. I wasn’t expecting the gap by name alone to be so large,” he said. “It defined as much of a gap as another study found between blacks and whites in the U.S.”"
Perhaps it isn't surprising that our institutions are racist - even a Unitarian  Universalist fellowship is racist. After all, no white person in North America has lived in a non-racist society - not even we morally superior Canadians.
What to do?
Examine our privilege and admit we benefit from a system that privileges whites. 
"Racism will only end when a significant number of white people of conscience, the people who can wield systemic privilege and power with integrity, find the will and take the  action to dismantle it. "
Not only is racism unjust, eliminating it is important for reasons of self interest - which I'll examine in a future post.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

US National Security and Climate Change

2010 Defense Department review cut through political rhetoric and stated that climate change and energy security are “prominent military vulnerabilities”. Climate change in particular is an “accelerant of instability and conflict,” the report noted.

Connecting the military's fossil-fuel and overall energy use with risks to our national security hasn't been easy in this political environment, especially with the presidential election looming. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly questioned and criticized the Armed Forces' new-energy strategies, portraying initiatives as political favors to clean-energy businesses.  But current and retired military leaders insist the policies are essential. The efforts protect soldiers and help them carry out missions. They also help curb climate change and its potential to intensify military conflicts.

So - arguments arise from this with which to sway conservatives. (Backward ran the sentences until the head reeled!)

Don't you want to protect Canada's interests?   Do you want the Americans and their military to be ahead of  us  - again?  Why isn't the Right Honorable Stephen Harper doing something to protect Canada's long term interests by reducing our carbon emissions when the US military is? The US military isn't exactly a group of pinkos, yah know! 

Monday, May 14, 2012

As Goes the Planet

So go we ..........as we destroy and hack and kill and  mutilate and overfish entire ecosystems and life ....we're destroying and hacking and mutilating and killing ourselves.

I found this drawing at:

We need a velvet climate revolution.  We need to love ourselves - then we'd love the world, our mother.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

White Privilege Cartoon

You're not automatically a suspect in a crime if you're white.  If you're white, any "bad" behaviour you indulge in won't be used to make generalizations about your race. 

I found this cartoon at
It's a cartoon drawn by Keith Knight.

Interestingly, one of the commenters on the post at the above website said:

I must say that in a situation like this it has never occurred to me to think “Please don’t let it be a white guy.” I’m not sure why he has the white guy reacting as he does in this cartoon, though.

The comment illustrates, beautifully, how unconscious we are of our white privilege.

Franke James

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I'm naive.  And cranky.  And touchy.  A naive, cranky, touchy  bisexual cis  Unitarian. (If you don't know what cis means, look it up.  Told you I was cranky! )  
I fell in love with a Unitarian Universalist congregation the second Sunday in September 2008.   I remember the date - exactly - because a friend dragged me there against my will - me whining that I didn't want to go to church - and  I found the service and the hymn book so incredibly wonderfully amazingly shatteringly fantastic I fell in love with an audible fleshy thump . 
Nothing in life is permanent though...I noticed a few racist remarks and pushed them out of my consciousness.   Later someone commented they thought homosexuality was a sickness and would , therefore, be curable someday.  That one was harder to push into unconsciousness.  Others disliked the part of the welcome that stated that we lived on the traditional lands of the Secwempec people because they thought we should be over all that stuff - it was ancient history wasn't it?  Nothing to do with modern life was it?  
 I flinched every time I heard these things....I felt flayed. And I said nothing - I waited for long time church members to say something - anything - but they didn't hear those remarks.
I still said nothing.  And ....nothing changed.   
And one day I exploded.   A cheerful member of our Social and Environmental Action Committee said, after our Earth Day Service, "So and so has agreed to sit on the SEA committee!"  So-and-so is a climate change denier.  So-and-so is also the person who made the comment on homosexuality.  And a person who often makes racist comments.

I said - as gently as possible, that I had a real problem with that.   Everyone around me gazed at me as if I'd turned green  .  "We cannot exclude anyone!"  Why not?    Asking a climate change denier to sit on the committee is akin to asking a fervent Nazi to help us save Jews, I answered.   Plus ze is homophobic and racist. 
Then the  shit hit the fan - and mostly spattered me.  The answer to me was "I've never heard him say that."   Louder and louder .....while I got angrier and angrier. Later, the Board president kept shouting that my allegations were COMPLETELY UNBELIEVABLE!  Someone else told me  later  they thought I was making my story up.  
Gee, whiz, I never realized I'm either a liar or  delusional. 
Actually, I'm not.   My congregation is white, mostly older, mostly very straight ......and they have their furry white special ermine privilege wrapped up tight around themselves   right over their ears. So quite  literally , they  didn't hear the comments I heard.  

What's privilege?  Ok, I'll explain that one.   A quote on white privilege from:
I see a pattern running through the matrix of white privilege, a patter of assumptions that were passed on to me as a white person. There was one main piece of cultural turf; it was my own turn, and I was among those who could control the turf. My skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make. I could think of myself as belonging in major ways and of making social systems work for me. I could freely disparage, fear, neglect, or be oblivious to anything outside of the dominant cultural forms. Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely.

In proportion as my racial group was being made confident, comfortable, and oblivious, other groups were likely being made unconfident, uncomfortable, and alienated. Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress, and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit, in turn, upon people of color.

Straight privilege is similar.  
A few points on straight privilege from : 
  • If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.
  • I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.
  • I am not accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused because of my sexual orientation.
So now what?  I'd like to know - I'd really like to know - what happens next in my congregation.

White Privilege

I found this quiz at :

White Privilege Pop Quiz: The Test You Can't Fail by Molly Secours (Copyright Molly Secours 2012) 

A) When was the first time you were made aware of your
racial identity and realized that your 'race' would play a
pivotal role in the challenges you faced on a daily basis.
1) 1-5 2) 6-10 3) 11-present 4) never
Discuss: How old were you? What happened? What kind of Impact did it have on you? How did it change your hopes, dreams and goals?
B) How often are you reminded about being the race with
which you identify?
1) several times a day 2) once a day 3) several times a week
4) once a month 5) never
Discuss: Tell a story about a recent situation where you were reminded of your race. What caused you to think about it?
C) As a child how often were you given safety instructions
on how to walk through a department store or public
establishment in a way that did not foster suspicion or
attract attention?
1) frequently 2) sometimes 3) rarely 4) never
Discuss: Tell a story about feeling watched, followed or suspected of wrong doing and how it affected your sense of safety.
D) How often have you been (or are you now) coached by
parents or guardians or family members on how to behave
or what to say in order to avoid being perceived
as dangerous or menacing when confronted by law
enforcement, teachers or authority figures?
1) frequently 2) sometimes 3) rarely 4) never
Discuss: Describe the last time you were detained by authority figures and felt unsafe. Describe the time before that. And the time before that.
E) How often do you talk with close friends and family
members (or just wonder to yourself) whether or not your
racial identity is negatively impacting your daily interactions
with others.
1) everyday 2) once a week 3) once a month 4) once a year
5) never
Discuss: What was the last situation? Did you feel comfortable confronting or discussing with the other people involved?
F) How often have you wondered if your race negatively
impacted a job interview, a grade, a confrontation with a
co-worker or a friend?
1) too many to count 2) periodically 3) seldom 4) never
Discuss: What were the circumstances? How have you learned to cope with the uncertainty?
G) How often are you the only person (or very few) of
your identified race in daily activities? Including Church,
school, bars, nightclubs etc?
1) always 2) frequently 3) seldom 4) never
Discuss: What are the circumstances and does your behavior change when you are no longer in those environments?
H) Have you ever been tempted to deny your racial identity
in order to feel more comfortable in a particular setting or
to have an advantage?
 1) always 2) frequently 3) seldom 4) never

Discuss: Describe the situation.
I) Have you ever found yourself feeling frustrated, invisible or ashamed in a history class because you felt ‘your people’ weren’t represented (or represented accurately) in “His-story”.
1) yes, always 2) yes, often 3) yes, sometimes, 4) never
Discuss: Describe the circumstances. Were you able to express your concerns with teachers and classmates? Were you penalized for speaking up? How was it received?
J) While watching television or movies do you often feel that people who look like you or are racially/culturally connected to you are not represented (or misrepresented) in the media?
1) yes, always 2) yes, often 3) yes, sometimes, 4) never
Discuss: What was the last movie or program you viewed that left you feeling this way? Why?
K) How often have you been challenged and/or corrected by someone about how ‘you identify’ racially?
1) more than 5 times 2) several times 3) once 4) never
L) How often have you adjusted your behavior out of concern that people might assume or suspect you to be lazy, inarticulate, untrustworthy, criminal, or unintelligent because of your race.
1) more than 5 times 2) several times 3) once 4) never
Discuss: Explain your answer
M) How often do you notice that the majority of authority figures in your school career or work environment--who sign your checks or supervise your daily activities--are identified with another race and/or culture?
1) always 2) often 3) sometimes, 4) never
Discuss: How (if at all) does this affect your performance and/or comfort level?
N) How often do you feel in need of reassurance (or to reassure other family members) you/they are ‘just as good as’ (not better) than someone of another racial group because of a negative experience?
1) Always 2) Frequently 3) Seldom 4) Never
O) How often have you wondered if something you said or did in a public setting might reflect negatively on your identified race?
1) frequently 2) sometimes 3) seldom 4) never
Congratulations! You just took the first step.