Canada Goes Low, Low Carbon Economy that is …

We should not just consume hydrocarbon fuel but use it to develop nuclear energy, hydro power and renewable energy sources.”  Vladimir Putin

Without passion you don’t have energy, without energy you have nothing.” Donald Trump

History makes strange bedfellows. If these two could only get together, we wouldn’t be trying to reopen the coal mines in Virginia. Putin, of course, is absolutely right. It makes no sense to pump fossil fuel effluent up the chimneys of poorly insulated dwellings, or out the tailpipes of fuel inefficient vehicles. That last gasp of the oil industry should be used to power the engines of research and development into a renewable energy economy so that we can safely make the transition.

Then, with a hybrid mix of nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydrogen and as yet undiscovered energy sources, we keep the energy flowing. We certainly don’t want to be caught looking at the last lump of coal as the lights flicker off. Leave the rest of the oil in the ground, the gas unfracked, and the coal reserved. Future generations may need it someday … like after a nuclear winter. When all the power goes out and the all the computers shut down, it’s nice to have a pencil to write by candlelight.

And that is exactly what Minister of Foreign Affairs, Christia Freeland, and Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna announced last week in two separate events. Their combined quotes would sound like this:

“We will set our own clear and sovereign course … all provinces and territories agreed in the Vancouver declaration with the Prime Minister that we needed to have a credible plan with serious actions that would meet our international obligations in the Paris Climate Accord. The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change represents that plan and we will be supporting provinces and territories that have signed up for the plan.”

In other words, Oh Canada, we are charting our own course, and Manitoba and Saskatchewan had better get on board.

So, what exactly does this Low Carbon Economy plan mean to the average Canadian, and to the mitigation of accelerating climate change concerns? It means that if you want to pollute you are going to pay more for energy. If you are energy efficient, you are going to pay less. It means that our two holdout provinces in the Prairies will be burning coal, gas and oil while the rest of the country glows in renewable energy development. Manitoba and Saskatchewan have one year to see the solar light and sign-on. Otherwise their monies are doled out to the other provinces.

There will, of course, be the standard incentives of rebates for energy efficient retrofits for home and business, and for pursuing clean energy options for industry. As a consumer, as always, we have the choice of buying a Prius or a Hummer. We have the choice of landscaping our homes with water efficient plantings and native species, or turf grass and tulips. We have the choice of supporting a government that is committed to a clean energy future, or a fossil fuel nightmare. If the price on carbon (that should go into the Low Carbon Economy Fund) is the stick, then these incentives are the carrots.

The first carrot is a $600-million Low Carbon Economy Challenge for industry and public sector projects, to be launched this fall and doled out on a merit-based, project-by-project basis. From there, the Fund provides about $1.5 billion per participating Province to make the transition to a sustainable energy, low carbon economy. This should translate into jobs, new industry, and a cleaner local environment. But remember, there is no filter up the Ohio Valley if Trump goes Virginia coal crazy. When those winds of sulphuric acid change blow into Ontario and Quebec, there is little that our Low Carbon Economy can do to stop the acid rain.

Overall, for the health of the planet, our policies mean very little. But there is a moral victory in our declaration of independence, and the recognition of our global interdependence. The justifiable pride we can take provincially, nationally and internationally is invaluable.  It is our Canadian symbolic gesture of intelligent leadership to say to our fellow True North citizens and generations to come that we tried to do something wise. On the contrary, the Trump administration seems consumed with the Easter Island Syndrome: use it all up until it’s all gone and let the 1% die rich.

When the chaos down south became apparent, Justin Trudeau wisely met with some of the world’s top business leaders. The message was clear: we have a stable banking system, we have respect for diversity, and we are open for business that is sustainable, forward thinking, and energy efficient.

With this Low Carbon Economy announcement, Trudeau has said to the world, not only are we honouring our global commitments, but we are leading the way. An international community that is rapidly turning away from the uncertainty of U.S. policies is now looking to Canada as the stable North American leader. In Green We Trust.

As a footnote, for those who don’t normally watch his show, I would suggest that readers find this week’s broadcast of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” on HBO. In it, he gave a scathing exposé of the spin that has been spread by the Trump administration around the myths of coal cleanliness, increase in miner’s jobs and safety, and the integrity of coal mine owners. The outright lies, fudging of figures, and deceit of the President, the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the coal industry CEOs is almost beyond belief.

Murray Energy Corporation sent a letter to John Oliver threatening to sue and demanding that he “cease and desist” from any defamation of the coal industry. Oliver’s response, and ours, “We will not cease and desist.” Ever.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Closer to the Sacred Spaces

I was driven to write this post after seeing a commercial showing children and adults sitting on a dock  surrounded by spectacular lake views, all looking at their black mirror phones and tablets. I think that borders on obscenity. For certain sacrilege.

Last weekend, my family and I went camping at Point Farms Provincial Park in Goderich. The drive to Southern Ontario’s “West Coast” was absolutely idyllic as we crossed through the Bruce, But it was the shores of Lake Huron that were truly balm for the soul.  After weeks of political analysis for my news articles, I needed this break.

While my youngest son camped with his graduating class at the far end of the Park, and my wife slept in our Teardrop, the dog and I made the 200 step trek down the staircase from the top of the bluff to the beach. We walked for hours on the clean sand and wave washed rocks, and felt the wash of the Great Lakes winds take all our cares away.

Later joined by my wife from time to time, I made that trip up and down seven times over the next two days. We watched sunsets and sunrises, we watched the beach change from a calm waters family playground on Saturday to a wave-pounded, windswept coast line on Sunday morning.

The thought of sitting at a picnic table looking at a cell phone movie just doesn’t fit. We all need to unplug, to unplug our children if just for a while and listen once again, as Father Thomas Berry said, “to the grand liturgy of the universe.” We need to watch the sunrises and sunsets and feel the power of the wind and water.

Now, more than ever, we need to be closer to the sacred spaces.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

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Trump Pulls Out Early

As the American Geophysical Union (AGU) noted a few days ago, “The withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord – a political decision by the Trump administration – does not change the science of how our planet works.

We often speak of “rogue nations” in relation to nuclear proliferation and the danger that nuclear war poses for life on Earth. We now have the world’s second largest polluter going “climate rogue” with a promise to bring back their coal industry, pump more oil, and frack more natural gas. At a time when forward thinking nations are putting their best minds to work on research and development into cleaner alternatives, President Trump did the exact opposite.

It’s not like we didn’t have ample time to prepare. In June 1988 in the City of Toronto, The Conference on the Changing Atmosphere issued the following consensus conclusion: “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.

By a strange twist of fate, 1988 was also the year that Oprah Winfrey teased a response out of Donald Trump that he was thinking of a run for the Presidency in 2016. Polly Toynbee, writing for The Guardian in 1988 also got this quote from The Donald: “If I want to be President, then I’ll be President.” Be careful for what you wish.

Now we are in a situation where this President has left the consensus of the global commons and joined Syria and Nicaragua in the last days of the fossil fuel economy. True, Syria and Nicaragua had never signed on to the Paris Climate Accord, which makes the U.S.A. withdrawal all the more shameful. The short-range thinking of the far-right Republican base who cheer at Trump’s rallies may be pleased, but the remaining 194 countries are more than a little miffed.

This Trump withdrawal is significant to the rest of the world for three reasons. First, it clarifies the role of far-right conservative corporations and their “think-tanks” to influence politics and education. Secondly, it pushes China to the top of the world stage for environmental leadership and innovative economic growth in the field of alternative energy technologies. And lastly, it undermines the value of science-based policies to make even a token attempt to deal with accelerating climate change.

While many pundits say that it was the influence of advisor Steve Bannon that pushed Trump to make his exit from the Paris Accord, it was really the years of lobbying by the Competitive Enterprises Institute (CEI) that turned the tide. The CEI had been influencing “charter” religious-right American schools for decades with their false science curriculum. The most infamous of these was the pseudo-science text “Facts Not Fear: a parent’s guide to teaching children about the environment.”

This text was published in the U.S.A. by the “Alabama Family Alliance” through funding by the CEI. It was authored by Michael Sanera of the Claremont Institute (a conservative “education” cult devoted to “Recovering the American Idea.”) and Jane Shaw, an economist then with the Political Economy Research Centre (now the Property and Environment Research Centre – PERC – a republican free market economic advisory group).

Along with Channel One propaganda being broadcast on large flat screens every hour, children in American private “charter” religious schools were given “Facts Not Fear” as a science text. CEI tried to do this in Canada via our own infamous right-wing Fraser Institute. Cleverly adapted for Canadian readers by “science” writers Liv Fredricksen and Laura Jones, they attempted to distribute this text free of charge to all Canadian middle schools. The Canadian educational system, province by province, flatly rejected the offer and the experiment failed.

However, in the U.S.A. the experiment succeeded in feeding the young minds of what would become Trump’s “base”. Adults and corporations were lobbied by CEI’s Ronald Bailey via publications like “Eco-Scam” and “Global Warming and Other Myths.” The reins of the lobbying were passed on by Bailey to Myron Ebell, who stood proudly by Trump’s side as he announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

The second impact is the immediate leap by China into the leadership void created by the U.S. The economics of rising health care costs from decades of burning soft, high sulphur coal are driving innovation in high tech renewable and clean energy research and development. Investing in Virginia coal mines is NOT on their economic growth agenda. Similarly, ten states led by California, and a growing number of major American cities have unified to honour the original American commitment to the goals of the Paris Accord. With the federal administration currently stuck with its head in a fossil fuel tarpit, intelligent forward planning states and cities had no choice but to go it alone. Sort of an Environmental Civil War.

Lastly, Trump’s withdrawal from the international climate agreement signals the loss of a United States global leadership role. As the second largest polluter in the world, any attempt to reduce emissions would be a sign of hope for the world, that there was a consensus to try to ease and mitigate the effects of accelerating climate change. The loss of participation by most of the American States will make this more difficult. While Syria and Nicaragua’s lack of participation has little impact, the loss of the U.S.A. is morally significant.

Keep in mind, that the Paris Climate Accord was a small step for Earth’s living creatures. The acceleration of climate change that began in the late 1700’s has already gone into overshoot. Now add methane, being emitted in increasing quantities from the Arctic’s thawing permafrost. Methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Science refers to this phenomenon as a positive feedback loop. In this case, the atmospheric system becomes even more unstable.

Stupidity does not change the science of how the planet works. As Crosby, Stills and Nash reminded us back in the sixties, “Teach your children well.”

It’s time to stop being polite to stupid people.

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Skid Crease is an accredited member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, an author, and a lifelong educator currently living in Caledon, Ontario.

 

 

 

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Preserve, Conserve, Renew

 

The year was 1969. I was in my second year of teaching in Canada when an American environmentalist named John McConnell proposed a global holiday to celebrate peace, justice and the integrity of creation. It was named, simply, Earth Day.  In October, 1969, at the National UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, McConnell announced his intention to organize a worldwide awareness campaign to honour the diversity of life on Earth.

The organizers selected March 21, the vernal equinox, the return of the light and a renewal of life in our little corner of the Northern Hemisphere. That day, in the city of San Francisco, McConnell made the first Earth Day Proclamation about the need to preserve, conserve, and renew the threatened ecosystems upon which all life on Earth depends.

Those were heady days for the emerging environmental movement in North America. Acid rain, oil spills, topsoil erosion, groundwater depletion, contamination of the oceans, and air pollution dominated the headlines. The passion for change was thick in the air as we demanded social justice, nuclear disarmament, and environmental literacy. They truly were the days of peace, love, and groovy. I missed Woodstock, but my Grade Five class added their voices to that first Earth Day Proclamation, still celebrated today on March 21 by the United Nations.

At the same time that McConnell was organizing, a young American law student named Denis Hayes was conscripted by Senator Gaylord Nelson to organize the first Earth Day marches in the United States on April 22 to coordinate with Arbor Day.

“The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.” It succeeded beyond his expectations, Millions joined in celebratory marches across the U.S.A. and Canada, my class included, to demand an end to unsustainable exponential economic growth.

It was the beginning of massive arbor day tree plantings, garbage-less lunch campaigns, recycling programs, and resource conservation projects from classrooms to business offices.

In June 1970 McConnell created the Earth Day Proclamation for worldwide use and awareness. The Earth Day Proclamation declared the principles and responsibilities the signers undertook to care for the Earth. It was signed by 36 world leaders, including UN Secretary General U Thant, Margaret Mead, John Gardner and others. The last signature by Mikhail Gorbachev was added in 2000.

Earth Day indeed had increased environmental awareness in America, and in December 2, 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. On April 22, 1990, the 20th anniversary of Arbor Earth Day, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in celebrations.

Few remember though, that it was the partnership of John F. Kennedy and Rachel Carson that tilled the soil that would become our Earth Days. When Kennedy championed Silent Spring and defended Carson against the rage of the chemical industry, it began to stir an awareness across North America that it was time to get informed, stand up and speak out for the defense of our Home Planet. In 1963, Congress passed the Clean Air Act to deal with cross-border pollution from the Ohio valley into the Great Lakes and Canada. The war on acid rain had begun in earnest, and Big Coal was not happy.

On, November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Barely six months later, on April 14, 1964, Rachel Carson died of cancer. The seeds of our modern environmental awareness had been planted and they germinated in 1970 with our two Earth Day celebrations. Perhaps these two days are as much a tribute to Kennedy and Carson as to Earth. They serve as a constant reminder that greater love hath no one than this.

These Earth Days should remind us of the sacrifices made by women and men  around the world, like the legendary Gaura Devi of India’s Chipko (tree-hugging) movement, or Wangari Maathai of Kenya sowing seeds of hope across Africa, or Lois Gibbs of Niagara Falls, New York, who exposed the toxic wastes of the Love Canal, or Jacques Cousteau and Sam Labudde and Rob Stewart who fought for the sanctity of our ocean ecosystems, or Jeton Anjain of the Marshall Islands, sick to death with cancer, fighting to expose the dangers of nuclear waste and nuclear war.

This is what our Earth Days are about. It’s a lot more than planting one little sapling that may not make it through the summer, but looks good in a political photo-op with smiling children. It’s about speaking truth to power. It’s about campaigning for the security of the EPA, The same EPA that brought us the Clean Air Act and is now threatened with castration by Donald Trump and Scott Pruit. It’s about making certain that Kevin O’Leary never becomes a candidate for political leadership in Canada. It’s about standing up to hate speech and hateful actions that bring fear and division into our lives and thoughts. It’s about supporting the building of sustainable communities, of learning how to live elegantly with less, of realizing at last that, as E.F. Schumacher tried to teach us years ago, that “Small is Beautiful” in home and national budgets.

Earth Days are a celebration of participatory democracy, honouring the responsibility of a people to protect their families, their communities, their environment. A wise mentor once told me, “You know, we have no rights without responsibilities first. I do not have the right to clean water unless I make sure I’m not putting any pollutants into the global chain. I don’t have the right to breathe clean air if I leave my SUV idling to keep my winter heat up, or my summer air conditioning on.”

Game on. Time to accept our individual and collective responsibilities and truly celebrate the miraculous beauty of our Home Planet in words and deeds and responsible political actions.

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Defending the Indefensible

This article first appeared in:

http://JustSayinCaledon.com

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Unless we have been on a long spiritual walkabout, what has preoccupied most of our black mirror moments these past few months, to paraphrase Nero, has been watching America churn while Donald tweeted. The best shows on screen right now are the newscasts covering the untruths, alternative truths, spins and outright lies of the enablers of the megalomaniac man-child on the throne to our south.

As a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, I take my fact-checking and reporting very seriously. Without honesty in words there can be no truth among people. So it grieved me greatly, while sitting behind the media desk at the April 18/17 Council meeting in my little Town of Caledon, to see a public delegation try to spin the clear violations of the council’s Code of Conduct by one of our Councillors as if they were appropriate, even admirable, behaviours. Listening to the words of the delegations was like listening to Sean Spicer try to defend Donald Trump.  When you do so, you lose all credibility, as did the public delegations at Council that day.

Now, a little background is necessary here. Rurban municipal councils can be fractious at times. We have the country mouse sparring with the city mouse over development and growth issues, over the Greenbelt versus the Whitebelt, over agricultural lands versus employment lands versus residential infilling. One thing I can say for certain about Caledon is that we do not want it to look like Brampton or Mississauga. Hazel McCallion paved paradise and put up a parking lot. (You were right, Joni.)

In Town Councils, as issues become complex and perspectives collide, discussions can get heated. The mice begin to spar and tempers can rise, so we have a Code of Conduct to govern their behaviour. Every new Councillor gets the Code when they take office. Some read it, comprehend it, and apply it. Some don’t. Every new Councillor also attends a training day learning about procedures and policies that govern municipalities from the Municipal Act on down. Some get it. Some don’t.

So if a Councillor is belligerent, temperamental, uses abusive language, issues racial slurs, is intimidating to Town staff, and appears to be ill-informed at Council meetings it raises flags of concern. And if that same Councillor is described by friends as rude, offensive, aggressive and behaving like a bull in a china shop, it sets off the alarm bells.

Unfortunately, on Caledon Town Council, such a situation developed. Following all of the proper procedures, concerned staff made their complaints to the Town’s Integrity Commissioner who did the appropriate investigation and prepared a report. At the Council meeting for the Town of Caledon on April 18, 2017, the Councillor in question was the subject of the Town’s Integrity Commissioner’s Report.

The Report from the Integrity Commissioner was submitted and accepted by Council that day. It prescribed pecuniary punishment and further disciplinary action should the behaviours of the Councillor in question not improve. Unfortunately, after the meeting, the Councillor defiantly stated in a press release that the behavior would not change. Hmmm … let me see … if I keep driving 80 km/h in a 40 km/h school zone, do you think I’ll get another speeding ticket?  OMG – no, you’ll get the Good Citizen of the Year Award!

Look, it’s like the old cautionary tale about arriving at a party more than a little tipsy. When the first person you bump into says, “You’re drunk. Take a taxi home,” you might be able to laugh it off. When the second person you bump into says, “You’re drunk. Take a taxi home,” you might be able to laugh that off too. But when the third person you bump into says, “You’re drunk. Take a taxi home,” … you’re drunk. Take a taxi home.

When a multitude of Councillors and Town staff are making the same observations about the negative behaviours of another member of their team, that member is clearly out of line. Apologize, change your behaviours, and become a positive member of the team.

The other thing that disheartened me for the future of an intelligent productive democracy were the appeals of the delegations to the qualities of the Councillor in question. They were classic nuggets:

“Defender of the taxpayer!” “Asks the tough questions!” “Champion of the little guy!”

Whoa … I’m getting that populist el-toro-pooh-pooh glow right now. Taking a trip to overseas conferences on the taxpayer’s dime and months later still not reporting back to colleagues or community on the learnings that apply to Peel Region and Caledon is not “defending the taxpayer.” Asking questions that are not informed or relevant is indeed tough … yes, tough to understand. Real champions do their homework, train hard, come to the game prepared to play respectfully, and fully support their team.

When a delegation blames the CAO, the Integrity Commissioner, and the other Councillors for their misfortune, it reminds me of Trump blaming his debate losses on the microphone, the moderator, and the other candidate being better prepared. Yes – he lost because the other candidate was better prepared! WTF! It’s like a student I once knew who complained bitterly during a graduation ceremony, “How come all the smart kids get the awards?”

The public delegations in themselves were redundant for one simple reason. The report of the Integrity Commissioner is final. Their attempts to praise the councillor in question, and blame everyone else for the violations of the Council Code of Conduct were absurd in the extreme. And the public delegations would not even have been on the agenda had not another Councillor, forgetting that you get known by the company you keep, held up the automatic acceptance of the Report, thus permitting the delegations to Spicer up the Council meeting.

There is a term to use when you get into trouble and blame everyone else and don’t accept personal responsibility – it’s called “narcissistic personality disorder”. It’s like those bully-boy pick-up truck drivers who park diagonally across two Accessible Parking spots, leaving the truck running on a hot summer day, so they can run into the variety store to pick up a copy of the Sun and some cigarettes. I’m so special. Yes, but the Accessible Parking spots are for the physically challenged

We deserve better behaviour from our citizens and our elected officials.

Like the old Trail Master used to say when the Conestoga wagons got stuck in the mud:   “Either get out and push, or get out.”

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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