Caledon Councillors Get Cracking

To paraphrase Shakespeare and with apologies to Hamlet, I call upon Caledon Town Council to “Avenge this fowl and most unnatural by-law!”

Or perhaps. “To lay eggs, or not to lay eggs? That is the question.”

Alright, I may have been cooped up over my keyboard for too long, but this ongoing debate seems to be “full of sound and feathers, signifying nothing.”

Well, the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak. On Tuesday, August 28, 2017, Caledon Councillors held a lengthy, confusing, and, at times, heated debate on the pressing issue of the right to lay eggs. Specifically, why does Caledon, a boastfully glorious rural area, not permit its citizens to have backyard chickens?

It is absolutely unnatural indeed for a rural municipality like Caledon to be dithering about whether residents should be allowed to keep backyard chickens. There are plenty of successful case studies elsewhere in Ontario. Kingston, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, Newmarket, and Guelph have all allowed backyard hens, although each municipality has slightly different rules. Urbane Brampton seems to be dealing with backyard chickens, and Toronto is wisely running a pilot project to see if it flies. So, why not Caledon?

The debate on Tuesday was very revealing. Most Councillors were trying to find a reasonable middle ground, looking to the Town staff for more details. However, there was also some disturbing misinformation and incomplete information coming from two councillors.

To save them total embarrassment I will refer to the two councillors in question only as Chicken Little and Henny Penny. Chicken Little is of course famous for “The sky is falling!” false alarm that threw the entire barnyard into a tizzy. In this case it is the threat of avian flu spreading from tiny backyard coops into the large factory chicken farms of Caledon. And, Foghorn Leghorn forbid, what if families started producing their own healthy egg supply. Why, all those huge factory chicken farms could go out of business!

Henny Penny had earlier clucked about her fears of death by salmonella poisoning. Oh, the horror! The Horror! And to the astonishment of every intelligent hen in the flock, Henny Penny added that it seemed a lot of fuss to go through this by-law process because the hens would only lay eggs for two years anyway. Hold the hollandaise!

When I started at the Mono Cliffs Outdoor Education Centre in 1986, we had a small agricultural program with a herd of Highland Cattle, and a coop of chickens. My favourite job was to gather the eggs in the morning. Some went to our kitchen, some to staff, some to friends. I got to know those Bantams and Rhode Island Reds and Guinea Fowl very well, and those girls laid eggs steadily from 1986 until I left in 1995. Sure, they slowed down in winter, and as they got older, but they had clean nesting boxes, a big run, the best of feed and lots of love from the over 20,000 students and teachers who visited our Centre over my tenure. And not a single case of avian flu or salmonella poisoning.

Of course, we washed our hands and cleaned our boots after every visit. That is exactly what the Centre for Disease Control recommends, along with not kissing your chickens on the beak, or rolling in their feces, and other common sense tips like that. So, both Chicken Little’s falling sky and Henny Penny’s egg production news were not eggsactly accurate.

When Foghorn Leghorn, the rooster responsible for the flock, asked for the names of the chickens in the flock who had been giving Henny Penny her information, she squawked, “No.” That really ruffled my feathers. So much for transparency.

I am going now to get my own protest flock from Frey Nurseries in St. Jacobs. I am naming my Golden Comets (also known as Golden Buffs, or red sex-links) after three women from Canada’s Famous Five: Nellie McCluck, Henrietta Eggwards, and Irene Plucky. The by-law officers will have to pry that organic free-range produce from my cold, dead fingers! I will not surrender their right to bear eggs.

The cluck stops here!

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

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Jon Snow, You Know Everything

This was the summer of our great cross-Canada camping trip through the National Parks for Canada’s 150th (Travelogue coming in the next posting). The only drawback was … missing the opening of Season 7 of Game of Thrones. So, as soon as we got home at the beginning of August and cleaned up our gear, I caught up on the first two episodes, and then got the third as it was released – the long awaited meeting of Fire and Ice.

Now, for those who are not followers, I apologize, but for a storyteller this series is superb. The lessons for those watching today’s real  and fake news stories unfolding daily on the Trump Show are cautionary tales indeed. But, as a practicing environmental science educator, the lessons from the last episode were particularly pertinent. Jon Snow is trying to explain the deadly dangers coming from the North now that Winter is Here, and the chaos that will ensue if we are not ready. He asks the same question that every scientist studying accelerating climate change around the world has been asking since 1988: “How do I convince people who don’t know me that an enemy they don’t believe in is coming to kill them all?

We are going to need a lot of dragonglass, Jon Snow.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

 

p.s. On a more humorous note, when I returned I heard that the Twit Who Cannot Be Named had fabricated a story about getting supportive calls from the Mexican Boy Scouts. I have the Mexican Boys Scouts response here as verified by Truthful Hyperbole International: “Presidente Trump, ¡Eres un loco!

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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.

***

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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