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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Earth Days 2017 … in the beginning

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 (France) and Sam Labudde (U.S.A.) and Rob Stewart (Canada) 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 watershed. I don’t have the right to breathe clean air if I leave my SUV idling to defrost the winter cold, or air condition away the summer heat.”

Like the bumper sticker says, “A good planet these days is hard to find.”  Let’s try our best to leave this one in good shape for generations of living things yet to come. Happy Earth Days.

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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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Singing in the Rain

This past weekend, at Springwater Provincial park near Barrie, Ontario, I had the privilege of guiding children and teachers into the miracle of creation – this natural world that exists outside of our cell phones and black mirrors.

I had the  opportunity to learn from Jacob, with his seeds of hope message, and a practical way to teach the next generation, and the current. about the life and heart connection between these tiny seeds and the sustainability of life on Earth.

I  met Caitlin, a graduate student of the wonderful Outdoor Education program at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Here was a young woman, skills in every outdoor pursuit imaginable, just waiting for the chance to teach. Waiting for an education system to catch up

I got to teach once again with  my “crazy” Bonnie  who I have worked with for over thirty years, who has never lost her enthusiasm or passion for teaching outdoors. Here is an educator who wears  her heart on her sleeve and lets her enthusiasm come out for wonder in every word. It made my heart heal.

When will we realize that it is punishment to put thirty healthy young bodies sitting on plastic chairs, behind plastic desks, reading from colonial history in textbooks for 190 days   a year for six hours a day.  And we call it “education“. Then, on their seventeenth birthday we “graduate” them,  and say, “Good Luck!. Good luck finding a job. Good luck finding partner for life, Good luck managing your finances for retirement. We didn’t teach you any of these things, although we had a dozen years to do so, but Good Luck!”

And then we hand them the steering wheel, and say, “You know, we never really taught you how to drive, but … good luck.”

Perhaps,  with School Boards taking the initiative from leaders like Superintendent Paula Murphy and staff like Sandy Clee and her team that support Outdoor and Experiential Education, perhaps we can nurture our children. Perhaps they will learn how to drive safely into the next generation.

Hope springs eternal, as it did at Springwater Provincial Park with a full generation “Singing in The Rain.”

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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The Environment is Everything

Several years ago I was asked to define the term “environment” for a new geography textbook titled: Geonexus. So I kept it as simple as possible and wrote: “The environment is everything that surrounds us, everything with which we interact, everything that we are. In short, everything.”

The textbook, published by Thompson/Nelson in 2003 was intended for high school Canadian and World Issues classes. One major section of that textbook dealt with “manufacturing consent” and “the role of the media” in presenting diverse perspectives dealing with the realities of our geopolitical landscape. Another dealt with political and corporate forces controlling the media for purposes of propaganda and suppressing dissent.

If, at any time in our history, we need to go back to school and thoroughly read and discuss the many critical questions posed in that textbook, it is now.

In one of my last columns, I highlighted the concern we should all have about the appointment of Scott Pruit to the role of the U.S.A.’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while Donald was trumpeting the glory of “clean coal”.

If we are truly the environment, then everything that we breathe, eat, and drink, produced from that environment that surrounds us and with which we interact, becomes us. When we breathe in polluted air, when we eat foods with little nutritional value, when we drink contaminated groundwater, it becomes us. And we become sick.

However, beyond the natural environment in which we live, there is the social environment which we create. If we live with passion and compassion, if we care for others, if we share our vast resources, if we respect our home planet, then we live in a place of balance. If we recognize that all of our economy is based on our ecology, then we become wise stewards. The environment in which we live becomes a peaceful and loving place.

On the other hand, if we allow bigotry and prejudice to permeate our perceptions of anything that is different from us, we open up a door to hate and create an environment that is toxic.  If we rape and pillage our planet, and rape and pillage our peoples, the social environment becomes a terror-filled and sorrowful place.

So, as much as I am deeply concerned about the impacts of accelerating climate change and the lack of political and corporate will to do anything significant about it, I am just as concerned at this point in history about the health of the social environment. The connection? When you have the “so-called” president of the United States of America refer to clean coal, you need to know that he is a liar.

There is no such thing as “clean coal” and never has been. We have hard coal and soft coal and coal in between, none of which is clean. What is scientific fact, something which seems to escape our Republican politicians to the south. It is true that hard coal burns with less effluent than soft coal that contains more Sulphur. We have technology that allows hard coal to be burned in power generation plants that are equipped with sophisticated scrubbers that remove the sulphuric acid … which then goes … where?

The whole reason that China is so on board with climate change protocols right now is that they are dealing with the health issues of having burned soft high sulphur coal in their power plants for years. When I worked with Dr. William Fyfe, then Dean of Science at Western University, and Chair of the international Geosphere/Biosphere program, he told me about a trip he had recently made to China.

“Skid,” he said, “at every doorway in my hotel corridor, there was a spittoon. Everyone had to spit up all the time because every time we took a breath, we were breathing in sulphuric acid.”

My older son recently worked as a teacher in Taiwan, and he said there were days that he couldn’t go outside, when his students were confined indoors, when you wanted a can of clean bottled air to breathe because the air pollution blowing in from China was so thick you could taste it. This is life on Earth now.

The connections are very clear. If we have politicians who are environmentally illiterate, who ignore mainstream science, and who base their decisions on corporate power and profits, we can expect our natural environment to continue to deteriorate to a point of overshoot. It is a simple biological principal.

When the consumers consume and degrade more than the natural systems of the planet can replenish, we overshoot our limits and suffer a catastrophic population collapse.  Understand that the reason why the war in Syria was accelerating climate change. Shifting rainfall and temperature patterns altered the growing seasons and resulted in drought and crop failures. Starving peoples moved from the rural areas into the cities on mass. When you put enough disenfranchised, hungry people into an overcrowded social environment, chaos and rebellion ensue.

It happened in the Fertile Crescent when Mesopotamia’s irrigated fields turned to salt and the crops failed. It happened in France during the French Revolution. It happened in Egypt during the Arab Spring.  And it is going to happen again. If you put enough hungry, angry, disenfranchised people together in a crowded space, you are going to have a revolution and it won’t be pretty.

The only way a society can prevent this is to ensure that their population is treated with equity and justice. If you work hard, you get to keep a bigger piece of the pie. But everyone gets a place at the table, everyone gets adequate shelter, everyone gets a chance at a good education, and everyone gets appropriate medical care.

If we treat the natural environment with care and work towards a respectful social environment, we may just pass on a healthy home planet for generations to come. If not … well, as we sow, so shall we reap.

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

 

 

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Fake News and “so-called” Climate Change

“Once more into the breech, dear friends. Once more.” William Shakespeare, Henry V

It seems like at least once a year my editor asks for an update on the accelerating climate change file. So once more we present the latest in scientific consensus from NASA, NOAA, the Hadley Centre for Climate Science and (the now un-muzzled) Environment Canada. This is NOT fake news.

2016 was the warmest year on record, month for month, of any year in the history of weather record keeping. Period. This is often hard to fathom if you are now digging out in the Maritimes from the Atlantic coast to the B.C. coast. Keep in mind, however, that we are but a tiny corner of this vast planet.

In Australia they are suffering through record heat waves. In India the temperatures are nudging 40ºC. The Arctic sea ice enters 2017 at a record low extent. The open warm waters of the oceans, and the open warm waters of the Great Lakes, when hit with a wave of cold Arctic air produce massive snowstorms.

So, shoveling all that snow this year was proof of accelerating climate change, just as obvious as cooking an egg on the sidewalks in Hay, New South Wales, Australia where the temperature reached 47.5ºC this week.

This is a time when the 97% of practicing, published and peer reviewed climate change scientists who agree that accelerating climate change is real news, need to be embraced by political and business leaders. This is when we need to come together as a planet to find ways to mitigate the impacts of this very real accelerating climate change.

That it was why it was so unsettling on the morning of February 18, 2017 to wake up to the news that the so-called President of the Disunited States of America had just confirmed the appointment of Scott Pruit as the new Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Remember that name and hope it doesn’t go down in infamy. Scott Pruit was the former Attorney General of the fossil fuel energy rich state of Oklahoma. As such, he sued the EPA 13 times by the last count for trying to regulate his energy lobbyists. The far right fundamentalist conservatives love him because he supports religious freedom (as long as you are white and Christian), is against gay marriage, women’s rights to choose, mortgage settlements, the Affordable Care Act, and environmental regulations.

One of his most memorable moves was to vote against the Clean Power and Water Act. And now, as Director of the EPA, he has vowed to gut the Environmental Regulations that it took thirty years and a lot of hard science to develop.

Keep in mind, Scott comes by these opinions easily. His campaigns are funded, after all, by the oil, gas, and coal industries based in Oklahoma. These include the big players like Kinder Morgan, the Koch brothers, Devon, and XTO (Exxon Mobil). There is also, to our chagrin, a big Canadian connection with enthusiastic support from our companies like Syncrude, Talisman Energy, Husky, and Suncor.

Scott Pruit is a climate change denier, although in the hearings to confirm his Directorship of the EPA he did state: “Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”

Sorry Scott, but to let the 3% of deniers and skeptics who disagree with the 97% of legitimate climate change scientists  get equal airtime is like letting Kevin O’Leary into the hen house. We know the fight is fixed, and the lobbying power of big business and industry can no longer be allowed to contaminate what is left of our clean air, water and soil.

Keep a very close eye on his proposed deregulations. Remember back to the days of Acid Rain? Back in the sixties and early seventies it was the big canary in the coal mine. The sulphuric acid laden clouds blowing north through the coal country of the Ohio valley was dropping its effluent on Ontario and Quebec with devastating effects on the Canadian Shield watersheds. Our ancient granite provided no buffering defense against the acid onslaught and we watched fish-rich lakes die. It took three decades of relentless environmental regulation and rehabilitation to bring them back to life.

Thanks to Silent Spring and the mass marches of the first Earth Days, we got the EPA’s Clean Air Act and the clouds of acid rain slowly abated. Now, Scott Pruit and his so-called president would like to roll that all back. Dig, drill, and burn baby, burn. If it’s good for business and industry and job creation it must be good. Wildlife and wild spaces be damned.

There is a very intelligent magazine published in the U.S. called Harpers. The most recent February 2017 issue contains an excellent article titled: “Trump – a Resister’s Guide” worth the price of admission alone.  But it also contains a single page, published every issue, called “Harper’s Index,” a collection of random statistics from real, legitimate sources.

When I used to do my conference presentations on environmental issues and resolutions, I took quotes from the Index to warm up the audience. The index is full of those marvelous trivia facts with which you can razzle and dazzle your friends at parties.

Here are a few that should be repeated:

% by which the global wildlife population has declined since 1970: 58%

Number of floors by which the Trump World Tower’s advertised height exceeds its actual height: 19

Rank of corrupt government officials among American’s greatest fears: 1

Rank of climate change among American’s greatest fears: 17

And to conclude, a sobering quote from the Nazi past to the  Trump present:

“If you tell a big lie and you tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Adolfus Hitler

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Skid Crease, Caledon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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