Category Archives: Environmental News

A Climate Professional Tries to Mow the Lawn

I don’t know how all of you feel about carbon, but let me tell you, when you work in climate change, carbon guilt is real.

I very rarely fly anywhere (maybe 2x in the last ten years), bought a very fuel-efficient car and live as close to work as I can, walk when I can, purchase renewable energy for my home at an additional cost (Canadian readers, ask me if you’d like more info on that), read a truly alarming number of climate books and articles, etc. etc., and still it feels like it’s never enough.

And scientifically, it isn’t.

Mind: I am not about to tell anyone else what to do about their carbon guilt, or even that you ought to feel carbon guilt. All I am saying is that I feel a lot of it, myself, and do my best to manage it.

This is the context in which I bought my first lawn mower when we moved into our home six years ago.

It’s a big lawn. It’s a 1965 suburban corner lot for a side-split detached house. It takes 45 minutes on a good day when the grass hasn’t grown much.

And we live in a time where spending ungodly amounts of energy creating an environment were weeds thrive* yet are not legally allowed to grow and where you are required to grow a plant that sprints upwards at the mere thought of rain yet must be kept below 8″ (eg. grass) or fines will follow. I truly think future civilizations are going to look back at by-laws about lawn maintenance and think we were the stupidest people ever. We’re worried about peak oil and petro-states and climate change and energy costs and fossil fuel consumption, and yet we have actual laws that necessitate people to spend rising amounts of money on increasingly scarce energy with disastrous environmental and social outcomes to give our real estate a regular hair cut. There are wildfires burning out of control all over the world, spurred in great part by climate change, but is there a single municipality thinking, you know what? Grass could be a great carbon sink and all of those gas mowers are not helping. Maybe we should loosen the noose a bit.

Nope.

So here I am, a single mother with limited time and a lot of carbon guilt, legally required to keep the grass growing but not more than 8″ tall, and determined not to use any fossil fuels in the pursuit of this.

In the six years since I’ve moved in I’ve owned THREE battery-powered lawn mowers.

Do you know how much a climate-friendly tool has to suck before I’ll hate it?

It has to suck a lot, Dear Readers. Let me tell you how much.

First Mower

Black-and-decker plug-in. It worked for a few months, then wouldn’t start. At this point it was still under warranty, so I brought it in. It was the charging cable. It took weeks, in which my lawn continued to grow, and I received some warning letters from the local by-law office. Thank you, neighbours!

It worked again for a few months, and then stopped. Now out of warranty, so I had to pay for the new charging cable myself. This time, I also hired someone to mow the lawn while it was being repaired so I wouldn’t get a fine.

Then it worked again for a few months.

And stopped.

Nuts to this, I thought. It’s cheaper just to buy a new mower.

(This model is no longer for sale. I can’t imagine why.)

Second Mower

Ryobi, where the battery charges indoors and the machine folds up so you can store it in a shed. It has a five-year warranty. This should be better, thought I.

91 days later, one day after the Home Depot return period, the mower would no longer start.

Home Depot wouldn’t take it back, and Ryobi told me that even though the machine was obviously defective (91 days!) I had no recourse but the warranty. There is no service email address on their website; the service contact form doesn’t work; and the folks answering the service phone line are obviously told not to say or do anything that might incur any sort of obligation. There was no way to take it up the ladder.

The service company is 40 minutes from my house and only open during business hours and on Saturday mornings. Grumbling, I brought it in.

Repair guy tells me he sees this with Ryobi mowers all the time. Several weeks later, I have it back. Several weeks in which I have once again been paying someone to mow the lawn so I don’t get a ticket. It is, by this time, late in the south Ontario mowing season, so I mow the lawn once or twice and put the machine away for the winter.

In the spring, it won’t start.

Again.

I take it back to the service centre.

And, knowing that calling, emailing and filling out forms on their website are useless, I resort to twitter.

This is going to get expensive for you, if I have to take this in to have it repaired twice a year, was the essence of it. You would have been better off allowing me to return or exchange the mower when I first called.

And I kept it up. Politely. They shared with me an email address–that doesn’t exist anywhere on their website; you can check–to get resolution. I emailed, and waited. No response. Tweeted again. This went on for a while, and then finally someone from the company wrote back.

We can send you a new mower, they said.

Great, I replied; but what is the warranty on it? I didn’t trust the machines at this point and thought I was most likely to end up with a dud, and no receipt for getting it repaired.

No reply.

Send us your address, they said.

Great, here it is, I replied; but what is the warranty on it? How does that work?

We’ve mailed you the new machine, they said.

Wonderful, I replied, and thank you, but what is the warranty on it? What do I do it if it breaks?

There is a full warranty, they replied.

Third Mower

The new mower is fancier than the first one, which is a nice touch: it’s self-propelled.

Not so nice?

It worked once.

I mowed the lawn with it once.

I mowed with it once, folded it up to put it in the shed, and the very next time I brought it out, it wouldn’t. I tried it with two fully charged batteries (I checked them in compatible devices–no problem) and two keys.

Email: Hey. I just went to use the mower for the second time, and it wouldn’t start. Same issue I had with the first one. Honestly you guys really need to address this problem in your machines. In the meantime, I’m going to need a receipt or something to take it to the service centre.

No response. Ten days pass.

On twitter: Hello. I emailed the service person I’ve been talking to. The replacement mower is broken and I need paperwork to bring it to the service centre.

THEY BLOCKED ME.

Dear Readers, I can’t say if my experiences with the actual machines is typical or not. Maybe I have the only two fragile, persnickety, battery-powered lawn mowers ever manufactured by Ryobi. It’s possible.

But I leave it to you to determine for yourselves if anything about this scenario reflects how you would want a company to respond in the case of defective products.

A service contact form on the website that doesn’t work–an email address only given out in case of twitter complaints–beleaguered service call centre staff who aren’t allowed to help people who call in or forward complaints on to management–and then when someone’s twitter complaints makes you look bad in public, providing them with a replacement machine and no warranty paperwork.  And then when the replacement machine has the same issue the first one did, blocking them.

On the plus side, I’d already brought the first Ryobi mower in for servicing, so it is working. For how long, who knows?

What I normally hear is something like, “LOL, just get a gas mower!” Please don’t. I am completely opposed to burning any kind of fossil fuel in the pursuit of anything as trivial as grass length. A better indictment of the values of 21st century North America than “sure we’re running out of gas and oil and yes the planet is on fire and definitely we’re losing biodiversity and pollinators and of course energy is increasingly expensive and all of this is awful and terrible and we care so! much! But we’re still going to pass laws to require you to spend ever more money on fossil fuels to destroy your property’s biodiversity while contributing to the climate emergency. Here’s your fine.”  It is actually a hill I’m prepared to die on, and would be prepared to pay a whole lot of fines to make a point. Though of course I’d rather not.

~~~~~

*All of the plants defined as weeds for the purposes of early 21st century lawn maintenance are what’s known in ecology as colonizers: they have a need for lots of sun and lots of space, can’t tolerate shade, and can grow like the dickens. They do very well in clearcuts, after fires or rocklides or other natural events that clear out the tree canopy and competition, and they really really love lawns. If you really want to get rid of weeds, what you need to grow are trees–lots of them–because weeds hate shade.

Another thing to feel guilty about.

Via Treehugger: Say! Did you know that laundering your synthetic clothing may be contributing to ocean pollution?

Apparently studies have found that washing releases up to 1900 microfibres from each piece of synthetic clothing per wash. These bits of plastic are too small to be removed by conventional filtres and water treatment, so the plastic washes out to sea, where it (along with microbeads) contributes to a serious ocean pollution problem.

This strikes me as one of those rare pieces of environmental news that has direct relevance to home sewers. While I prefer natural fibres myself, sometimes they’re just not available locally at a price that is reasonable. And sometimes they’re plain not available locally. I searched high and low for stretch cotton twill for my recent Jasmine pants, but in the end the only stretch twill I could find had a substantial poly content.

I’m in general opposed to lifestyle-scale solutions for global-scale problems, so I’m not going to tell you what kind of fabric you should buy. As the article itself notes, given how much sheddable synthetic clothing is already in circulation, that likely wouldn’t address the problem anyway, and what we really need are better filtration systems (though this raises the question of what to do with all those bits of plastic that would be flushed out of our domestic sewage systems).

Still, as home sewers, we have managed to create (or at least increase) a reasonable supply or organic and local fabrics; maybe, if there were enough demand, less easily shed synthetics would be created and sold.

In the meantime, this may be another good argument for laundering clothing less frequently. In addition to the waste of water and electricity and the pollution of water from soaps and detergents, we’re plasticizing the oceans. Fantastic. So how about we only wash our clothes when they’re dirty?

Review: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryI may have mentioned that 2013 was a steamroller of a year, and that Hibernation 2014 was basically me burying my head in the sands of sewing until I felt like I could look at the world again. After about nine months of denial, I thought I might be ready to test the waters of environmental catastrophe again–and I was right!

Have no fear. We are still mostly sewing here. But also, I read a book about one of the Ends of the World, and I survived, and I think I can even write about it.  So I will.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with all of Elizabeth Kolbert’s writing, it is beautifully written, compelling, meticulously researched, well structured, and absolutely terrifying.

The Sixth Extinction (which is happening now–you can be forgiven for not knowing that, since it is so abysmally reported on) is the tale of the many and varied ways humans are causing this latest mass extinction event. They’re all here: prehistorical and modern-day overhunting; transmission of invasive species; habitat fragmentation; climate change; ocean acidification. In keeping with the evidence, though very much against the preferences of human psychology, the book ends on a despairing note. While humans do expend a great deal of energy in identifying and saving particular endangered species when they are particularly beautiful or otherwise beloved, that is in no way up to the scale of what’s required, and it is very difficult to see how this could be turned around.

From page 214: “‘As a brief aside,’ he went on, ‘I read this news story the other day. A place called the Vermont Center for Ecostudies has set up this Web site. People can take a photo of any and all organisms in Vermont and get them registered on this site. If I had read that a few years ago, I would have laughed. I would have said, “You’re going to have people sending in a picture of a pine tree?” And now, after what’s happened with the little browns [bats], I just wish they had done it earlier.” (This after a chapter describing the collapse of bat populations from White Nose Syndrome, and bat researchers revisiting former caves where bats numbered in the hundreds of thousands, now not able to find any, walking through the empty caverns on a carpet of bat carcasses.)

I wish everyone would read this, or at least become more informed about it; not because there’s anything we can do by becoming more informed (there almost certainly isn’t:  many, and likely most, species will simply cease to exist). But because an event of this significance and caused by us deserves to be marked and mourned while it is happening. A biotic Holocaust is underway all around us, every day, species and families of species being shoved into gas ovens as fast as we can manage it; and outside, we celebrate sporting victories and royal babies and new gizmos to buy. I can think of no more severe condemnation of human nature.

That's a toad, eh?
That’s a toad, eh? Look at those itty bitty fingers!

Frances and I like to catch baby toads in the spring. They are itty-bitty, and they hatch en masse, so if you go to the right place at the right time of year, you will find dozens or hundreds of housefly-sized frogs springing all over the place like rubbery crickets. They’re adorable, and fairly easy to catch, and most children are entranced at the sight of these tiny little froggy things. You can have one perched on a fingernail.

According to The Sixth Extinction, this may not last. Amphibians are the most endangered class of animals globally, right now, due to chytrid fungus, spread from the use of the African Clawed Frog as an early pregnancy test, as well as habitat loss and fragmentation, water quality issues, climate change, etc. Over thirty per cent of amphibian species are at risk of extinction today, and the extinction rate for amphibians right now is 211 times the background rate as a conservative estimate. These are animals that have survived every mass extinction event since before the dinosaurs, but they may not survive us.

When I’m not sewing, or embroidering, or reading (or working or cleaning the house or making dinner or whatever), sometimes I do papercrafting. Not scrapbooking, per se, but it could be altered books or altered photos or painting  or calligraphy or some kind of multimedia project. When I was feeling particularly down about environmental issues last year (occupational hazard when you work in the environmental field), I made this.

PhotoScan-1

At the time I thought I was exaggerating.

But apparently not.

And now maybe we need even more happy sewing talk than before.

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Review: Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship

(What happened? Summer. Also, home laptop broke. New laptop working, but would not connect to network. None of these things facilitate blogging.  Hiking and gardening are more fun anyway, yes?)
Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship by Franke James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am the first person to mark this book as “read” on Goodreads. I find that a little depressing … but I’m happy to be the first to tell you why you should read this fabulous book:

1. The art. Franke’s illustrations and visual essays are always striking, quirky, and to the point.

2. The number of essays included. If, like me, you’ve been following her work for the past few years, this is a great way to have several of the back-story essays (including “Dear Prime Minister,” “Fat Cat Canada” and “What Can One Person Do?”) as well as the “Banned on the Hill” essay that chronicles her attempted censorship by the fine folks the Department of International Affairs.

3. The information and the stories. It’s infuriating that this is happening in Canada, but since it is, it’s better to know about it than not. And it is wonderful to have people like Franke James so determinedly bringing that message to so many different audiences

There were at least a dozen pages I wanted to rip out and frame. Instead I might scan, print and frame them (solely for personal use of course).

If you care about climate change and the obstructionist position Canada has taken both internationally and domestically on this issue, you will want to read this book. When you’re done, share it widely.

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Over to you, Harper

“Canada’s economy is integrated with the United States’ to the point where it makes absolutely no sense to proceed without aligning a range of principles, policies, regulations and standards.

“For this reason, Canada has fully aligned its 2020 emission reduction target to reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels with the United States. This target has been inscribed in the Copenhagen Accord and is subject to adjustment to remain consistent with the U.S. target.” (from Canada’s Action on Climate Change)

“No nation can solve this challenge alone — not even one as powerful as ours. And that’s why the final part of our plan calls on America to lead — lead international efforts to combat a changing climate.” (President Obama introducing his new climate change policy, June 25 2013)

Well.

This has been quite a day.

Defense of Marriage Act ruled unconstitutional. (I cried–happy tears.) Wendy Davis’s astonishing performance to defeat proposed Texas legislation to limit abortions. (I cheered.) And President Obama yesterday finally publicly moving on the power the courts gave him to use the EPA to limit GHG emissions by deeming them pollutants. (I fell over. No, just kidding; I only wobbled slightly.)

None of these were enough, at least not for anyone I know. Too many states still do not allow gay marriage, so overturning DOMA is a partial (albeit significant) victory at best. One piece of anti-choice legislation was overturned, but only one, with far too many waiting in the wings and not enough Wendy Davises to go around. And President Obama’s proposed actions to reduce GHG emissions, while long overdue and certainly meaningful, are nowhere near sufficient.  Still, it was a day with a lot to celebrate for a lot of people, and it’s important to grab those partial victories where you can and wring every bit of good you can get out of them.

Limitations on emissions from coal power plants; quotas for renewable energy produced on crown lands and defense installations; a promise to re-engage with international negotiations–it’s all good. It’s not enough, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing, and “better than nothing” is a first important step to “now we’re getting somewhere.” And of course, given the Harper government’s continued stated assertions, repeated on their official climate change website, that we really have no choice but to proceed in lock-step with the US on climate change initiatives …

…well…

… how long do you think it’ll take? A few days? Maybe a week? Surely Harper is cooking up something to restore something of our tarnished international reputation on this issue and create some meaningful policies supporting renewable energy production and emissions standards for coal power plants. In fact, let’s check with the favoured newspaper of the Canadian neo-conservative elite, the Financial Post:

“Along with the president’s speech, the White House issued a wordy 21-page document titled “The President’s Climate Action Plan” plus a colourful fear-mongering, school-friendly graphic that made exaggerated claims about U.S. weather, storms and droughts.” (The heat gets to Obama’s head, FP, June 26 2013)

On the front page, no less, supported by so many nonsensical and easily-disproved assertions that if the FP were  a horse this lame, we’d shoot it: Obama wasn’t hot because the 33C weather was typical for June! (Washington DC average high in June is 28C.) Arsenic is toxic but carbon is essential to life and therefore any comparison is just unscientific and wrong! (Lots of things are safe in small quantities but toxic in larger amounts–like arsenic, actually. Also, even the Green Earth Society gave up the “carbon is life” line back in the 1980s.)

So who wants to take bets on how long it will take before the Tories start back-tracking on “aligning with the US on climate” so they can continue to do nothing and promote tar sands around the world?*

I’ve often wondered if opponents of climate change action have a back-up planet they’re planning to emigrate to when this one is no longer habitable. Unfortunately, if they do, it’s not a plan I’m privy to and I’m not expecting they’ll save Frances a seat on the shuttle, so I’m going to keep trying to save this one.

“And someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don’t you want that?” (Obama, June 26, 2013)

~~~~~

*Geeky analysis section: Part of any environmental assessment of any size is determing the scope of the project to be assessed. In my former jobs, it wasn’t unusual for an environmental assessment to focus on, say, just a bridge over a river (when the bridge was being built as part of a road to support a new mine or forestry project) or a sign (when the sign was a small part of an overall new building project) or fence (when the fence was part of a runway expansion). If the bridge, sign or fence is all that you are legally required to evaluate, then the scope of the assessment does not include the mine, logging operation, new building or runway expansion; which means that the environmental impacts are negligible and the project is all but certain to be approved. Obama’s comments in the speech yesterday on Keystone and the tar sands left this question wide open on the proposed pipeline: whether the pipeline “contributes significantly to carbon pollution” will of course depend on whether the tar sands are ruled in or out of scope for the assessment. If the tar sands are out of scope for the pipeline, then the assessment will for all intents and purposes be identical to a sewer or water pipe, and the project will be approved. So, key for the Harper government’s efforts in getting the pipeline approved will be to continue their “the tar sands will be developed whether this pipeline is built or not” message. It’s boloney, of course; if you don’t have a logging road then you don’t have a forestry operation, and if you don’t have a pipeline then you don’t have an oil operation.

The other certainty is a continued push on all the not-nothing they want us to believe they are already doing. Just remember, whenever you see those fancy stats the Tories like to pull out of a hat about their climate initiatives: a) most of the reduction numbers they quote are what we might achieve if all policies are implemented in full–i.e., we’re not there yet and there’s no guarantee we ever will be, and b) to the extent those numbers reflect actual current emissions, almost all of them are due to municipal and provincial GHG reduction initiatives that the federal government either did not assist with or actively tried to derail.

Failing Better is Still Failing

Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner released the annual update report on provincial progress on greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is, we are not failing as badly as we were. Our greenhouse gas emissions are falling provincially, largely due to decommissioning coal electricity plants.

GreenhouseGasEmissions_Prov_EN

The bad news is, we are still failing. We are still above our 2014 target of 166 Mt, and considerably above the 2020 target of 150 Mt, with no clear plan in place for how we intend to bridge that gap. In fact, the ECO is predicting that GHG emissions will rise as the nuclear plants are refurbished and the electricity demand gap is met by natural gas. As well, while we have done an excellent, back-patting-worthy job of reducing emissions over the past approximately 10 years, forecasts past 2020 predict a rise in GHG emissions to 190 Mt by 2030.

You can practically hear the poor guy banging his head on his desk in frustration in the report.

It’s brief and well-written, so I’d encourage everyone to take a look and see where we are, and where we’re headed. A few key points:

  • Road transportation, and particularly private vehicles, are the largest source of emissions in the province (58 & 45 Mt respectively). In order to meet GHG targets, we must fund public transit, including the Big Move proposed by Metrolinx. I’ll add this, though it shouldn’t need to be said: Nothing is free, and we’ll either pay for this now through increased transit funding or later through climate change adaptation costs, and any half-qualified economist will tell you that the future costs of dealing with climate change make that $470/household/year Big Move projection (already offset by congestion savings of $1600/household/year) look like a fruit fly on an elephant. Just get over it, and pay up.
  • Industry emits 49.6 Mt. Ontario has been putting out policy papers on establishing an Ontario cap-and-trade system to bring that number down and put a price on carbon for four years now. It is time to move beyond policy papers, and actually put something into action.
  • Buildings emit 31.7 Mt–a high number, but one that has remained about the same while the total number of buildings continues to rise. The ECO attributes this to the 2006 Ontario Building Code, which explicitly considers greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of “the most progressive in North America.”

To put it in context:

per_capita_emissions

Ontario produces fewer Mt/person than most Canadian provinces–which is good, but in a global context still makes this one of the most wasteful places to live. And our emissions are on the right track. We are one of the few provinces who have had declining emissions, which is great. But boy, are we ever still producing a lot of greenhouse gases.

We are one of the few provinces who have had declining emissions, which is great. But boy, are we ever still producing a lot of greenhouse gases.

The atmosphere refuses to be pragmatic. It’s a geological and chemical process that will react to inputs, regardless of how desirable the outcomes are or how politically feasible the solutions may be. It will not negotiate with us. Or in other words, while we are improving, and that’s good, we are still failing by a wide margin. We can and we should do better.

Public Participation, Petro-State Style

I am sitting here this afternoon with a copy of the National Energy Board’s Application Form to Participate, for the upcoming Enbridge pipeline reversal to carry tar sands oil through Ontario, and specifically through my community. The Government of Canada, in order to streamline environmental approvals for tar sands projects, now requires people to fill in an application to participate in the public consultation process. No more can you show up and just start talking to people because you’re a citizen in a democracy and you care about what happens. As of now, if you can’t demonstrate in writing a direct impact on your own personal life and/or special expertise in the subject under question, your participation is neither wanted nor required and will not be allowed.

If I (or you or anyone else) want a chance to participate, we must complete and submit this application form to Enbridge–yes, that’s the proponent–by April 19th.

From the Application Form:

Page 2: “If you need support to fill out this form, please contact the Process Advisor. … The Process Advisor cannot tell you what content you should provide on the form. It is your responsibility to demonstrate that you should be allowed to participate.”

Wow. You know, if a proponent under the Ontario process were to try pulling something like this, their project would never be approved. A citizen must demonstrate to a corporate entity that they should have the democratic right to participate in an environmental assessment process?

Page 5: “If available, please provide documentation with your application that supports your qualifications or describes the source of your relevant information (for example, a curriculum vitae, a reference letter, description of your relevant experience, etc.).”

Yes, that is correct. If you want to claim special expertise relevant to the public consultation process, you must submit supporting documentation, including a resume.

Page 6: “NOTE: The Board will not consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of the oil sands [sic], or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.”

The entire project is about the tar sands; the pipeline in question currently carries natural gas from east to west, and is going to be reversed to carry tar sands dilbit from west to east. How can you talk about whether or not this project is acceptable without talking about the tar sands? That’s like having an environmental assessment for a highway expansion and ruling out, from the start, any discussion of the environmental impacts of cars or alternatives to private transportation.

In the case of the pipeline, by ruling out the tar sands, you’ve limited any discussion of environmental impacts to pipeline spills. Not nothing, to be sure, but also not the important part. Which, if Canadians had any chance to weigh in on tar sands development in any other forum, wouldn’t be so offensive. But we don’t. The Government of Canada is going to develop the tar sands, come hell, high water, oil supply gluts* or, what’s more likely, all three at once.

I’m sure the NEB and Enbridge think this is going to save them all kinds of time. By eliminating 99% of the people who would like to participate in the hearings, it sure will be a lot more streamlined–to the point of being a slam-dunk for Enbridge; I’ve never heard of a project being turned down because you might have a hydrocarbon spill–and I’ll bet you they won’t have to deal with anyone showing up for a public meeting and standing in the front row screaming threats at the panel. Just my guess.

But say, wouldn’t it be fun if, before they got the slam-dunk streamlined review process, they had to wade through about 5,000 application forms first?

~~~~~

*There is so much oil being produced in the tar sands right now that a supply glut is requiring producers to sell their product significantly below market value–$80 instead of $120. So not only is Canada destroying the environment to produce a fossil fuel with enormous social and ecological impacts lasting over a geological time scale, but we’re doing it at a discount because the product is not currently needed. I’m sure an economist can fill me in here on the wisdom of the free market in this regard and how it is effortlessly taking care of our true needs.

Planet Moving for beginners

2011 is the year for climate activism (knock wood–so far): the Keystone Pipeline protests at the White House, Climate Reality last week, Moving Planet this weekend, a Keystone Pipeline action in Ottawa on Monday, all in September. Chances are you missed the White House bit and won’t be making it down to NYC for Occupy Wall Street, nor will you be busing it up to Ottawa to camp out on Parliament Hill and tell Stephen Harper what an idiot he is.

(Definition of Idiot: repeatedly states he has no intention of doing anything about preserving the planet we live on because the soils, oceans, atmosphere and climate underlying our civilization are not significant, but as soon as Europe’s economy falters and a recession looms he jumps in with both feet. This, Dear Readers, is like fussing with the arrangement of the photos on your mantelpiece while your house burns down around you.)

I digress. Chances are, you are not traveling for climate activism.

But lucky you, you don’t have to!

For the very laziest among you, log on to the Climate Reality project and watch the highlights videos from the comfort of your den or living room. At the very least, watch Doubt & the concluding New York City highlights. That’ll take all of 15 minutes of your time.

For the less lazy, Moving Planet is this Saturday, aka tomorrow, and climate change events will be held all over the world. I know of several within a one-hour drive of my house including rallies, bike rides, fairs and clean energy exhibitions. It might be–I fear to even whisper it–fun.

I count myself as fairly lazy most of the time (fact: I do not own a hairdryer, mostly because I see no point in burning coal to get my hair to dry faster when it’ll dry on its own anyway, but also, it saves me a heap of time every morning and I’d much rather sleep), but even so, I’m hoping to get out to the Hamilton Moving Planet rally tomorrow afternoon.

Pauline Browes on the Rouge National Park

Frances in the Rouge Park in January 2009

I wrote this story last winter after having been introduced to Pauline Browes at the Sustainability Forum in February at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. (Which, incidentally, is beautiful in the winter and totally worth a visit.) It ran in Phil Goodwin’s E-Don, a newsletter for the East Don Parkland Partners, a group I volunteer with and have written about before. If you’re interested in Don River issues you can find and friend the group on FaceBook.

I do a bit of volunteer writing that will probably find a home here from time to time. Volunteer writing is fun, but I’ve been trying to find this story a home with a wider readership for a while now. Alas, no luck so far. So here it is for you, Dear Readers; and if an editor wants to bite, send me a note!

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The Rouge Park, Canada’s largest urban wilderness park at over 11,500 acres, with its well-preserved Carolinian forest, native Heritage Sites and agricultural communities, is a historic and environmental treasure within Canada. But because of its many-layered ownership (portions are owned by the Town of Markham, City of Toronto, Ontario and the federal government through Transport Canada) and idiosyncratic management under the Rouge Park Alliance rather than a single government body, it has not always been well-protected or promoted. The Rouge Park Alliance commissioned a consultant study in 2009 to outline and recommend the best option for protecting and promoting this resource; received early in 2010, it recommended that the Rouge be made into Canada’s first and North America’s largest urban wilderness National Park. Andrea McDowell sat down with Hon. Pauline Browes, a member of the Rouge Park Alliance and Director of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust Corporation, to talk about the Park, the report’s recommendations and next steps.

Andrea: Let’s start with the history of the Rouge Park and the Rouge Park Alliance.

Pauline: It goes back to the early 80s when Save the Rouge Valley System, an organization of volunteers, formed to have the Rouge from Steeles to the Lake saved as a park. I stepped into this at the time, I was an elected member and they asked, what can the federal government do to help? I said, the province owns the land, I’m not sure, but leave it with me, I’m very keen about this being saved as a park. I was parliamentary secretary at the time to the Minister of Environment. The province was not happy about the federal government stepping in because they owned the land so the provincial government said it’s nice that the federal government says this should be saved but what about some money. Well, I got the minister to announce $10m for the Rouge and so that was in the late 80s that we got that.

David Crombie in 1995 announced the structure of what we call the Rouge Park Alliance, which is representatives of the municipalities within the watershed as well as the provincial and federal government, representatives from the NGO Save the Rouge Valley System. The present current park goes from Lake Ontario to Steeles, which is the Toronto part, and then from Steeles up to 16th Ave which is part of Markham.

When David Crombie set this up in 95, he said this would be an interim basis, and that in 3 or 4 or 5 years the structure would be reviewed to see how it should be. And we’ve had a lot of meetings over the years, but never been able to come up with anything that actually took hold. Just this past year, it was very evident that we needed to have a different governance model, and we needed more financing. And we needed to have a legal entity for this, because right now there’s no legal entity. Toronto does some stuff, Markham does some stuff, the Conservation Authority—I mean, it’s amazing that we’ve been able to accomplish as much as we have. So in the spring we engaged a consultant to review governance, come up with a model, and come up with the financing. And though we have done this in the past over 15 years, what we put forth to the consultant, we needed to have something that we thought would actually be able to work. Our consultant has been in contact with both the provincial and the federal government as well as the municipalities to review the prospective models. They have come up with the model of the national park.

A: What is the authority and the mandate of the current Rouge Park Alliance?

P: Well, that’s the crux of this problem. The mandate is to protect and preserve the watershed. We’ve had a major study of the Rouge watershed, we have a Rouge management plan for south of Steeles, we have a Rouge North Management Plan, but there is no legal entity for this. And this is why we need to have one level of government to step forward to be the lead on this. This report has said the best model would be the federal government. But we know that it doesn’t fit perfectly into the National Parks Act. So it’s going to be a hybrid of a national park, just like the marine parks.

A: The report mentioned that there some competing visions for how the park could look. What are some of the other options?

P: The park itself is one that needs to be discussed in terms of what are the uses here, are there some recreational uses that need to come in here …. This is such a treasure because it’s a wilderness area surrounded by 7 million people, and we want to keep it in this natural state. We also want to be able to preserve the agricultural lands. And agricultural lands that particularly are in the federal lands, the expropriated lands from the [Pickering] airport. This is excess expropriated lands that will not be needed for an airport even if it did go ahead. Also, there are some very interesting heritage homes buildings within the area. There are two national historic sites already established in the Rouge. One is an aboriginal burial ground, which is called Bead Hill, and the other is Carrying Place Trail. The aboriginal aspect of the Rouge is significant to celebrate, and so all that needs to be taken into consideration.

The other thing that’s really important to do is to have an interpretive centre. Right now, if I have friends come to visit me, and I say you should go and see the Rouge when you’re in the GTA, it’s absolutely magnificent. And they say, well where do I go? Every national park has an interpretive centre, even Bruce’s Mills and Conservation Areas have interpretive centres. So people can go to the interpretive centre, find out about this, where the trails are, look at the pictures, have interactive kind of stuff there, and then go from there.

A: What are some of the other main advantages of the national park model?

P: The Carolinian forest is one of Canada’s most endangered ecozones, and the Carolinian forest in the Rouge is one of the last and this is of national significance. It’s been stated that there are 15 nationally rare and endangered species in the Rouge. This area would be a tremendous ecotourism destination for the GTA and for Ontario. It would be a huge win all the way around in the public interest.

To be in the GTA and in to and take one transit ticket and you’re in a national park—I mean, I don’t know how many people are able to get to a national park so easily. If this can go ahead, this will be the largest wilderness park in an urban area in North America.

A: How do you see that process going forward?

P: We’ve had this report for 30 days, so in the next 30 days we’re going to be hearing back from our partners, all the municipal folks who are sitting as members of the Rouge Park Alliance, asking them to comment on the report. And we’ve been urging the federal government and the provincial government to begin negotiations. They have said they want to wait until this report is out. So now the report is out, now we’re going to hear back from the partners, and so we would hope that the players, the federal and the provincial government would then sit down and discuss this.

For more information on the Rouge Park, to volunteer or to read the consultant report, visit http://RougePark.com . A companion website to promote the National Park concept has been set up at http://rougenationalpark.ca .

What $7B Will Get You: 4% of Ontario’s Electricity Market

The Ontario government just signed a massive deal (billed as possibly the world’s largest) with Samsung and a South Korean consortium  that includes a heavy stake from the South Korean government to construct a whackload (that’s the technical term) of green energy manufacturing and generation in Ontario. The consortium has promised to invest between $6B and $7B in the province to build four manufacturing plants for green energy parts such as wind rotors and turbines, and to construct wind and solar energy generating capacity to supply around 4% of Ontario’s electricity needs, by 2016. In return they will get a higher rate for that electricity under Ontario’s FIT program, so long as the plants and the capacity are up and running on time.

Predictably, the opposition parties have gone nuts. It’s too much money and not enough jobs! There wasn’t enough transparency and they weren’t involved! Before I go any further, the Liberals are the only party I have never voted for; I have no personal or political stake in the governing party and, one might think, quite a bit invested in the other three. Yet I can’t help but think that they are complaining because that’s what opposition parties are supposed to do, rather than because there is anything substantive to complain about. Ontario is spending under $500M to get a $6.7B investment.

The Green Energy Act* was meant not only to stimulate the development and construction of renewable energy supplies for the province, but to help replace Ontario’s obsolete automobile manufacturing capacity (sorry, folks–I know this is an unpopular stand with the labour crowd but the car is dying, and rightfully so. The faster we move to the new reality the better for us in the long run) with green manufacturing capacity. Right now the vast majority of green energy manufacutring is in Europe, and so whenever anyone in North America wants to put up a wind turbine they end up ordering parts from halfway around the planet. This is Not Good. It’s not good for the environment and it costs a lot of money.

Encouraging manufacturers of renewable energy products to locate in Ontario is better than continuing to bail out auto manufacturing in the misguided belief that their union jobs can be propped along with public money forever.

The Samsung Deal is apparently meant to be part of that: get Samsung to manufacture here, get them to promise to bring another four manufacturers along, and build a “critical mass” of local green manufacturing capacity, which should then become an attractor for other manufacturers, and then Ontario’s environment gets cleaner, our electricity supply gets greener, and displaced workers from traditional manufacturing sectors have somewhere to go.

What’s not to like?

Oh, right: the capacity deal. As part of the overall package, the Ontario Liberals promised 500MW of transmission capacity to the consortium, bumping them ahead of local manufacturers and projects who have patiently waited their turn to access the grid. Yep, I’d be steamed too. But if the Samsung deal works to attract manufacturing to the province, it could end up being a boon to the very parties who are now so disgruntled. (I am willing to be corrected if anyone would like to.) Parts should be easier and cheaper to source, purchase and replace. It should stimulate local R&D.

In the meantime, they’ll have to wait longer for access to Ontario’s overworked grid–so let’s hope the Powers that Be recognize this as a significant weak spot and make a nice big announcement of a significant upgrade in grid capacity. We need it.

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* I see someone forgot to replace Smitherman’s photo on the GEA website, now that he’s retired from provincial politics to run for Toronto’s mayor. Oops!