Saturday, February 28, 2009

Closer to the land: Freedom of expression and the environment

On Friday night I attended "Closer to the Land: Freedom of Expression and the Environment" organized by PEN Canada as part of Freedom to Read Week at the public library . The format was a kind of roundtable discussion facilitated by CBC Radio's Matt Galloway.

The meeting opened with two poems written by Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian writer and tv producer who was executed by the Nigerian regime in 1995 for defending the Ogoni people from the brutal and environmentally destructive policies being implemented by the regime and Shell oil. It was very moving causing me to co-dedicate this blog to Saro-Wiwa in addition to Rachel Carson (see bottom of the right column).

A petition was also circulated addressed to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the release of writer Hossein Derakhshan, also known as the Blogfather of Iran. An empty seat sat on stage for Derakhshan, representing the writers who have been silenced by repressive regimes around the world.

The roundtable included

Ken McGoogan
Biographer and historian, author of Race to the Polar Sea: The Heroic Adventures of Elisha Kent Kane

Trevor Herriot
From Saskatchewan, naturalist, writer, illustrator, author of the multiple-award-winning book River in a Dry Land, and the recently released Grass, Sky, Song, Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds.

Taras Grescoe
From Montreal, non-fiction writer and author of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.

Sarah Harmer
Music icon and environmental activist - active in the preservation of the Niagara Escarpment and in particular, opposed to the expansion of gravel pits and stone quarries on Mount Nemo north of Burlington. 
There were some interesting stories about what each had learned about their respective issues and struggles. Some debate ensued as to whether they should be called "activists". As well, a repeated theme was related to information flow - on the one hand, there is tons of information available about the environment which may be causing some people to be experiencing overload while at the same time government agencies are often less than forthcoming about releasing information.

Another theme was on the importance of individual action as well as a very strong hope that Barack Obama be able to deliver on some of his promises related to the environment. I felt there was some muddled thinking when it came to discussion of political action and the responsibilities of governments and corporations but overall it was an interesting discussion.

At the end of the discussion and question period I had a chance to meet Juno winner Sarah Harmer and Taras Grescoe whose new book I purchased.

PEN Canada helps writers around the world who have been persecuted for the peaceful expression of their ideas.

UnionBook launched

Check out the latest social networking site - UnionBook, a project of Labour Start. Sign up and look for the OPSEU group. UnionBook was launched in February 2009 and is hoping to attract trade unionists from around the world. It is based in England.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Harper playing catch-up with Obama's green plan

Tories in sprint to match Obama on climate change

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he is breathing a sigh of relief that U.S. President Barack Obama is serious about climate change, but the pace of change in Washington could leave him struggling to catch his breath.
"Breathing a sigh of relief"? I hardly think so.
From world-leading automobile fuel standards to a clean energy surge and greenhouse gas restrictions, the U.S. is set to accomplish over the next year what Canada has been promising for a decade.
And hasn't delivered under either Liberal or conservative governments.
While the Tories have put pollution regulations on hold until the American playbook becomes clearer, Obama called Tuesday in his address to Congress for an emissions cap-and-trade system that is anticipated to raise $300 billion in new revenue and set the course for economic recovery.
Great idea. Use the carbon credits and sales to underwrite infrastructure development. Harper must be starting to grit his teeth.
"History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas," Obama said, calling climate change, along with health and education, his top priorities for the year ahead.
Public services are back in the spotlight but what will Obama do with the over-the-top, bloated military budget?
The Conservatives have pledged to keep pace with Washington both to do what is politically popular and to stay competitive economically, but signs have emerged that Harper's team has not completely changed its stripes.
How surprising.
Asked this week about threats in the U.S. to ban oil imports from Alberta, Harper insisted Canadian taps would continue to slake the U.S. thirst, regardless of political rhetoric.
Yes, we'll destroy half a province for the sake of some short-term oil sales so that Americans can continue to drive their hummers. That should be very popular.
It was reminiscent of the diatribes he once reserved for opposition parties urging a carbon tax or Kyoto compliance. This time, his target was green U.S. governors like California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has passed legislation to outlaw dirty energy sources in favour of cleaner fuels.
That certainly sounds attack-worthy from Harper's perspective.
But Harper attacks the state's environmental stewardship at his peril; the White House and Congress are littered with Californians leading the climate change fight.
When are we going to unelect this guy?

There are serious consequences for allowing the lag to grow between the United States and Canada's green efforts. How prepared is Canada to play host to green manufacturing? Will the incentives be there to encourage manufacturers to open shop in Canada? Can our community colleges and universities provide the kinds of relevant training and knowledge for a greener economy?

Green jobs meeting...

I had an opportunity to participate in a very interesting discussion about green jobs in the Toronto area. The meeting was organized by Labour Council President John Cartwright. While there are many potential areas for growth in this area - both in terms of jobs and UNION jobs - the main focus of the discussion was on the rezoning and redevelopment of the Kodak lands, the city's light rail transit plan and the  Mayor Miller's energy retrofits of 1,000 apartment buildings which is being provided expertise by the Clinton Climate Initiative

A recurring theme in each of these areas of interest - aside from the issue of construction and other support jobs - was the issue of procurement of parts and other materials. Where will they be made? Who will make them? How do we get industries to locate their green businesses in Toronto area jurisdictions? 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Story of Stuff

I think I posted this last year, but it is worth posting and watching again. In light of the economic downturn in which the message seems to be all about consumption and "confidence", there is an inherent contradiction between the obessive "shop until you drop, let's kick start the economy"proposal and the carbon footprint of all that stuff.

The Story of Stuff.

Tip of the hat to OPSEU member & leader Dora Robinson for this story.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ontario's new Green Energy Act

More details and comments to follow but this is a huge story for Ontario.

Ontario Green Energy Act

For a look at the legislation and other links, click on this link.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Winterlude in Ottawa

I took a break and went to Ottawa with a friend for the weekend. It was my first experience attending the Winterlude festival. We had a great time. While I will admit to driving there, the car was parked pretty much most of the time. 

Skating was one theme of the weekend. We skated 6 kilometres on the Rideau Canal one day and then on the rink at Rideau Hall the next (which can be booked for events). 

Rideau Hall rink all to ourselves

After the skate, we took the tour of Rideau Hall and who should we meet on her way out the door but G-G, Her Excellency, MichaĆ«lle Jean who stopped briefly to give us a warm hello in the Reception Room. 

Did a lot of walking around - the Central Block Parliament Building, Chateau Richelieu lobby, National Art Gallery and Byward Market. Saw a fantastic light & sound show followed by a show by Canadian R&B great Jully Black. The ice sculptures were like none I had ever seen before. 

Cinderella's pumpkin carriage pulled by 4 ice horses

Power plant made from plastic water bottles at the centre of the ice sculptures. 

The closest I got to a Blackberry all weekend. (Just kidding, actually, I don't have a cell phone)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Green job opportunities...

Know anyone looking for a job? How about some young people looking for summer opportunities?

Check out Goodwork, Canada's Green Job Site. Some recent jobs include:

  • Credit Valley Conservation Youth Corp Crew Leader (3 positions) 
  • Organic farming intern (Durham region)
  • Organic grain marketer (Berwick ON)
  • Office and Finance Manager, CERCOPAN: Centre for Education, Research, Nigeria
  • Solar panel installer (Alberta)
  • Communication co-ordinator - Climate Action Network Canada
  • Arctic climate intern (unpaid)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Big Ask...

Very powerful video from Friends of the Earth. It was filmed last year. Not sure when it was released but it's the first time I've seen it.

Act Now

Hat tip to Dora Robinson.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Briarpatch - Call for sustainability content

Briarpatch unplugged, or, How I learned to stop destroying the planet and love the global recession

What if the economic recession we're presently experiencing is not just a regrettable temporary setback in the never-ending march of growth-fuelled prosperity, but the beginning of a painful but ecologically necessary process of scaling back our footprint to a more sustainable level?

What principles should guide our efforts to reorganize our lives and communities on a human scale? What initiatives already underway deserve to be profiled, celebrated, and imitated? What can we learn from what other people are doing in other parts of the world? What books and films shed light on the key issues and should be reviewed? How can our efforts to cope with the global recession pave the way to a more stable and sustainable future?....

If you've got something to contribute to this discussion, then we want to hear from you. We are looking for articles, essays, investigative reportage, news briefs, project profiles, interviews with luminary thinkers, reviews, poetry, humour,
artwork & photography that explore how we can unplug from the growth machine and cope with the global recession....

Queries are due by March 23, 2009. If your query is accepted, first drafts are due by May 1, 2009. Your query should outline what ground your contribution will cover and
include an estimated word count and a short writing sample.

Please review our submission guidelines before submitting your query. Send your queries to: editor AT briarpatchmagazine DOT com.

We reserve the right to edit your work (with your active involvement) and cannot guarantee publication. Briarpatch pays $0.05/word.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

OPSEU Officers pilot webconferencing

In a first for OPSEU, the Executive Committee conducted a full business meeting on February 12th. The Executive Committee is comprised of the top 9 elected leaders in the Union. 

Spread out over seven locations around the province, the Officers shared information, discussed several issues and took votes where required. The meeting was not without a couple of technology glitches but those were met with good humour and did not prevent business from proceeding. 

The session was part of a pilot which has seen committees, province-wide local executives and staff groups try out the pilot webconferencing technology - E-Pop. The hardware requirements include a PC, highspeed internet connection, webcam and audio headset. 

Some of the wrap-up comments from the Officers included "wonderful despite some small glitches", "it encourages more concise meetings", "a success", "a lot of potential" and "good in the winter". 

As the webconferencing pilot co-ordinator, I look forward to wrapping up this phase and producing recommendations for the next steps - a province-wide deployment. If your OPSEU committee or group would like to try it out, please contact me at 416-443-8888 x 8723. 

Many thanks to OPSEU's Information Services department as well as OPSEU Direct, Vice-President Patty Rout and Laura Delaney from E-Pop for their support. 

Pictures to follow. 

Australian eucalyptus fires

Australian Bushfires Pump Out Millions of Tons of Carbon

The deadly bush fires in Australia have released millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to more than a third of the country's CO2 emissions for a whole year, according to scientists.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The 10 worst packaging offenders

The 10 worst packaging offenders

Hat tip to Marinela Gabat for this story.

Microwave popcorn

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Earth Hour 2009 - March 28

The official Earth Hour 2009 video.

OPSEU will be participating in Earth Hour again this year. Stay tuned for the details. 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Energy saving tip - computers....

From Green Nexxus

Is your computer running up your power bill?

Does your computer run around the clock, 24/7? If so, you're missing out on an opportunity to knock a few dollars off of your monthly power bill...

The solution? You can use sleep and hibernate settings, so your system drops into a power-saving mode when not used for a few minutes. (Click Control panel - Power options). And for even more savings, shut down your computer when it is not in use, and plug everything into a power bar that you can click off to completely eliminate those trickles of phantom power.

McGuinty promises action on the environment...

McGuinty aims to create thousands of 'Green jobs'

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday a proposed Green Energy act would help create more than 50,000 new jobs over the next three years...

According to McGuinty the bill would help the government ensure our province's future by:
  • Supporting and expanding economic investment, thus building a stronger, greener economy with an estimated 50,000-plus direct and indirect jobs over the next three years
  • Expanding Ontario's use of clean and renewable sources of energy.
  • Better protecting our environment and combating climate change.
Considering McGuinty's move last year to place most of our eggs in the multi-billion dollar nuclear basket, we'll have to see the actual content of this Green Energy Act before making any judgments.

Stephen Chu lays it out....

Obama's new Energy Secretary Stephen Chu did not mince words when he laid out the dangers and challenges that lie ahead if serious efforts to tackle global warming are not addressed.

Obama's energy secretary outlines dire climate change scenario

Unless there is timely action on climate change, California's agricultural bounty could be reduced to a dust bowl and its cities disappear, Barack Obama's energy secretary said yesterday....

The language he used yesterday, though stark, was in step with a co-ordinated effort by Obama's officials and Democrats in Congress to project an image of consensus among policy makers in Washington on the need to move America away from fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions...

Obama ran a presidential campaign pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the middle of the century. He made his first move to redeeming that promise last week when he ordered the environmental protection agency to reconsider its refusal, when Bush was president, to allow California and 13 other states regulate car exhaust emissions.

He also directed the car industry to produce cars that can achieve 35 miles per gallon by 2020...

But the extent of public support is less clear, and a number of leading Republicans remain implacably opposed to the idea that global warming exists. Recent opinion polls suggest that the economic recession has eclipsed concern about the environment.

Democrats insist that the downturn should not prevent action on greenhouse gas emissions. "If you want to fight this recession, do it by mobilising to become energy independent with clean energy and really save this planet," said Boxer.

But America's credit crisis appears to have stopped the growth of the wind and solar power industries in their tracks. Factories building components for wind turbines and solar panels have been letting staff go.
Public opinion, credit markets, dinosaur legislators. Seems there's no end to the reasons not to take action. Let's see if Obama will continue to stand up against the republican energy lobby that has a vested interest in NOT tackling global warming.

Electric avenue....

"We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we'll take it higher"
(Eddy Grant)
Plotting the long road to one million electric cars
(CNET) -- Meeting the Obama Administration's goal of putting 1 million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015 will only happen with a coordinated set of policies and technology advances, according to an electric vehicle association...

On the technology side, batteries remain the biggest hurdle. The EDTA said the Department of Energy should fund to develop and test energy storage and fuel cells systems.

"Energy storage capability is the key to the success of the vehicles and also is the enabling technology for using renewable power as a transportation fuel," according to the EDTA's policy recommendation report.
Speaking of batteries (and lithium), this is an interesting article about Bolivia's lithium reserves. Aside from practical reasons such as access to resources, I hope that Obama will normalize relations with Bolivia.
Evo Morales hopes Bolivia's lithium reserves will allow it to join an exclusive club of countries like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, whose natural resources make them indispensable to the global energy future...

Bolivia says it hopes to one day be the world's leading producer of lithium, and with at least 73 million metric tons waiting to be mined, the country is positioned to follow through.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Google earth goes underwater....

I thought I'd seen it all on the internet until I installed Google Earth when I read that you could explore underwater as well as the entire landmass of the planet. I was impressed. I could even see my house (which is not underwater fortunately).

Dive in! You will need to download an install Google Earth.

Google Earth allows web users to explore world's oceans in 3D

The Ocean tool combines renderings of underwater terrain with expert content from marine biologists and oceanographers, allowing web surfers to swim around virtual underwater volcanoes, watch videos about exotic marine life, read about nearby shipwrecks, and contribute photos and videos of their favourite diving spots.

Google said that humans had only ever explored around five per cent of the world's oceans, which cover more than 70 per cent of the earth's surface and contain 80 per cent of all life.

Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, said the launch of Ocean in Google Earth provided an opportunity to change people's perspective about the importance of the oceanic ecosystem in the overall health of the planet.

"In discussions about climate change, the world's oceans are often overlooked, despite being an integral part of the issue," he said. "Biodiversity loss in our oceans in the next 20 to 30 years will be roughly equivalent to losing an entire Amazon rainforest, but this goes unnoticed because we can't see it."...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Using satellites to abate climate change

Interesting development on the technological front.

New satellite techniques for looking at climate change

Using the novel polarimetric mode of the PALSAR synthetic aperture radar (SAR) aboard Japan’s ALOS satellite, Dr Shane Cloude of the UK-based AEL Consultants has mapped the biomass of Scotland’s forests. This marks the first time biomass data has been extracted over a large area using this sensor mode...

This information will assist politicians and non-governmental organisations in planning strategies for combating global warming through international monitoring and carbon sequestering.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

World Water Day - March 22

Tip of the hat to Dora Robinson for bringing this to our attention.

This year on World Water Day, we call attention to
the waters that cross borders and link us together.

The world’s 263 transboundary lake and river basins include the territory of 145 countries and cover nearly half of the Earth’s land surface. Great reservoirs of freshwater also move silently below our borders in underground aquifers.
Countries, organizations and individuals are asked to take some action on March 22 or in the days leading up to it in order to bring attention and pressure to bear on water-related issues. Check out the slide show here

In Toronto there is a planned screening of a new film,  Blue Gold: The World Water Wars, written and produced by American director Sam Bozzo.
It will be shown in 20 countries on March 22, World Water Day. The Toronto screening is tentatively set for Hart House.

"The idea is to get the audiences caught up in the story, and then they'll look for means of doing something about it," says Robertson.

Add to Technorati Favorites directory Add to Bloglines Who links to me?