Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

Today's Metro Morning asked people to call in with their new year's resolutions for the city of Toronto, which were then commented on by guest Glen Murray. They only had time for three callers (unless I missed the beginning), and their resolutions were:
  1. Close Bay Street to private vehicles.
  2. Increase the number of recycling options.
  3. More affordable housing.
Based on these calls, I will now conclude that if an election were held tomorrow, I'd get 66.6% of the vote and Michael Shapcott would get the other 33.3%. (Note: not a scientific poll.)

The question got me thinking though, and I decided to create my own top ten environmental new year's resolutions for anyone wondering what they can do. The catch is that these kinds of lists are already everywhere, and I didn't want to be boring. So, things like "drive less, replace your light bulbs, and recycle" didn't make the cut. I'm assuming you already know that. These resolutions also ask a little bit more of you. Sorry about that.

Here, off the top of my head, are ten other things you may or may not have thought of or already be doing.
  1. Eat less meat. We already eat too much for our health anyway, and meat is a very inefficient (albeit admittedly delicious) way of producing food energy. It takes more resources (food, land, water, etc) to produce meat than it does to eat lower on the food chain.
  2. Eat more locally. The average meal travels further than it needs to, which contributes to climate change, damages local economies, and generally makes your food less yummy.
  3. Eat more organically. (Yes, I did skip breakfast.) Did you know that agribusiness uses petroleum and natural gas-based fertilizers and pesticides? And that it's only because of this infusion of oil that we're able to grow as much food as we do? And that oil production will likely peak sometime between last year and ten or twenty years from now? Because I didn't know that until a few years ago, and it's a pretty big deal that we should all be aware of. We are, in effect, "eating oil," in that much of the food we grow wouldn't have been possible otherwise. Buy foods that avoid the use of artificial fertilizers.
  4. Take transit less. I actually got this tip from the now defunct One Tonne Challenge (this link is pretty funny and demonstrative), which advised me that since I don't drive very much, and since even public transit uses energy, biking and walking would further reduce my carbon emissions. Also, biking is awesome.
  5. Start a garden. This relates to #2. If you've got a back yard, this should be fairly simple. If you live in an apartment building or condo, you've got a little more work to do, but it's still possible.
  6. Buy less. My brother is returning from a trip to Kenya today, and he's assured me that the impoverished Kenyans he met are, on average, happier and more life-loving than us wealthy Canadians. Almost everything we buy ends up in the garbage eventually anyway. The first and most forgotten R (of the three R's) is the most important.
  7. Produce some of your own power. If wind or solar (either passive or active) work where you live, consider getting them installed. If not, maybe you have a geothermal option. If you live in a condo this isn't impossible, but obviously you'll have to either talk your board into it or get elected to the board yourself.
  8. Buy power from Bullfrog. Easier than #7, as they've already done the legwork.
  9. Reduce your overall footprint. Using this ecological footprint calculator may give you some insight into what sorts of actions have the greatest effect.
  10. Add your own tip by commenting on this page. (Note: Blogger comments have been buggy recently, but they're still being saved. Even if it says "0 Comments" below, clicking on that link may reveal that there actually are comments.)
Hope that's been helpful and/or interesting, and, of course, not too preachy. If not, that's what tip number ten is for.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bush Melting Faster Than Harper, Slower Than Arctic

I'm back in Toronto after a Christmas-family-tour. One stop was to visit my Gomma and Pappa (the names us grandkids call my dad's parents for reasons that have never been clear to me), who gave me some new clippings. One was all about polar bears, and highlighted the fact that over the past few decades the thickness of the ice in the arctic circle has thinned by 40%.

I read a lot of statistics and, recently, I've just been letting them wash over me like noise. Otherwise, they become overwhelming and even debilitating. My Pappa's disbelief, however, caused this one to stand out. Actually, you might describe his reaction as outraged. I was somewhat surprised to hear this man in his 80s demand to know why SUVs aren't illegal. He kept asking me to write a letter to the Globe and Mail, "telling Canadians to wake up."

I tried to comfort him with the good news that, in fact, we now see daily stories and op-ed pieces about the climate crisis. Exactly one year ago, I told him, I was in an election campaign where I felt like I still needed to convince people that climate change was real. If we had another election campaign today (or, say, in March), I'd be able to assume that most people recognize the threat and move on to advocating for specific solutions. That's a huge step forward, I argued. Pappa remained unsatisfied that we're moving quickly enough.

Today's announcement by U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that he agrees with my Pappa and believes polar bears are "threatened," and that this threat is a specific result of climate change, is a good sign. It's also an embarrassing one, since it means that the Bush administration has now done more to acknowledge the science of climate change than Stephen Harper.

It's not Canadians that need to wake up, it's our government.

The good news in all of this is that in our next federal election you'll see all four national parties making the environment an issue (something that none of the three status quo parties did effectively in the last campaign). The environment has (finally!) become an issue like health care and education, in that everyone can agree it's important (critical, in fact). It won't be enough for a party to say they "care about" and "want to protect" the environment. Politicians will have to demonstrate they have solutions that work. That's where I believe the Green Party has credibility the other parties lack.

We'll have to move quickly though. Not just because we're running out of time, but because my Pappa deserves some good news.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Writing for the Torontoist

I've been hired as a contributor to Torontoist, a Toronto community/info/news/blog site that gets around 100,000 unique visitors a month and is the largest website of its kind in the country. (Although they're also in the largest city in the country, so that's kinda cheating.)

My first post was today, regarding the end of BikeShare. All future posts by me should appear here. My contributions to Torontoist will be fundamentally municipal or local in nature, while I'll continue to use this blog for topics that are more federal and/or partisan. (I won't post here less than I have been, I'm just adding Torontoist to the pile.)

By the way, this seems like a good time to solicit feedback from y'all on what you want to get out of this blog. What sorts of posts have you liked? What haven't you liked? And, come to think of it, who are you? Where are you? How did you find me? I've been getting over a thousand visits a month (increasing each month since I started), but I don't have a good sense of who you all are. It'd be great to hear from you via comments to this post.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 17, 2006

For the Record...

Today I took the recycling out in a t-shirt and was pretty comfortable. According to Environment Canada, the temperature in Toronto is currently 13 degrees Celsius, dangerously close to breaking the 1984 record, and 12 degrees above the "normal maximum."

I just thought someone should mention that. I couldn't find any news reports about it except for this one, and most conversation regarding the weather around Toronto is about "how nice it is." Reminds me a bit of the frog in the pot.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 14, 2006

My First Press Release

Well, actually, this was my first press release, but this morning's release (on the wire here) is my first as Democratic Reform Advocate. See below.


Harper Can't Dictate Democracy, Green Party Says
Senate reform must be decided by people, not politicians

OTTAWA, Dec. 14 /CNW Telbec/ - The Conservative government is overstepping its bounds by attempting to unilaterally change this country's democratic systems, Green Party of Canada democratic reform advocate Chris Tindal said today.

"Democracy isn't just another political issue," said Tindal. "Our democratic systems need, by definition, to be determined by citizens, not just politicians. They especially shouldn't be dictated by a Prime Minister whose party received just a little more than a third of the vote in the last general election."

The Canadian Senate, while in need of reform, has traditionally played an important role in Canadian politics as a place of sober second thought and long-term planning. Any good ideas that the government's proposal may include, such as a move towards proportional representation, lack legitimacy unless they come directly from citizens.

"The Senate is just one piece of the very complicated web that makes up our democracy," added Green Party leader Elizabeth May. "To tinker with it in isolation from other democratic systems, and without an appreciation for the many functions and long history of the Senate, is dangerous to say the least."

The Green Party of Canada recognizes the need for democratic reform, including Senate reform. Greens support the creation of a Citizens' Assembly to determine what Senate reform is necessary, similar to the Citizens' Assembly dealing with proportional representation that is currently under way in Ontario.


Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What's Behind Stockwell's Skepticism?

By now you've probably heard about Stockwell Day's embarrassing column that got him negative media attention for mocking Al Gore and climate change. Aside from drawing attention to Stockwell's poor spelling, grammar, and sense of narrative flow, this highlighted an inconvenient truth that the Conservative government has been trying their best to downplay: namely, they don't believe the science of climate change.

What's interesting about that is that scientific consensus on the issue of the climate crisis (that it's real, being influenced by human action, and threatens life on Earth) is about as tight as scientific consensus can get. Those of you who have watched Al Gore's film or read the book know that in recent years there have been absolutely no peer-reviewed studies in recognized scientific journals that question the science of climate change, while at the same time 53% of media stories have done so (demonstrating the effectiveness of the tobacco-turned-oil lobby).

We have to conclude, therefore, that the debate that Stockwell and the Conservative government insist on having has nothing to do with science. So, then, what's this all about?

I'm currently reading Alanna Mitchell's Dancing at the Dead Sea, and I think she has some answers. Alanna compares the science of climate change with Darwin's theory of evolution, in that it fundamentally challenges what we thought we knew about the world and our place in it -- the "legends" and myths that give us meaning.

As evidence, she presents this quotation from the Roman Catholic Dublin Review, printed shortly after (and in response to) the publishing of The Origin of Species.
The salvation of man is a far higher object than the progress of science: and we have no hesitation in maintaining that if in the judgement of the Church the promulgation of any scientific truth was more likely to hinder man's salvation than to promote it, she would not only be justified in her efforts to suppress it, but it would be her bounden duty to do her utmost to suppress it.
Even if the science is right about evolution, the Church said, preserving the religious status quo was more important.

There may be a direct correlation with Stockwell's thinking here. It's well known that, unlike most Christians I know, he subscribes to the belief that the world was literally created in seven days. He may also believe, therefore, in the "immutability" of creation. Perhaps he's concluded that climate change can't be real, or, at least, that we can't be responsible, because only God could alter creation in such a profound way.

Or maybe that's a bit of a leap; I can't be sure. What I do know, however, and what Alanna points out, is that if you replace "evolution" with "climate change," and "the salvation of man" with "the strength of the economy," you get the reaction of today's conservatives to the climate crisis. Witness this March 28, 2001 statement by Ari Fleischer, then press secretary for President Bush:
The president has been unequivocal. He does not support the Kyoto treaty. not in the United States' economic best interest.
Now, see what Bush himself said the next day:
I will explain as clearly as I can, today and every other chance I get, that we will not do anything that harms our economy. Because first things first are the people who live in America. That's my priority. I'm worried about the economy...And the idea of placing caps on CO2 does not make economic sense for America.
The parallel is striking. "Never mind the science or the threat," they say, "the economic status quo is more important than all of that." As if there could be an economy without life. As if there could be salvation without knowledge.

This makes a lot of sense. In many ways, as former United Church moderator Bill Phipps is fond of pointing out, the market economy is a new god. We worship economic indicators as if they're profits (pun only slightly intended), never questioning if they're actually making our lives better, or if maybe there's another way.

Meeting the challenge of the climate crisis requires that we discard the myth that our economy can grow forever as it has for only the past millisecond of our species' existence; the myth that we can continue to take what's good from the Earth and return only what's bad without consequence.

That's a tall order, and should humble anyone who thinks that we can turn this ship around simply by changing a few light-bulbs and installing a few solar panels. Those things help, but a more fundamental shift must take place. Ironically, fundamentalists like Stockwell aren't up for it.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

On the Radio Tonight

I will be a guest on tonight's episode of "Catch Da Flava," a project of Regent Park Focus aired on Ryerson University's CKLN in Toronto. Listen live (from 7:30-8pm) in Toronto at 88.1 FM, or online (hi-bandwidth lo-bandwidth).

The topic is that nebulous thing we call "the environment," what it has to do with Regent Park (hint: Regent park is in the environment), and what people, particularly youth, in Regent Park and Toronto can be doing about this mess we seem to have gotten ourselves into. Should be good times.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, December 11, 2006

Who Kidnapped My Crosswalk?

Last week I started a new job in Liberty Village, Toronto -- a series of converted office lofts (my office used to be the Toronto Carpet Factory), new condos, cafes, and restaurants. When I don't bike to work (read: when it's cold or raining) I take the King Streetcar west from downtown, get off at the intersection of Fraser and King West, and cross south at the crosswalk.

That is, until this morning, when, instead of a crosswalk, I found a yellow sign that read "Caution: Crosswalk Removed," and had arrows pointing left and right, towards the closest intersections, a few hundred meters away each.

Google searches of words like "fraser, king, crosswalk" fail to turn up any evidence of warning or consultation regarding this apparent crosswalk kidnapping. In fact, most of the search results were Due South fan pages. (Fraser. Benton Fraser.)

This sort of thing is allowed to happen because pedestrians have not had an advocate at city hall, which collectively seems to believe that cars have more rights than people. (I'm talking about the crosswalk here, not the proliferation of Due South fan pages. That's allowed to happen because Due South is awesome.) It's the same reason why bike lanes and even whole sidewalks can disappear during road construction, as was the case last month on the busy south-east corner of University and Queen.

Pedestrian deaths and injuries in this city are already too high; the last thing we should be doing is killing crosswalks. I'm going to write Gord Perks, the councillor of this ward. I'll let you know how that turns out.

This morning some cars were still stopping where the crosswalk used to be -- in part out of habit, but also because there's still a steady stream of people who cross the street there. Let's hope that as memories of the crosswalk fade no one gets hurt.

UPDATE (December 12th, 6pm): Got a reply from Perks' office. Turns out the crosswalk was removed because a new intersection was installed about 100m east to accommodate a new development, and there are rules that say you can't have a crosswalk that close to an intersection. (How surprised are we that that rule didn't work backwards, "you can't put that intersection there, it's too close to the crosswalk!")

As of this morning people were still crossing at the phantom crosswalk in large numbers, while confused drivers slowed to a halt and tried to figure out why we were in their way. Perks' office has asked the TTC to move the stop back to the new intersection, further from where those of us who use(d) the crosswalk are trying to get to. Not the world's biggest deal in the grand scheme of things, but still an unfortunate example of the systemic bias that favours cars against transit users and pedestrians. (Just so we're clear, I'm not blaming Perks for this. Not only is he new, but apparently the last councillor, Sylvia Watson, didn't give them any files at all.)

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Toronto Centre Speculation

Those of you who follow this blog because you live in Toronto Centre or had something to do with my campaign there might find this story interesting. It speculates on who the Liberals will run in the next election (assuming Bill Graham won't run again).

My favourite part is this comment posted to the story on
James O'Grady from Windsor, Canada writes: It won't matter who runs for the Liberals in Toronto Centre, Chris Tindal of the Green Party will carry the day.
I'm sure the fact that James O'Grady just happens to be the name of my former campaign manager, who recently moved to Windsor, is pure coincidence.

(This comment about the Green Party is also interesting. Somebody get it to Martha!)

By the way, I will be seeking the nomination again in Toronto Centre for the Green Party, and I'm looking forward to the campaign. Hold January 24th 2007 if you want to be at the nomination meeting. Details here.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I'd Be Grumpy Too

I think I know why the NDP have been so grumpy lately. They must have had some advance knowledge of this poll:
It suggested the Liberals had the support of 35 per cent of respondents while the Tories were at 31 per cent, the NDP was at 12 per cent and the Green party was at 10 per cent.

Yikes! Only a two-point gap stands between the NDP and being knocked out of their perpetual third place. I wonder what the margin of error was for that poll...

The Decima poll of 1,025 respondents was conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times in 20.

Uh-oh. The NDP/Green gap is within the margin of error. This is what they call a "statistical tie." Plus, the NDP -- and the Conservatives for that matter -- are probably still hurting from losing to the Green Party in the London North Centre by election. How embarrassing is that. ;-)

Keep watching those grey political skies. They may clear up soon.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Same Sex Marriage Debate

If you take for granted that reopening the same-sex marriage debate is a bad idea from a human rights and social justice standpoint, you've only just begun to scratch the surface of the multitude of reasons this vote shouldn't be taking place.

First, it's a politically cynical move. Harper's not just doing this because he said he would. (He's already demonstrated his sense of humour by breaking a key promise that had the word "trust" in it.) Rather, he's orchestrating this vote because a number of his socially conservative MPs and supporters want him to prove that he's still at least open to the idea of discriminating based on sexual orientation. (Call it, neo-openmindedness.) Since the vote is almost certain to fail, that's the only thing he could possibly accomplish.

Second, it's a moot move. Not only is the vote likely to fail, but even if it succeeded, Harper would need to invoke the Charter's notwithstanding clause in order to actually outlaw same-sex marriage, and he already said he wouldn't do that. So, again, what are we doing here?

Finally, it's a waste of time. The House can only accomplish so much, and there's lots to do. They shouldn't spend any more energy on something that was already decided (and decided correctly) just to appeal to the small number of Canadians who want to believe they're still voting for the Reform party. And Canada should not be subjected to more divisiveness because a minority government wants to boost its ratings.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Some Advice

The two campaigns in the London North Centre by election that went negative were the Conservative campaign (which went negative on the Liberals) and the NDP campaign (which went negative on the Greens). It's no coincidence that those campaigns finished third and fourth, behind the positive campaigns of the Liberals and the Green Party.

I bring this up because late last night the NDP sent out an email to their supporters (and moles like me). The first paragraph read:
There's a new Liberal leader but it's the same old Liberal party. After 13 years of broken promises and corruption, the Liberals have picked themselves a new front man. Their choice - an out of touch academic who spent 10 years in a scandal ridden cabinet and who's record as Environment Minister was condemned by environmentalists and the Environment Commissioner. Liberal arrogance - some things never change.
The second paragraph -- ready for this? -- was as follows:
Today Jack Layton offered his congratulations to Stéphane Dion, saying that he looked forward to debating the new leader in Parliament to get things done for today's families.
The second paragraph loses some of its sincerity coming after the first, doesn't it? Listen folks, we're not going to accomplish anything by being close-minded, mean, and partisan beyond reason. And if that isn't enough, Canadians increasingly won't vote for these kinds of politicians and parties. The London North Centre result showed that.

If I were in charge of the NDP's messaging, I'd turn the venom down a shade, or risk being poisoned by it.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Félicitations, Stéphane

I've spent the day watching the Liberal leadership convention, and Stéphane Dion was just announced the winner of the final ballot. Those of you who have been watching as well will remember Stéphane as the "green" candidate, literally. He was the only leadership contender whose supporters weren't using red as their primary colour.

And, of course, I want to also congratulate my former Liberal opponent Bill Graham on the completion of a very successful leadership term. I like Bill a lot, and he's been a good MP for Toronto Centre.

Watching the leadership race of a rival political party from some other parties can be a conflicted event. On the one hand, you want the best candidate to win for the sake of the country. On the other, you can't help but speculate on which leadership candidate might be the greater benefit to your own party.

Thankfully, we don't have that problem (or at least not nearly as much) in the Green party. At the end of the day, what's good for our party is good for the country, because unlike other parties, we've explicitly said that the implementation of our policies and the health of our democracy come first. (It's sometimes said that we're the only party that hopes to work itself out of existence.)

Dion, therefore, was the best choice by both measures. Not only does he have the best values and priorities of any of the Liberal leadership contenders, he'll also be the most willing to cooperate with Green MPs. His biggest challenge, of course, is that he's still the leader of a party that is systematically invested in the status quo. It will therefore be harder for him to change our country's disastrous course, which is just one of the reasons why we still need new voices in parliament.

The next few months will be interesting.