Friday, January 05, 2007

Blog Has Moved -- Update Your Feeds

I'm moving my blog to WordPress. Blogger's been buggy recently, and WordPress has some additional features. The new blog is located at

If you follow my blog via RSS/Atom feed, please visit the new site and resubscribe, as the feed location has changed. Thanks, and sorry for the inconvenience.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ministering to the Environment

The Toronto Star reports that John Baird is your new federal minister of the environment. You might think this decision would be of huge importance to me, but I'm finding it hard to react. I want to be optimistic, but I don't see how this will change anything. I hope I'm proven wrong.

For one, Rona Ambrose never had a chance. Initially, she wasn't even supposed to be good at her job. The PMO didn't consider it a priority to maintain our life support systems. Then, when it became clear to him that environment = votes, Harper took over the file and stopped letting Ambrose speak. My first hope for Baird is that he'll be allowed to do his job.

Defining the nature of his job is the next big challenge. The Conservative government is yet to acknowledge the obvious fact that addressing the climate crisis is priority number one, but they'll probably have to. Then, they, like the rest of us, will have graduated from if to how. That's the tricky bit, because as the UN's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment explained, the climate crisis did not develop in isolation from other problems, nor can it be solved in isolation.

For government, that means two things. First, it means that climate change cannot be addressed unless we also address other environmental problems, including toxicity, over-fishing, air pollution, access to water, etc. Second, it means that much of what has to be done falls under the jurisdiction of other departments, including the ministries of...well, I was about to list them, but I would have had to list almost every single one. (Not to mention the over-arching challenges of addressing cancerous economic growth and destructive cultural assumptions.)

So that's why I don't think this shuffle will matter much one way or the other. There's a joke that the Green Party wouldn't even have a minister of the environment if we were in government, since we'd take our species' survival -- as opposed to our political survival -- into account when making all decisions. (I know, we're radicals.) And besides, to quote Roy MacGregor, this isn't about the minister of the environment. "This is about Canada, and the rest of the world, ministering to the environment."

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Poisoning Children and Politicians

While scrutinizing for Elizabeth May in London North Centre two months ago, I had an interesting conversation with a Conservative volunteer. She complained to me how outrageous it is for governments to be outlawing pesticides, citing that mainstay of schoolyard arguments that "it's a free country."

The problem is, of course, that when you define freedom that liberally (hehe) and approach it in such an ideological way, you back yourself into impossible corners. (Witness Donald Rumsfeld's famous observation that "Free people are free to...commit crimes and do bad things.") I asked the Conservative volunteer if she would agree that, even though it's a free country (whatever that means), the government would be within their rights to, say, prevent people from putting poison in children's food. (She did.) I then explained to her the process by which toxins like pesticides work their way up the food chain, bioaccumulating and becoming more potent at each level, until ultimately they show up in mothers' breast milk.

At this point, she uncomfortably changed the subject. I don't remember what to, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with "liberal corruption."

I was reminded of that by two main news stories today, which report that some children's necklaces have been recalled due to lead poising risk, and that politicians are even more toxic than humans. Er, I mean, more than other humans. (Apparently, Jack Layton is particularly fire retardant.)

The Globe and Mail reports that the testing, done on Jack Layton, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, and Liberal environment critic John Godfrey, "found a bewildering cocktail of contaminants...[that] have been found to cause cancer, disrupt normal hormone function, and lead to birth defects," including DDT, which has been banned for decades but will continue to circulate in the environment for decades to come.

The politicians had between 49 and 55 pollutants in their bodies, slightly more than what most Canadians are carrying around. Most upsetting for me is that, according to Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence who did the study, the politicians "were surprised as heck by the results." They shouldn't be. This is neither news nor new. I wonder if Rick had to resist an urge to slap them.

Regardless, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say, on record, that I don't think we should be poisoning children, or, heck, even politicians. I know, I know, it's a controversial position, but I think it's important to take a principled stand on this one, public opinion be damned. In fact, a well-known Green Party member once suggested to me that we use the following campaign slogan: "The Green Party: We don't want to poison your kids." Catchy, ain't it?

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