Category Archives: ecology

There’s Something Happening Here

In 1988, over 300 scientists and policy-makers from 46 different countries and organizations came together to discuss the crisis of climate change in Toronto. It was called “The Toronto Conference,” and their final statement began with the following sentence.

Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment, whose ultimate consequence could be second only to a global nuclear war.

This week, thousands of birds fell from the sky in Australia, dead. As of now, we don’t yet know why.

In Green politics, there’s something called the precautionary principal. Basically, it states that if there’s a chance that a series of actions could, for example, shut down our life support systems, we should maybe not take those actions until we’re sure they’re safe (as opposed to conducting business as usual until there’s absolute proof that business as usual is destructive). In other words, even if things ain’t exactly clear, it’s still worth stopping, listening, and looking around.

Bird deaths can’t help but remind me of the proverbial canary in the mineshaft. Problem is, unlike miners, we don’t have anywhere to run to once we notice the canary has stopped breathing.

For what it’s worth.

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.”

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?

Three Updates: Garth Turner, Elizabeth May, Planet Earth

Today, three posts in one. I thought about splitting them up, but this seemed simpler. I recommend reading the whole thing, of course, but feel free to take it in pieces instead.

Garth Turner Update

According to this account by Lloyd Hilbert (via Jim Harris’ blog), there is some pretty strong support in Garth’s riding for the idea of him joining the Green Party:

At the end of the meeting he did a quick show of hands to get a judgment about what to do next.

He chose 5 options:

Stay as an Independent, Join the Liberals, Join the Greens, Negotiate a return to the Conservatives, Resign his position.

Based on a show of hands, the results were as follows:

Resign = 0
Join Liberals = 0
Go back to Conservatives = 4
Become Independent = 19
Join the Greens = 18

Those results confirm my earlier prediction. In fact, that support from his constituents to join the Green Party is even stronger than I thought it’d be. It’s a very good sign.

To an earlier commenter’s question about how I feel about the fact that Garth doesn’t support Kyoto as-is, I’m not thrilled about it but I can deal. Kyoto is important because it’s the only international framework we have for dealing with the climate crisis, and because Canada is now in the shameful position of being the only country to have signed the agreement and walked away. We have “cut and run,” as Harper would put it, from an international contract.

That being said, Garth is still willing to work seriously to reduce emissions. In terms of representation in the house, that’s better than nothing.

Elizabeth May Update

The race is on! Elizabeth has confirmed she’ll run in the by-election for London North Centre. There are some compelling reasons why she could actually win this one. There’s no doubt that it’s going to be the biggest local campaign in the Green Party of Canada’s history. We’ll be organizing buses to run from Toronto to London on weekends to flood the riding with volunteers, and several people have already committed to move to London and volunteer for the duration of the campaign. If we pull this off, and Garth comes through, we’ll have two MPs before the next general election. Everything’s happening very quickly.

Planet Earth Update

Things are happening very quickly here too, but in a much more negative way. Yesterday the WWF released more chilling evidence (as if we needed any) that we’re in serious trouble. Some highlights from their report (PDF):

  • Globally, we’re now placing a demand on the Earth’s resources that’s approximately 25% more than the Earth can provide.
  • By current projections, we’ll be using a full two-Earths worth of resources by 2050 (the same year Harper would like to get serious about the climate crisis).
  • Wildlife biodiversity has declined by a shocking 30% in the past 30 years.
  • The report predicts that “large-scale ecosystem collapse” is likely by the middle of the century.

What’s even more upsetting and baffling is that, as of right now, I can’t find this story on,, or If “large-scale ecosystem collapse” isn’t big news, someone please tell me what is. (Oh wait, I think I’ve got it. I just took a quick poll. Number of Google News articles about the WWF report: 70. Number of articles about McKay’s dog comment: 83. Number of articles about Madonna’s adoption: 729.)

Per capita, Canada is the fourth worst culprit. Interestingly, the United States is second, with the United Arab Emirates taking first place. I was in the UAE almost two years ago, and just dug this up from an (admittedly overly-pretentious) letter I wrote home about something I saw while visiting a high-school in Abu Dhabi:

A display case labeled “Did You Know…” shares some interesting facts about how wasteful and disproportionately privileged America is (produces x amount of garbage, consumes y amount of the world’s resources, throws out z percentage of the food they produce). It seems a little rich coming from a country where everyone drives an SUV, lives in a palace, eats mostly imported food, and owes their wealth to peddling dino-juice to the rest of the world. Then again, maybe I’m just bitter they forgot to mention how wasteful and privileged Canada is. We count too ya know.

I’m not particularly proud of the tone of the entry (I think I was trying to be funny), but you get the point. These students were being taught how bad the US is, when it turns out the UAE is even worse. And Canada’s not far behind. All I’m saying is, if we’re going to criticize the States, let’s make sure we’re also getting our own house in order.

Time For Action

All that is enough to be paralyzing, but think back to the first two updates. As our crisis worsens, our efforts to solve it also increase. Jared Diamond describes this phenomenon as a horse race between two animals that each continue to run faster. The most likely winner is not yet clear, but it’s not too late to affect the race.

Last night I was at Bullfrog Power’s one-year Birthday Bash. Bullfrog provides 100% renewable electricity to customers in Ontario, today. Right now! If you live in their service area and you want to take some action, becoming a customer of theirs is a good way to start.

Another great action would be donating to or otherwise helping with Elizabeth’s campaign. We need to raise $80,000 to run a full campaign, and there’s just a little more than a month before E-Day on November 27th. Jim Harris appears to be helping to direct donations and organize volunteers through the national party, so visit his blog for more information.

Lots to be done. Let’s get to work.