Leaders and Laggards

The best available science tells us we have about 15 years left to avoid catastrophic disruption to life on this planet. Yet we are still electing political leaders (federal and provincial) that are determined to undermine all efforts at realistic and effective measures to avoid the worst outcomes. Ontario is poised to spend up to $30 million to challenge a federally legislated price on carbon after dumping an existing provincial carbon credit trading mechanism that was yielding 1.5 billion dollars a year for carbon descent solutions.

When we take a closer look, we can see that the vocal resistance to change is organized and funded by the vested interests that currently profit from the status quo. Some of the largest donations to the Ontario Conservative party in 2017 came from major land development companies and some from those associated with the energy sector. At least eight of the largest donors to the Ontario Conservatives in 2016 and 2017 have extensive links to numerous off-shore corporations exposed to scrutiny through the publication of the leaked Panama Papers. This is not meant to imply that the party is funded by tax evaders. I mention this only to show how wealthy individuals with substantial global interests position themselves to influence public policy at a regional and local level.

This is a global phenomenon. While Ontario was busy scrapping the Green Energy Act, the US was promoting the use of coal, reducing environmental protections of land and water, allowing more risky carbon fuel exploration such as fracking, and weakening automotive fuel economy standards. Continue reading

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Wisdom of the Crowd

Believe it or not, “cap and trade” was being debated as an economic policy option way back in my university days. It has only taken a lifetime to implement it in a handful of jurisdictions and the debate still continues.

The real question is what happens with the money, and how effective will it be in addressing the critical climate change issue? (Climate Change Is About to Accelerate Past the Point of No Return, Dec 2016) The opposition party agues for a rebate of a carbon tax directly to households. The current government has taken a different approach.

Now that Ontario has ‘captured’ the revenue from the first auctions of carbon credits the government announced this month that it “will use the proceeds of its cap-and-trade program to establish a fund — called the Green Ontario Fund — through a provincial agency. The program will offer up to a $7,200 rebate for new insulation, up to $5,000 for new windows, and up to $20,000 for new ground source heat pumps.”

Is there a difference to these two approaches? Either way, with cap and trade or a carbon tax, whether or not we see any real change in carbon emissions is still very much up to us. We have to make thousands of individual decisions to do something meaningful in a timely manner.

At least the Green Ontario website presents a menu of funded options for both households and businesses. You’ll notice that some of these programs were previously-existing conservation programs offered by gas distributors and electric utilities (Save on Energy) while others are new provincial programs. Now all conservation programs are grouped together in specific categories: home; small business; organization. But you, the consumer, have to educate yourself about the different opportunities, weigh the relative value of different options (net cost and estimated savings), be motivated to complete an application for your chosen program(s) and select a pre-approved contractor. Hence, I’m giving a little nudge with this free plug for the Green Ontario web site – the government is waving a fist full of dollars your way. They’ve got my attention and maybe yours.

Ontario isn’t the first to tackle carbon emissions. In the UK, a decision was made some years ago to ‘just do it’. An insulation upgrade program simply went street by street, house by house, in a systematic approach that was said to be 90% more efficient than a random installation based on scattered applications. It gave an immediate boost to employment but this approach requires deciding priorities – who’s first and who comes last.

The New Year promises to be a decisive time with a likely tumultuous election in the mix. Will Ontarian homes and businesses be motivated enough by the carbon trade incentives? Will contractors be up to the challenge? Will the total upgrades be good enough and numerous enough to make a meaningful difference in carbon emissions and your payback savings? It’s entirely up to you and the ‘wisdom of the crowd’.

Celebrate the Great Trail

The Trans-Canada Trail is a spectacular achievement – a trail that links 15,000 communities over 24,000 km. This year, the 150th year of Confederation, the plan is to fully link the Trail. Celebrations are taking place in 200 communities across Canada in recognition of this milestone and the efforts of dedicated volunteers since 1992.

We are fortunate that the Great Trail extends through Innisfil along the Thornton to Cookstown section. You’re invited to participate in a local family celebration in Cookstown taking place Saturday, August 26, 10 am to 2 pm (Wellington St. and John Dr.)

Families can participate in a Trail Scavenger Hunt, learn all about turtles with Kids for Turtles, enjoy free pizza from Bernie’s Pizza, and more!

Learn more at thegreattrail.ca

 

Celebrate and Contemplate

Next week (July 22) Innisfil Beach Park will be the site for Celebrate Lake Simcoe. It will be in recognition of its importance to our lives and an opportunity to learn about efforts to restore and maintain a clean lake and watershed for this region. Indigenous people will participate this year with a traditional pow wow and displays of their own.

Recent events make it all the more important to celebrate clean water and motivate us to ensure clean water for everyone. The mercury poisoning scandal at Grassy Narrows caused by industrial contamination of the Wabigoon River (up to 50 years ago and continuing today) may be one of the most neglected environmental disasters in history. At the end of June the Ontario government committed $85 million toward clean-up of this “gross neglect”. But a resolution will require more years of effort while almost all members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation exhibit symptoms of some neurological damage.

I’m reminding my readers of this because of an alarming report published in the American Chemical Society Journal and recently described in Science Daily and Clean Technica. One headline reads, “Waste Water from Fracking Pollutes Pennsylvania Watershed”.  Continue reading

Climate Change Survival

It’s another season of local flooding, see-saw temperatures, western wild fires and severe storms to the south. Locally, we are hearing some farmers around Simcoe County lament the losses that they are, and will be, suffering this year.

Now, a new study published in the journal, Science, predicts that “unmitigated climate change will damage the poorest-third of US counties to the tune of 20% of total income. The regions that will be hit the hardest in the US over the coming years economically will be primarily in the South and in the lower Midwest. In other words, economic centers will be likely to move northwards, leaving the hotter, southern parts of the US impoverished …”.

(Perhaps not wanting to wait, Missouri just voted to lower the minimum wage in St. Louis by 23% from $10/hour to $7.70/hour, but that’s another story.)  Continue reading

A Few Centuries, and 150 Years

Most of us will soon be participating in celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Overall we can be mostly proud of the society that has evolved from our European and colonial past. Some First Nations are reminding us, though, that Indigenous people have no reason to cheer about an imposed system that continues to have devastating social and economic consequences for their communities.

I took a look at some maps in the Economic Atlas of Ontario from the Ontario Archives, which dramatically illustrates how “Indians” systematically vanished from our consciousness in the century prior to Confederation. The following slides contain four maps spanning 1792 to 1882.

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We can hope that in this 150th year of Canada that history is finally starting to bend in the direction of a more just future. In symbolic recognition, the summer solstice, June 21, is celebrated as National Aboriginal Day, and will be renamed National Indigenous People’s Day. More importantly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has presented a full catalogue of recommendations to address numerous injustices affecting Indigenous people. (visit Reconciliation Canada)

I think it is both startling and shameful that, over my lifetime in the 20th century, I have had virtually no meaningful contact with Indigenous people. So in that context, it is particularly important and meaningful that Innisfil’s annual event, Celebrate Lake Simcoe, is partnered this year with the Barrie Native Friendship Centre to hold a traditional Pow wow at Innisfil Beach Park in conjunction with other activities later in July.

Travel Ontario website describes a pow wow as a “sacred gathering of Indigenous peoples to honour the past, renew friendships and celebrate with music, song, food, dance and storytelling.” According to Wikipedia, “The word is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning “spiritual leader“.

The 2017 Celebrate Lake Simcoe event takes place on Saturday, July 22. Admission is free with a Food Bank donation. At 5:30 a.m. First Nations participants will conduct a sunrise ceremony, Blessing of the Water. A traditional Pow Wow begins at noon with a Grand Entry.

Celebrate Lake Simcoe also includes art, culture and environmental booths and a lake swims of 1, 3 and 5 km. Swim registrants are invited. Visit the website at Celebrate Lake Simcoe 2017