No. 181 - Serving the Vision of a Sustainable Vancouver
Also available in PDF format: Front (197kb)
- Middle (188kb)
SOUNDING THE CLIMATE ALARM BELL
For those who are close to the evolving science of climate change, it has been an alarming month.
In late March, James Hansen, NASA’s top climate scientist, wrote a paper titled Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?, which argues that the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is already past the danger point. CO2 is the primary gas that we are releasing by burning fossil fuels and other means, that is trapping heat in the atmosphere. The pre-industrial level of CO2 was 285 parts per million; today’s level is 386 ppm.
Even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow morning, Hansen writes, there is about 2ºC of warming “in the pipeline” due to slow feedbacks from the melting ice and warming ocean. If we stabilize CO2 at 450 ppm, which many see as the necessary goal, we risk returning the planet to a condition that was largely ice-free, when sea levels were 70 metres higher.
The last time the planet cooled down from a much warmer world, 50 million years ago, Antarctica glaciated (froze) at 450 ppm –so it is likely to melt at the same level. His conclusion is that we must seek to stabilize CO2 at not 450 but 350 ppm, which could be done if we stop burning coal except where it uses carbon capture, and change the way we do forestry and farming, so that Earth’s soils and forests can absorb more CO2.
During April we learnt that CO2 is now rising by 3% a year, twice the rate of growth in the 1990s, and beyond the upper limit projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
We also learnt that the new Arctic sea-ice that forms in the winter is so thin that it is melting rapidly under the summer sun; and that polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea are starving to death because of the changing ice conditions.
Another report found that the IPCC’s projections for sea-level rise of 28-43 centimeters by the end of the century is too conservative, and that due to the process of acceleration, the likely rise is between 0.8 and 1.5 metres. Many of the world’s coastal cities are at sea level, including Richmond, BC, and large areas of Bangladesh.
In March, the global land surface temperature was the warmest on record, and the northern hemisphere snow-cover was the fourth lowest on record.
We also learnt that in Siberia, the frozen Arctic floor has started to thaw, releasing long-stored methane – which is troubling since methane traps far more heat in the atmosphere than CO2.
To cap the month off, Sir Nicholas Stern, the leading British economist whose 2006 report warned that global warming would reduce global GDP by up to 20%, said he had under-estimated the threat, due to new evidence of the failing ability of the world’s oceans to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. “People who said I was scare-mongering were profoundly wrong.”
Enough already!!, you are probably thinking – and understandably so.
But take heart. The new evidence does not give reason for hopelessness. What it does tell us is that the current consensus that we must seek an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 is probably wrong. My personal sense of things is that we need a 100% reduction in emissions by 2030. BC’s current goal is a 10% reduction below 1990 by 2020.
“That’s impossible!” many people will say. But why? We just need to be more ambitious in our approach.
In eastern Austria, the small town of Gussing has reduced its emissions by 93% since 1995, using forest biomass, solar and other means to produce heat, electricity and vehicles fuels.
Sweden, as a nation, has committed to end all dependency on oil by 2020. The Kalmar Region of south-east Sweden has committed to be zero-carbon by 2030. The Swedish town Vaxjo is already getting 90% of its heat from carbon-free sources.
Business is moving, too. DuPont, the chemical company, has reduced its emissions by 72% since 1990. Catalyst, the BC-based pulp and paper company, has cut by 71%. Marks and Spencer, the British retail store, is aiming at an 80% reduction by 2012. Interface, the big carpet company, is aiming at 100% reduction of its entire environmental footprint by 2020.
Small communities are also showing what is possible. The village of Ashton Hayes, population 900, which has set a goal to become Britain’s first carbon neutral village, reduced its community-wide emissions by a full 20% in their first year. Thanks to the involvement of the local school, half of the entire village came to the launch.
There are also smaller signs of what is possible. In Copenhagen, where 36% of commuters bike to work, the city’s goal is 50% by 2015. In San Francisco, where they recycle 69% of their wastes, the city’s goal is 100% by 2020. In Britain, all new buildings must be zero carbon by 2016.
All these changes are also needed for the important wider goal of global sustainability. We just need to accelerate the drive in that direction. It makes total sense. The technologies we need already exist - we just need to get on with it!
- Guy Dauncey
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HELP THE SWALLOWS
As global issues go, it may seem small – but for the violet green swallows whose eggs are tossed out of a nesting box by a sparrow, it is a disaster.
In our love of birds, we put up nesting boxes – but they are being taken over by house sparrows - the invasive species of the bird kingdom – which act like thugs to violet-green swallows and other birds. As the swallows decline, there are more mosquitoes and flying carpenter ants.
To protect your nest box, attach an oval hole made from ¾” thick hardwood to the existing hole. Drill a central hole no more than 7/8” and two close side 5/8” holes, then trim out the remaining bits. Or call Mac and Chris to come and help you! Call them at 250-812-6461 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
NO MORE BOTTLED WATER
Don’t drink bottled water – and don’t let your children drink it. If you’re a city councillor or official, don’t waste taxpayers’ money buying it. If you‘re a restaurant, don’t serve it. If you work at a school or college, stop using it. Why?
#1: Using bottled water sends the totally false message that municipal tap water is unsafe. More than a quarter of bottled water comes from municipal sources, anyway.
#2: It takes oil to make those bottles. According to the California-based Pacific Institute, the energy required to make one bottle is the equivalent of filling it ¼ full of oil. In Canada, the 2.1 billion litres we bought in 2006 needed 1.1 million barrels of oil to make them.
#3: Most bottles are not recycled, and end up in the landfill.
#4: It takes more energy to ship and truck them around.
#5. It’s stupid. Why pay 1,000 times more for bottled water when it costs a penny a gallon from your tap, giving money to the water corporations as if it was Christmas?
#6. Drinking bottled water is making our children grow up with the habit.
#7. Can we really trust the bottles not to leach their chemicals?
The City of Los Angeles has not allowed the use of city funds to buy bottled water since 1987.
San Francisco and Seattle have just banned its purchase by city departments and agencies. Chicago has placed a 5 cent tax on every bottle to discourage its use. All Illinois state agencies have been banned from buying it. Berkeley School District has stopped providing it. And now students on campuses across Canada are creating bottled-water-free zones – see www.insidethebottle.org.
It’s OK for emergencies – but otherwise, let’s junk it.
Here’s something new. Our cities are full of gardens that are hardly used, growing grass and weeds. Why not use them to grow food in an organized commercial manner?
Here in Victoria, Paula Scobie and Martin Scaia wanted to do something positive to contribute to local food security and sustainability. They learnt about SPIN farming (Small Plot INtensive), and set about inviting people with unused gardens to let them farm their land in exchange for a weekly sampling of the harvest.
They are now running a successful farm on 20 residential properties, mostly in Oak Bay, using standard 2’ by 25’ beds and relay cropping to grow three crops a year in the same bed – beans, carrots, potatoes, spinach, salad mix, cucumbers, turnips, beets, scallions, radishes, kale, collards, etc. All local, organic, and hand-reared. They provide the labour, tools and equipment, and the home-owners agree not to use chemical pesticides or herbicides around the yard. They are also working to get a farmer’s market started in Oak Bay.
In Saskatoon, Wally’s Urban Market Garden is farming half an acre spread over 25 backyard gardens; in Philadelphia, the Somerton Tank Farm is earning $52,000 a year from properties totaling half an acre - and Philadelphia has 30,000 vacant lots. If you’d like to contribute your garden, call Paula and Martin, 370-7471, and see www.cityharvest.ca.
THE GARDEN PATH
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SOUTH AMERICAN PROGRESS
Latin America still suffers from huge poverty, but the assumed “right to power” of the ruling elites and landowners is being gradually eroded.
In Paraguay, Bishop Fernando Lugo, the “bishop of the poor”, has ended the right-wing Colorado Party's 61-year grip on power, after campaigning on a platform of helping the poor and indigenous people.
And in Bolivia, the people will soon vote on a constitution that recognizes the sovereignty of 36 indigenous nations; requires basic services to be provided on a not-for profit basis; bans genetically modified food; gives priority to small organic farmers; protects natural resources; and requires the state to support the concept of vivir bien, which means living well, in harmony with other people and with nature, as opposed to living better, with more stuff. (Thanks to YES! Magazine).
This gets the mind going – what might we add to Canada’s constitution? The right to affordable housing? Clean water? Uncontaminated children?
TOP TEN CLIMATE SOLUTIONS - #7: STOP DEFORESTATION
You can see the smoke from space, as Earth’s rainforests burn in the Amazon, central Africa, and Indonesia. As well as destroying precious ecological habitats, a host of unknown life-saving herbs and medicines, and the ways of life of their indigenous forest dwellers, the fires are producing 20% of the CO2 emissions that fuel global warming.
Since the start of the human adventure, we have cut down 80% of Earth’s forests, but 20% remains, covering 12% of Earth’s land area, storing 40% of the world’s terrestrial carbon. As a result of our assault by bulldozer, chainsaw and fire, we are losing 40,000 hectares every day. People and businesses are destroying rainforests to raise cattle, soybeans for Europe’s cattle, monocultures trees for pulpwood, palm oil plantations for biodiesel (“deforestation diesel”), and to cut the valuable tropical hardwoods (often illegally). Andrew Mitchell of the Global Canopy Program says, “Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change”.
What should we do? Costa Rica has made it illegal to convert forest into farmland. The Paraguay government placed a moratorium on deforestation in the eastern half of the country in 2004, using satellites to keep a check and sending in forestry officials and police when they spotted a problem, reducing deforestation by 85%.
Where the political will is strong, deforestation can be stopped. In Peru, the government has reduced the loss of forest in protected areas to less than 0.2% a year, using a combination of protected parks and indigenous reserves, the titling of native territories to the forest people who live there, the sanctioning of long-term commercial timber production in chosen areas, and satellite monitoring.
Providing locally enforceable rights over forest management to local forest communities is key. India recently brought in a law returning the bulk of its forests to local communities for management, and is one of the few countries where there is a net increase in forest cover.
Globally, we need either a large Global Forests Protection Fund, financed by a global carbon tax, which would be used to purchase threatened forests and give them permanent protection, or a system of “avoided deforestation” credits under the Kyoto Treaty which would give villagers, councils, tribes, and nations an incentive to protect their forests. See www.mongabay.com.
Toxic marker pens – don’t you hate them? That strong pungent smell is usually the smell of xylene, a benzene derivate used as a solvent – and as an inhaler by druggies for its intoxicating properties. Medically, it can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat; difficulty in breathing; problems with the lungs; and worse.
Why does Canada still allow them to be sold? Maybe our Medical Health Officer has an answer?
But never mind – we have a solution. Laura Anderson has been researching the alternatives. The staff at both Staples and Office Depot were helpless and unhelpful, making all sorts of excuses, but by contrast, the staff at Monk Office were super-helpful - and furthermore, they stock non-toxic water-based permanent markers known as “Basics”. So ditch your smelly ones, and head to Monks to replace them!
MONK OFFICE GOES GREEN
Why were Monk’s staff so great? In May 2006 they created an ECO Team, with members from all areas of the company who worked to identify the objectives and goals that could have the most impact, including water, paper and energy saving; standardized recycling and garbage stations; a weekly Eco column in their Newsletter; graphs with target objectives on Eco-Notice Boards; eco-mission statements in stores, distribution centres, and head office; and consistent staff training on their environmental initiatives, product recycling, and eco-friendly products.
They created the Monk Office Environmental Sustainability Plan, and after 18 months of hard work their Head Office has been certified as a Green Building by the Building Owners and Managers Association under a national environmental certification program for existing commercial buildings (www.bomagogreen.com). No wonder they were so quick with an answer about the marker pens.
Next time you go into Monks at 794 Fort St, 1200 Broad St, 3335 Oak St, Royal Oak, Tuscany Village, or in Sidney, take the time to thank them – and maybe make them your regular stationery store? See www.monk.ca 250-388-0477.
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ONTARIO BANS PESTICIDES
Yea! Ontario’s government is joining Quebec in banning the cosmetic use of pesticides throughout the province, following intensive campaigning by environmental activists and health professionals, including the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario Medical Association, and many others.
Furthermore, Home Depot has said that it will stop selling traditional pesticides and herbicides throughout Canada by the end of the year, joining Loblaws, which has not been selling them since 2003. Canadian Tire is also phasing them out. This is a real breakthrough, since although 140 Canadian communities have local anti-pesticide bylaws, as long as the products are allowed in the stores the bylaws are very weak.
In 2006, the NDP proposed legislation to ban the cosmetic use throughout Canada, but it was defeated by the Bloc, even though Quebec had approved the very same legislation. The focus must now move to British Columbia – see Action of the Month (below).
ACTION OF THE MONTH - A BAN ON PESTICIDES
British Columbia needs to follow in Ontario’s and Quebec’s footsteps – so now is the time to ask for such a ban. The two clear arguments are that they pose an unacceptable health risk to our children, our pets, and ourselves, and we simply don’t need them. There are strong links to cancer, both in humans and dogs, and many chemically sensitive people suffer extreme distress from exposure to them. See www.pesticidefreecrd.ca
Action: Write, email or phone:
The Rt Hon. Barry Penner, MLA, Minister of the Environment
PO Box 9047,
Stn Prov Gov
Victoria V8W 9E2
Carpentry – Woodworking
Flooring – Design/CAD Consulting
Harald Wolf 882-9653
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