Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Category: Climate change Page 3 of 6

Why We Need To talk About Salmon, And Soon

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, August 28, 2017. 

It happened during the eclipse that more than 300,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from a U.S. fish farm in the San Juan Islands. They are now found in the coastal waters of southern British Columbia, and no, they are not just another fish happily swimming alongside native species.

Fish farming is a sore topic in our province, especially on the coast; it has been for a long time. As with most controversial topics, opinions vary, and though science is available to back up findings, it is often pushed out of sight because of conflicting interests.

A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatics revealed something that should have us all worried. Fisheries and Oceans Canada cannot verify the status, whether healthy or threatened, of more than half of the province’s wild salmon populations.

This is worrying because it comes at a time when the wild salmon are facing serious threats: warm waters due to climate change, which allows for different predators and a shifting in the type of zooplankton they feed on, two types of deadly viruses that are found in farmed Atlantic salmon along the coast, as well as lots of sea lice. That’s on top of a whole lot of waste and antibiotic residue, which trickle into the coastal waters on a regular basis. In the interior, they are facing warm rivers and depleted watersheds. That ought to affect the native salmon. It does.

Alexandra Morton is a biologist and tireless activist who has been fighting hard for the last 40 years to document the state of fish farms along the BC coast, and relate to the public and press the effects these farms had on the wild salmon populations. These effects are many, and they are affecting more than just wild salmon, due to their interconnectedness to other marine and coastal wildlife, and the local Indigenous populations whose lives have been deeply intertwined with the iconic fish for thousands of years.

Before the loosened nets let out the hundreds of thousands of U.S.-farmed Atlantic salmon, Ms. Morton was already making public shocking footage of salmon farmed off the northern coast of BC, near Broughton Island. If you close your eyes for a second and picture the image of healthy salmon, what the video revealed was the farthest from that. The salmon were emaciated, many swimming around with hideous deformities, including tumours, open sores; they were covered in sea lice, all submersed not in beautiful pristine ocean waters, but murky and feces-laden, all resembling a swamp. Which not all could see, as some were blind.

That is food. Let that sink in for a few moments (no pun intended.) That is what grocery stores offer in their seafood department, and what people buy to cook for their families. Because eating fish is a better alternative to other types of meat, right?

Escapee farmed fish were found to spawn in the waters of BC rivers even back in 2000 (they have yet to label as ‘invasive’.) That’s one type of threat. As of recently, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Captain Paul Watson have joined Ms. Morton and the First Nations in the area, to help in their fight against the big aquaculture corporations, expose the truth and call for better governmental standards that will better protect the wild salmon and the unique ecosystem along the beautiful BC coast.

Not long ago, another insult became evident: some of the empty nets (or so deemed by the farm employees) held captive wild fish, such as wild salmon and herring. Lured inside the nets by the presence of organic matter, they stay trapped there until the nets are cleaned. Past that point, they are either dumped as useless catch or used as food for farmed salmon. Neither of these is good.

There are many wrong things about the way these farms operate. Yes, they offer employment to people in the coastal communities, and yes, they bring fish to the market, but the price is too high for what the fish is worth. Like in many other situations where natural resources are poorly managed, there is nothing but destruction in the future that these communities will face, once the respective corporations leave the area, but even now, while they are still there doing business.

The way I see it, if one is to profit from the resources that exist in a community, a corporation is morally (if not legally) obligated to do it in a way that proves respectful to people and the environment.

When it comes to wild salmon, we are walking on very thin ice at the moment. Many of the wild fisheries along the coast are once again at their lowest and have been closed for the second year in a row. Climate change is an ongoing threat and if the farms are allowed to operate the same way they have so far, it will not be long until we will see wild salmon on the endangered species list.

Again, some of it (a lot, to be honest) lies with the consumer. That’s us. We make choices with what we buy, and what we buy further shapes the offer. With no human interference, wild salmon would thrive to reach numbers that would ensure there is enough food for all that exist in the circle of life, long sustained by the humble yet powerful fish.

What can we do? For starters, boycott products that impact precious natural resources and the environment, and support those who are willing to go and fight for saving the wild salmon so much depends on. And speak up about it, whenever you can, all the way to when casting a vote for the next set of leaders.

Magic Is Better Under Clear Skies And In Clean Air

Originally published as a column in CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on July 14, 2017. 

It happened that we could not easily evade on my husband’s three days off work as most of the clean air destinations were booked. Plus the sky around here got clear on Friday, so we decided to stay and hope for the best.

On Friday night we drove to Greenstone Mountain, away from the still smoky city. We had dreams of sleeping under the sky where our little guy could breathe freely. It turned clearer the higher we got, but the wind picked up as well, blowing grass pollen, dust and everything else in swirls that were not kind to my youngest’s immune system. He braved it for a couple of hours though, during which we ate watermelon, listened to harmonica tunes, chatted, and laughed. The air was windy-dusty but there was no smoke.

It got dark and stars glittered high and jolly. Then the moon rose, a gigantic bright orange slice we could spot through tall pines swaying in the wind. We lay in the grass on our sleeping bags and watched the stars. There were shooting stars, many of them, some so bright they left long-lasting streaks on the dark sky.

We made wishes, we told stories and we snuggled close: us four, the dog, a whole lotta starry sky and the magic that swallowed us all. Beauty that humbles and an unmatched depth of gratefulness: for seeing the stars that we missed so much on so many smoky nights, and for strands of time we managed to separate from the everyday rush and braid with all those stories and harmonica tunes. The stuff that will hang around our hearts forever.

There is so much to see and do here. From wherever you are in Kamloops, you’re but minutes away from a place where magic grows in thick bunches or hangs from a sky seeded with countless stars on a clear night. There is but one caveat: you have to be able to see it all. And you have to be able to be out there without the risk of suffocating like my little guy does on smoky days.

I have no respiratory issues. On a bad smoky day, I stay mostly inside. If I venture outside for a bit, I get the odd shortness of breath which is unsettling. My youngest on the other hand, and many other people with respiratory issues, feels that heaviness all the time, less so when he is in the controlled environment of his room with the air purifier running constantly, but that’s no life.

Truth is, whether you have respiratory issues or not, clean air is a must. It helps us live longer and it keeps us outside, where we feel better, we are less stressed, and healthier. It’s something we’ve been taking for granted or not thought about much, until we have been confronted with the harsh reality of dense air pollution.

Which brings me straight to the latest on the issue of the Ajax mine. For the most part, summer has become an illusion in our beautiful city due to the wildfires. Adding a heap of exhaust and dust to the mix will only worsen the air quality. Many of you reading this would ask, and rightfully so, if ‘worsen’ is the right word. After all, at its worst so far, the readings were at a mind numbing 49 (on a 1 to 10 scale.) Could it get any worse? I don’t want to know the answer; not if we can have a say in it.

Upon reading the conclusions of the BC Environmental Assessment Office and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency regarding the Ajax mine, I shook my head and wondered how anyone could write those things with a straight face. No environmental agency, office, or employee can possibly say that Kamloops will not be affected by the mine.

We can discuss the degree of harm, as we have for years now, we can debate on percentages of mitigation of the ill effects, but we cannot go back to the ‘no significant environmental impact’.

We cannot live in a polluted world. The immediate and long-term effects of pollution are not to be taken lightly. A threat that is not visible is misleading, but its consequences are real, and often deadly.

That everything is a compromise in life is true. But no one should barter with people’s health. As for the assessors, I am ready to say that perhaps spending the last month in Kamloops while writing the conclusions of their study would have given them an accurate picture of what the place is like on a bad summer day without a mine in place yet.

A mine that will affect an entire community for a long time cannot be. We will be left staring at a handful of money wondering what happened to the life we were supposed to buy with it. Let’s not find ourselves there. There is no way back to where we can see a better future for our generation and the ones coming after once we get past the signing of approval papers. The mine shareholders and CEOs that will profit from the mine revenues (not high enough) will not be living here anyway. Disconnection from the consequences of one’s actions is one way of going through life, but a dishonourable one if I may say so.

There should be no ‘us vs. them’ either. A joined effort to find solutions for jobs needed in the community while aiming for a high standard of living, might just get us out of this years-long debate.

I am biased of course, but I simply cannot forgo the look in my son’s eyes as he is struggling for his next breath. That’s where argumentation stops and you start reconsidering the way you look at life and all its wondrous offerings. Nothing matters if you cannot breathe, not even magic.

A Little Hope Is Still Hope, So Don’t Give Up

Originally published as a column on CFJC Kamloops Today and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, July 7, 2017. 

It goes in waves. That’s the best way to describe it. One day the smoke is so thick it drowns every bit of hope and positivity you can muster. The next day, a breeze start sweeping away at the smoke until the blue sky swallows your gaze yet again and the feeling of ‘we’ll get through this and we’ll be fine’ surfaces.

A day trip to Sun Peaks on Saturday infused enough positive thinking to help me get back on that track. Hope? Check. Gratefulness and finding ways to cope? Ditto. There is something about blue skies and sunny mornings that revives your heart in a way that nothing else can.

The best part was being away from technology, save for the occasional use of my phone to take photos. No news, no feeling of helplessness upon hearing of more wildfires breaking out somewhere or the ones close by growing to gargantuan proportions.

Getting out of the fray for a day or even less, just enough to reposition your hope bearings in the right direction is a way to cope. I urge to do so if you can. We came home to a smoky Kamloops, but the good feelings lingered enough to make it through the night on a high note. Sunday morning was a different matter. It is now midday and white all over. I no longer wonder about when it will end. Realistically speaking, not soon. Still, we must have hope.

As they say, it often gets worse before it gets better. For the most part, this unprecedented crisis truly brings out the best in people. Appreciation for a good word or a laughter shared in the face of desperation, hugs, or a shoulder to cry on when needed, an invitation to dinner at a friend’s house that is out of the thick smoke. Increments of hope indeed, but they matter.

I’ve heard many people say how much they appreciate blue sky and clean air and how often we take them for granted. It’s not just a tree-hugger’s speech. It’s what enables life. One day this will all be behind us, morning sun will break through our curtains shining bold, and by then, we will have all become wiser in how we manage the world we live in and how we build the future. One can hope.

On a particularly smoky day last week, we went to McConnell Lake for the afternoon. It was clearer there. We walked around the lake, listened to beautifully haunting loon calls, and dipped our feet in water, thoughts and worries abounding.

I was contemplating evacuating with my sons to a place that will help my youngest’s breathing, as he suffers from asthma. That the coast is now invaded by smoke brought forth a particularly hopeless thought: there aren’t too many places where we can hide from smoke. You can run but you can’t hide… Talk about hopelessness redefined.

But giving up is not an option either. I found my hope resuscitated by gazing around. Yes, it was smoky and eerie looking. But there were flowers still in bloom, bushes full of berries and dragonflies dancing their colours over the still water.

The next day turned clear for a bit, and so did people’s smiles. It will be like that for a while. We will feel lost and hopeless, then we’ll smile and see past the smoky troubles. But beyond that, there are the people who fight the fires in various capacities. My husband is among them. When the smoke here is thick and ugly, I think of them all, knowing that where they are, the smoke is at its worst; I realize once more that giving up on hope is not an option. They are there proving it with all that hard work, extreme heat and smoke notwithstanding, every single day.

Incremental or not, hope is in us, though painfully low at times. Yes, some lost souls still light campfires (some newly put out were discovered near Kamloops at Pemberton Lake just the other day,) and others steal truckloads of pet supplies and food from the Sandman’s emergency centre. Fragile as hope and positivity are these days, incidents like that can really make one’s optimistic thoughts turn to ashes temporarily.

But then hope rises again. There are more hands willing to help than steal and there is still a whole lot of blue sky behind that thick smoke.

We will hopefully emerge wiser about how we build our tomorrows, so that we can wake up to blue skies and stubbornly sunny summer mornings yet again. It’s the twelfth hour many say in terms of climate change affecting our world, and it may well be, but really, what other option do we have but to hope, and rebuild, having understood that we cannot employ the same means we have employed so far. Here’s to hope once again, and to wiser and kinder ways of treating our world and each other.

The Elusiveness Of Social Conscience

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, July 31, 2017. 

What makes some people offer their homes to wildfire evacuees, donate money and goods, and even go and spend long nights snuggling terrified pets, while others do the exact opposite; stealing hoses and water pumps, enjoying time on lakes where firefighting aircraft load up, flying drones in hot (literally) areas to the point of aircraft having to land due to added risk. Oh, and there are some individuals engaging in looting, scamming, and basically anything that would transform one’s vulnerability into their monetary gain.

It’s contrary to anything most people would do. It’s deeply upsetting, adding many degrees of aggravation to the issues the province is battling as we speak, as has been for the last weeks. And let’s not forget those who increase the potential for yet another devastating wildfire by carelessly disposing of cigarette butts, or having campfires when the fire prohibition has been with us for many weeks now. It makes everything harder than it should be.

You could liken it to playing Whack-A-Mole with this population group that somehow does not see it the way the rest of us do and they do not only make it harder, but add danger, heartache and push one’s faith in humanity to the lowest point.

Many wonder how to go about that. Harsh punishment such as fines, prison time, etc. I am willing to say, given the very topic of this column, that aside from fines that should cover more than the cost of what was stolen or destroyed, or set on fire by careless actions, community service (compulsory of course, and lengthy that is,) performed by those found guilty might just be what best serves the cause.

I have been amongst those who say that our legal system has it so that often times the punishment does not seem to fit the crime. At the same time, I have been a proponent of obligatory community service (whatever and wherever is needed) that those found guilty should give to their fellow humans.

I dare believe that it might spark thoughts of social consciousness. Perhaps not in all, but truly, hard work does have its merits when it comes to bringing a message through. If regular people can lend themselves to volunteering for good causes, I do not see why perpetrators would not do the same, willingly or not, instead of being given a fine and/or possibly a mild sentence.

There is much to speculate about what makes one go against everything decent and instead engage in contrary behaviour. The various types of crimes against society in times of crisis such as the one we’re now living through in the BC interior, while discouraging and depressing when taken out of context, only reinforce the fact that for every person doing the wrong, unlawful thing, there are hundreds more going above and beyond in trying to help their fellow humans and animals in times of need.

That is heartwarming. Kamloops has become an example of what helpful means when people are in trouble. It would be unrealistic to think that resources can be bottomless, should the same attitude be continued with once the wildfire season is past us (now that’s a happy thought!). But kindness towards each other should, to the same extent and more. As they say, you might not have anything material to give, but a smile, a kind word or helping when you can, that is where it’s at.

I’ve been told repeatedly that social conscience at the level of society is my own kind of illusion I keep hanging onto for no good reason, yet I choose to believe it is possible. Perfect? Not even close. Humans are, as we all know, fallible and imperfect in their actions and intentions, some downright cruel and ill-intended, and there is no point in trying to find out why they do that.

But what if they had to give back in form of work, which means time and effort, the willy-nilly paying back for one’s crimes which will benefit their fellow humans and can yet provide a possible path to reconciling… Fines and prison time, while they can turn some around, or scare them from repeating the crime, might just make many more careful in how they commit the crime.

Should a person be forced to serve the community they wrongfully acted against, it might just help them see things in a different light. Such as ‘this is what your actions led to; this is what you need to do, work-wise, to make it up to your fellow humans.’

What do you think?

When Smoke Swallowed Summer

Pup and I set out for the afternoon walk shortly after 4pm. The smoke is thick and strong-smelling. I wish for no campfires for a long time from now. We walk down to the creek looking for the only kind of salvation while out of the house: the noise of water gurgling, the green of trees draping over the creek, the illusion of cleaner air.

The sun is orange and weak, but the air is warm. Stale. Not a living being on our path. This morning’s birds are hiding, and if it wasn’t for the dog needing to stretch her legs, I’d do the same.

She jumps in the water, wades in almost up to her neck and laps a few good mouthfuls. It feels good seeing her. She walks ahead without a sound and turns her head to check on me every half minute. We keep on walking along the creek. She’s restless; we both are.

It’s almost 5pm and everything looks darker all of a sudden. The smoke seemed to have thickened, swallowing city and trees and summer. Unless my hopeful thinking just took a plunge, that is. The sun is an unhealthy red.

It’s harder to breathe when you don’t see what’s in front of you. As if the available air ends just three steps in front of you. Secluded in a white space that is unforgiving and ashy, pup and I walk home, quiet and saddened. This is not the place we know. Transformed into unfriendly, life sucked out of it for now, how can we claim it back?

I pick a half-ripe chokecherry for confirmation of life still unfolding. It’s sour; real. The creek sings, a song we have come to associate with comfort during days like this. I walk in the water; cold, comforting, incessantly reviving. Tiny fish swim hurriedly, weaving through red grasses that adorn the sides of the creek. Quietly so. Everything is. Everything is pending, my thoughts included.

This is today. Tomorrow might be better. We tread on home. Inside is clear but smells like smoke. Outside, the smoke looks yellow and ready to spit out the blue it swallowed two days ago. Unless it’s my wishful thinking revived after walking through the creek…

The Place To Be When There’s Nowhere To Go

Monday, July 16. The air is white and heavy this morning. Last night’s air was the same though a breeze was raking its long windy fingers through it trying to disperse it. I greet the morning the same way I do every day, trying to tell myself the world is just the same, just smokier…

I try to take my mind off the fact that the air I breathe in has small unfriendly particles I cannot see but are present nonetheless, so I can still be grateful for the day ahead.

I try to take my mind off the fact that there are hundreds of wildfires burning throughout the province, displacing thousands, ripping them out of their homes and making them travelers to nowhere for a while. Wherever I look, I am captive in a white world that seems to end nearby, and it’s only the distant noises that remind of the reality wildfire smoke is trying to steal away.

I am not surprised that wildfires have sprouted with such adversity. It has been said by many, that our world is changing in ways that we will not able to predict, or withstand, for that matter, with much grace. In fact, grace has little say when fear steps in. It resurfaces when people hurry to help those in need, which I see plenty of here these days. The innocence of a world where shelter was taken for granted has been lost, but something else gets rebuilt instead. Hope through open arms.

I try to remember that the resilience of the human spirit is stronger than any fire, but taking another breath in reminds of a simple truth: I am not in control. Neither of us is. We are still at the mercy of forces that dwarf us. It’s truth that today’s comforts coax us into underestimating (ultimately a self-harming societal habit.)

I will try today, as I do every day, to remember that I still hold the gift of life within, thick smoky air notwithstanding. I will try to remember that when it feels like the sky is falling over, white and suffocating, I should stay within the boundaries of now, rather than try to make sense of what comes after.

I will try to remember today that holding hope is the way out of fear. Blue skies will surface.

Thursday, July 20. It rained last night, on and off. More is always needed. The plume of smoke that made the city its home was temporarily chased away by rain pelleting in large drops. Salvation delivered in buckets of rain water. Adequately so, the message is written in the clouds above: water is precious.

The sky this morning was a beautiful blue with white clouds stuck to it in carefree patterns. Pup and I took our morning walk near the Golden Sands, as our family has come to call the area near the airport. The river runs on one side, and on the other side a field of green embraces my gaze, hungry for vivid colours and starved after many hazy days.

It’s the simple things that count, the refrain comes back again and again. Clean air. My breathing has turn shallow over the last few days, as if to avoid putting my body through the stress of having to deal with the many particles invading the air. It’s in your mind, some might say. You see the smoke and you feel like breathing is impacted. If only. Smoke is real, dense at times, and it presses on your lungs in a merciless way that is spelled out as ‘shortness of breath.’

Today’s air is pure (informally peaking) in that visible sense that is comforting. There is more stormy weather chasing us as we walk along; pup sniffs rain-accentuated patches of canine wonder along the path, and I keep taking my camera out for another shot. Beauty sublime. Humbling. I wish it were possible to release all these shots of colour and wonder in the days that follow when the smoke returns. Like you release butterflies, you know.

We walk through the trees through a parade of mosquitoes which I am breakfast-on-the-go to; mucky sinkholes, hungry bugs and snapping branches cannot thwart a happy heart though. The air is clean, it matters most.

We reach the water edge, sand pours in my sneakers from all sides and I stay connected to all that I feel, mosquito bites included, because the sky is blue and my eyes are glued to it, to the hills I can see so clearly, and to the stormy clouds that roll up in a chase behind us. The pup runs in and out of the water, exhilaration left as paw prints on the narrow beach.

I am present. Humbled by how easily I can breathe, and by how nothing else matters. It reminds of the obvious. Clean air is where it starts. Life, that is.

The wildfires will continue for a while. Tomorrow might be smoky again and breathing will not come easy, again. The back and forth creates awareness, I hope. That we need to have the essentials in place. Clean air. That we need to think our collective lives and choices better to keep air, water, and soil pirates away and dwindling. So we can be. Humbled by blue skies and able to breathe. Will we?

The Time For Trade Offs Should Be Behind Us

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on July 17, 2017. 

It’s a smoky morning in Kamloops and about to get smokier still, judging by the large plume riding down the North Thompson. I took the dog out for a walk but we’re both slowing down our usual pace on days like today. It’s more work to take each breath in. I think of people struggling with respiratory disease on a good day (my youngest included). It is only mid-July and summer is still unfolding as we speak. More wildfires to come.

Will next year be the same? Worse? Better? How about the one after? That we cannot foresee the future, let alone create a better one, is a sobering thought. At the same time, one could argue, we do have a say in what is to come. With some margin for error (and growing every year,) but still.

So, the smoke. Particulate matter is hell on earth for all of us. More coming as fossil fuel consumption increases and the resulting greenhouse gases causes temperatures to increase.

More dust and particulate matter coming if the extraction sector continues its forays into the underground riches. Case in point here in Kamloops: the Ajax mine.

City council is about to cast their decision today. A relevant step. I have stated where I stand on a few occasions: a firm no. There is not enough money in this world to buy health or a mouthful of fresh air. I know what it’s like not being able to breathe from watching my son fight to breathe on more than one occasion.

I cannot picture adding the dust and increased amounts of exhaust gas from mine traffic to the city air on a day like today. Jobs are needed, that is true everywhere. But the trade-offs are to be considered carefully. Now more than ever.

If a hundred years ago, or even more recent in our history, we had enough clean environment to spare (I stubbornly believe there never is ‘enough’ clean air, water, and soil to spare), we are now seeing the results of that way of thinking in many places around the world, our own country-wide backyard included.

Industrial developments that put a community’s health and well-being at risk ought to make people rethink priorities. Mines without solid safety standards in place end up costing a community more than all the jobs combined. Examples abound, more so in a province like ours where the lax mining standards have been costly, socially, and otherwise. Hence the need for objectivity and a clear vision of the future, no pun intended.

It’s been said repeatedly by our governments, provincial and federal, that decisions on mines, liquid natural gas operations and pipeline construction are done with science in mind. ‘Facts-based decisions’ is the refrain that keeps on coming to remind us of the soundness of the decision-making process.

In case of the Ajax mine, science reports came back rather unequivocal. Not in favour, that is. In other cases, such as Mount Polley Mine, science seems to be employed as a weapon of betrayal (presently, treated wastewater is dumped in the lake, as per our former government’s decision following a ‘science-based’ process. The initial spill cleanup has not happened yet.)

The human population is growing, hence the need for more. Emphasis on ‘need’. We are making use of wants though, more often than we should, and we do that in ways that prove detrimental to our own well-being: our environment is polluted in the process of extracting resources, manufacturing goods, transporting them, and in the process of disposing of them. Garbage is at an all-time high on land and in the oceans, and, much like the human population, on a growing trend.

We’re bulging at the seams, yet more is produced, and more developments are underway. Life is not a one-way street, where you leave stuff behind as you go. It is a circle, and in true circle fashion, everything is engaged on a trajectory that keeps returning to the starting point. We’re part of it too.

We know, factually speaking, that our environment is aching; it has been for some time. Helping a community thrive while considering possible deleterious health effects of a local economic project is where the balance stands. The time for trade-offs should be behind us, because no matter how you stack it, money can never buy health, no matter how much of it you pile up.

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