Say you pass by a wildflower somewhere on a trail. Its splendor is impossible to miss, as wildflowers truly are like jewels sparkling in what is still dry grass mixed with new shoots of green blades.
If you get close enough and look at the flower head, observe how perfectly arranged all the parts are, how harmoniously distributed the colour, how beautifully oriented to receive sunlight, the only logical reaction is to ask how and why?
I know, we have heard the story a million times over. Spring, renewal, hope, green, warmth… in the end words, no matter how you bunch them together, mean nothing if our minds don’t peek into the very story to get to the wonders hidden in petals, leaves, the dirt hugging the roots and the profound love for every ray of sunshine.
Just think about it: what would happen if you were to spend the time to learn everything you can about that wildflower? The way the plant resurfaces every spring, the way it goes from a fuzzy bud to a vivid colour petal crown dancing graciously with the morning breeze… deeper still, the way atoms (which ones?) are arranged to form complex pigment molecules, the way these pigments break down and reveal a different shade (why at a certain time?), the way a plant cell wall is organized, different from an animal cell (why?) and how the petals and delicate inside parts do not wilt under the strong midday sun but thrive, pulsing with a life current so strong it pulls your gaze into it…
Just a wildflower, which you get to know enough about to cherish. To notice with the corner of your eye, to marvel at, to want to learn to know more…
Just a wildflower. Just enough to get you to love nature so much you’ll never take it for granted…
Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on February 13, 2017.
Again, a week of many happenings. Like many of you who heard the story of the Kamloops couple who stopped to offer their help at an accident scene on the Coquihalla and were hit by a car that lost control, I kept hoping that Anna and Matt Grandia, parents of two, will both survive and recover. Sadly, Anna Grandia passed due to her severe injuries. The pain her family goes through and for the rest of their lives, is impossible to put into words.
Yes, it is unfair and senseless; these things always are. Following such tragic stories, you’d expect most of us drivers would learn something and apply it. Speed can kill, speed and winter weather conditions even more so. Yet if you drive around Kamloops and outside the city limits too, you come across speedy, careless drivers whose recklessness not only puts their own lives in danger, but mine and yours too.
What are we learning from reading or watching the news? How far does the message reach? Too often, a simple shrug and the next piece of news moves our attention from stories such as this, heartbreaking as they are.
Albert Einstein once defined insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ In case of driving recklessly and the mild consequences the reckless or drunk driver faces, compared to the pain he or she causes to others, well, they are, for the most part, severely disproportionate.
This is not an argument for sacking and punishing people for the sake of doing so. It’s about protecting everyone and making sure rules that keep everyone safe are being reinforced. Because let’s face it, heartbreaking stories seen from a distance elicit a certain response. Yet being in that story changes the terms completely. No one should have to go through something that can be prevented.
Whether it is protecting all people in a community from the ill consequences of dangerous driving, or protecting the community (up to the level of province, country and beyond) from any kind of peril brought upon by someone’s actions, we all need to be able to see where changes need to be made and do all that we can to see them implemented.
Two events I attended at TRU this past week added to the argument. On Tuesday I attended a talk by Naomi Klein. True to her reputation, she said it as it is and in no way sparing the ugly bits: environmentally speaking, we are in a rough spot, our commitment to the Paris agreement not only lacking some touches here and there, but being the complete opposite of what it should be.
With a powerful wind of climate change denial blowing incessantly from the south of the border, and our provincial and federal governments’ commitment to extracting and using more fossil fuels instead of reshaping our ways to sustainable alternatives, things are really not looking good. No, such things are not immediately visible, nor are they served as reminders in our media. We want to keep a sunny optimistic attitude as a society, and we believe that somehow things work out regardless. Again, I am reminded of the definition of insanity by Einstein. Powerful stuff.
Better regulations for industrial polluters that would prevent more carbon from being added to a constantly heating atmosphere, plus better and unbreakable ways to reinforce the regulations, that would get things moving in a different direction.
A forum on air quality, also held at TRU and hosted by Dr. Michael Mehta, professor of geography and environmental science, who has been recently and diligently monitoring the air we breathe using sensors peppered all throughout Kamloops, brought yet another problem forward. The air in Kamloops is often farthest from clean.
From the pulp mill emissions to idling, to air traffic pollution and residential wood burning in town, our air, on a bad day (and they are not rare, unfortunately), is but a collection of small particles and gases that can and do cause serious health problems, in some of us more than in others.
There are solutions, the forum participants, which included the Green Party, NDP and Communist Party candidates for the May 2017 provincial elections, concluded. Things need to change if we are to see better air days.
Better regulations and better ways to reinforce them, not for the benefit of corporate profit but the well-being of the community, yes, it can be done. Our brains are wired to find solutions when a problem is identified. As it happens, denial often gets in the way.
Future bad happenings can be avoided. We now know that leaving things unchanged will have us find ourselves, yet again, to the fork in the road labeled ‘crisis’. Trouble is, which each time we return to one crisis or another, we may find that the time we have left to change things may be drawing short or that we may have had one too many freedoms normally granted by a democracy, taken away from us, which renders action and change far more difficult.
From rules pertaining civilians to those concerning the industry, locally and country-wide, if we care about our collective well-being and our children’s right to inherit not only a better world but also the courage to speak up and influence change when change is due and needed, we ought to change some of the rules we have in place.
As said many times by many wise people throughout history, change starts with bettering ourselves at a personal level by reviewing our values. That way we can be objective in seeing what needs to be change at the level of our community and beyond.
Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on February 6, 2017.
What do sharks and glass jars have in common? If you’re ready to answer ‘Umm, nothing’ I will ask you to indulge me the next few paragraphs to show you the connection.
When my youngest was four, we watched a documentary called ‘Sharkwater,’ which ended up being a game changer. He has always had a love for marine life, sharks in particular. Perhaps living on the coast and spending many long hours on beaches had something to do with it. We have since amassed a large collection of shark literature.
The documentary ‘Sharkwater’ pushed it farther. It made my little guy into a relentless shark defender. It sparked great conversations about the state of the oceans and it made all of us revisit the predigested shark dogma that we have been subscribing to for a long time. It inspired many homeschool projects, and it added arguments to the ongoing dialogue about climate change.
Rob Stewart, the director of ‘Sharkwater,’ was a Canadian biologist, ocean and shark lover, and a dedicated environmental activist. He boldly and unapologetically brought up the subject of climate change, ready to pursue it and wake people up to it no matter how big the risks of doing so. I am using the past tense here because sadly, he died last week while diving for new material for a ‘Sharkwater’ sequel.
His legacy (including another documentary called ‘Revolution’ which I highly encourage you to watch,) is one that we must have an ongoing conversation about; more so because as a country, we have yet a long way to go before we can build up to a reputation of climate protectors, which we should for obvious reasons.
Our environmental stewardship record is a tarnished one due to tar sands, pipelines, dams too big and too damaging, mines too unregulated and waters too unprotected. The list is not exhausted yet. Like everything else though, save death, this can be challenged and changed, and ultimately worked into a better reality.
That reality (caring about the world we pass on to our children,) ought to start in our own backyard, individual and city-wide too. Case in point: The city’s decision to have our recycling taken care of in a different way starting next year seems like a good one from afar. That is, until you find out that glass jars and bottles, and plastic bags, will not be part of the new recycling program. Right.
Put simply, if you have time, a car, and dedication, you will likely set aside the glass containers and all the soft plastic, and diligently take them to a recycling depot regularly. Gas will be burned, and time will be spent. The cheeky ones will say it’s time spent saving the planet, yet the exhaust gases to and from will fog up the good deed lenses.
The thing is, people pay city taxes and part of that includes removal of garbage and recyclables. Moreover, we choose leaders who oversee our continuous well-being and make it their mission to care for our health and our environment, among other things. Today’s reality includes climate change. If you don’t believe in that… well, then the overwhelming amounts of trash ought to raise an alarm bell.
We have too much stuff: we buy too much, we throw out too much and we recycle too little in the end. ‘Reuse, recycle, repurpose’ sounds good in an expo context as a logo of sorts, but if not applied fully in real life, then we are missing the point.
Leaving glass and soft plastic out of the collected recyclable items translates into extra garbage. Glass is, after all, 100 percent recyclable – endlessly that is – and the process renders a product that is just as clean and reliable as the product it was made of. Hence the obvious path: we should rely on glass more than we rely on plastic, and we should aim to recycle it to the last jar or bottle. That would reduce our garbage output, reduce the plastic dependency and overload too. Overall, we would get one step closer to making our world more sustainable.
I remember reading a book about the psychology of effective dialogue. Here’s something I remember from it. In face of a less than attractive offer, asking ‘Is this the best you can offer me?’ or ‘Is this the best your business can help us out with?’ usually elicits a positive response. People want to do a good job. We all strive to do better, and a reminder that there is room for better service is enough to ignite the spark.
Being environmentally aware and also business savvy do not have to be not mutually exclusive. That being said, I think it would be fair to prompt the city to reconsider their choice of how they deal with our recycling items by asking: Is this the best you can do for our community?
Rob Stewart likely asked himself the same question when, as a wildlife photographer, he came across shocking things happening in our world. He chose to do better: he became an environmental activist and produced inspiring documentaries. Though he left the world much too soon, he left a better one behind.
So there, sharks and jars do have something in common. They can fuel our determination to do better by our beautiful world, and by our children. Many things can. All we have to do is open our eyes, learn and act in better ways. While we still have the luxury to make choices, that is.
Originally published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News on Friday, November 28, 2016.
The last two weeks have been tragic in many ways. If you’ve read the news and are perhaps waiting for something positive on the diesel spill near Bella Bella, you most likely know about the unacceptable low-class response that came from the government.
Yes, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans PR team build a nice little positive update stating that the tug boat that leaked diesel into the water has been pumped clean and the attention is now focused on removing the Nathan E. Stewart barge from the waters near Bella Bella. Right. And then?
Then not much. Our premier said that what we have learned from this spill is that the federal government needs to provide better spill response for any future unfortunate incidents. As for the environmental impact of the spill, including the local economy and way of life… chances are you won’t hear much from either the provincial or the federal government.
The latter is likely pondering over the slew of lawsuits that come with the latest governmental insistence that the LNG terminal near Prince Rupert must continue. It will be a big mess, if we are looking at the Muskrat Falls protests that just about wrapped up this last Wednesday though many scientific arguments were brought against the LNG plant, nothing influenced the federal mind towards rethinking the project.
If it sounds topsy-turvy, it’s only because it is. Who is then to stand up for what’s right environmentally speaking? Ideally us, the people who live here and raise our children here hoping that the world we leave to them will be a liveable one. The question is: are we? Are we united in adopting the one goal that can see us alter the course just enough to ensure survival? Hard to tell at times.
A couple of weeks ago my family and I drove through Cache Creek and witnessed a road check by conservation officers. They were searching for poached animals. A few days later I heard on the radio that over 70 wildlife act violation tickets were handed out and some warnings as well. That was of course, in a small community in the interior. Care to guess what the province-wide poaching stats look like? Your guess is as good as any and no one can tell real numbers since there are far too few conservation officers in the field and the paper work that is done by those tied to their desks does not include poaching numbers.
I’m ready to say if you describe these scenarios to anyone without mentioning this is happening in Canada, they’d never guess it was here. After all, we should have world-class spill response units and technology in place, we should have objective and careful documenting of environmental consequences following a spill, we should by now have a ban in place that will protect the West Coast and preserve its pristineness and yes, we should have enough conservation law enforcement officers and tough enough laws that will deter most of the marauders from poaching. People should not be expected to fend for themselves like the Heiltsuk Nation people are doing now and there should be news of the spill all over so people can stay informed, talk about it and help. No environmental crisis should be ignored, no desperate outcry muffled by pollical positivity that can almost (and cruelly so) pass for facetiousness.
Our planet overall is not doing too well either. Climate change is still debated in some circles (beats me) but there are signs that cannot be ignored and science-based facts that stare us in the face. Among them, a recently published report that predicts the disappearance of two thirds of all the wildlife should we not adopt some quick and drastic changes to how we live as citizens of a planet suddenly too small too crowded and seriously taken for granted. It’s enough to make one tear up and ask how this is possible.
Pollution, unrestricted logging, and large scale farming add to the changes brought upon by a now finicky climate, and the ultimate consequences have to do with our existence on this planet. Human life is intricately and intimately connected with that pf other forms of life, from bacteria to large mammals and from invisible plankton to old-growth trees. Seeing the connection becomes a game changer. Educating ourselves and acting out of respect for life in general is not an invitation anymore, it’s an act of civil duty worthy of everyone who care about being alive.
The said crossroad cannot be ignored. It’s a simple question: What’s it going to be? If we are to prevail, something must change. Any less reminds me of a song by an Irish group called Flogging Molly: ’’Cause we find ourselves in the same old mess/Singing drunken lullabies…’ Late as it may be, there is still time to change the tune.
Last Friday I was inside the Grand Hall at TRU listening, alongside a large crowd, the preliminary conclusions regarding the Ajax mine. Among chuckles drawn by the word ‘tundra’ used to describe some of the Kamloops landscape, serious concerns were brought forth.
Yes, the city and its surroundings will be affected. ‘Not insignificant’ became the refrain throughout the presentation. There will be dust (the 94 percent mitigation plan sounded like a silly joke) and there will be increased noise levels, particulate matter pollution and vibrations that might see homes closest to the site affected. There will some serious impact on the wildlife in the area, as well as the salmon in the Thompson River. And there is lots more.
So far, that was well-spent money one could say, though the process is not over and the proponent promises to add facts that will fill in the gaps and showcase the positive.
A recent scandal over serious environmental offenses by the same KGHM in Chile brings up a matter that has to be discussed, not just in regards to the Ajax mine but many other projects in our province.
Why is it that many of these corporations promise to adhere to world-class standards while developing their projects in Canada while their presence in other parts of the world points to the opposite? What transformations occur once they set foot on Canadian soil and if their ethics are so strong to keep their promises, why not start with the areas where the said violations are happening?
The recent approval of the Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish and the potential approval of Pacific NorthWest LNG proposed by Petronas near Lelu Island are but two more examples of why we need to reassess our priorities.
That many people are willing to forgo the serious threat that is climate change and the immediate environmental threats to their area in the face of corporate promising is baffling. Resources that come with a huge carbon footprint are best left in the ground at this point in time and the focus placed on sustainable energies that will create job opportunities and economic growth without the environmental toll.
Our province has what it takes to become an example of sustainability and mindful resource management that questions and carefully assesses corporate interest and with a focus on people and the environment.
Yet reality points to the opposite and moreover, it points to major media outlets being silent about it. The recently approved Side C project that is meant to provide energy mostly for the fracking projects in the area is worrisome on many levels. It will cost a lot to build, it will destroy vital farming land and its energy will be mostly feeding the fracking industry in the area.
As of now, there are people who have entered a hunger strike, one of them 11 days ago, determined to bring attention to the issue. Their desperate cry has yet to make the headlines. We can call them extremists and we can judge their ways, yet the bottom line is that they stand up for a world that belongs to us all. The least they deserve is to be acknowledged.
That is one of today’s dilemmas: people who stand for the environment, questioning either a mine, a dam, or an LNG plant that will see one of the most important salmon habitats in British Columbia threatened, are classified as troublemakers while their signaling of potential problems is not only backed up by scientific facts and reports, but also by increasing concerns over climate change which no matter how positive one is, it becomes borderline delusional to think it less serious than it is.
On the other hand, the recent media focus on the Ghomeshi trial and as of yesterday on the protesters that are not agreeing with the judge’s decision, should make us shake our heads and wonder about the topsy-turvy situation we are privy to. Some protesters are better suited for the news than others.
Things would look considerably different if the current provincial government’s agenda included trustworthy approaches to such issues, yet that is barely the case.
The Mount Polley disaster (classified as one of the worst disaster in Canadian mining history) got Imperial Metals into the headlines for a while; a review was conducted and a ‘poor practice’ stamp was applied to it in the end, with no serious consequences for the company. Moreover, four more mines in the north-west BC will have similar tailings pond constructions and in case you’ve been wondering, Imperial Metals owns one of them.
Yes, the Alaskans have every right to be concerned, and everyone living in BC should. Any accidents similar to Mount Polley would endanger the watersheds in the area, and accidents may happen especially when the corporate money-saving agenda precludes the concerns for the environment.
If weak mining regulations in this case allow for questionable projects like that to exist and more to be built, then it is only logical to inquire about the promised world-class standards that corporations are to provide as they carry on with resource exploration projects in our province. Is that in the best interest of our province? As for the employment deal, a handful of jobs in each case (100 annually for Woodfibre LNG in Squamish and 500 or so here at home for Ajax) can sound promising but will hardly sweeten the bitter environmental pill that comes with each of these projects.
The question we have to ask ourselves is simple: what’s worth more to us? Not as individuals but as people sharing the place we call home, the only one we have and the one we have to stand for. There are things that can get people enraged over, some awfully trivial at times (just check the news) and yet the biggest one of all has become the elephant in the room. It’s high time we attend to it, even as a conversation to start with. Everything is at risk if we don’t.
The sky was painted in yellow light and beautiful white and blue clouds as the sun was setting in Kamloops. No sign of new snow, just the old hardened dirty banks by the sides of the road, some already transformed into dirty rivulets by the day’s warm air.
Just minutes ago we had left behind at Stake Lake a blizzard so thick and fast it felt unreal. Between getting out of our boots after a day of skiing and warming up next to the woodstove, we were in winter wonderland. ‘That came so sudden,’ both boys said as they ran outside on the cabin porch to look at the white curtain draping ever so fast over the surrounding trails and lake.
We had opted to play some today. After a shorter than usual day of school we took off into the hills, prompted by the morning warm breeze that had the awnings drum a premature spring dripping song.
The trails of hard snow with their surface melted by the midday sun made for some challenging terrain for young kids unaccustomed yet to all the skiing tricks, but it sure compensated in opportunities to bring our school talks with us in the middle of the woods.
Icy tracks on slopes that make you slide backwards again and again offer a wealth of physics observations, aside from the terrible annoyance of finding yourself subject to forces opposing your actual will.
So much to learn from as we followed trails, green and blue, and had clomps of falling snow missing us by mere seconds. The more ‘why’s sprout out of an outing, the clearer the message that if we allow our children to get separated from the great outdoors, a whole lot of learning disappears. For us too.
We all have much to lose if that happens.
We need to see trees to remember why we have to have many of them, countless, and we need to see forests in order to protect them from excessive and irrational logging.
We need to breathe fresh air and see the blue sky in order to be in unison as a community asking that the project that would bring a mine too close to Kamloops be reconsidered. Or that more areas are made available for walking and biking, which will slow us down enough to realize the preciousness of clean air and the beauty of a place where clean air matters.
We need to head out with our children to see the magic of the endless spaces our province is blessed with. Every season has its magic, but winter holds a special place in the hierarchy of wonders as it provides us with stories otherwise invisible: tracks of all sizes left by animals, big and small. It makes visible a world that we are easily forgetting in the rush of everyday life.
It is easy to forget that it is all shared land, easy to take for granted all that the invisible others make happen, easy to forget that we are not the tip of this wonderful world, but part of it, with a duty to try our hardest to keep it in balance.
The delicate and at the same time sturdy features of nature are available to us in Kamloops just steps away from home, wherever home happens to be. On any given day as you go for a walk, stop and take a look around. The vast spaces we have so much of are but an open-end invite to take yourself and your family out there and see the secrets nature so willingly shares if only we make time for it.
The icy slopes near Stake Lake were reason for intense frustration in our little guy at times, but then again, life is like that. If you’re out there, you learn that too.
Ups and downs, bumps and bruises, hope and laughter, frustrations bunched up like a ribbon that wraps around your mood too tight, there is nothing like taking a day off and finding yourself far from your everyday life and staring at shreds of clouds careening over tree tops as if to taunt you… Slow and fast redefined, time as you know it disappearing, and woods silent enough to bring the worries inside your heart down to a whisper. It matters to know that feeling.
Our sacred bond with nature is not one we can afford to let go of. There is simply no replacement. No app for that either, there’ll never be one. We owe this big secret to our children, sooner than later, because that’s what’s going to keep their world alive.
Amidst the welcome news of the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge pipelines being shut down by the BC government, the fact that fracking is still considered an acceptable process for extracting natural gas is somewhat baffling.
After all, the earthquake that rattled Fox Creek, Alta., and a large area surrounding it, was no small matter. At 4.8 magnitude, the earthquake was serious enough to make the Alberta Energy Regulator close the operation indefinitely. The decision is a wise one and the earthquake a cautionary tale that no one should be allowed to downplay.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, comes with many risks. High-pressure fluid – as much as half a million litters of water with additives – is injected into deep wells in order to crack rocks and force out the natural gas trapped in the shale.
Aside from an increased risk of earthquakes (231 triggered by the shale gas industry between August 2013 and October 2014) that seem to increase in magnitude as more wells are being dug, fracking comes with a high risk of water contamination.
While some can argue that the province needs its natural gas project to continue in order to secure revenue and provide jobs, the controversial operations are bound to put some areas of BC and the people who live there at considerable risk.
The recent Fox Creek earthquake, as well as the two that occurred in British Columbia last year, share some commonalities: they were all caused by fracking and registered over 4 on the seismic scale. Hence the temporary (short or long-term) closing of the operations, yet unfortunately not severe enough to cause a re-evaluation of the process.
That many people in the area where fracking operations occur, as well as environmentalists, are showing great concern is only natural.
After all, natural gas giant Petronas, the company behind the huge LNG developments in BC, was discovered to have a poor reputation when it comes to safety matters. Not exactly what the public wants to hear about an industry that has been mushrooming in northeastern British Columbia.
And mushrooming is the right term indeed, as more than 7,300 wells have been drilled since 2005 in British Columbia. The trouble is, the more wells they dig and the more additive-treated water is pumped into them to release the gas, the higher the risk of earthquakes and leakage of toxic and carcinogenic compounds (yes, they are) into fresh aquifers. We can figure out ways to exist without natural gas, but there is no way we can ever exist without water. Which means that we have to preserve what we have at all costs rather than have so much of it used by industries that do not honour a green-energy commitment, nor admit the putative health and environmental effects they inflict.
As if an increased risk of earthquakes and water contamination is not enough, adding the release of methane into the atmosphere as yet another fracking side-effect (a 2013 report pointed out that the actual release is 70 percent higher than initially thought), should make us all wonder why fracking is allowed to continue the way it does.
After all, as with an oil spill in a pristine area, the effects of fracking can greatly affect a community. In Hudson’s Hope, BC, the site of five fracking wells and also the place of a continuous landslide which people blame on the fracking operation, the reality is as dark as could be, water-wise.
The only source of water for the community is contaminated with heavy metals, not that anyone claims responsibility for it. A report by the B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission stated that the area has naturally occurring metals and is prone to land instability. How conveniently impaired one could say. Yet sarcasm aside, the reality is a sad one. The water advisory is still on and it’ll probably be for a while. People cannot use the creek the way they used to for generations.
Fracking is still happening near Hudson’s Hope and while the residents blame it for their water problems, truth is hard to come by when big money is at stake.
Call it cliché if you will, but human health and the health of the environment are priceless. And we just don’t have the luxury to spare any at this point. Nor should we be gullible enough to allow companies to convince us that fracking comes with low risks hence it should continue. The price in the long run (or not so long) could be a devastating one and the future generations, as well as the present one, deserve better.