Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: environment Page 2 of 12

No Apple Is Imperfect

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops Monday, December 3, 2017.

The word imperfect on the bag of apples caught my eye. I grew up picking apples off the few apple trees in my family’s garden, but I could not describe to you what a perfect apple looks like. Or an imperfect one for that matter. To be fair, the concept of ‘imperfect’ apples being now on the shelves, at a smaller price too, and thus helping reduce the food waste our society is so guilty of, is not a bad thing at all, but this is a two-edged sword if there ever was one.

The perfect/imperfect classification – how did we get here? To have our fruit and produce measured, and whatever does not fit the standard discarded for other uses (hopefully) or written off as garbage – how can we possibly explain that way of classifying our food without finding the whole matter ridiculous.

Truly, the word perfect is a silly one. No one human being is perfect, no life form of any kind is perfect, not even a circle that seems perfect is in fact perfect. Really, there is no perfect circle in our entire universe and the reason is delightful from a scientific perspective: you’d have to dive to the deepest possible level, at the levels of atoms, and hopefully align them, in a quest to produce a ‘perfect’ circle. Not hard to see why it can’t be.

Truly, life is not perfect. Aiming for excellence in our professional lives, taking care to do our jobs well and with consideration to all aspects of the matters concerned, no matter how big or small the job, that has nothing to do with perfection.

Why would we then expect or let’s say tolerate the very concept when it comes to our food. More so when the concept is applied to what nature delivers.

Given such high standards, one would expect that the food offering in grocery stores would be of excellent quality. Alas, that is not the case. Instead, we are seeing bacteria tainted veggies and meat products which prompts recalls but also sees people hospitalized and even clinging to life as some of the bacteria can have deadly effects. We are confronted with the reality of inhumane conditions farm animals are raised for meat, and we have yet to see that change.

Every now and then undercover footage of industrially-raised meat reaches the media and/or social media, pointing to more than imperfect living conditions which ultimately means less than imperfect meat quality reaching our table.

We are seeing questionable origin and quality seafood, produced abroad or here in our own province. Every now and then, environmental activists bring uncontestable visual evidence such as deformed fish found among the farmed Atlantic salmon on the coast (I wrote a column on the topic), which the industry argues are not the ones that end up on our plates.

They might or might not, but this kind of information signals nonetheless the fact that the hundred-plus fish farms found in the coastal waters of BC need a make-over due to the mounting evidence pointing to the impact they have on wild fish stocks (also see the recent scandal of the piscine reovirus infested fish blood released from processing plants into the coastal waters) at a time when climate change is also affecting their returns.

Perfection is hardly the word that comes to mind when putting together such narrative. Which perhaps points to the fact that we should drop it altogether, allowing our food supply to honour both the growing process and the people behind it, as well as the consumer. In allowing for the ‘imperfect’ food to reach public consciousness we open the door towards being grateful rather than critical of how nature offers itself to us through the seasonal bounty, and by understanding it as such we do better in all areas of food production.

Imagine raising our children with the awareness of the intricacy of natural processes through which we get our food and a conscience that opposes violations of any kind, such as the use of potentially toxic chemicals and unethical practices. Expecting perfection puts unhealthy pressure on growers and delivers unhealthy results to us, the consumer. Cutting corners and applying questionable methods that cannot be tested by independent observers, neither is the recipe for sustainable health and future. Which we need.

We Are All Guardians Of Our Breathing Space

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on November 13, 2017. 

If you hike to the top of Peterson Creek Park on any given day, more so on a cold one, you’ll see a blanket of yellowish, dirty air draped over the valley.

This is not new or unexpected. The surface inversion well-known to these parts increases the effects of air pollution. Whatever is released into that cold air trapped close to the surface, be it vehicle exhaust, mill emissions, or wood smoke, it all stagnates and makes our breathing air a lot worse than it should be.

There is no clear answer as to what is in the yellow plume. Winter smog is a terrible beast made worse by inversion phenomena, but knowing what we breathe in would be good. You can’t fix something if you don’t know where to start or how complex the issue.

It would be nice to know how much each polluting source adds to that yellowish layer. There is no heads-up information about mill emissions or slash pile burning. That affects some people more than others. It is unsettling to be exposed to air pollution by various industries in or around town, and not know when that will happen. Of course, when it does, people notice, but there is something to be said about habituation. Except that in case of our breathing air, it is not in our benefit at all to accept it as is.

On top of notifications about mill emissions and slash burning, there should be information sessions on how air quality is made worse by the inversion and a low venting index. If psychologically it is easy to shrug off the memory of many socked-in days when a better day comes along, and the valley air looks clean, our bodies react differently, as the perilous effects on health are compounded.

Air pollution is a real enemy to human health, and an increasing body of scientific evidence points to it. Short- and long-term effects of air pollution are real and, for the latter, deadly in many cases. The reluctance to recognize them as such have to do, I am willing to say, with the invisible nature of this threat. Should dirty water pour out of out taps, few if any would want to drink it. The air we breathe should be no different. It is true that industrial pollution accounts for much of the bad air in town. But some of the dirty yellow plume is caused by residential activity, be it driving or wood burning.

City traffic has been increasing over the years and that means an increased volume of exhaust gases. Adding to that is the unnecessary idling. There is no need to idle cars for more than 30 seconds on a cold day. Nor is idling while stopping to chat, or while running into a store for some quick shopping, or to keep warm while waiting. Just more toxic gases.

As for wood smoke, whether from residential use or slash pile burning (an environmentally unsound and health-costly solution for all the logging leftovers,) it tends to linger for a long time, which is exactly why in areas where inversion is present wood burning should be reconsidered. A recent study by a team at McGill University concluded that wood smoke increases the risk of heart attack in people over 65 by 19 percent. Residential wood heat accounts for 15 percent of PM2.5 in British Columbia, likely higher in areas like Kamloops where inversion is present.

Wood smoke is a mix of approximately 200 compounds, including particulate matter of various sizes, powerful cancer-causing and mutagenic agents. When it comes to particulate matter, the smaller it is, the deeper in the cells of respiratory tract they get. Not exactly what we want to have in our immediate environment for months at a time. As always, children and unborn babies are at highest risk due to their developing bodies. As for the elderly and those who with chronic respiratory diseases, life becomes a few times more dangerous just by breathing, and the constant irritation of the respiratory tract makes them prone to longer and more debilitating seasonal infections.

Interior Health recommends that wood burning should be done on those days when the venting index is good, which is close to 100. On a regular ‘socked-in’ day, the said index is a mere 10, which is classified as poor. Venting indexes can be found at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/epd/epdpa/venting/venting.html. It’s an eye-opener for sure, along with air monitors present around town (www.purpleair.com.) Tomorrow is forecasted to have a good venting index, by the way.

I know I am not the only one wondering about this. And I know that when there’s a will, a solution, or many, are found. We ought to find the will to reconsider the way we think about our air, and we ought to change our habits to help keep our air clean. At the same time, we ought to be able to get the industrial polluters to realize that pushing potentially harmful gases and particulate matter into our breathing space is no longer an option. Accountability is not a volatile concept.

Summers will be smokier, we are told. If some of that will be unavoidable, long-term exposure during other seasons can and should be avoided for all the right reasons. The most important one being that nothing matters if breathing is impacted.

Second Warning. What Next?

For all the times I had doubts about my hammering on the issue of climate change and bringing up various wrongs that suffocate the blue skies and kill the fish, well, the latest news chases away any feelings of inadequacy on the matter. Not that it will sweeten the deal. On the contrary.

More than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries have issued a warning to humanity regarding climate change and how urgent the need to change the way we carry our business, or else. It made me feel both relieved (that I am not just gratuitously killing people’s mood) and at the same time it brought a confirmation of doom that is not a good thing for any of us. Or easily forgettable, unless you drown it in what got us here in the first place, which is consumerism and more recently, the social-media-numbing-of-the-mind phenomenon.

It is a fork in the road (again, yes) that we ought to mind. These events are becoming more serious each time, and we become less mindful of them because ‘come on, live a little, it’s not all doom and gloom’ – this is a pure and accurate excerpt from the files of my life by the way. If I had a dollar for every time it was said to me.

I know the conversation about our world suffocating is a few shades darker than many others, plus acknowledging it’s true means committing to live simpler, with less stuff and basically give up some things we collectively file under ‘comfort’ or ‘I deserve it.’ Which we are not quite ready to do. Not yet. Then we go and take another bite of the big pie that promises a feeling of fullness but never delivers. We keep on trying though because we have this short-term memory loss or at least we act like we do.

Then again, if you abstain buying that plastic wrapped plastic item that you do not need, or if you opt for New Zealand apples because they look better than the local ones, no matter how far they traveled, will that save the world? Every little bit helps, but still…

At this point in time the situation is quite serious, and your probably know as well as I do, that the much and urgently needed change of direction should come from the manufacturing end. If you search online for one of those calculators that shows how many disposable cups are created and/or thrown out every second… It’s nauseating. It makes no sense to see those numbers rolling and you feel like standing still for the next two weeks so as to not create another wrinkle on Mother Earth’s cheek. Crazy thing is, the wrinkle appears as you watch. Hard to shake that scintillating constantly increasing number off.

The minions that we are, buying in bulk, buying local and avoiding plastic, reusing bags or, if you are me, balancing a few too many things in your arms, piled high and precariously so, but feeling virtuous because no plastic bags were used in the process of buying groceries, hence no choking marine life or distantly strewn shredded immortal plastic film, we try, we try harder, we opt for no-waste solutions and we feel like we’re running in circles because someone else is holding the reigns.

‘Is this how your mind works?’ you may ask. And I will say yes. That is how it goes. If you say let’s have a coffee and we do, and the barista hands me the coffee in a disposable cup though I said the coffee is ‘to stay’, I will be mortified – not because of that one cup (out of two billion cups that Canadians add to the landfill yearly,) but because of the shifting mindset that got us to where we do not think disposable is bad and shows how entitled we are. A case of lost gratefulness I might argue…

There is no absolute sinless behaviour when it comes to the environment. Aware as I am, I leave prints like everyone else, but likely fewer because I cannot let go of this pre-emptive feeling of loss when I see the world around taking another blow. Guilt and mindfulness oblige. Or the heart-wrenching feeling that comes with the realization that we are handing over to our children this ailing, plasticated planet. As if it was ours to use like this in the first place.

Headlines speak of fisheries collapsing and yet another, bigger trash island being discovered off the coast of __________ (fill in the blanks with map in hand). There is the occasional shocking report by WWF about 60 percent of the world’s wildlife being gone and there no absolute panic but instead, other news roll in and we take cover because, really, it is just too much sometimes and we simply want to have a quiet evening away from negativity.

I think we ought to get some vows happening, you know. How about when a child is born, you must produce a vow that will include (aside from the promise to love the child unconditionally,) a line or two or ten sounding like ‘I promise, to the best of my abilities, to leave as small a carbon, garbage and slavery footprint as I can, when buying things which by the way I know not to buy new save for a few, because I know how much stuff is out there already.’ Then we should renew that vow every year or every couple of years. It might just work. Awareness, you know?

 

You see, I am so convinced that every corner of this world we inhabit, and every creature that lives in it, our kids’ smiles, their trust, and that gusto they bring about when they play in a muck or the joy when they see a squirrel scamper up the tree in the middle of the forest, all of that deserve us trying our hardest, every single day, to save the one home we share and could not be without, and in doing so we would be better for it. This is the equivalent of Mother Earth serving us a second notice of eviction. In real life, most of us would freak out and act on it.

Simplicity and all that ‘less is more’ stuff we see on Instagram or the occasional Facebook post (though surrounded by countless ads that invite to the very opposite,) that is true and temporarily filling, like a bowl of hot oatmeal in the morning. There’s a whole flock of them out there. Trouble is, if we don’t get to live them, there is not point in reading. It will never save us from anything.

I think we still have a chance. We are the lucky ones though. On this side of the world (and others too,) things get bad occasionally when a storm hits or some monster wildfire, but overall we shake it off and we patch it up by reaching into the emergency fund pockets. There are places around the world though that have so rough already it’s a downer to just read about it, let alone live it. But they do, because they have no choice.

Hence my plea. While we still have a choice. Or many.

Giving Thanks With More Than Words

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, October 9, 2017. 

One of the simplest and profound joys of every day is stepping outside in early morning to hike with my dog. I will call it overwhelming gratefulness because that is the best way to describe how perfect a dusty trail that separates meadows of dry, yellow grasses, climbs into a sky so blue it defies the very definition of the colour blue itself. It makes gratefulness for the smallest things even more of a daily concept I should heed before I do anything else.

During the times the park and all city parks for that matter were closed due to the increased fire danger, I missed heading out on the trails more than I expected I will. More than not being able to take the dog out to the closest-to-us off-leash area, was the loss of blue skies and clean air and the reality of having to wake up to another day of inhaling deleterious particles small enough to wreak havoc in the body, short- and long-term.

I remember the first day of smoky air when all I could think of was ‘this is a lot of campfire smoke’. It felt silly that my brain would attempt to reduce the gravity of the situation by bringing up an association to what is, for the most part, a fun and sweetly sentimental detail of life.

After a few days though, and then many weeks of milky-white air, my brain made the appropriate switch to match the reality of what was actually happening. Bad air meant a lot of health trouble and that was something that made me even more grateful for every day in between that came with clear skies. Like they say, you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone. It was like that, and not just for me. I met and chatted with many people who had a whole lot of appreciation for clean air and were missing it a lot.

Then, though the fires were still not fully extinguished, smoke went away and summer came back with warmth and lovely sky, and everyone felt alive and happy again. The wildfire smoke of 2017 was quickly becoming a bad memory at best. The air turned chilly and crisp a couple of weeks later, and though summer had been shortened, I found myself looking forward to fall and its beautiful colours, and to winter with all its magic.

On a particularly lovely though crisp night while wrapped in a warm wool blanket and sipping a cup of tea on the porch with my husband, there came a smell that made me cringe. Smoke! Someone in the neighbourhood had lit a fire in their fireplace, and the fresh air became tainted with the smell and the particles wood smoke brings about. I was surprised to realize how much I disliked it after the summer we had.  The same smell returned the nights after. A fixture of the cold season, though unnecessary and unhealthy.

During our Thursday morning hike, I noticed a column of thick grey smoke rising fast from somewhere in the downtown area. An eastward-draping cloud was slowly forming while firetruck sirens blared loudly, piercing the sunny morning. A few minutes later, they were replaced by the usual buzz and the column of smoke disappeared; so did the smell. The only thing persisting long after the commotion ended, was the cloud of smoke that had formed earlier. It was there still when I headed back home, reinforcing, quietly, yet in a most powerful way, that smoky air is not quickly moved out of the way where we live. My thoughts went back to the nights of fireplace smoke, which though not visible, is equally bad, and the thick summer smoke, which gave a new meaning to air pollution. My only conclusion was that it is too easy to forget how painful the lack of clean air was during those long smoky weeks.

I was reminded that we cannot afford to take clean air for granted. We have come to acquire enough knowledge of what pollution brings about, health-wise, and most of us agree that nothing comes close to the simple yet amazing gift of taking a breath of fresh air on any given day. Much of the particulate matter that wood smoke contains is small enough to penetrate cells and create a whole range of health problems, from greatly increasing cancer and stroke risk, to aggravating asthma and other chronic respiratory conditions, to affecting unborn babies and the developing brains of growing children.

There is so much at risk when the air we breathe is polluted. Granted, sometimes there is not much we can do to protect ourselves other than stay inside and run air purifiers during the times when wildfires are raging. But once the air gets clean, we must find better ways when we have a choice such as lighting a woodfire when cleaner ways to find cozy comfort are available. That applies to the other cold weather pesky thing, which is making its way back with the season: idling our cars for a long time before driving away, or to keep warm in the parking lot.

We have much to show our thankfulness for, more so when throwing even a furtive gaze over the many sad news stories from around the world. From the simplest things to the big ones, from the most obvious ones to the ones not immediately visible or easily forgettable, to have a say in the quality of the air we breathe, or the water we drink and or the food we eat, that is a big reason to be grateful for when we have it.

For now we do, and for that I am grateful. As I am for today’s blue sky and its dollopy clouds, for the rain last night and the fresh air it brought about, and for all the things I realize I have as soon as I open my eyes, starting with the wonderful world we live in, my family, the many wonderful people I have met along the journey, the freedom to express my thoughts and you, the readers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Why We Ought To Take Another Look At Our Water Consumption Habits

Originally published as a column on September 3, 2017 on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News. 

If your summer fun includes going to the beach, on the shores of either the South or North Thompson Rivers, you likely noticed the receding water line over the last few weeks, more so on the first. From one day to the next, the river grows thinner and shallower.

There is enough river still for people to swim in and paddle, enough for dogs to play fetch, and even for motorized water vehicles, if that’s your flavour, but that is not good enough. The summer has been hot and dry, which means that those of us who wanted their lawns green and lively had to increase the water usage to keep the green going. How much more could that account for, you may wonder? According to the city’s records, Kamloops residents used one billion litres of water more this year than in 2016 (‘Water usage up in Kamloops, not nearing drought levels,’ August 24, 2017 on CFJC Kamloops News.)

Numbers like that make me dizzy. Divide that by the number of people living here and you get even dizzier. Yes, that comes to 10,000 litres per person! Unless that is a mistake. I hope the billion was in fact a million, which is not good either, but better than the many scary zeros a billion comes with. Say what you want, in a world where many do not have access to clean water (or water altogether!) such numbers are beyond indecent. They are downright shameful.

The conclusion of the article was that though the province is experiencing severe drought conditions in some areas, here in Kamloops we are doing fine provided the next month will not be a dry one. Right. Psychic powers notwithstanding, no one knows what the future brings; ultimately, it is not just about the water plant having enough to fill the pipes. It’s about the big picture, which yes, it does include us, but it includes so much more life, which if threatened, will end up affecting ours.

It’s about the watershed that should hold enough water for returning salmon for example. Salmon River, Nicola, Coldwater River, and the Similkameen watersheds are currently under level four drought conditions. We are one level up, under very dry conditions, when ‘Potentially serious ecosystem or socio-economic impacts are possible or imminent and impacts may already be occurring.’ Increased water consumption compared to last year’s does bid well, nor does the description of the next level down. (The South Thompson was at a level four just two years ago.)

Level four drought conditions are defined as ‘extremely dry conditions’ with water supply ‘insufficient to meet socio-economic and ecosystem needs.’ And it is the last step before ‘loss of supply’, and if that is not enough to make us mindful, I don’t know what will.

Where to from here? Voluntary water reduction is what we’re being asked for. Some of the things I see on late night walks with the dog point to the very opposite.

School fields are being drenched every night, and so are the areas outside the surrounding fences. That our children deserve the best regarding outdoor activities on school grounds is true, but reducing daily irrigation when the water levels are dropping dangerously may serve a better, more meaningful purpose: learning about the world they are inheriting, its many problems and that the solutions are within reach. Most of the time, the solution revolves around reducing consumption; in this case, water. Dry grass may not be pretty, but we need to steer away from looks after all, and speak openly about how to make our lives more sustainable.

The same goes for any kind of lawn in Kamloops. Keeping them ‘dormant’ may just be what we need to do so that the watershed is not depleted to the point of irreversible damage on the ecosystem. In the end, it is not about paying less, which is often how municipalities make water conservation through meter installation appealing to residents. It’s about understanding the deep impact our water consumption habits have on our immediate environment and on our not so distant future.

It’s about water we depend on. Living on the edge may sound attractive in many contexts, but not when it’s about water. We have to be mindful of our blue gold way before it gets ugly (hopefully it never will.) With a city and its surroundings dry as tinder, making sure we have enough water for what residents need, for what wildlife needs and for potential firefighting if need be, that seems both sensible and necessary at once.

If this was money in our savings account, we’d make sure we have more than ‘good enough’. Water conservation may just be more important than saving money; for obvious reasons. Please do your part and urge others to do the same.

 

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.

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