Scientists Protesting! An Unprecedented Event

A commentary on the Global March for Science

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Bill Nye, the Science Guy (from CBC.ca)

CBC recently published an article, Global March for Science which caught my attention. When I read the headline, I was immediately curious as to why a global protest about science was going on. I had never heard of such a thing before and being as I was science teacher, my curiosity got the best of me.

The article reports that scientists along with their supporters marched in hundreds of cities around the world on Earth Day protesting against proposed U.S. government funding cuts to scientific research and public rejection of established science such as climate change. People in at least 18 locations across Canada are participating in marches to promote and advocate for science.

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22.  Assorted events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection worldwide. It was first celebrated in 1970 and now events are held in more than 193 countries.

The purpose of the global march was to spread the message that science matters. Protesters are saying to the politicians who try to undermine science, ruin trust in science, or politically motivate funding of science are a risk to the planet and so they are speaking out against it. While climate change is a major issue, protestors are also concerned about a number of Trump’s executive orders and his proposed budget, which proposes massive cuts to scientific research.

So, my next thought was what is this inexperienced, seemingly uninformed president doing south of our border to rile up the science community?. Anything that Trump does regarding the environment is concerning to me since their environmental policies directly affect my country. Acid precipitation is a good example of that. I proceeded to do some research.

Times article, Donald Trump’s Science Denial Is Becoming National Policy, reports soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the official White House website purged all mentions of climate from the site except one,  the promise to eliminate the “harmful and unnecessary” Climate Action Plan implemented by former President Obama. Soon thereafter, scientists and other employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were told not to speak to the public. When a National Park Service Twitter account sent out impartial facts, the White House had them deleted, plus the EPA was told to take down its climate-change page. Climate change is a huge issue and Trump did tweet on November 6, 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Then on October 19, 2015, Trump tweeted: “It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!” This clearly tells me that this man is ignorant of science.

The Times article also says Trump appointed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an anti-vaccine activist to run a commission on immunization safety. Both Trump and Kennedy have spread far-flung theories linking vaccines to autism in children, an idea that medical experts overwhelmingly reject. Experts have warned the refusal to immunize is endangering public health by discouraging parents from immunizing their kids. Trump also appointed Dr. Scott Gottlieb to run the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Gottlieb is a strong supporter of the pharmaceutical industry and has supported deregulation. Trump is also known to have called the fact that asbestos causes cancer a “con” and even refused to believe the objective scientific reality of drought in California.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  Susan Margaret Collins, a Senator who is generally seen as the most pro-environment Republican in the Senate, said she was not convinced that Pruitt would protect public health. According to USA Today, she quoted as saying;

I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” Collins said. “His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.

National Geographic’s, A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment, reports that Trump’s proposed budget plans deep cuts to U.S. science and environmental agencies, especially EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in an effort to increase defence spending by $54 billion. Actions speak louder than words. Even though Trump says, “We can and must protect our environment without harming America’s working families,” the fact that he is proposing a cut of 31% to the EPA tells me how he really feels about protecting the environment. I find this alarming. Americans should be as well.

National Geographic also say that against the advice of the EPA’s chemical safety experts, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a decade-old petition asking that the EPA ban all use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. In 2000, the EPA banned its use in households, but the pesticide is still used on farms, which EPA scientists recommended stop. Even though Dow Chemical, the pesticide’s manufacturer, argues that it is safe when properly used, research suggests that chlorpyrifos may be associated with brain damage in children and farm workers, even at low exposures.

That same article claims President Trump signed a joint resolution passed by Congress revoking the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Stream Protection Rule.” That rule, put in place by President Obama, placed stricter restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways. It seems that mining companies are now free to throw whatever waste they desire in American waterways. These wastes eventually end up in the ocean and affect the ocean’s health. Once again, alarming.

So, is the world’s science community and all its supporters over reacting? Based upon my research, NO! I’ve only mentioned some of the policy changes made by the Trump administration. These policy changes are ALARMING to say the least. I am concerned about the planet. Trump’s choices affect the planet as the U.S.A. is the second largest contributor (15%) of greenhouse gases in the world, second only to China at 22.7% (see Gas Emissions, 2010). Canada only emits 1.7%. I personally would like an inhabitable planet for my children and grandchildren to reside on. Evo Morales, President of Bolivia since 2006, says it best. “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What [hu]mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans”.

2/3 Wildlife to Disappear by 2020. That’s Disturbing!

A commentary on climate change and endangered species.

A few weeks ago, an article on CBC.ca caused me some distress. The article is called; Two-thirds of wildlife will disappear by 2020, WWF. The news report says that according to the WWF conservation group, “worldwide populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have plunged by almost 60% since 1970.” It then goes on to say, “the decline is yet another sign that people have become the driving force for change on Earth”. Specifically, according to the article, this change is due to “the rising human population…threatening wildlife by clearing land for farms and cities”. It also lists other causes as “pollution, invasive species, hunting and climate change”. Think about that for a second. The year 2020 is only three years from now and according to the WWF 2/3 or 67%; more than half of the worlds wildlife will be extinct. I grew up seeing many of these animals in the wild or in zoos. To think my grandchildren will only be able to see pictures or videos of these animals is upsetting.

I went on to research this topic further. Another CBC report; A third of birds in North America threatened with extinction, states that “the first State of North America’s Birds report finds that of 1,154 bird species that live in and migrate among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, 432 are of ‘high concern’ due to low or declining populations, shrinking ranges and threats such as human-caused habitat loss, invasive predators and climate change”. Still another CBC report, Hundreds of animals, plants locally extinct due to climate change, reveals that a “new study found local extinctions (this is when a species can no longer be found at a location where it once lived) related to global warming have occurred in half of species studied”. But the article that alarmed me the most was CBC’s, Giraffes threatened by extinction, put on watch list. Giraffes! Really! The article blamed shrinking living space as the main cause. It says the giraffe situation is worsened by poaching and disease. There seems to be a common theme here, that is, that we humans are the problem. Another common theme is climate change.

Now I understand that climate change is not the sole cause for the loss of wildlife but I’ve read enough articles to come to the conclusion that it is definitely a big part of the problem. We’ve all heard the stories about polar bears. The chief threat to the polar bear is the loss of its sea ice habitat due to global warming. The National Wildlife Federation’s article; Effects on Wildlife and Habitat,  goes into detail of how climate change is affecting wildlife.

There are still people who have “their head in the sand”. There is still debate about the cause of climate change. Is it due to human activities or is it a natural phenomenon? There is no doubt that climate change is happening as the CBC news article, ‘It’s a little scary’: On Lennox Island, no one debates whether climate change is real, says. If you are at all skeptical watch the documentary Chasing Ice. It’s a 2012 documentary film about the efforts of nature photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey to inform the public to the effects of climate change. My wife and I, on recommendation of my sister, recently watched it on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, I would strongly encourage you to. In case you haven’t, here it is.

According to Wikipedia, a 2013 paper in Environmental Research Letters (a scientific journal) reviewed 11,944 abstracts of scientific papers matching “global warming” or “global climate change”. They found 4,014 which discussed the cause of recent global warming, and of these 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. To me that says that the vast majority of environmental scientists agree that climate change is due to human influence.

global_warming_0It concerns me when the president-elect in the United States tweeted in November of 2012 “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and who promised during his campaign to roll back President Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. According to CNBC, a business news site, “president-elect Donald Trump’s Energy Department transition team sent the agency a memo this week asking for the names of people who have worked on climate change…alarming employees and advisors”. The fear is that Trump is preparing a political enemies list. At least I can proudly say that the Canadian government is working on implementing a national climate change plan (see Manitoba will not sign).

Historically, the European immigrants came to North America with their Eurocentric world view; a view that tended to interpret the world in terms of European values and experiences; a view that saw European values as better than Aboriginal values.  In reality, the aboriginal people had the right values as they had the far superior values. Before European influence, many First Nation communities believed everything was connected. The spirit world was connected to the earthly world; the sea was connected to the land and that the sky was connected to the land. Consequently, humans co-existed with animals and plants, with equal rights to life. In this belief lies commitment to respect all living things. George Blondin, a highly respected Dene Elder who was born in the Northwest Territories, put it this way.

“We are people of the land; we see ourselves as no different than the trees, the caribou, and the raven, except we are more complicated.”

First Nations people were very religious and respectful of the Great Spirit, and other spirits that they believe inhabited the land and animals all around them. These people were taught from a very young age to respect and give thanks to the animals, birds, plants, land and water which gave them everything they needed to stay alive.

Maybe it is time to take a serious look at aboriginal spirituality. These people once had a sacred relationship with Mother Earth and had a reverent respect for the plants and animals.  The reality is if we don’t, we may end up living on a planet with 2/3 less plant and animal species or worse. That would be shameful and a complete lack of respect for our future ancestors. But then again, maybe, just maybe, science can come to the rescue. CBC has a news article called, Reviving extinct species within reach, which quotes Hendrik Poinar, a scientist at McMaster University’s Ancient DNA Centre, who says, “The revival of an extinct species is in reach.” He is referring to a new field of science called ‘de-extinction’.

Bears Have Rights Too

tentI mentioned in a previous blog post, The Encounter, that my son and I do annual hiking trips in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This past weekend we did a trip to Jasper National Park hiking up the Sunwapta Peak trail.  This was our 14th trip together. We stayed in a campground called, Wabasso, near the town of Jasper. When we were registering at the campground, we were warned that a black bear had been in the campsite the previous night. While eating our supper that evening, the people at the tent next to us started yelling, “there’s a bear!” They made a bunch of noise to scare the bear away. We never did get a glimpse of the wild animal but nonetheless, the possibility of a bear nearby always makes a person a bit anxious.

Now in the 14 years of doing this, we have only encountered a bear once (if you can call it that).  It was five years ago and the black bear was on the trail in Jasper National Park some 500 or more metres ahead of us.  When we yelled and my brother-in-law set off a “bear banger” (that is a device that makes a very loud bang) the bear took off. Bears are always on your mind when hiking in the mountainous wilderness so we’ve always taken precautions. All of us carry bear spray, a type of pepper spray or capsicum deterrent that is used to deter aggressive bears. Thankfully, we’ve never had to use it although we have talked to hikers who have. When we hike we travel in groups and make lots of noise so that if there is a bear nearby, it knows humans are nearby as Parks Canada advises. (see Safe Travel in Bear Country). We also make sure our food is stored in vehicles, lockers or on bear poles. Bear poles are tall metal poles with hooks so that hikers can hoist their bags (food especially) up to the hooks for safekeeping overnight.

black-bear-blogHaving freshly done a mountain hike in bear country, I began to have some questions about bears so I did some research. The first question I wondered: Just how common are bear attacks? According to the article, Behaviour, by the Get Bear Smart Society,

Bears are NOT mean or malicious. Bears are normally shy, retiring animals that have very little desire to interact with humans. Unless they are forced to be around humans to be near a food source, they usually choose to avoid us.

That leads to my second question: Just how common are bear attacks? According to the article, A few surprises in decades-long black bear study, in the  Globe and Mail,

“Fatal black bear attacks were rare from 1900 to 2009 but they disproportionately occurred in Canada, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Of the 63 people who died in 59 incidents, 44 victims were mauled in Canada. It’s not known why, but periodic food shortages due to shorter growing seasons could be a factor.”

That means there were only 44 Canadian victims in 109 year span. The article also reports,

Researchers found that the vast majority of the confrontations weren’t the result of chance meetings in the woods, but the outcome of predatory behaviour, nearly always by lone male black bears. Surprisingly, only 8 per cent of the deadly attacks were attributed to mother bears.

So that made me wonder: Why are there bear attacks?  According to the Globe and Mail article,

Bear-caused fatalities have increased largely in lockstep with the continent’s human population growth and subsequent rise of recreational activities. Most of the deadly encounters with bears – 86 per cent – were recorded since 1960. Nine out of 10 times, the victim was alone or with only one other person. Improperly stored food and garbage was a likely attractant in 38 per cent of the incidents… In all cases, researchers found that bear pepper spray was not deployed as a measure of defence.

Another question: How do conservationists respond to bear habituation? Habituation is when a bear has constant, repeated exposure to people. When this happens bears can become increasingly bold and less afraid of people. These bears run the risk of becoming “problem” bears that enter townsites and campgrounds, places they are more likely to be illegally fed or rewarded with improperly stored garbage or pet food. Parks Canada’s wildlife specialists do their best to reverse this behaviour, but if a bear can’t be rehabilitated they are destroyed because they became too much of a risk to public safety. In areas outside the national parks, bears are often destroyed once they’ve been habituated. In Revelstoke, British Columbia, nine bears were destroyed in one week. (see the CBC article,  9 Bears Killed in one Week).

Recently Josh Bowmar, an American and a former javelin athlete, posted a video of himself killing a black bear in Alberta with a spear. That video caused sharp criticism on social media and from the provincial government. In the video, a black bear can be seen circling and then approaching the area that had been baited where Bowmar stands nearby before he impels the spear into the bear’s stomach.  The bear ran off, likely suffering for many hours and was found dead the next day. Alberta’s government have since announced it will introduce a ban on spear hunting this fall as part of those updated regulations. (see Alberta Government orders Investigation). If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

I was surprised that spear hunting was even legal in Alberta. I was even more surprised to learn that baiting bears and other animals was also legal. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of hunting. When I was a teen I once shoot a sparrow with my pellet gun and killed the bird. I felt so incredibly guilty when the bird died that I’ve never intentional killed an animal since except for mosquitos, flies and spiders when my wife forces me to. Typically, I rescue the spiders and put them outside.

The bottom line is we humans have an obligation to learn how to live in harmony with wildlife. All living creatures have a right to exist. In fact, UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, issued a Declaration for All Life on Earth which declared, we shall create a world based on love and harmony in which all forms of life are respected. Organizations such as, World Wildlife Federation (WWF) states their mission to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. I believe this is possible and education is the key. Dr. Jane Goodall, an animal rights activist and best known for dwelling with Tanzanian chimps to observe their behaviour, said it best when she said, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”  If you are going to be in bear country, it is imperative that you get educated.  A good place to start is to read the Dispelling Myths article by the Get Bear Smart Society. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. 

Littering! Really?

A commentary on the disrespectful act of littering.

For the past three summers, my wife and I have camped for several weeks at a campsite near where we live. This campsite is beside a river and has a golf course where I golf at least once a day. The campsite is located in a beautifully treed area where you can truly feel connected with nature. I don’t need to write about the health benefits of being in nature as I did that in my post Nature’s Wonders in May. Spending time golfing and having campfires is what I’ve been doing for the last few weeks so in case you’ve been wondering, that is why I haven’t published anything lately.

My wife loves to walk and so I go for walks as often as I can with her. It’s good quality time together and we often have some of our best talks doing this. We either walk around the campsite visiting the occasional camper that we know or we walk down a rural road near the campground. It’s about a six kilometre (3.7 mile) walk to the location we go to and back. The road is a gravel road so sometimes we get bombarded with dust when a vehicle goes by but for the most part the road is a beautiful walk in the river valley.

litter
From Litter Heros website

The last time I walked this route, I was alone which gave me more time to observe my surroundings. What struck me was the amount of litter I saw. I counted eight (8) soft drink or coffee cups. They were from such fast food restaurants as Dairy Queen (DQ), Tim Horton’s, and MacDonald’s.  I also saw fast food napkins, a hamburger Styrofoam box, a beer bottle and a beer can. There were also candy wrappers and a level which must have fallen off a work truck. That was what I could see just from the road. I’m sure there was much more litter as the grass was long in the ditches. What disturbs me about finding beer containers is the people who tossed them likely were drinking and driving. That to me is alarming!

Years ago our son was in 4H and every year the 4H clubs participated in the Alberta Highway cleanup where 4H members gather to clean up a section of a highway. I participated with him and what I remember most about that event was the number of cigarette packages there were. Smokers seem to be some of the worst litterers. The second most common piece of litter we picked up were fast food cups. Of course there were numerous bottles and cans and other miscellaneous items including dirty diapers. During a town cleanup last year we picked up mainly fast food cups, cigarette packages, along with other miscellaneous items and yes even dirty disposable diapers.

I’ve tried to understand why people litter and the only thing I can conclude is that people are just too lazy to find a garbage can and that people really don’t care about our environment. This inspired me to learn more about the topic.

Here are some facts from a website created by a Litter Reduction Task Force to address the litter issues within the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. This site is called, The only cure for litter is you.

  • The average distance someone will carry garbage before littering is 12 paces.
  • Most litter occurs within 5 meters of a garbage receptacle.
  • Single use food and beverage litter made up 45 per cent of litter cleaned up in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in Ontario, Canada.
  • There are 8,000 tonnes of cigarette butts dropped by Canadians each year, the majority within 10 feet of an ashtray. It takes 10 years for the filter to biodegrade.

What people need to understand is that much of this litter remains in the environment for a long time. According to this same website, it takes an aluminum can 80 to 200 years to break down naturally but if recycled, it can be reused within six weeks.  Here is some information about how long it takes other items to break down naturally.

  • Banana peel: 3 to 4 weeks
  • Paper bag: 1 month
  • Cardboard: 2 months
  • Wool sock: 1 year
  • Tin steel can: 50 years
  • Disposable diapers: 550 years
  • Plastic bags: 20 to 1000 years
  • Plastic jug: 1 million years
  • Glass: 1 to 2 million years
  • Styrofoam: 1+ million years
6_pack_duck_270x224
From humanesociety.org

It seems obvious to me that people just don’t care what they are doing to Mother Earth. So that begs the question, Why should we care about the problem of littering? According to the same website,

  • Litter is damaging to plant life. Litter can stunt plant growth.
  • Every year, millions of birds, fish and animals die from ingesting litter.
  • Litter on the ground and in our water is dangerous to humans.
  • Litter destroys the beauty of the community. Litter begets litter. One piece of litter on the ground signals others to litter.
  • Litter is a safety hazard. It is a breeding ground for rodents and bacteria.

According to the website, Conserve Energy Future (CCF),

  • Littering is expensive. Every year millions upon millions of dollars are spent cleaning up litter. This money should be going to more productive things, but instead, people don’t realize that something as small as littering done on a mass scale does indeed affect them. Taxpayers’ dollars are being spent on littering…
  • A very large majority of Americans have admitted to littering in their lifetimes. I’ll admit it. I have littered. The average American only walks a few steps before dumping their trash on the ground without even searching for a garbage can.
  • Billions of tons of litter are dumped into the ocean each year…This leads to the repeated killing of fish on a daily basis and the gradual depletion of marine life. Believe it or not, the litter we produce is causing more underwater species to become endangered.
  • Cigarette butts make up over half of our littered objects, and they take a grand total of ten years to decompose because of a cellulose acetate, contrary to the popular perception that cigarette butts decompose very quickly in only a matter of days. In reality, cigarette butts are a serious threat to the environment.

According to the article, Littering a crime of inconvenience for Canadians by Marc and Craig Kielburger, WWF Canada says Canadians are frustrated with environmental groups telling them that making small changes will have a big impact on our planet.

But Canadians are doing their part to clean up the mess we humans have created. According to the Kielburger brothers, The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is one of the largest public action conservation programs in the country. Last year, more than 58,000 volunteers picked up litter along 3,000 km of shoreline and inventoried every piece. Having said that, we need to do more.

do-not-see-clipart-1It’s time we humans stop this disrespectful action of littering and start getting involved in public actions such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, Alberta Highway Clean Up (if you live in Alberta) or in your local community spring clean-ups (see Communities celebrate spring with clean ups). It’s time to be stewards and to protect, respect and take care of our precious planet. No longer should we take our environment for granted. So do the right thing!

Climate Change Confusion

A commentary on whether humans are to blame for climate change

Carbonbrief.org, a UK-based website covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy, reports, Study links heatwave deaths in London and Paris to climate change. The study refers to the 2003 tragedy where more than 70 000 people across Europe died in a  heatwave. Climate Change is a reality. I don’t think anyone disputes that and the science community doesn’t either. All a person needs to do is take note of the strange weather the world has experienced in recent years. In June, we saw extremely wet weather in Europe causing flooding in Paris, France and Germany. In the United States there has been sizzling heat in the Southwest causing uncontrollable wildfires in California.  West Virginia has experienced severe flooding. In the province of Alberta, 88 000 people had to be evacuated from Fort McMurray because of wildfires. Also in June, Eastern China saw a tornado and hailstorm that killed at least 98 people when it sped over the city of Yancheng’s outskirts, destroying buildings, smashing trees and flipping vehicles on their roofs. The list of weird weather goes on and on.

There is no question that our weather is changing and becoming extreme. The ongoing debate is: Is it human activity that is causing climate change? Now I’ve taught about this topic in science for many years and there has been no doubt in my mind that it was indeed humans causing global warming which leads to climate change. I would show the graph comparing CO2 levels to average global temperatures and use it as evidence to convince my students. I would show them pictures of the shrinking polar ice cap and melting glaciers. I would show them Al Gore’s movie: Inconvenient Truth (see trailer below) and emphasize Al Gore’s argument that most of the scientists around the world agree that humans are the main reason for the global warming.

The article Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming on NASA’s Global Climate Change website agrees with Al Gore’s conclusions as it says,

Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

The Scientific America article: Is Global Warming a Myth? also agrees with Al Gore as it says,

…scientists have not been able to validate any such reasons for the current warming trend, despite exhaustive efforts. And a raft of recent peer reviewed studies—many which take advantage of new satellite data—back up the claim that it is emissions from tailpipes, smokestacks (and now factory farmed food animals, which release methane) that are causing potentially irreparable damage to the environment.

I have always believed that Al Gore must be right. But then I watched a video, on my son’s insistence, called, Climate Change: Fact or Fiction by Dr. Gary Smith (see below). Dr. Smith convincingly argues that humans are not causing global warming.

Global Research.ca, an organization that seems to me to be credible, has an article called Global Warming: Ten Facts and Ten Myths on Climate Change that seems to agree with Dr. Smith’s conclusions. This article agrees with Dr. Smith as it says,

 Climate has always changed, and it always will. The assumption that prior to the industrial revolution the Earth had a “stable” climate is simply wrong. The only sensible thing to do about climate change is to prepare for it.

The reality is that almost every aspect of climate science is the subject of vigorous debate. Further, thousands of qualified scientists worldwide have signed declarations which (i) query the evidence for hypothetical human-caused warming and (ii) support a rational scientific (not emotional) approach to its study within the context of known natural climate change.

So now I’m confused. I thought it was all clear in my mind but now I’m not so sure. The more I learn, the more confused I get. But I guess that is nothing new as Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”  Even Aristotle said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

So now I’m not sure what to think. Am I convinced that humans are not to blame for climate change? NO I’m not. I suspect that we humans are contributing to the problem, but it could also be, at least in part, to natural changes in climate as the earth has gone through many warming and cooling periods. I suspect climate change is due to both. Having said that, I continue to believe that moving away from our addiction of fossil fuels can only help our planet. It just feels like the right thing to do. I guess we will just have to wait and see who wins the debate.

Nature’s Wonders

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Lake Louise

It astonishes me the number of beautiful places this planet has to offer for us humans to appreciate. I consider myself blessed because my wife and I have seen a handful of them. When I look at websites advocating must see places to visit in the world, I am surprised at how many I have seen. These sites often mention places such as Santorini in Greece, Venice in Italy, Paris in France, Rome in Italy, Stonehenge at Amesbury, England, Glacier National Park in Montana, USA all of which I have visited. With the exception of Glacier Park, these places all involve flights over oceans but we don’t have to travel across oceans to see beautiful places. There are so many places right here in our own country. The Internet has many lists of must see places on it and many of these lists include places in the Canadian Rocky Mountains; places like Banff National Park, Lake Louise, Jasper National Park, and Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park.

The Reader’s Digest’s article, 10 Places In Canada Every Canadian Needs To Visit includes Banff National Park and Lake Louise on its list. CNN’s article, 20 of the most beautiful places in Canada includes Jasper National Park and Lake Louise on it. When you search the Internet for must see places in Canada, the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park, Jasper National Park or Lake Louise will almost inevitably show up on the list.

The Canadian Rockies are an assemblage of mountains that extend to  parts of British Columbia and Alberta. They were formed about 55 to 80 million years ago in what is called the Cretaceous era. These mountains are made up of layered sedimentary rocks and when you take the time to look you can see the layers. Their peaks are sharp and pointy because of glaciers on it.

2016-05-16 15.17.13
Bighorn sheep

There are five national parks that are part of the Canadian Rockies; these are Yoho, Jasper, Kootenay, Banff and Waterton. Banff National Park was the first to be formed. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is made up of four Canadian Rocky Mountain national parks and has a total protected area of over 20,000 square kilometres. If you are lucky enough you might see animals such as grizzly or black bears, deer, elk, moose, cougars and bighorn sheep. My wife and I caught a glimpse of a black bear and numerous bighorn sheep. We also saw some moose. The Canadian Rockies have been likened to the 2016-05-15 15.33.08African Serengeti in terms of the abundance of wildlife. When you drive in Banff National Park you’ll notice places where wildlife can cross the Trans-Canada Highway on specially built over and under passes, designed to reduce collisions with the animals.

My wife and I just recently spent a week in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. We visited three of the five national parks; Banff, Jasper and Kootenay. Even though I’ve been to the Rockies many times, I still find the beauty of these majestic mountains to be breathtaking. When I’m among these gigantic, unique pieces of rock I feel a closeness to our creator God especially when we are walking on one of the numerous beautiful hiking trails. My wife and I spent three days in Jasper National Park where we went to Maligne Lake for the first time. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Maligne Lake, Jasper
Maligne Lake, Jasper

Another thing that always amazes me, or both of us really, is the number of people from all over the world you meet or the variety of languages you hear. We heard languages in French, German, Chinese, Japanese and some we didn’t recognize. We met people from France, China, United States, and Germany. It truly is a global village. All of these people were doing the same thing as we were. They were taking in the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

It astounds me the number of people I know who live in the province of Alberta, Canada, that have never been to the Canadian Rockies. We live on the east side of the province of Alberta, probably one of the farthest points from the Rockies yet both my wife and I have been there too many times to count. It takes us six hours to drive to the Jasper town site. Yet, so many people who live even closer to the west side of the province where the Rockies are located have never taken the time to visit those majestic sites.

There are so many wonderful places to see in our world, many of them in our own back yard. Life is too short to procrastinate seeing them. Now I know it is human nature to make excuses for not doing it; excuses like it costs too much, not enough time or work is just too important to miss. I just think it is sad that people don’t take the time to see such wonderful formations of nature. It is so important to spend time seeing what nature has created and just being in nature. It doesn’t have to be the Rocky Mountains although if you haven’t seen them you definitely should. There are so many benefits to being in nature. According to the article, Get Outside! 7 Scientifically-Backed Health Benefits of Being in Nature, spending time in nature improves attention spans, boosts serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter) levels and shows increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love.  Some research suggests urban environments do the same for fear and anxiety. Being in nature is good for your health. Take the time to experience a bit of heaven on earth. It is worth the effort. Or as the French author, Jules Renard says,  On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it.

Adventures with Mother Nature

Every summer since 2002, starting when my son was 8 years old, my son and I have taken hiking excursions to the Canadian Rockies. Traditionally, we go with my brother-in-law and his two sons. Sometimes my brother and his son would join us as well as a friend and his two sons at the beginning. These excursions entail carrying 40-pound backpacks containing food and cooking equipment, sleeping gear and a tent. On some occasions we carried our 40-pound packs 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) before reaching our destination.

Most hikes were to the backcountry, a remote undeveloped rural area accessible only by hiking trails. We would hike to places such as Landslide Lake, Ribbon Lake, Lillian Lake, Utopia Creek, Glacier Lake, and Celestine Lake to name a few. I realize that these names likely don’t mean much to many of you but I can assure you that these settings are some of the most breath-taking, beautiful scenery in the world.

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Lillian Lake

We’ve had some adventures over the years. In what is called Kananaskis Country, we did a day hike to Ribbon Falls after a good night’s rest at the Ribbon Lake campground. To reach our destination, we had to maneuver down a vertical cliff. Thankfully, there were chains attached to help a person propel downward. By carefully finding footholds and hanging onto the chains we successfully got to the bottom part of the cliff. Being that I am afraid of heights, this was a terrifying experience for me. Climbing up the cliff was much easier.

After hiking the Galatea Creek Trail, also in Kananaskis Country, and arriving at our destination of Lillian Lake we put our backpacks down and went to scout out a site to set up our tents. Several minutes went by before we returned to collect our equipment to take to our chosen site. To our dismay, we discovered a chipmunk chewing its way through the top of my son’s brand new pack which I had just purchased for my son. In fact, this was his first trip with it. The chipmunk had chewed a hole into the top of the pack in an attempt to get at the trail mix inside. I was not happy with that animal and yelled some choice words at the creature. Thankfully the little beast was not successful in retrieving any of the trail mix.

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Geraldine Lake trail (boulder hoping)

One of the most difficult hikes we’ve done was to Geraldine Lakes in Jasper National Park. It involved a very steep climb beside the waterfalls between Lower and Upper Geraldine Lakes where you come to kilometres of boulder hopping across what is called talus field. To say it was exhausting hopping from boulder to boulder carrying a 40 pound backpack is an understatement. At one point I was feeling sorry for myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” Thinking that I was getting too old for this hiking business (I was in my 40s), we came upon a fellow hiker in his 70s. He told us that Geraldine Lakes was one of his favourite trails and that he had hiked the trail many times. I needed an attitude adjustment at that point and my outlook changed after talking to the senior hiker. If a 70-year-old man can hike that trail, I had nothing to complain about being I was 30 years younger than this man. It’s all about your mental attitude. Being in shape, of course, helps.

One of my favourite hiking experiences was our hike to Utopia Creek in Jasper National Park. There were eleven of us on that expedition. On the Saturday evening we decided to take a different trail back so that we could climb up to what is called the Sulphur Skyline, which has some of the most breathtaking panoramas in Jasper National Park. This meant hiking the Fiddle River 11 kilometre horse trail from our campsite, then going up a 700 metre (2300 feet)  elevation gain of about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to reach the skyline. The trailhead had a sign saying, “Trail not recommended,”  but this didn’t stop us. What we did not realize is that we had the cross the Fiddle River not once, not twice but six times.

On our first crossing we carefully hopped across the river from boulder to boulder with our backpacks on until the last bit whereby we took our packs off, tossed them a fair distance to another person on the riverbank and then hopped onto the bank ourselves. Thankfully no one fell into the water and our packs remained dry.

During the second crossing we decided to take our hiking boots off, put on our sandals and cross the river in our sandals. The current was strong and the glacier water literally made my feet hurt.

Now the third crossing was done in our bare feet. By this time the ritual of taking off our boots was becoming burdensome, so when we had to cross the river on the fourth, fifth and sixth occasion we just kept our boots on. The current was strong so there were times when I had to hang onto my son, age 12 at the time, to prevent him from being swept downstream by the current. We stopped at a trailhead leading to Mystery Lake to ring out our wet socks and dried our boots as best we could. We eventually made it to the Sulphur Skyline with one of the most spectacular views I have ever had the privilege to appreciate. The chipmunks on top of the skyline were brave creatures as they would come right up to your fingertips looking for food.

In 2009, nine of us spent three hours hiking the 7 kilometre (4.3 mile) trail to Celestine Lake in Jasper National Park. A friend of mine and I were the last to arrive at our campsite as the younger ones of the group were much quicker than us older ones. What made this adventure so memorable was the fact that when my friend and I arrived at the campsite, we were told that we had to go back as there was a forest fire nearby. Now we didn’t believe them, of course, until we saw the warden’s helicopter take off. Apparently, the park warden arrived in a chopper and called to my brother in law saying, “I have some bad news guys. You have to leave as there is a fire in the area.” So it turned out that we were told the truth. We had to spend the next three hours returning to our starting point.

2013-07-13 01.19.38Now I have been asked over the years why I would go into the back country where there is no contact with the outside world; where there are bears and cougars and it can sometimes get to below freezing at nights. Those are good questions. My first response to those questions is always that it is quality time with my son. But it is more than that. I do it for the adventures. There is nothing like being in nature and the experience of standing on top of mountain with the wind blowing through your hair. The beauty that Mother Nature has to offer is far-fetched until you see it, and even then it can be surreal. For me, being in the wilderness is a chance to touch the divine. It is during those times that I feel closest to God or the Universe.

According to the article, How Does Nature Impact our Wellbeing, put out by the University of Minnesota,

“Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.”

Maybe that’s why I do it. Without knowing why, it made me feel better. So, go out into nature and reduce your stress. Speaking from experience it works. It is so easy to get so wrapped up in our daily urban lives that we forget what nature has to offer. Visit Mother Nature to de-stress. When you do you will discover that she is worth protecting.