The Lungs of the Earth are in Trouble

A commentary on the state of our planet

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For the past week or so, I’ve seen several posts and news reports about the Amazon Forest burning. This is terrible, and  if you’re not alarmed, you should be. Why? According to National Geographic’s Amazon Facts, the Amazon Forest is often referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’ because of its rich vegetation that takes carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air, and releases oxygen back in it. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon, and some articles say up to 30%.

Amazon Rain Forest

Here are some facts about the Amazon, according to National Geographic. The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, covering over 5.5 million square kilometres. It is so big, that the UK and Ireland would fit into it 17 times! It has an incredibly rich ecosystem – there are around 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 mammals and 2.5 million different insects. The Amazon is home to a whole host of fascinating – and deadly – creatures, including electric eels, flesh eating piranhas, poison dart frogs, jaguars, and some seriously venomous snakes.

Since the beginning of 2019, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has reported 72,843 fires in the country, with more than half of these being seen in the Amazon region. This means more than one-and-a-half soccer fields of Amazon rainforest is being destroyed every minute of every day. An 80% increase in deforestation has occurred so far this year compared to last year, according to the institute. That is alarming to say the least.

So why is the rainforest burning? According to the CNN article, Here’s what we know about the fires in the Amazon rainforest, farmers and cattle ranchers have long used fire to clear land and make it ready for use, so they are likely behind the unusually large number fires burning in the Amazon today. This year’s fires fit with an established seasonal agricultural pattern, said CNN meteorologist Haley Brink. “It’s the best time to burn because the vegetation is dry. Farmers wait for the dry season and they start burning and clearing the areas so that their cattle can graze. And that’s what we’re suspecting is going on …”

Mongabay,  a nonprofit environmental science and conservation news platform, agrees saying 65-70% of the deforestation in the Amazon is caused by cattle ranching, 25-30 by agriculture, and 2-3% by logging.

Amazon on fire

UNILAD, a youth platform for breaking news, in its article, Brazil’s President Is Actively Trying To Destroy Amazon, claims Bolsonaro, Brazil’s controversial far-right president, appears to be sabotaging a conservation effort aiming to conserve 265 million square kilometers of the Amazon forest. Brazil’s president is not the only president putting our planet in jeopardy. National Geographic has a running list of how Trump, the current resident of the US White House, is harming the planet, all designed to increase corporate profit.

So I must ask: Is leaving a planet that is inhabitable for our children and grandchildren a priority, or is making money? Saving our planet, which is in crisis, should be the priority. Back in October of 2018, the New York Post ran a headline, Terrifying climate change warning: 12 years until we’re doomed. The headline speaks for itself. The United Nations says,

Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

How does Climate Change relate to the Amazon Forest? The answer relates to Greenhouse Gases of which CO2 is one of the biggest ones. As the forest burns, it releases CO2 into the air, contributing to global warming. As more and more of the forest is destroyed, less and less of the CO2 is removed from our atmosphere since trees trap CO2 and release O2. Remember, as I mentioned earlier, more than 20%-maybe 30%-of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon. If the Amazon Forest disappears, we will have 20% to 30% less O2 for us to breathe. That is frightening, folks!

The way I see it, the world’s biggest forest—the Amazon Forest—is being deforested so more meat can be provided for the planet since 65-70% of the deforestation in the Amazon is caused by cattle ranching. A growing trend toward veganism and vegetarianism is happening, in part because of this issue. Food Revolution Network, a site committed to healthy, ethical, and sustainable food for all reports

Veganism was a top search trend in Canada in 2017. And the preliminary draft of Canada’s new Food Guide, released in 2017 by the Canadian government, favors plant-based foods

There’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S in the last three years.According to a report by research firm GlobalData, only 1% of U.S. consumers claimed to be vegan in 2014. And in 2017, that number rose to 6%.

Am I advocating that everyone should become vegans or vegetarians? No, but we certainly can decrease our meat consumption to help the planet. My wife and I have made that choice, not only to save the planet, but also for health reasons. In the September 2019 Reader’s Digest magazine is an article entitled, Foods: “Good or Bad” Too Simplistic, describes a Harvard lead analysis of 36 trials where red-meat was replaced with plant-based proteins to study the effects of meat verses plant-based diets.  Their conclusion was that cardiovascular risk factors changed more favourably with those on a plant-based diet. It seems there is increased evidence that diets high in meat—especially red meat—are not healthy. There are lots of books and documentaries on this topic, so don’t take my word for it; do your own research.

Perhaps it is time for us in North America to decrease our meat consumption for the sake our planet and maybe for our health as well. According to World Atlas’ article, Top Meat Consuming Countries In The World,  the United States is the second largest consumer of meat on the planet consuming 200.6 pounds of meat per person per year. Australia is number one at 205 pounds per person annually. Canada is in ninth place on the list of high meat-consuming countries.

We can stick our head in the sand and pretend everything is fine, or we can do something. To save our planet, there are a few things you can do. You can demand that protecting the planet is priority over profit. Demand our governments leave a planet that is inhabitable for our children and grandchildren. We can also decrease our consumption of meat. And lastly, learn about the issues. Learn about Climate Change, deforestation, and other issues that planet Earth faces. Our grandchildren are counting on it, and our planet depends on it.

Christmas Controversies 4.0

A commentary on this year’s Christmas controversies.

I do have more to say about China, but since Christmas is rapidly approaching, let’s talk about Christmas. Every year, I’m curious as to what Christmas controversies will erupt. In past years, Starbuck’s Christmas cups spurred controversy and this year seems to be no different. According to The Washington Post, this year’s debate is the same as 2015.  There are claims that Starbucks is not embracing Christmas. The coffee giant said it wanted to “look to the past” for inspiration. It seems there are some people who think the coffee giant’s cups lack Christmas symbolism and thus is an attack on Christmas. Starbucks seems to be ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t.’ I can’t help but think of the idiom, “You can’t please everyone.” The truth is, you will never please everyone, so why bother. Maybe that is the approach Starbucks is taking.

The Guardian has an article, Iceland’s Christmas TV advert rejected for being political, about a controversial ad in United Kingdom. Here is the ad:

A supermarket chain in the United Kingdom, Iceland Foods, pledged removal of palm oil from all its own-brand foods. Habitat loss in countries such as Malaysia – a major global producer of palm oil – has contributed to the orangutan endangerment. The supermarket says, “this is a huge story that needs to be told.”  Iceland Food’s Christmas commercial, about the plight of the critically endangered orangutan, was banned from airing on television.

The ad was pulled from TV because it breached political advertising rules. Ads are prohibited if it is “directed towards a political end.” My question: Was the ad too political because it was affecting sales of palm oil products? The supermarket was merely trying to educate people on the plight of the orangutan. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours (see UN Environment Programme). That is alarming! The world needs to be educated, but if people know this truth they may stop buying palm oil products—therein lies the politics—thus affecting profits. That applies to many products. This isn’t so much a controversy about Christmas as it is about keeping people ignorant. The reality is, for the corporate world, making money is more important than saving the environment or endangered species. There is a so-called Native American saying, “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”  I fear this may become truth.

Black Pete Character

Another interesting controversy is taking place in the Netherlands regarding Black Pete or Black Peter—Zwarte Piet in Dutch—a companion of Saint Nicholas (the Dutch say Sinterklaas). On the feast day of Saint Nicholas, celebrated December 5 in the Netherlands and December 6 in Belgium, this character can be seen.  The character’s depiction typically accompanies Sinterklaas, involves covering the skin in black makeup, wearing black wigs, large earrings and  distributing presents to children. Many people in the Netherlands dress up as Zwarte Piet as well.

Traditions surrounding Zwarte Piet have been controversial since the late 20th century. Opponents to the Black Pete character argue that he stems from Dutch colonial heritage, in which black people were submissive to whites, in other words, enslaved. The Netherlands abolished slavery in 1863.  National Geographic reports,

The character [Black Pete] was popularized in a mid-19th century children’s book written by a man who was very interested in the Dutch royal family members, “one of whom bought a slave in a slave market in Cairo in the mid-19th century,” says Joke Hermes, a professor of media, culture, and citizenship at Inholland University. This slave, Hermes suggests, may have helped inspire the character of Zwarte Piet.

Others reject the stereotypical black features of the figure, such as bright red lips, curly hair and large golden earrings. Some argue that it’s a way the white Dutch people remind black Dutch people that they are tolerated but not yet fully accepted citizens. National Geographic reports that white supremacists raised Nazi salutes at the Sinterklass parade in the Dutch city of Hoorn, and flew neo-Nazi flags at the one in Zaandijk. In Eindhoven, an estimated 250 white extremists chanted racist slogans and threw eggs and beer cans at people peacefully protesting the parade.

Now the question is: Should this tradition continue or should it discontinue as it promotes racism or at least keeps alive a racist past? Many argue that Black Pete is harmless fun. Which is more important, tradition or preserving peace? We are living during a time when racism seems to acceptable and even encouraged by some politicians. If black Dutch people, whose ancestors were slaves, are offended, then the tradition is unacceptable! Any traditional Christmas character that prompts white supremacists to raise Nazi salutes needs to be rejected.

The biggest Christmas controversy of 2018 surrounds the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a popular song written by Frank Loesser in 1944. It is a duet in which a host, usually performed by a male voice, tries to convince a guest, usually performed by a female voice, that she should stay the evening because the weather is cold and the trip home could be problematic. While the lyrics make no mention of any holiday, it is popularly regarded as a Christmas song due to its winter theme. If you’re unfamiliar with the song—I was—here it is.

Why is an old song causing so much controversy to the extent where it is being refused to be played on some radio stations.  CBC News explains that the song is offensive because of the man’s refusal to accept the woman’s “No” for an answer. It says many modern listeners view the song as “coercive and problematic.” For an in-depth analysis of the lyrics, see Vox.

Ironically, recently on my Facebook feed, was a post that forcibly argued that this controversy was ridiculous as people know that the song was written in the 1940s, and must be interpreted in light of the times. I doubt young people know this. In the 1940s it was considered a romantic, innocent song. This individual argued that there are worse things, like violent video games, that we should be concerned with rather than an old Christmas song.

Even though the author made some valid arguments, we must be sensitive to the fact that we now live in a #metoo era. The Me Too (#MeToo) movement is a crusade against sexual harassment and sexual assault. This year has been filled with numerous women coming forward with sexual harassment and assault allegations against celebrities, coaches, and politicians, all people with money and power. The current resident of the U.S. Whitehouse has had several accusations lodged against him. This is an issue not to be taken lightly.

A global rape prevention organization known as, No Means No Worldwide (NMNW), has a mission to end sexual violence against women and children. According to this organization,

Globally, an estimated 35% of women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. In Africa, that percentage increases to 45%. According to the UN Population Fund, almost 50% of all sexual assault victims are girls age 15 or younger. In the slums of Nairobi, where our programming started, 1 in 4 girls are raped every year.

This organization teaches a preventative program. In other words, when a woman, child, or man for that matter, says NO, then they mean no. In the song, the female declares her intentions, “I simply must go.” The male’s response, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” She declares her intentions again, “The answer is no.” The guy’s response, “Ooh baby, it’s cold outside.” Later in the song, the guy plays with her emotions (my interpretation) saying, “What’s the sense in hurting my pride,” and “Baby don’t hold out.”  Now I can see why people would take offense to this song. The male character in the song doesn’t respect the female’s answer of no. No doesn’t mean no to him. It means maybe, hopefully, try harder and so on.

An article titled, What Nobody Wants To Admit About Rape Culture, says,

One of the most common occurrences when a woman has been raped is that her entire sexual history is brought up and used against her. The point of this attack is not that rape is okay, it’s that she’s a slut so she must have consented, right? Therefore it’s not rape. When guys are told “When a woman says no, she means try harder,” it doesn’t mean that rape is okay. It means that a woman is still consenting even if she says no. Therefore it’s not rape.

Does this song promote the rape—legally known as sexual assault—culture? Seems to. Should a song that is a traditional Christmas song—even that is open to debate—that may preserve a rape culture  be aired on radio because ‘it’s traditional? No. Should radio take this as an opportunity to teach about the objectionable parts of the song? Yes. Just because a song is a traditional Christmas song doesn’t make it acceptable. W. Edwards Deming, an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, and lecturer, once said, “Two basic rules of life are: 1) Change is inevitable. 2) Everybody resists change.” Sometimes Christmas traditions have to change. Airing of this song may be one of them.

When Lydia Liza heard the song, she was offended. She disliked the song so much, she recorded her own, “consensual” version with fellow musician Josiah Lemanski, in 2016.  In other words, she disliked the traditional version, so she changed it, and that is okay. I’ll end with Lydia’s version.

China Gave Me Much to Think About

Some thoughts on the recent trip to China

Tiananmen Square , Beijing

On November 20th, I returned home from an eleven-day trip to China. It was indeed a busy, yet educational adventure. The trip made me wonder about economic and political systems. Is capitalism better than communism? Canada is considered a mixed economy where there are some government owned corporations as well as privately owned businesses.

I grew up during the Cold War, continuously hearing about the evils of communism. North Americans were indoctrinated to believe communism was immoral and we were to fear it. I heard U.S. presidents such as, Richard Nixon, say, “The Cold War isn’t thawing; it is burning with a deadly heat. Communism isn’t sleeping; it is, as always, plotting, scheming, working, fighting,” and John F. Kennedy saying, “Communism has never come to power in a country that was not disrupted by war or corruption, or both.”  I lived through the Cuban missile crisis and fearing a nuclear war.

First let’s be clear on the difference between communism and capitalism. The word ‘communism’ has Latin roots, communi, which means ‘common.’ Although it is more complicated, simply put, in communism, everything is owned communally. Ideally, there is no government or class division, and wealth is distributed among people based on their needs; each person contributes to society as best as he or she is able, and takes from that society only what he or she needs. Communism is based on the principle of economic equality. Capitalism, on the other hand, stems from the word, capital, or the “means of production,” which is owned, operated, and supplied to generate profits for private owners or shareholders. Simply put, capitalism is an economic system which individuals own economic resources and industry.  Capitalism is based on the principles of profit and competition.

Climbing Great Wall of China

Based on what I observed, China seemed to have both systems. Many of the places we visited, such as the Jade factory, the pearl factory and embroidery Institute were all government-owned businesses. Free enterprise, or private businesses, were in China as well. We were told that Jack Ma, the co-founder and chairman of Alibaba, (equivalent to Amazon in North America) was the richest man in China.  We visited markets in the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai where small businesses were selling all sorts of things.

Something I noticed about the Chinese people is that they have a great love for their country. They speak of Chairman Mao, China’s revolutionary leader, with love and affection. Forbes describes China’s present leader  Xi Jinping as having a dream of a “moderately prosperous society,” instead of a communist utopia. He talks about “national rejuvenation,” and a China with a space program, high-speed rail network and high technology parks. One of our tour guides said Xi Jinping most known sayings—at least in China—is, “If it is good for China, then China will do it.” It seems to work as China is growing rapidly. Forbes says, China is on its way to becoming the largest economy in the world. It reports that in just one generation, 300 million+ people went from rural subsistence farming to urban industrial and technology jobs. The United States has always been considered the world’s economic power house in modern times, but the New York Times says,

Emerging signs of weakness in major economic sectors…are prompting some forecasters to warn that one of the longest periods of economic growth in American history may be approaching the end of its run.

Temple of Heaven exercise park

Another thing I observed while visiting China, was how happy the Chinese people were. In fact, one of my travel partners commented on how happy the Chinese people were, and how unhappy the people back home were because they were always complaining. The Chinese government does takes care of its people. For example, their government provides exercise parks for their retired citizens. We visited one at the Temple of Heaven Park. The Chinese people were happy to show us how the various machines worked. In this Beijing park, we saw musicians and large groups of people singing loudly and looked to be having fun. We also witnessed this at the Summer Palace. In fact, one Chinese person grabbed the hands of two people in our tour group and starting dancing with them. Unemployment, we were told, was non-existent. One of our tour guides told us that unless retired, everyone had a job. I saw numerous people with brooms cleaning the streets and removing falling autumn leaves. There was virtually no garbage anywhere.

Rickshaw Ride

China’s political system is drastically different from democratic countries like Canada and the U.S. China has a one-party system; the Communist Party. We asked about what Chinese people thought about the politics of their country. The guide’s response (paraphrased) was Chinese people really don’t care about politics or their government. As long as people are living a good life, have a job and making money, they are happy. He said there is consistency with a one-party system as when there is a change in leadership, the policy of the previous government continues. Then our tour guide said something thought-provoking. He said in the democratic world, little is accomplished as governments are always squabbling. He further explained, whenever a new party is elected, they reverse the previous party’s policies, thus little progress is made.

Now this made me think. It’s true. In Canada, when a new party takes power—presently it’s the Liberal Party—they change many of the policies put into place by the previous ruling Conservative Party. In the United States, the Trump administration—Republicans—are reversing and changing many of the policies that the Obama administration—Democrats—put in place. It’s accurate, there is no consistency in policy. No wonder little progress occurs. The U.S. is a very divided country, and Canada has its divisions as well. China, because it is a one-party system, is relatively united.

Now I’m not saying that China doesn’t have problems, it does. According to Global Risk Insights,

“Land disputes, labour strikes and environmental concerns have been frequently cited as the leading causes of protest across China in recent years, as the drive for growth has resulted in the destruction of farmland, the proliferation of polluting factories and waste plants, and poor labour rights.”

Smog was prevalent in Beijing. I’m sure we visited only places the government wanted us to see. We saw none of the negative parts of society. But that is also true of tours taken in democratic countries I’ve visited.

Chinese Market

It was obvious that the Chinese people are likely one of the most watched people in the world. I saw cameras everywhere. But is it any different in the “free world?” According to Crime Feed, an average American citizen can be caught on camera more than 75 times a day. I was unable find stats on Canada, but likely it is no different in my country. When we entered China, we had finger prints electronically taken, and our passports were scanned by every hotel. We, as foreigners, were tracked. We in the “free world” like to think we have freedom, but the reality is our phones are tracked and our Internet activity is monitored. The Huffpost has an article, 9 Ways You’re Being Spied On Every Day, where it talks of all the ways we are being monitored. In reality, we are just as watched as people in China.

You’re probably wondering if I am a communist. No, I don’t believe so although the idea of economic equality and doing what is best for everyone makes sense. Am I pro-capitalism? Not when I hear stories such as General Motors laying off thousands of workers by closing one plant in Canada and four in the U.S. This is a company that earned $35.79 billion in 2018 in revenue, up 6 percent from $33.62 billion during the same quarter in 2017 (see GM).  Or, when I learn that Sears is seeking court approval to pay its executives as much as $25 million in annual bonuses when the company has declared bankruptcy. Three top executives could get nearly $1 million each if the company goes out of business (see CNN). Furthermore, Sears pensions were cut by 20%, yet billions in payouts to shareholders happened (see Union). Rewarding people whose decisions caused bankruptcy makes no sense. Putting shareholders before workers is unjust.

Terracotta Warriors

American celebrity, Whoopi Goldberg, once uttered, “I don’t really view communism as a bad thing.”  I agree with Whoopi. Canadian-born economist, public official, and diplomat, John Kenneth Galbraith, once wrote, “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” Exploitation occurs in both economic systems. There are pros and cons to both economic systems and both forms of government. Neal Donald Walsh, in one of his Conversations with God books, wrote, “Your way is not the only way, it is just a way.” That quote sums up my point of view.

Water is Scarce, You Say!

A commentary on the status of the world’s freshwater supply.

Cape Town’s Reservoir From: http://www.capetownpartnership.co.za

Lately I’ve heard people talk about the water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa and I’ve seen the occasional post on Facebook about it. Often, I am skeptical when it comes to posts I see on Facebook. To quote Donald Trump, it could be Fake News. I try to stick to reputable websites when doing my posts. Curious about this water shortage, I did some research. It seems the talk I’ve heard and the posts I’ve seen are true. Cape Town is running out of water.

According to a CBC News article titled, Cape Town water crisis prompts rationing to prevent Day Zero tap shutoff,  a city with 4 million people, Cape Town’s main water source is now at about 27 per cent, but the final 10 per cent is considered unusable because of mud, weeds and debris at the bottom. The city’s managers have instructed residents, starting February 1st, to use only 50 litres of water daily, a decrease from the current 87-litre limit. Day Zero, the day when authorities would force the closure of most taps, is projected to arrive on April 12, but some fear it could come sooner.  The hope is water rationing will prolong Day Zero. The city says it would have to turn off most taps if the average reservoir level falls below 13.5 per cent. If Day Zero arrives, many people would have to go to collection points for a daily ration of 25 litres.

That’s rather disturbing to say the least. Four million people living in a city without water. Reading this got me wondering if water shortages are happening in other locations. It seems there are shortages elsewhere. There have been water shortage scares in the United States, especially in the states of Arizona and California.  Two years ago there was much concern that parts of California would experience a water shortage (see: NYT). Thankfully, heavy winter snows in the Rocky Mountains have rescued Western U.S. cities such as Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa for 2018 (see: Daily Herald).

Does that mean people living in the Western United States can give a sigh of relief? No, it does not. In 2015, the UN Predicted there would be serious water shortages by 2030.  The UN’s World Water Development Report  says, the world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030 without significant global policy change. It says countries like India are rapidly depleting their groundwater and rainfall patterns around the world are becoming more unpredictable due to global warming.

According to a National Geographic article entitled, What You Need to Know About the World’s Water Wars, states that fears are being sounded about the depletion of underground water supplies known as aquifers. More specifically, an aquifer is an underground layer of permeable rock, sediment, or soil that produces water. About 30 percent of the planet’s available freshwater is in the aquifers located under every continent. According to this article, the world’s largest underground water reserves in Africa, Eurasia (Europe and Asia), and the Americas are under stress. It is interesting to learn that over two-thirds of the groundwater consumed around the world is for irrigation purposes for agriculture, while the rest supplies drinking water to cities. The article says, Beijing is experiencing sinking because soil collapses into the space created as groundwater is depleted. Parts of Shanghai, Mexico City, and other cities are also sinking because of shrinking aquifers. Sections of California’s Central Valley have dropped by 38 centimetres, and in some localized areas, by as much as 8.5 metres.

Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, once said, “Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict.”  He may be right. A Newsweek Article, The World will soon be at war over water, lists seven conflicts over water that have already happened. What’s interesting to me is I had no idea that these conflicts were over water. I was happy to read that some of the hottest conflicts over the water supply have been resolved through negotiation.

American composer, musician and poet, Michael Franti once said,

“If we do not change our negative habits toward climate change, we can count on worldwide disruptions in food production, resulting in mass migration, refugee crises and increased conflict over scarce natural resources like water and farm land. This is a recipe for major security problems.”

Mr. Franti is right. Humanity needs to “wake up” and realize that we must change our practices; our practices towards climate change, our habits towards water usage and even the way agriculture is practiced. The reality is water is a limited resource. As 1937 Nobel Prize recipient Albert Szent-Gyorgyi once said, Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”  Let’s face reality. If our water supply runs out, we are doomed.

In September of 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” (see: UN declaration). Slovenia in July of 2017 officially declared that having access to drinkable water is a human right. This announcement was made following a vote by the Slovenian parliament who voted in favour of the law that prevents the country’s water sources from being commercialized (see: Slovenia). I say “bravo”! A round of applause for Slovenia. Other countries should be following in Solvenia’s footsteps.

Now I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. I would rather be an optimist., which begs the question: Are there solutions to a water crisis besides conflict? Yes. According to the Canada Free Press’ article, Israel holds the solution to world water crisis, Israel has many new innovative products and policies. Some of these are drip irrigation and “fertigation,” a process of injecting fertilizers, soil amendments, and other water-soluble products into an irrigation system. Israel promotes dual-flush toilets, seawater desalination, advanced wastewater treatment and reuse, free-market pricing of water, drought-resistant seeds, cutting-edge metering and leak-detection systems, conservation education and precision agriculture. These are some of the ways we can use water in a more sustainable way. We just need to ‘wake up’ and demand that changes be made.

Scientists Protesting! An Unprecedented Event

A commentary on the Global March for Science

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’.

All that Waste. Shame! Shame!

Another rant on the shameful waste of food ensuing our planet.

The other day I saw a disturbing headline on the CBC website. The headline was, Walmart insider says ‘heartbreaking’ amount of food dumped in trash. The article reports that a former worker at almost a dozen Walmart stores in the Vancouver area claims he saw loads of what appeared to be perfectly good food dumped in the trash, even though Walmart says it only discards inedible food.  The article also states that CBC Marketplace investigated this issue with the episode airing Friday, October 28, in which their investigation exposed that in the Toronto area, investigators repeatedly found outdoor garbage bins piled high with everything from produce to baked goods, frozen foods, meat and dairy products.

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From Just Eat It documentary

Now this is an issue that I’ve twice before written posts about. Those posts were Don’t throw that away and Vive La France. I just can’t wrap my head around why this occurs. Is it that corporations, like Walmart, just can’t be bothered? Do they not care? According to the article, the large retailer is committed to reducing food waste. The Walmart spokesperson says the company has teamed up with many organizations such as food banks to donate unsold food. The company also claims food is only discarded when it’s deemed unsafe to eat. If that is true, why did Marketplace discover all the food waste? The spokesperson could not address all the reports from Walmart insiders who told CBC they were instructed to throw away food if it looked imperfect or was close to an expired best-before date, or if shelf space was needed.

So what are these “best before dates” about?  Another CBC report titled, Best before dates and expiry dates: 5 things you may not know, explains it this way.

The best before date has nothing to do with the safety of the food. It has to do with the taste of the food. Best before dates guarantee freshness. Now expiration dates are different.  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency dictates that only five types of products need to be labelled with an expiration date. These include, baby formula and other human milk substitutes, nutritional supplements, meal replacements, pharmacist-sold foods for very low-energy diets, and formulated liquid diets. So the reality is you don’t have to discard a food item when the best before date is reached. Generally, if the food changes colour, or develops a bad smell, it is no longer safe to eat. Dented, leaking or bulging cans should be discarded. When in doubt throw it out is a good rule of thumb to follow.

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From USA Today

Thankfully, there is some good news. Some corporations are truly trying to reduce waste. The CBC article, Selling unwanted food at a discount, says the Loblaws grocery chain recently expanded its Naturally Imperfect line. Loblaws is a supermarket chain with over 2000 stores in Canada. Those are stores such as Loblaws, No Frills, Value-mart, Superstore, Real Canadian Superstore, and numerous others. Its Naturally Imperfect line is where it offers up to a 30 per cent discount for blemished and deformed produce. The program began in Ontario and has now spread to select Loblaws grocery stores across the country.

IGA in Quebec is now selling imperfect produce. (see ugly produce). IGA is part of Sobeys which is the second largest food retailer in Canada. My question is why aren’t they selling imperfect produce in all provinces? Furthermore, why aren’t all grocery chains selling imperfect produce? It’s time we consumers start demanding all stores stock imperfect produce. It decreases food waste and saves us money.

Save-On Foods, a chain of supermarkets across western Canada, announced in September  that they were placing “Misfit” produce in all their stores (see Misfit produce). Thumbs upI give a thumbs up to Loblaws, IGA and Save-On Foods for taking positive steps towards reducing waste.

Furthermore, we need to pressure grocery chains to donate to food charities and pressure governments to enforce it like France and Italy have done. I recently read in a local daily newspaper that the city of Calgary, located in Alberta, Canada, saves nearly a tonne of food a week from the landfill. Using volunteers, Lourdes Juan, founder of non-profit LeftOvers Calgary, picks up leftover food destined for the landfill and delivers it to hungry Calgarians.  (see Calgary Herald article for more). The Globe and Mail did a story called, Charity makes the most out of other people’s leftovers, where the paper reports on organizations who are helping people in need and reducing waste. Kudos to those organizations!

I’ve always been told that the reason grocery chains and food establishments don’t donate their leftover food or the food deemed unsellable is because of liability issues. In other words, if they donated food and someone acquires food poisoning as a result, they could be sued. After I wrote my post, Don’t throw that away, I contacted the provincial government to ask why companies are not protected when they donate food. It turns out they are. Alberta has a law called, The Charitable Donation of Food Act, which protects companies who donate food. According to the website, Imagine Canada, most other provinces do as well. So liability is not the issue. I suspect it is a matter of convenience. When volunteer organizations come to collect the “unsellable food” companies willingly donate it. It seems companies such as Walmart just can’t be bothered to take the “unsellable food” to the charitable organizations. At least that’s my take.

The reality is food waste is an astronomical problem. The CBC article, Selling unwanted food at a discount, that I referred to earlier says that roughly 1/3 of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted. It also reports that Canadians waste more that $31 billion, yes billion, in food each year. Another statistic reported in the article is that 45% of all fruit and vegetables produced globally are wasted. That is almost half! Much of this produce was wasted because it was deemed imperfect. This is emphatically wrong! This much food wasted is simply ethically and morally wrong when there are so many starving people on this planet. It’s time we are part of the solution rather than part of the problem, even if that is purchasing “imperfect produce” creating a demand for the product and thereby reducing waste. To quote Eldridge Cleaver, an American writer and political activist, “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” Please, do your part to reduce the corrupt waste of food. Be part of the solution!