The face of future media

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson

On February 17, hearings that could well decide the future of Internet broadcasting in Canada will begin in a small room in Gatineau, Quebec. There, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will decide whether or not to roll back its 1999 decision to exempt Internet content from regulation.

Some of the questions the CRTC will consider include: What is “new media” (read Internet) broadcasting? What might its impact be on the Canadian broadcasting system? Which regulatory measures and/or incentives are needed to boost Canadian broadcast programming on the Internet? The answers to these questions could well shape the future of Canadian broadcasting both on and offline.

A definition for the future of media

Defining exactly what comprises “new media broadcasting” will be tricky. The new media broadcasting definition could have huge implications for online, independent media in Canada. For example, many of the independent outlets that publish this column could have access to an independent “Internet Broadcast Fund” if the CRTC provides a relatively flexible definition.

The definition of new media broadcasting will also have broader implications for Canadian content production. The definition should prevent conventional broadcasters from bypassing their current obligations when using the Internet to distribute videos. However, licensing new media producers and mandating that they follow Canadian content rules is a step too far. Such a heavy handed approach would stifle online innovation and user generated content production.

Canadian production under threat

Canadians generally watch American TV programs and Canadian programs are, in large part, financed through the advertising revenue and subscription fees viewers pay to watch those programs. If people gain direct access to those American programs, outside of the regulatory systems designed to put some of that revenue back into the production of Canadian programs, the result could be a disaster for Canadian program production.

It’s not that Canadian producers make programs nobody wants to watch. On the contrary, audiences for Canadian programs are currently at an all time high and growing. It’s simply that American programs generally pay for themselves in their home markets and, thereby, are sold at huge discounts to Canadian broadcasters. As heavily advertised and marketed American programs flood Canadian markets, it becomes increasingly difficult for Canadian programs to attract audiences and generate revenue.

Because American programs enjoy such an economic advantage in Canadian markets, broadcast regulation is designed to ensure that Canadian programs have space in the schedule and that there is money to pay for them. But as more and more foreign – mainly American broadcast programs – are available over the Internet, this delicate balance could be lost. Big broadcasters have the privilege of using the public airwaves and enjoy access to public support mechanisms. Imposing a limit on repurposed American content should be the minimum requirement.

American programs enjoy the same economic advantages on the Internet as they do in cable and satellite markets, and, as such, production funds like those available for these traditional markets will be necessary. But where, exactly, will the money come from?

One likely source of funding is the windfall profit from telecommunications carriers. Just as the companies that distribute broadcast programs now pay into a production fund, the telecommunications carriers that provide access to the Internet might also be expected to contribute to a fund through a telecom levy.

To be clear, the telecom levy would be applied exclusively to the large carriers (Bell, Telus, Rogers, Shaw and Videotron). Independent ISPs that purchase wholesale bandwidth from the major carriers should be exempt so as to avoid eroding their market share and to further encourage competition and investment in the Internet service market.

Ensuring that regulation will encourage both innovation and a Canadian presence on the Internet should be the priority for the CRTC in these hearings. To that end, the Internet Broadcast Fund should be used as a mechanism to support independent and community media, which are in need of sustainable revenue streams and vital to supporting a democratic culture in Canada.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He contributed to Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media, and has written for The TyeeToronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters. Reach him at: 
steve@democraticmedia.ca
www.FacebookSteve.com
www.SteveOnTwitter.com

Veggies for vitality

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

The scrumptious aroma of potatoes baking in the oven on a winter afternoon. Minestrone soup simmering, bringing an invitation from onion, garlic and herbs. The vibrant reds, greens and purples of a rainbow-hued salad. The explosion of flavour when you bite into an avocado and tomato sandwich.

If the word “vegetables” doesn’t conjure in your mind sensations of colour, fragrance, delicious flavour and bountiful health, it’s time to update your attitude about these amazing foods. When we have a savoury soup and salad for lunch, and build our dinner around veggies, we consume a wealth of vitamins, minerals and other nutritious compounds.

More than any other group of foods, vegetables have proven their worth as cancer fighters and as our powerful protectors. This is a great time to make the acquaintance of new members of this family of plant foods and also to discover what powerful allies they can be in supporting your health.

One of the best things that veggies have going for them is an abundance of protective phytochemicals (plant chemicals). These substances provide many of the colours that make the produce aisles so attractive and vibrant. Veggies also give you more bang for your buck, in terms of providing vitamins, minerals and protection against disease, per calorie and per mouthful, compared with any other group of foods.

The recipe shown is from our newest book, The Raw Food Revolution Diet*. This bean-free hummus has all the flavour of traditional Middle Eastern hummus and is full of nutrients, including bone-strengthening calcium. It’s tasty with raw veggies. To expand your horizons about which veggies you can eat raw, here are a few ideas: asparagus tips, broccoli florets, carrot sticks, cauliflower florets, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber discs, green onions, green pea pods, jicama sticks, parsnip sticks, peppers (red, yellow and green), snow peas, zucchini strips or circles.

The Raw Food Diet Revolution

A trend that is sweeping North America is the raw foods movement. Some people are motivated by a concern about their bulging waistlines, others by the abundance of protective antioxidants and phytochemicals in plant foods. Many are inspired to increase their intake of uncooked veggies and fruits without adhering to an entirely raw diet. Are raw diets nutritionally adequate? What are the potential pitfalls? Are they good for children? Can a raw or mainly raw diet form the basis for a successful weight loss plan? I will be delivering a seminar entitled The Raw Food Diet Revolution at The Wellness Show. See information below.

Vesanto Melina delivers The Raw Food Diet Revolution seminar at The Wellness Show, Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Ctr, 999 Canada Place, Sun. Feb. 8, 12:30pm. Drop by the Book Publishing Company booth (620) and say hello.

www.thewellnessshow.com 
www.nutrispeak.com
*Authors: Cherie Soria, Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina (The Book Publishing Company, 2008.)

Attend a free presentation by Vesanto, “Rx for Healthy Eating” in Langley’s Walnut Grove Library, Wed. Feb. 11 at 7 pm


Zucchini Hummus

Makes 1-2/3 cups (5 servings)
Serve hummus with raw veggies or as “Romaine Boats” on the inner leaves of a head of Romaine lettuce, topped with diced tomatoes and alfalfa sprouts.

1 small zucchini, peeled and chopped (1 cup/250 mL, firmly packed)
3 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. flaxseed oil or olive oil
1-4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 cup sesame tahini
1/3 cup sesame seeds, soaked 4 hours and drained

Place in a blender the zucchini, lemon juice, oil, garlic, paprika, salt, cumin (if using) and cayenne. Purée. Add tahini and sesame seeds and purée until perfectly smooth and creamy. Store in a glass jar or other covered container, refrigerated, for up to four days.

Note: This recipe can be made in a food processor, although the mixture will contain whole sesame seeds, rather than being smooth. Alternatively, you can replace the seeds with 1/3 cup more tahini plus a little water.

Vesanto Melina is a BC-registered dietitian and co-author of the following nutrition classics: Becoming Vegan, the Food Allergy Survival Guide andRaising Vegetarian Children
www.nutrispeak.com

Five-year food security plan

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

I spent a full year searching for a property where I could grow as much of my own food as possible. From the moment I stepped foot on the land we bought, I started visualizing my new garden 10 years down the road. Amazingly, it only took five years to achieve year-round self-sufficiency in fruits and vegetables. Now I know that urban gardeners on Vancouver Island could achieve food security with their own five-year plan. It could look something like this:

Year one: edible landscaping. Year two: fruit and vegetable gardening. Year three: winter food gardening. Year four: seed saving for future harvests. Year five: four-season production using local seed banks.

We are beginning the ninth year on our property so I thought I’d share what we did on The Garden Path with you:

Amending the soil: With 15 feet of clay fill to work with, this was a no-brainer! How to change a cracked substrate with no earthworms into a fertile organic loam in a few months? First, Maverick Excavating came to break up the clay and then we mulched like mad, with what I refer to as “The Four Secrets of Successful Soil Building” – compost, manure, leaves and seaweed. By adding six-inch layers of these organic amendments in the fall, we were able to turn compacted clay into friable soil, with good tilth and teaming with earthworms by April the following year.

The best part is these organic soil amendments are free and freely available and are often regarded as waste. If urban gardeners linked with rural farmers and used their manure, we could easily solve a big waste disposal problem. If gardeners kept their leaves and fed them back to the soil, we would save a lot of money by the city not having to pick them up and we wouldn’t have to drive to the works yard to buy the leaves back as mulch. There’s a good joke here.

Building a greenhouse: I chose a glass and metal frame model, but there are other options. Due to erratic weather, I now grow seedlings for transplanting whenever possible. If you don’t have the luxury of a greenhouse, you can improvise with cold frames and cloches.

Designing the garden: Maverick Excavating dug up a 50 sq. ft. area, which was divided into four quadrants with a circular bed in the middle. This layout works well for crop rotations, which break the lifecycle of pests and diseases.

We grow food year round in the main garden because in our temperate climate there’s no need to leave beds empty from October to April; there are 50 varieties of different vegetables that can be harvested throughout winter.

The “Berry Walk”: I planted a 50-foot-long border with raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and Josta berries, all of which were under-planted with “Totem” June-bearing strawberries. They thrive in the same conditions.

The fruit orchard: A small orchard of 10 trees was planted in the second year. Dwarf and semi-dwarf saplings of apple, pear, cherry and plum trees were planted 15-feet apart in two rows of five because I visualized an avenue of trees with a canopy of fruit, providing shade for summer banquets.

The arbour: In year three, we scoured the forest to build a 50-foot-long arbour for kiwis, grapes, climbing berries and thornless blackberries. The berries are very ornamental as they ripen from red to black.

Seed saving: Over the years, more garden beds were added for seed saving. Plants adapt to the conditions in which they grow, which is why using organic seed is best when you are an organic gardener. Local seeds also have an edge in that they become adapted to the local climate conditions.

Willows and bamboos: These are useful, renewable resources for the garden. In future years, the bamboos and willows I have been planting will provide material for obelisks, arbours, trellises, screens, fences and teepees.

The native edible plant walk: next on the list – I’ll keep you posted.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.

From illness to enlightenment

THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle

If someone is seriously ill and completely accepts their condition and surrenders to the illness, would they not have given up their will to get back to health? The determination to fight the illness would not be there anymore, would it?

Surrender is inner acceptance of what is without any reservations. We are talking about your life – this instant – not the conditions or circumstances of your life, not what I call your life situation. We have spoken about this already.

With regard to illness, this is what it means. Illness is part of your life situation. As such, it has a past and a future. Past and future form an uninterrupted continuum, unless the redeeming power of the Now is activated through your conscious presence. As you know, underneath the various conditions that make up your life situation, which exists in time, there is something deeper, more essential: your Life, your very Being in the timeless Now.

As there are no problems in the Now, there is no illness either. The belief in a label that someone attaches to your condition keeps the condition in place, empowers it and makes a seemingly solid reality out of a temporary imbalance. It gives it not only reality and solidity, but also a continuity in time that it did not have before. By focusing on this instant and refraining from labelling it mentally, illness is reduced to one or several of these factors: physical pain, weakness, discomfort or disability. That is what you surrender to – now. You do not surrender to the idea of “illness.”

Allow the suffering to force you into the present moment, into a state of intense conscious presence. Use it for enlightenment. Surrender does not transform what is, at least not directly. Surrender transforms you. When you are transformed, your whole world is transformed because the world is only a reflection. We spoke about this earlier.

If you looked in the mirror and did not like what you saw, you would have to be mad to attack the image in the mirror. That is precisely what you do when you are in a state of non-acceptance. And, of course, if you attack the image, it attacks you back. If you accept the image no matter what it is, if you become friendly toward it, it cannot not become friendly toward you. This is how you change the world.

Illness is not the problem. You are the problem – as long as the egoic mind is in control. When you are ill or disabled, do not feel that you have failed in some way; do not feel guilty. Do not blame life for treating you unfairly, but do not blame yourself either. All that is resistance. If you have a major illness, use it for enlightenment. Anything “bad” that happens in your life, use it for enlightenment. Withdraw time from the illness. Do not give it any past or future. Let it force you into intense present-moment awareness and see what happens.

Become an alchemist. Transmute base metal into gold, suffering into consciousness, disaster into enlightenment. Are you seriously ill and feeling angry now about what I have just said? Then that is a clear sign that the illness has become part of your sense of self and that you are now protecting your identity, as well as protecting the illness. The condition that is labelled “illness” has nothing to do with who you truly are.

When disaster strikes

As far as the still unconscious majority of the population is concerned, only a critical limit-situation has the potential to crack the hard shell of the ego and force them into surrender and so into the awakened state. A limit-situation arises when, through some disaster, drastic upheaval, deep loss or suffering, your whole world is shattered and doesn’t make sense anymore. It is an encounter with death, be it physical or psychological. The egoic mind, the creator of this world, collapses. Out of the ashes of the old world, a new world can then come into being.

Adapted from The Power of Now, copyright 1999 by Eckhart Tolle. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA, 800-972-6657 (ext. 52). Visit www.eckharttolle.com.

Transcend judgement

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Nothing is more precious than peace. Peace is the most basic starting point for the advancement of humankind.

– Daisaku Ikeda

A ubiquitous quality among humans is the tendency to judge others, regardless of age, culture or geographical region. Of course, this is the work of ego. Interestingly, the judgment of others is always relative to the one doing the judging. That is, others are judged to the extent that they differ from the one judging.

The vegetarian may judge the meat-eater, who in turn judges the vegetarian. The abstainer judges the drinker for his indulgence, while the drinker judges the abstainer for his unwillingness to indulge. The person of faith judges the non-believer, while the non-believer judges the faithful. Such examples are endless whether we are looking at inter-personal relationships or more global perspectives.

Significantly, the one judging always believes he or she knows the way things ought to be. This “truth” becomes the standard against which others are judged. Those judging feel justified in their criticisms due to their conviction that their beliefs are the right ones.

It is no wonder there is so much conflict amongst individuals, groups and countries. Whenever there are two sides with differing viewpoints and both believe they are right, conflict is inevitable. This is the essence of polarity and it is the way in which ego keeps us stuck in its old, primitive ways.

As we evolve individually and as a species, we come to see that differing perspectives are the norm and that no one’s “truth” is more true than another’s. We come to respect the viewpoints of others and see they are as valid for them as our views are for us.

We cease telling others they are wrong and insisting we are right. This opens the way for genuine dialogue and understanding. We seek to understand one another rather than fighting each other.

Once there is understanding, it is possible to work together to find or create solutions. This leads to cooperation and collaboration rather than crisis and conflict. This seems so simple and self-evident, yet it remains the exception rather than the rule in human interactions. If we understand the concept, why is it so difficult to live it?

The desire for peaceful, harmonious relationships and way of living is the natural inclination of the soul. When the soul looks at others, it sees that which is common to all. It sees with love and compassion and desires that no harm come to anyone. Soul sees that we truly are all the same; it is only the packaging that is different and that sometimes confuses us.

Ego, on the other hand, is much like the two-year-old who can only see what it wants and has no ability to perceive a situation from the perspective of another. It keeps re-iterating its own position over and over again, growing increasingly frustrated at not getting its way. It wants only for the other to adopt its own viewpoint and give it what it wants.

In such a situation, there is but one criterion that determines the outcome. The one with the most power wins out. However, being most powerful does not mean your outcome is the best for all involved or serves the highest good. Outcomes based on power create resentment and often an escalation of power on the other side.

So on the one hand we have ego that champions its own perspective and belief in its “rightness,” ultimately resorting to power to get its way, and then we have soul, which views differences with compassion and understanding, seeking wisdom as a guide to peaceful resolutions and harmonious outcomes.

As always, the choice is ours. We can continue unconsciously allowing ego to chart our path and colour our lives or we can step up to soul awareness, carrying ourselves and others to a higher level of being human.

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist and author of Growing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For more articles, permission to reprint and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit www.gwen.ca

Latest Palme winner a class act

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

Scene from The Class

Opening this month, Laurent Cantet’s French language feature The Class (Entre Les Murs) won the Palme d’Or, the top prize, at the Cannes Film Festival this past summer. The film is based on teacher François Bégaudeau’s 2006 novel about his experiences at a junior high school in a tough Paris neighbourhood and stars the author himself as maverick French-language teacher François Marin.

Palme d’Or winners typically have a strong socio-political commentary, although treatments vary widely, including Michael Moore’s documentaryFahrenheit 9/11 (2004) with its entertaining invective and the aching, angst-ridden existentialism of the Dardenne brothers, two-time winners withRosetta (1999) and L’Enfant (2005).

While The Class falls more into the latter category, it has a straightforward, lighter touch than other moody works of the Belgian auteurs. Considering the potential for tragedy and strife in its study of a class of 13-15-year-olds from deprived, multicultural Paris, it’s surprisingly lively with its verbal sparring matches between the teacher and his troublesome pupils.

All the action takes place within the school and mostly within the classroom itself. Although it’s a fictional piece, there’s a documentary realism to it; think handheld, fly-on-the-wall shots and a flood of dialogue. You would be forgiven for initially thinking that you are following a slick TV crew on an assignment rather than watching a work of fiction.

The film was loosely scripted, with students improvising dialogue. Three high-definition cameras captured the action and you’d never guess from the quality of the performances that the 24 teen actors were drawn from a tiny pool of 50 students from inner-city Parisian schools.

The narrative structure is necessarily loose – a teacher arrives and starts teaching – but it draws you in and then hooks you with a dramatic plot twist towards the end. François pushes, goads, encourages and teases his students and allows them to dish it back. This works most of the time and even his most difficult students, like the surly Malian Souleymane, start responding to his approach. As long as he can maintain the delicate balancing act of disciplined decorousness with free-flowing interaction, he appears to get results, stimulating discussion and interaction.

But it’s never easy and as external strains begin to take their toll, his methods are questioned in the staff common room. Ultimately, he crosses a line that undermines his authority with his students. Unlike some more gooey films of this genre, the story remains credible to the end, but it is the subtle changes in the way power is wielded between the four walls that makes this such an interesting film.

Also out this month is Steven Soderbergh’s two-part biopic Che (30), starring Benicio del Toro as iconic Ernesto “Che” Guevara. In part one, The Argentine, he sets sail for Cuba in 1956 with Fidel Castro and 80 rebels to overthrow the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The film follows Che’s rise from doctor to commander to revolutionary hero.

Part 2, Guerilla, starts at the height of Che’s fame following the Cuban Revolution. He emerges incognito in Bolivia leading a small group of Cuban comrades and Bolivian recruits in the great Latin American Revolution. However, for all the will in the world, his campaign is doomed. The almost five- hour-long film has been praised for Benicio del Toro’s performance, although critics are still arguing over whether Soderbergh’s portrait of Che is too dispassionate and uncritical.

Finally, the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival will show a string of movies and multimedia presentations on the theme of climbing and outdoor pursuits (February 20-28) at the Centennial Theatre in Lonsdale and Pacific Cinematheque. Details at www.vimff.org

 

Robert Alstead maintains a blog at www.2020Vancouver.com

The bubble bursts

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

What are we to make of the world financial crisis? Some analysts are comparing it to the Crash of 1929, which triggered The Great Depression of the 1930s. Almost without exception, they assume it to be a bad thing. Pension funds are evaporating into thin air, people are losing their jobs and businesses are failing. If we picture the economy as a speeding vehicle carrying people to growth and prosperity, and the vehicle suddenly goes into a ditch, then, yes, clearly it’s a bad thing.

But what if the vehicle was accelerating down a road that led over a cliff? Might we not say, “Wow! That was a close one,” and be amazed that fortune should smile on us? The metaphor is not far-fetched, for our economy is rushing to disaster of an ecological kind – and when Nature’s ecosystems collapse, we all collapse.

Our economy is a bundle of activities through which we take Nature’s resources, add intelligence and use them to add comfort and pleasure to our lives. It is like a bubble that sucks in the real world of trees, fish, animals, plants, minerals, fossil fuels, land, water and topsoil and rolls on regardless, without accounting for what it leaves behind. The bubble can roll right over a beautiful ancient forest and grow fat on its fibre, declaring it “a good thing” in its annual accounts.

If the trees do not speak or explain their value in terms the bubble can understand, it is as if they have no existence. Humans who love the trees for what they are may organize to protect them, and sometimes they may win, causing parks and wilderness areas to be created, but apart from that the bubble rolls on consuming everything it touches.

And if the bubble discovers an amazing source of energy called fossil fuels, which allows it to move faster and more furiously, is this not a good thing? And if a group of people begins warning that fossil fuels leave a dangerous residue in the sky that traps the sun’s heat and if this is allowed to continue that all human existence will grind to a halt, will this not cause the drivers of the bubble to ask if they should stop? No – for they prefer voices that tell them not to worry, that the fears are probably a scam dreamed up by people who never liked the bubble anyway.

And if the drivers of the bubble are told that they really must stop because they are chewing up so much of Nature that if everyone lived the way people do in Vancouver, we would need three more entire planets to support us, would that cause the bubble to pause, and stop? No, for the bubble is guided by its own internal messages of growth, profit and gain and all other messages are simply programmed out.

When this bubble crashes, should we not then give thanks for the blessings of a fortunate accident? The mortgage funds tumble over the derivatives and hedge funds and the bubble’s financial hyperdrive lands on its knees while the regulators, who were supposed to prevent such a crash, were reciting their mantras in the “Temple of Economic Growth,” chanting, “Do not regulate. Let the market decide. The market knows best.”

This crash, then, while it is cruel and troubling for individuals and their families, may be the best thing that could have happened to our civilization. It gives us a chance to step out of the bubble and turn in a new direction towards ecological sustainability, to change the economy’s ruling principles so that Nature is never again left out of the picture.

It gives us a chance to invest the billions that will flow in economic stimulus packages in measures that will unhook our dependency on fossil fuels; make our homes and buildings more efficient; develop transit, high-speed trains, cycle routes and renewable energy; and restore our forests, grasslands and farmlands. It gives us a chance to breathe and move towards a different future.

Guy Dauncey is the author of nine books, including After the Crash: The Emergence of the Rainbow Economy. He is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. 
www.earthfuture.com
www.guydauncey.com

All hands on deck

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Well, 2008 was a wild ride. A global economic crisis, elections here and in the US, turmoil in parliament and a worsening environmental situation – it’s enough to make you want to climb under the blankets and hope for the best. And there are some hopeful signs. But hope, unfortunately, is not enough. It’s going to take a concerted effort on everyone’s part to overcome the looming crises the world is facing.

Let’s look at the bright side, though. The US is swearing in a president who takes global warming seriously and who is listening to the scientists and other experts who tell us that the situation is outpacing our efforts to confront it. “The time for denial is over,” Barack Obama said in December. “We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and national security and it has to be dealt with in a serious way. That is what I intend my administration to do.”

The president-elect also recognizes that creating green jobs in areas such as renewable energy is a good way to stimulate and rebuild the economy, perhaps even replacing some of the jobs lost in the auto industry.

Globally, although the UN climate change talks in Poland [in December] yielded no breakthroughs in laying the groundwork for a strong global agreement in Copenhagen this coming December, some progress was made, especially in areas such as reducing deforestation to reduce carbon emissions.

Also on the global front, the United Nations Environment Programme and leading economists have called for a progressive “Green New Deal.” The UN Green Economy Initiative is aimed at giving nations the tools to shift to green economies through measures such as creating employment in renewable-energy technologies, ensuring that the value of natural services is included in economic accounting and encouraging sustainable urban planning.

“Transformative ideas need to be discussed and transformative decisions taken,” said Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and UNEP executive director. “The alternative is more boom and bust cycles; a climate-stressed world and a collapse of fish stocks and fertile soils…”

Whether or not these initiatives and proposed emissions-reduction targets will be enough to avert catastrophe after years of stalling by governments, including George Bush’s outgoing administration and our own government, remains to be seen. Unfortunately, Canada still seems to be beating around the “Bush.”

We earned the dubious honour of winning the Colossal Fossil award (as well as 10 daily fossil awards) at the climate change talks in Poland for doing more than any other country to impede progress. Canada also ranked second-last out of 57 countries on the international 2009 Climate Change Performance Index.

We could certainly use more far-sighted and imaginative leadership. But we can’t depend on the politicians – or on those business people who care more about short-term profits than long-term survival. We must remember that they are there to serve us and that if we speak loudly enough they will listen.

We must also take responsibility in our own lives. A Statistics Canada report notes that individual Canadians are responsible for almost half the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, through our vehicle and electricity use and the choices we make in the products we buy.

Rather than making us feel guilty, the report should show us how much power we have as individuals to make a difference through personal choices and small steps. Another Statistics Canada study showed that Canadians are making efforts to recycle, compost, switch to environmentally friendly electrical and plumbing products and vehicles, and more.

We can’t wait for politicians to save the world, but we do have to hold them to account. And we must all get informed and involved. If we act now, we – and our children and grandchildren – can hope to lead fulfilling and prosperous lives rather than moving from crisis to crisis. But the window of opportunity is closing a bit more every day.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Making democracy healthy

WRITING ON THE WALL by Joseph Roberts

On May 12, a referendum fwill be held across BC offering voters the opportunity to replace our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system with the far more democratic single transferable vote (STV). In order for STV to supplant FPTP, however, more than 60 percent of the total provincial vote is required as well as a second majority of ridings in BC. Progress was made in the 2005 referendum where the majority of ridings supported STV, plus 58 percent of the total vote chose STV, falling just two percent short of the 60 percent required to pass. This time around, let’s make history and unanimously support the much fairer STV system. We the people will be better served by the more democratic STV system because it shifts the power from the status quo backroom party bosses to the citizens themselves. We encourage you to get involved and help ensure a healthy democracy.

In the FPTP voting system, many – if not the majority – of people’s votes count for nothing. The corrosive effect of winner takes all steals representation from voters who did not choose the first-past-the-post front-runner. FPTP has resulted in fewer voters participating in BC elections because they get zero representation from their vote. But it does not have to be this way. No two electoral systems in the world are identical and with the huge variety to choose from, there are many better ways of counting votes than BC’s current FPTP. Here’s why: with FPTP, the individual in the riding with more votes than any one other becomes the MLA but then everyone else loses. For instance, if there are 10 names on the ballot and the “first past the post” leader gets 10 percent of the total riding’s vote – whereas the other nine people on the ballot come close but each gets slightly less than 10 percent of the vote, say between 9 and 10 percent with a small portion of spoilt ballots – the winner gets in with 10 percent. And because there is only one MLA per riding, approximately 90 percent of the votes cast amount for nothing! The majority of voters who did not vote for the one FPTP winner are left unrepresented. It even worse when you consider many have given up on voting at all.

After numerous elections based on the FPTP system, BC voters are disillusioned. Voter apathy is at an all time low with people’s votes essentially being rendered useless if they did not vote for the FPTP winner. The overly simplistic FPTP inevitably results in unfair representation and the forming of governments that do not proportionally represent the wishes of the people, thereby making a mockery of democracy.

For generations, responsible, intelligent and concerned citizens have worked hard to offer an alternative to FPTP. This edition of Common Ground is dedicated to those individuals as well as to the people in the Citizens’ Assembly who volunteered their time and energy to study, compare, research and choose a fairer and more proportionally representative electoral system. Help make history in BC’s May 12 referendum during the provincial election. Your vote for BC-STV is a vote towards putting an end to an electoral system that has not accurately reflected the voice of the people. (For more information about STV, please see our feature article on page 10 and visit www.stv.bc).

Jim Fulton 1950 – 2008 – Environmental advocate and ally will be sorely missed

by Milt Bowling

Pictures in the newspaper could not have prepared me for the bear of a man I met for the first time at the David Suzuki Foundation – Jim Fulton. Jim was one of those people whose gaze let you know you were being appraised as friend or foe in the first few seconds. His handshake and/or hug revealed how you’d fared.

Jim started as a probation officer in the Queen Charlottes and then entered politics, winning three successive elections as the NDP Member of Parliament for Skeena from 1979 to 1993. He then became the first executive director of the world-famous environmental organization, the David Suzuki Foundation. There, he gave selfless assistance to many groups doing their best to help our ailing planet. Ours, the Electromagnetic Radiation Task Force, was one of them, and I’ve met very few people who are such a quick study on the subject of harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation as Jim.

In 1997, the Vancouver School Board was persuaded that leasing out school roofs to cell phone companies for their microwave transmitters was a good way to raise money. It was an idea I did not agree with, especially because they chose my son’s elementary school as a location. After conducting extensive research that uncovered a number of unsettling facts, I organized the community and we successfully opposed the involuntary exposure of 600 children to this radiation. Another phone company then hid their transmitters inside a cross that they donated to the church right next to the school. An appeal to the Board of Variance resulted in the transmitters being taken down, which I have been told is a first in the world. Soon, other communities were asking for help and the Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) Task Force of Canada was born.

As anyone who has taken on an environmental issue knows, you can get intense pushback from the affected industry and also from government regulatory agencies that may have been asleep at the wheel. You become “the problem.” In looking for supportive allies, I couldn’t have found better in Jim, who I met through my first benefactor, wildlife artist Robert Bateman.

Jim picked up on our concerns right away. We were thrilled that he wrote to then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Health Minister Allan Rock in November 1999, demanding that Parliament take our concerns seriously and act upon them. And this was on the Foundation’s letterhead! We felt lifted to a new level of credibility. Jim continued to prod the government on our behalf for years.

To offset political pressure that continued to build until 2002, Rock, by then Minister of Industry, announced that a review panel on health effects of cell towers would be set up. Jim immediately fired off a letter stating that our EMR Task Force had more experience on the issue than anyone else in Canada and demanded that we play a key role in the review. Not surprisingly, it took seven months to receive a reply from Rock, which stated that the committee was already set up without our help. Also not surprisingly, their report found no problem with the current setup, which gave the industry carte blanche to put their towers wherever they wanted – beside schools, day care centres, hospitals or seniors homes – without community input.

Our work continues around the world for the deployment of safe telecommunications infrastructures using available mitigating technology. We are a lot closer to the implementation of solutions than we were a decade ago, in large part because of the early boost given without hesitation by Jim Fulton. The planet lost a warrior on December 20, 2008 and we all lost a friend.

Milt Bowling is president of the Clean Energy Foundation and director of the Health Action Network Society. Reach him via miltbowling@telus.net or call 604-436-2152.