Raising a village, one cup at a time

by John M. Darch

For more than three decades, I have been involved with numerous natural resource projects in North America, Africa and Asia, meeting many interesting (and sometimes unsavoury) people. None, however, compare with the intriguing and friendly Thais. Like most Western entrepreneurs in Thailand, I was mostly involved with the established business society. It was not until 2006 when my Thai friend Ponprapa Bunmusik introduced me to the Akha hill tribe people of Doi Chaang near Chiang Rai and I spent time with them that I began to understand their struggle for dignity and their desire to be more than a tourist attraction.

Their story seemed incredulous: a hill tribe living in Doi Chaang Village (primarily of Akha heritage) had, through sheer determination and dedication, created a viable business cultivating an outstanding quality coffee. I was surprised that coffee was even grown in Thailand, never mind that it was being achieved with no government assistance or donations.

I learned that the villagers wanted to expand their business internationally and my friend wondered if I would be interested in another Thai business venture. I agreed to meet them out of politeness and was introduced to Khun Wicha Promyong, the man responsible for leading the Akha tribe in their quest to be self-sufficient. Wicha, a former world-travelled entrepreneur, comes from southern Thailand and having enjoyed the privileges of education, healthcare and wealth, he gave all of it up more than 30 years ago to live and travel with Thailand’s hill tribes. His home is now with “his people,” the Akha hill tribe in Doi Chaang village and his “mission” is to help them have dignity and to become self-sustaining.

L to R: Brother Wicha, Doi Chaang village leader Piko Saedoo, John M. Darch

When we met in Bangkok, Wicha explained how the many hill tribes originally migrated from southwestern China, eventually settling in scattered, isolated communities in the mountainous regions of Laos, Vietnam and Northern Thailand. Apparently, at one time, the hill tribes of Northern Thailand sustained themselves through slash and burn horticulture, but the increased population of the last century depleted the land and many of the hill tribes resorted to cultivating opium for survival.

Rich in culture and tradition, shrouded in myth and legend, the Akha people have no official written language, but maintain a detailed, oral history and live life according to the “Akha Way,” a spiritual, moral and social philosophy that governs behaviour and emphasizes strong ties to land and family. Yet, of all the hill tribes, few were as downtrodden, shunned or as impoverished as the Akha people.

Traditional handcrafted Akha Silver Headdress for ceremonial occasions such as marriage and harvest.

Arriving at Doi Chaang village (literal translation: Elephant Mountain), I was expecting the familiar destitute village that had become the symbol of the typical hill tribe community. However, here was an energetic farming community, complete with rudimentary electricity, running water, a school and a medical clinic. Some 20 years ago, in the hope of steering hill tribes away from cultivating opium, His Majesty the King of Thailand directed the farmers be given coffee plants. Sadly, because the farmers were acting independently and were inexperienced in business practice, their lives barely improved. To sell his beans, each farmer had to transport them some 70 kilometres to Chiang Rai, the nearest city, where the international coffee dealers kept the farmers divided and paid them minimal prices. In frustration, the Akha villagers turned to Wicha, who lived in Chiang Rai, for help. As a first step, Wicha encouraged all the Doi Chaang farmers to become a co-operative, thereby making it impossible for the coffee dealers to play one family against another. His next focus was educating the farmers in the importance of quality and productivity. In just over six years, this once small, isolated, poor village was transformed.

In my meeting with Wicha, he pointed out where clear-cut sections from past farming practice are now being reforested with a variety of trees, bushes and plants. The reforestation supports the production of various crops, which not only provide food, but are also sold to help support and diversify the village’s economy. This cultivation method maintains soil quality, as the canopy protects against the sun and the rain and eliminates the need for continuous weeding and the use of harmful chemicals. The result is rich, fertile soil that sustains diverse crop production for present and future generations.

I couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty. My own business ventures have been in natural resource development where the resources are eventually depleted, projects with a finite life that has inevitable consequences for employees and their families. I was now presented with a business that could expand without depleting resources or exploiting workers and their families. So what did the people want with me? Wicha didn’t ask me for money and I didn’t offer. Instead, he wanted a business relationship for his people. As I learned, Doi Chaang’s success was such that production had exceeded demand in Thailand, and Wicha, forever the visionary, wanted me to introduce their coffee to the North American market. There were two conditions: to ensure the villagers’ self-esteem, their coffee had to be sold under the name Doi Chaang (Elephant Mountain) and the label had to bear the words “single-origin.”

It is important to understand that these people do not want charity, but a fair price for their coffee. The Akha farmers told me they want people to buy their coffee for the “quality,” not out of sympathy, as beyond improving their lifestyle; the most important thing to these people is respect and recognition of their achievements.

Wicha told me that international investors and coffee buyers constantly approach these people, looking to invest and control their coffee production. Their intent is to blend the beans with other coffees and market them under a different name because “Doi Chaang” sounds too ethnic. The potential buyers argue that they must have control and that it would be too expensive and difficult to market internationally a single-origin, Arabica coffee from Thailand, essentially unknown outside Asia.

I was captivated and immediately contacted Wayne Fallis, a colleague in Canada with extensive experience in food exporting and importing. I convinced him that I had found a project that would offer more than a financial return. We then sought the opinion of Calgary-based, Shawn MacDonald, well known for his extensive knowledge of coffee. MacDonald not only confirmed that Doi Chaang Coffee was a “world class” coffee, but he agreed to join our venture as Roast Master and vice-president of operations. And so we began what is probably a unique business arrangement in the coffee world. The farmers maintain total ownership and control of their own Thai company and domestic sales. In addition, they would also have a “carried” 50 percent interest in the Vancouver and Calgary based Canadian company, Doi Chaang Coffee Company, created to roast and distribute Doi Chaang coffee in North America. My colleague and I agreed to personally provide 100 percent of the finance required for all aspects of the Canadian operation leaving the hill tribe to focus on production, quality control and expansion.

This structure provides the hill tribe people with a no-lose business arrangement. We buy the green beans from the farmers, for cash, at a price in excess of the recommended price, which gives them an immediate profit and the ability to continue their coffee production. And because of the ownership in Doi Chaang Coffee Company, they also receive 50 percent of the Canadian company’s profits without any cost to them.

I am proud of how the Akha farmers use their coffee revenues to improve the standard of living for their community and the quality of their coffee. Having been isolated and impoverished for so long, they are now recognized and praised for their achievements, held up by Thailand officials as a “role model” for other hill tribe communities. In 2007, the farmers demonstrated their commitment to their community by building the Doi Chaang Coffee Academy, at their own expense. All hill tribe farmers may attend at no cost to learn about co-operative business practices, diverse crop production, quality control and sustainable agriculture. The farmers are also taught personal money management skills and the importance of education and healthcare. The ultimate goal is for the hill tribes to be accepted and welcomed as productive, contributing members of Thai society.

I am determined to make Doi Chaang Coffee a success in North America because I strongly believe that this is an alternative and viable way of doing business with the coffee farmers. I believe in the Akha hill tribe’s courage to persevere and I believe in their determination to better themselves and take control of their own future. I believe in their children, their community, their potential and their ability to sustain and grow their own business without any negative impact on their culture, community or environment.

John Darch is the chairman of Doi Chaang Coffee in Canada.www.doichaangcoffee.com

Vote for vision

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

Once more unto the vote, dear friends! On November 15, we get to vote for a new municipal council – the mayor and councillors who will represent us for the next three years, carrying the hopes and dreams of our communities.

But why do so few people vote? Is it because municipal elections can get pretty dull when candidates are full of vague generalities? “Vote for me! I promise to improve the quality of life and retain a balanced budget…” Blah, blah, blah.

Does blah stand for “Boring Long-winded Abstractions,” sucking the life out of what should be a stunningly exciting period when we debate the future and choose new leaders? Maybe they should be called “blandidates,” but beware, their blandness is often code for “I will ensure that business continues as usual and do nothing to rock the boat.”

If you scratch your average blandidate, you’ll find a conservative politician who keeps a close relationship with older voters more concerned about keeping their golf games up to par than about any dramatic vision of change or social justice.

But we do need change, and urgently. So what should we look for from the candidates for municipal office? Look for specific commitments that can be measured by results. Look for personal passion and a deep commitment to change, such as:

100 percent zero waste by 2030: San Francisco is showing it can be done. The city has already reached 69 percent waste reduction and is aiming at 75 percent by 2010 and zero waste by 2020, without resorting to incineration, which turns waste into toxic air pollution. See www.zwia.org

End homelessness by 2020: Calgary has set a goal to end homelessness within 10 years, which, as well as ending human suffering there, will also save the city $3.6 billion. Vancouver and Victoria must do the same. See www.endinghomelessness.ca

Increase cycling to 10 percent of all trips by 2015: In Davis, California, 17 percent of all trips made are by bike. In Copenhagen, Denmark, it’s 36 percent and the goal is to reach 50 percent by 2015. This means planning for safe, long-distance bike routes throughout the city where bikes do not have to compete with cars. It’s totally achievable if we put our minds to it. See www.copenhagenize.com

Contribute to the province’s goal of 100,000 solar roofs by 2020: That’s only a five percent rate of roof coverage. For a city the size of Vancouver (pop. 612,000), that’s 15,000 roofs generating solar electricity or hot water, or both. See www.solarbc.ca

50 percent of all cars and light trucks to be electric or plug-in hybrid electric by 2020: Israel and Denmark are planning for the widespread take-up of electric vehicles through the project known as “Better Place.” Paris, Berlin and Stuttgart are planning to get there under their own steam, through the leadership of their city councils. We need to begin planning right now for a future without oil, before we are left stranded, unable to heat our homes or travel by car. See www.betterplace.com

A community garden in every neighbourhood: We know that locally grown, organic food is better for us, the climate and the planet, so we must create space to make it happen. Seattle shows what’s possible with its P-Patch Gardens, and in Oakland, California, the Food Policy Council’s goal is that 30 percent of the city’s food be produced in or near the city. See www.cityfarmer.org

Engage everyone in the community in reducing their carbon footprints: If we are to make any progress, every household, business, school and organization must start going green. In Britain, the villagers of Ashton Hayes reduced their collective carbon footprint by 20 percent in just one year. If they can do it, so can we. Seewww.goingcarbonneutral.co.uk.

And that’s just the start. In Vancouver, Gregor Robertson and the Vision Vancouver team of candidates (council, school and parks boards) has, by far, the best chance of achieving a similar agenda, but only if we vote them all in. Elsewhere, you’ll have to choose them individually, candidate by blandidate. See www.votevision.ca

 

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, editor of EcoNews and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com

The kids are all right

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

The 21st century is an exciting time for young people. Technology like email and social networking websites makes connecting with people easier than before and Google puts a virtual library on everyone’s desk. This current generation of youth has unprecedented exposure to knowledge, and the old adage that knowledge is power still holds true.

I’ve been approached by different groups to talk to young people at universities. I’m speaking at campuses across Canada, either in person or by video, on a tour with the Canadian Federation of Students, about global warming and its solutions. My daughter Severn and David Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson are also speaking at some stops. I’ll also speak to young people in Ontario as part of a campaign called Flick Off, which is encouraging people to consider renewable energy as a solution to some of the serious environmental and economic problems our dependence on fossil fuels has created.

Whenever I talk to students, I’m reminded of the joy I experienced as a college student, surrounded by curious classmates who were forming their opinions about the world. Public interest in the environment is at an all-time high today and that’s bound to affect the values that students form and the choices they make. Attending college is an exciting phase of life and students should be encouraged to question the way things are.

But I don’t envy today’s students, even though they have great, new gadgets such as iPods and digital cameras to play with. They are seeing the effects of global warming first-hand. They can see the mess that previous generations have created by ignoring the natural world and living beyond its limits. Today’s university students will have to deal with increased smog alert days, clear-cut forests, nuclear waste, overfished marine ecosystem and other environmental problems that older folks have created.

In my college days, I was active in the civil rights movement. The opportunity to right historic wrongs was a powerful incentive. The people I marched with took action and eventually helped change society and repeal discriminatory laws. Is there still racism and bigotry today? Absolutely. But things have certainly improved since the 1950s.

Back then, many things seemed divided. There were the activist organizations full of young, energetic people demanding change. There were older, established groups that constantly seemed to say, “We agree with you, in principle, but…” Thankfully, things evolved.

I see parallels with the battle against global warming. I hope we are entering a new era in which the old excuses for inaction are no longer given any credence and students become active in solving some of the serious problems in the world. There’s evidence that this is already occurring. Renewable energy is a very realistic part of the solution, not only for environmental problems, but also for economic difficulties as well, and I think young people can play a major role in pushing for a switch from non-renewable fossil fuels to renewables.

It’s heartening to see the number of people saying “yes” instead of “no” to topics such as energy conservation and renewable power. And it’s a diverse group. If there is one positive thing to come out of global warming’s threat to humanity, it’s that it’s bringing together different factions to work together for change.

In the not too distant past, environmentalists were treated as a “special interest group” and relegated to the fringes of public discourse. But now we’re starting to see organizations as diverse as student groups, major corporations, technology companies, Crown corporations, and financial institutions talking to each other to find solutions to issues such as climate change. The environment may continue to be a “special interest,” but it’s one that concerns us all.

Today’s young people know this. And it’s interesting to see them use the tools at their disposal, such as email, blogs, podcasts and social networking sites, to become online activists. Combined with individual action, this is a powerful way to call for change at all levels of society.

When I see the energy of today’s youth, I’m inspired. Although they haven’t learned all the answers to climate change yet, they haven’t learned all the excuses, either.

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

It’s time to vote

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

It’s the election season with a vengeance, with the Canadian (October 14), US (November 4) and BC municipal elections (November 15) all happening within a month.

This is great – democracy in action, and all that. This US election is the liveliest and most important in years, with a clear difference between Obama and McCain. Why is it that our Canadian elections, in contrast, often seem so uninspired and flat?

Is it because most Canadians – eh – prefer to occupy the safe, polite middle of the road, rather than stand up for anything with passion and leadership? I don’t think so.

Is it because the NDP and the Conservatives plotted to keep the Green Party’s Elizabeth May out of the Leaders’ Debate and the TV consortium executives wimped out? Yes, that would do it.

Is it because Canada’s old-fashioned first-past-the-post system of voting shuts out minority opinions and smaller parties and produces totally undemocratic results, such as two years ago, when the Conservatives formed the government even though 64 percent of Canadians voted against them? Yes, that would also do it.

And how about lowering the voting age to 16 so that young people can get involved and get into the habit of voting while they are still at school?

As a Euro-Canadian, I also find it completely bizarre that, in Canada, the party that wins the most seats forms the government. In most of Europe, where proportional voting ensures that many smaller parties have seats in Parliament and negotiations between parties are commonplace, it is not the party with the most seats that governs; it is the party that can form a majority government.

Thus, in Canada’s last election, the Conservatives, with the most seats, would have been invited to form a majority government by making alliances with other parties. If they failed, the Liberals would have been invited to have a go. They would have teamed up with the NDP and we would have had a Liberal/NDP coalition government in Ottawa that commanded a majority in Parliament, giving us a far more democratic and workable result. Why does Canada do it the other way? Maybe there’s a constitutional historian among Common Ground’s readers who can enlighten us.

The childish, abusive, sexist, insulting and intimidating words that MPs hurl at each other could be another factor. Elizabeth May said that when she took her 15-year-old daughter to Question Time in Ottawa, she was totally ashamed of the puerile nastiness of the MPs’ comments to one another. This is embarrassing.

Parliament should create a soundproof penalty box, in full view of the cameras. A new set of House rules should outline what is acceptable behaviour. At the first offence, the Speaker would show the MP a yellow card. A second offence would warrant a red card and 10 minutes in the penalty box. For a third offence in the same day, the MP would be banned from the Legislative Chamber for a month.

We need the same in the BC Legislature where equally nasty remarks are thrown around in place of intelligent debate. How much do we pay these people, Liberals and NDP alike, to behave in such a manner?

In spite of the above, you may still be wondering who to vote for. My mind is clear. Global warming is a global emergency on the level of World War II and it requires urgent, dramatic action. Set next to other issues, it overwhelms them like the sea-level rise that will flood coastlines all over the world by up to two metres this century, if we fail to act.

The Liberals, Greens and NDP are all committed to strong, urgent action on climate change. The Conservatives are not, so vote for whichever candidate from these three parties is most likely to win. Don’t throw away your vote on a weak candidate even if they are running for a good party.

And do vote. Don’t tell yourself it’s meaningless. We can certainly improve our democracy, but, for now, it’s the best we’ve got.

 

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, editor of EcoNews and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com

Election fever

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

With all the elections coming this fall and winter, global warming is bound to spike up with the increased hot air! South of the border, they’re electing a president; here in Canada, we’re heading into a federal election and in Vancouver where I live, we’ll vote for a new civic government in November.

It would be great if the environment didn’t have to be an election issue. If all political parties recognized that it is such a critical issue that it should transcend partisan politics, we could vote for our party of choice based on its fiscal and social policies. The goal should be to convince all political parties to make the environment the top priority, rather than to vote for the party with the best environmental record and policies. But the environment is an election issue and, as our situation stands, it should be the top election issue, especially in our upcoming federal election.

After all, if we keep dragging our heels on environmental protection, our economic and social systems will, at best, face increasing stress from the costs of dealing with environmental health effects and diminishing resources, and, at worst, be moot points.

But it’s tough for voters to cut through all the rhetoric. Will the Liberals’ Green Shift start us on a path toward sustainability or is it just a “tax on everything”? Will the Conservative plan lead to reduced greenhouse gases “while preserving our standard of living and way of life” or will it stall needed action on global warming? What about the NDP’s Green Agenda for Canada? What role does the Green Party play?

I can’t tell you which party to vote for; I’m not even sure which one I’ll vote for. But I can say that it’s vitally important for all Canadians to put the environment at the top of the agenda in this election. That means becoming informed about the issues and the various party positions on those issues and asking the candidates some direct questions.

I can tell you what I believe are some of the most important issues. Global warming is at the top of the list. Years of inaction by various governments mean that urgent measures are needed, but it’s not a choice between environment and economy. On the contrary, other countries have shown that actions, such as shifting from reliance on fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy to renewable source, create numerous jobs and economic opportunities, as well as reducing carbon emissions. I also believe that putting a price on carbon emissions, through measures such as carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems, is essential and has been shown to be effective in other countries.

Conservation of wilderness and parklands is also crucial. This is one area where the government has made some positive steps over the past few years. For example, according to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the amount of land protected recently in the Northwest Territories alone was equal to the area of about 25 Prince Edward Islands. But more needs to be done to ensure that these kinds of efforts continue, regardless of which party forms government.

Nowhere is the need for increased conservation more urgent than along Canada’s extensive coastline and offshore waters. Although we have the longest coastline in the world, a paltry one percent is currently protected within formally designated conservation zones. Increased protection for our rivers, lakes and oceans should be a priority for the next government.

Of course, those are just a few of the crucial issues. We should also be asking the people who intend to lead us about bulk water exports, clean water, pesticides, health and more.

If we want democracy to work, we can’t leave it all up to the politicians. Governments are there to serve us, and so it is up to us to let them know what is important to us and what we believe they must do to ensure that we continue to enjoy the quality of life that so many have worked to build in this country. So get out and vote, but before you do, don’t just listen to the candidates; talk to them as well.

 

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

Celebrate a green future

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

During August, while most West Coast brains were being gently addled by the sun, beatified by BC bud or transfixed by the Olympics, a heavy-duty development pushed its way into the minds of those of us still working away on the small matter of global warming.

Professor Bob Watson, the UK government’s top climate scientist and former head of the IPCC, said that we should take active steps to prepare for dangerous climate change of perhaps +4ºC because we don’t know, in detail, how to limit the damage to a rise of 2ºC and we should therefore be prepared to adapt to +4ºC.

What does +4ºC mean? Here’s Mark Lynas, the British author who wroteSix Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, which spells out the full, grim prospects for each degree of temperature rise, courtesy our use of fossil fuels:

“By the time global temperatures reach four degrees, much of humanity will be short of water for drinking and irrigation; glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas, which feed river systems on which tens of millions depend, will have melted and their rivers will be seasonally running dry. Whole weather systems like the Asian monsoon (which supports 2 billion people) may alter irrevocably. Deserts will have spread into Mediterranean Europe, across most of southern Africa and the western half of the United States. Higher northern latitudes will be plagued with regular flooding. Heat waves of unimaginable ferocity will sear continental landscapes; the UK would face the kind of summer temperatures found in northern Morocco today. The planet would be in the throes of a mass extinction of natural life approaching in magnitude that at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65m years ago, when more than half of global biodiversity was wiped out.” (The Guardian, August 7)

Four degrees would also trigger the death of the Amazon rainforest, the melting of the Arctic permafrost and, according to Lynas, “…Greenland melting so rapidly that sea level rise by the end of the century will be measured in metres, not centimetres.”

I hardly need to tell you – this is not a place we want to be.

Also in August, and very much to the point, a powerful coalition of 25 British NGOs launched the new website www.onehundredmonths.org, wherein they say, “We have 100 months to save the planet. When the clock stops ticking, we could be beyond the climate’s ‘tipping point,’ the point of no return.” By the time you read this, the clock will say 99 months.

And back in May, a major, international coalition of 62 NGOs launched the new website www.350.org, where they posted the following: “350 is the red line for human beings, the most important number on the planet. The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the Earth.” The website is up in 10 languages and has been gathering worldwide attention.

To put this in context, the current level of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere is 385 parts per million, and until recently, there had been a general consensus that 450 was the level we had to do our darndest to avoid to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising by more than 2ºC. While 350 parts per million of CO2 is lower than today’s level, with every litre of gas, tonne of coal and gigajoule of gas it burns and every hamburger it eats, the world is adding, not subtracting, to the burden of CO2.

What are you feeling now? Let me guess:

• You want to bury your head in a pillow and weep for the sheer hopelessness of it all.

• You are even angrier at the oil, coal and auto industries and the politicians who simper around them.

• There’s no such problem, and even if there was, nuclear power or clean coal could solve it.

• If only more people would share your determination, we could change the way we live, roll out the solutions, cool the planet and create the future we dream of.

If everyone reacted with the final response, we wouldn’t have a problem. We’d have the same gutsy determination that the British, Canadians and Americans had during World War II when there was no bloody way our parents and grandparents were going to allow Hitler and the Japanese to march all over us.

I have two strategies that I believe will inspire people to act on our planetary emergency. The first is designed to mobilize very pragmatic fear. It is to require, by government decree, that every town, city and region must study the impacts of not taking action on climate change and the looming “peak oil” crisis over the next 100 years, to cost them out and to publicize the results.

What will it cost to deal with temperatures rising by up to five degrees, heat waves, crop failures, no more winter snow, Lyme disease, West Nile virus and hurricane-strength storms in winter? How about the need to build a three-meter-high sea wall around Richmond, Delta, Ladner, Vancouver’s waterfront (including the new conference centre, which sits on the sea) and the Fraser River all the way to Chilliwack? The cost would be in the multi-billions of dollars, quickly dispelling any idea that we can’t afford to tackle climate change now because it might hurt the economy.

The second is designed around hope; it is for all of us climate activists, having put the negative news firmly in people’s minds, to get off the doom and gloom bandwagon and paint a picture of a green, sustainable future that is so enticing and so heart-yearningly rich in music, art, community, fulfillment and green technology that people will want to celebrate it immediately. To use the World War II analogy again, with apologies for those to whom it is ancient history, we need the green, future equivalent of Dame Vera Lynn singing: “There’ll be blue birds over/The white cliffs of Dover/Tomorrow, just you wait and see.” (Hear it atwww.tinyurl.com/6kz3vo)

I know that a green, sustainable future is within our reach. I know that we can travel, heat our buildings, farm our land and generate electricity without fossil fuels and live in a totally civilized manner, with more community, more democracy, more local greenery, and without poverty or homelessness. I know that this and so much more is possible, not just in my head, where I’ve got all the analysis and numbers to prove it (except the stats for flying), but also in my heart, because I believe so deeply in our human possibility.

The emphatic message is “Don’t give up.” Don’t hang with the cynics, the angry-hearted, the whiners, the blamers, the negative minded. Hang with those who believe in love, hope and beauty and then work with them to make this a reality. This is our planet. This is our time. This is our call to action.

 

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, editor of EcoNews and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com

True north strong and free

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Are Canadian politicians finally paying serious attention to the environment? Recent events give us reason for optimism. On August 1, we wrote about the federal Sustainable Development Act and how all the political parties put aside their differences to support this important, new law. We’ve also seen a lot of progress lately on the part of some provincial governments regarding global warming. The Ontario government’s recent commitment to protect 50 percent of its intact boreal forest offers further hope that governments are getting serious about protecting the planet.

On July 14, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty committed to preserving 225,000 sq km of northern boreal forest, under the province’s Far North Planning Initiative. That’s an area one and a half times the size of the Maritime Provinces! It’s a significant commitment and it’s something more than 1,500 of the world’s scientists had asked for, including us.

The boreal forest stretches across the northern part of Canada, covering 35 percent of the country’s total land mass. It represents about one third of the world’s circumpolar boreal system and one quarter of all intact forests remaining on the planet. The region supports three billion migratory songbirds and more than 200 species of animals, including dozens of threatened or endangered species such as woodland caribou, grizzly and polar bears, wolverine, lynx and white pelican.

Ontario’s northern boreal region makes up 43 percent of the province’s land mass. Under the plan, half of this massive region would be protected in an interconnected network of conservation lands.

The announcement is significant not just in terms of conservation but also because it marks the first time a government in Canada has explicitly recognized the role that nature conservation must play in combating global warming. The boreal’s forests and peatlands absorb and store massive amounts of carbon, making them a hedge against global warming caused by emissions from human activity. Scientists estimate that Ontario’s northern boreal alone absorbs 12.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

It’s difficult to describe the global significance of Canada’s boreal forest. It’s one of the last places on earth where human activity hasn’t yet upset critical predator-prey relationships, natural fire regimes and hydrological cycles. And economists conservatively estimate that the ecosystem services provided by the boreal, such as water filtration, pollination, and carbon storage, have 2.5 times the economic value of market resources extracted each year, such as oil, minerals and timber.

As significant as the Ontario government’s announcement is, we have to be cautious in our optimism. For one thing, we don’t know if protecting 50 percent will be enough to conserve the region’s biodiversity. And we have yet to learn what areas will be put off-limits to development. Fortunately, the government has committed to working with First Nations in the region to develop comprehensive land-use plans.

We must also ensure that the government doesn’t use its announcement to protect the sparsely populated and largely unthreatened northern boreal as justification for further expansion of industrial development in the southern boreal, which is far more attractive to industries such as forestry and mining.

The areas not slated for protection under this plan – in both the northern and southern boreal – must be managed in a sustainable way based on sound scientific principles. And the government should reverse its recent decision to give the forest industry a one-year exemption from new habitat-protection regulations under the province’s Endangered Species Act.

Still, with this announcement, Ontario has taken an important and courageous step, one that we hope other provinces will follow. For example, Quebec has protected less than five percent of its own boreal forest, and although it has plans to increase this, it has yet to make a commitment as visionary as Ontario’s.

The recent attention governments have been paying to the environment is a positive sign. But successful conservation efforts can’t be limited to aspirational goals announced at news conferences. We all have a responsibility to make sure governments live up to their commitments.

 

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Bring back the salmon

by Celia Brauer

Salmon Song 1 by Celia Brauer

I will never forget my first encounter with “real” salmon. It was the late ‘70s and I had just begun a new life in Victoria. Summer turned to fall and the locals were suddenly discussing the return of the salmon to the local streams. As an urban easterner, I was accustomed to getting my salmon from a tin can, not a stream, and local fish were never the subject of casual discussion.

That year, I was to discover what every native west coaster already knows – that the return of these iconic fish draws people from all walks of life to gaze in wonder at their remarkable, annual homecoming.

When I finally viewed the spectacle for myself at Goldstream Park one grey Sunday afternoon, I was not at all prepared. A wide and shallow stream snaked between monstrous evergreens, which had started as seedlings during the Middle Ages. Hordes of people with their kids and dogs swarmed the banks gawking at the water where great numbers of huge, grey, embattled fish flapped pitifully. A few were making an attempt to move upstream and some had already died. This was a far cry from the tasty, orange meat of the lunchtime sandwiches of my youth.

Up to that point, I had not been a particularly fishy person. My dad had grown up near the Baltic Sea and enjoyed smoked fish from the local deli, and my mom cooked some delicious ethnic fish dishes. But beyond that, I had little connection to the sea. Salmon, however, have a way of touching us with their river-to-ocean life cycle and epic return home. I was very moved by my first connection with those half-alive salmon at Goldstream Park, but little did I know it was to be the first of many encounters with this fascinating fish, and that many years later I would start hearing the voices of the salmon from the lost streams of Vancouver in my mind.

Thus began my “real” education into the hook-nose Oncorhynchus. I quickly learned that salmon’s biggest foes were not ocean predators or their own month-long, upstream journey with no food. It was Homo sapiens – king of the resource deplete-ors. As with many of the planet’s wild animals, the history of humans’ actions against these defenseless creatures has not been pretty. By the second half of the 1800’s, the industrial economy had marched across most of North America. Reaching the Pacific Ocean, it very seriously set about laying waste to its tremendous edible bounty. Salmon were a simple catch; all the fishers had to do was grab thousands of fish as they entered the mouths of rivers on their return home.

The pristine wilderness of the coast that had been carefully stewarded by the First Nations for thousands of years was now under the rule of the conquering Europeans, who had a very different set of values. Their worldview originated in an expanding industrial economy where the focus was on material wealth and technological progress. They saw nature as inhospitable, something to be tamed. The idea that healthy ecosystems are the foundation of our economy –“natural capital” – was not considered. The many species of Pacific salmon endured a raft of onslaughts and machines offered a remarkably efficient way to travel and “harvest” millions of fish. There were tales in the 1850’s of the Fraser River smelling very foul as fishermen threw back thousands of sockeye from their massive catches because they favoured the “spring” salmon. This is hard to believe today, as we watch in despair as the sockeye numbers continue to fall.

As more people settled the rich land where streams once flourished, these waterways disappeared one by one, and along with them, their resident fish. The lands occupied by present day Vancouver lost close to 57 salmon streams in less than 50 years. Over time, the remaining streams and rivers became more polluted – first with industrial waste and later with agricultural runoff, sewage, pesticides and other pollutants manufactured by the thousands of humans that occupied the land. In order to prop up an ailing fishery, the governments first set up hatcheries and later, fish farms. Both of these “fix-it” schemes have had mixed results and brought more than their share of illness and fatalities for wild fish while climate change has shrunk and warmed the streams.

In the days before clearcutting and over-fishing, the land breathed with wildlife. Beginning in late summer and extending into the fall, the salmon rivers on the West Coast of North America were packed with returning, adult salmon spawners. The Fraser River, as the largest fresh waterway of them all, drew billions of fish home. In his book, Salmon Without Rivers, Jim Likatowich says that the Pacific salmon appeared on the coast approximately 5,000 years ago and quickly became a rich food staple for the First Nations, who worked out a logical method of ownership of fishing territories by dividing the riverbanks among families. In this way, each family had a clear vested interest in the health of the stream and the resident fish. In essence, they were the stewards of the streams and caretakers of Mother Earth and her creatures. Ceremonies marked the arrival of the first spawners and legends about the salmon people were told around the fires in the winter houses and at potlatches. People also respected the rules and regulations about how to treat the salmon and the water during the different seasons, and anyone who broke those rules was punished by the community. This was the salmon “protocol.”

While this remarkable fish still remains a treasured, wild icon for many on the West Coast, our relationship with salmon bears little, if any, resemblance to that of First Nations tribes. A small number of us fish recreationally and some of us buy fresh fish at a local market. For the majority of us however, our first encounter with salmon is as a cut slab, shrink-wrapped on a styrofoam tray at the supermarket. We still enjoy eating salmon, but the experience of stewarding the fish, caring for the land and paying attention to changes in salmon habitat is all but lost.

Around 2004, I started thinking more about the lost streams of Vancouver. It was as if I were hearing the spirits of the fish that used to live there. I didn’t know why this was happening, but it shouldn’t have been a total surprise. The human body is compromised of 70 percent seawater so how could one not feel the ebb and flow of the creatures of the salt water if one really listened? At the time, local historians and artists like Bruce Macdonald, Terry Glavin and Karen Jameson were writing, talking and even dancing about the lost streams. Over time, I learned about the mighty Fraser River from local teachers like Fin Donnelly, Terry Slack and Stephen Hume. I heard stories from the First Nations about how salmon was respected in their culture and how they stewarded their home streams where they were born and died.

It seemed obvious to me that salmon were no longer a part of our daily lives as they were for the First Nations. And this was clearly why salmon were disappearing. They were no longer part of our culture. We hardly ever visited their environment. They no longer lived in our neighbourhoods so it was inevitable that they would slowly vanish from our hearts and minds. Yes, they have a place in our government systems – in the Department of Fisheries, the Ministry of the Environment and in Parks and Recreation – but the relationship is strained and confused. Our political systems are crude tools for determining the common good of fish and wildlife. After all, fish don’t vote. Nor do they merit a seat at our bargaining tables. Ecosystems and animals in peril have to rely on a small, but growing, body of activists who lobby on their behalf.

While salmon numbers decreased radically in the past, they continue to be under siege today. Populations shrink as the remaining ecosystems disappear to make way for more developments and megaprojects. Pollution is more insidious as untreated toxins infiltrate the remaining waterways through inadequately treated wastewater and farm and urban runoff. Diseases from fish farms pose a strong threat to fish fry; escapees interbreed with wild fish and there is a continued warming of waters from global climate change. The activists tire themselves out, collecting data, creating events and writing petitions. And still our government and much of the public think the fisheries are “managed” just fine. But how can things be different when our worldview still values a dead fish over a live one?

When asked what sustainability meant, I once heard a Carrier Sekani elder say without hesitation that it was the “potlatch.” We have no system that equates with the potlatch in our communities. We have individual drive and will and democratically elected governments. But this does little to save or steward our natural ecosystems. We must return to a more efficient model of conservation – one that involves the community and the governments. A group in Oregon has coined the term “Salmon Nation,” and as more people join that tribe, we will be healthier because what’s good for the salmon is good for us. It will mean more clean, wild ecosystems – non-polluted rivers, a cooler planet and more thoughtful humans with smaller footprints.

In 2004, I created a BC Rivers Day event in Vancouver called the Salmon Celebration. It originated from a wish to honour the memory of the lost salmon streams and return to them the spirit of the salmon. For one afternoon a year, I wanted to put salmon back into our lives and our ceremonies and remove them from government departments where they are “managed.” It’s a small gesture that takes many months of preparation, but it’s the least I can do for this magnificent creature that has offered us sustenance for so many years. Salmon will flourish once again on the coast when we transform our philosophy about where these creatures belong in our world order. They don’t just belong on our dinner table; they should occupy a place of reverence and honour in our society.

It won’t be easy to turn the ship around and bring the salmon back into our hearts and minds. But more understanding of what the wild world means for the health of our communities will certainly help to return this amazing and humble creature into more of our wild rivers where they belong.

Celia Brauer is a writer, artist and a tireless advocate for salmon. She lives in Vancouver.

Herbalists who put people and plants first

by Don Ollsin

The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions. – George Orwell

My first herb walk was with a four-year-old on a farm in California. He led my wife and me on a walk and showed us about 20 plants. Because this child lived with these plants, he knew them intimately; this is the way it was traditionally.

I like the traditional idea of village and folk herbalists. A community herbalist uses more of a folk approach, which means a more heartfelt approach and a focus on the inter-connection between the plants, the person and the environment. A community herbalist is primarily interested in the people, the plants, the gardens and the animals. This speaks of a healing path with heart.

Allopathic medicine attempts to copy nature, trying to figure out which chemicals are in which plants and then copying them and creating a patent. A top CEO of one of the six major pharmaceutical companies earns $250,000,000 a year. That’s fine. It’s a body of knowledge and it’s useful, but it’s a little too economically focused. Community herbalists look more at the energetics of herbs – whether they’re heating you or cooling you down, whether they’re drying you out or providing moisture. At one time, community healers would visit people in their homes. In my practice, I’ve found that if I go to somebody’s home, it’s a whole different story than if they come to my office.

Community oriented healing is primarily focused on the spiritual and emotional needs of the person or community. Traditionally, the village herbalist was the shaman, someone in tune not only with the plants and body, but also with the spirits or energies of the bodies, places and plants. Their healing practices involved much more than the traditional, allopathic “treat the symptom” approach. It could be that they held someone while they wept, and they might give the person Bach flower remedies for their emotions. My philosophy of healing has always been to “treat the person, not the disease.”

Community herbalists are deeply immersed in the plant community. They know which plants can help and which ones are to be avoided. They know the basic needs of the body and the things that commonly go wrong with the body, especially in the communities in which they live. I see people growing the herbs they need to stay healthy and happy. I see community gardens where communities can collect the herbs they need. In Fernwood where I live, we have such a garden; it has stinging nettle and milk thistle, plants not normally found in community gardens. Both, however, can be used as food and are powerful healers.

In the Pacific Northwest we have a tendency toward coughs and colds throughout the winter. A community herbalist would be aware of which plants to grow and use for various common conditions. They would advise people how to use them safely and make them aware of any contraindications so that a pregnant woman, for example, wouldn’t take something that might jeopardize her pregnancy. They would encourage people to take herbal baths and use herbal poultices. If you look at many of the traditional systems, such as Ayurveda, there’s a good deal of hands-on work. I think our bodies are hungry for more physical contact with the plants and the earth. It feels wonderful to soak your tired feet in a basin of hot water that has a bouquet of herbs in it. It’s much more satisfying than merely swallowing a pill.

The idea of paradigms – the way we perceive something – is also very important. Many of the traditional methods, which I consider as community herbalism, work on an energetic model more than a chemical model of medicine. It involves practitioners being trained to work in their villages and the areas in which they live, on how to gather and use the local plants.

My vision for community herbalists is that we would have herb specialists, well trained in and connected to the plants that can be grown in their communities. I like the image of barefoot doctors, rather than white-coat clad doctors, walking in the community with the knowledge and skills to help people. They could visit you in your home or they could meet you at the coffee shop or in the park. They can listen to you and offer sound advice. It is not expected that they can solve every health problem you have, but in my experience, sometimes just listening to somebody is often a great help. Tools such as Bach flower remedies or simple herbal remedies for relaxation can complement any other therapy someone is undergoing, whether or not it’s medical. Everyone needs a healer, someone to support them. Community herbalists also work in the retail setting. Many people visit retail stores seeking help for a cough or a cold. Much healing is done over the counter. My vision for community herbalists is to give them a sense of power and place within our communities.

I also believe that the practice of community herbalism will carry on from the tradition of the elders I’ve studied with: Norma Meyers, a Mohawk medicine woman who has passed over to the other side; Dr. John Christopher, the herbalist who turned so many of us on to herbs in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. (The American Herbalists Guild is full of herbalists who originally studied with Dr. John Christopher.); Ellen White, a Coast Salish native elder from the Nanaimo band and one of my teachers. She celebrates her 86th birthday on September 13. The idea is to keep that tradition and knowledge alive. The native tradition was much more in keeping with the practice of a community herbalist. The people knew the plants intimately. They knew the spirits. They knew the energies. They knew the songs. They knew the ceremonies. My vision is to bring those aspects back into healing.

We no longer have ceremonies. Everyone goes through changes, but we have nothing to offer people to mark their changes and accomplishments. We have no rites of passage. My wife and I have done very powerful rites of passage work with young people and I have done ceremonies for people who have had major losses or upsets. I am also working with Royal Roads University and First Nations elders throughout BC on non-timber forest products, and we’ve established protection for medicinal plants in logging contracts. Again, that’s the idea of a community herbalist. It’s not just about the herbs in a clinical practice; it’s also about the herbs in your back yard and the herbs in the forests. It’s about the herbs in the community.

I also see education as a huge part of being a community herbalist – taking people from the community on herb walks, visiting people’s gardens and advising them which plants to grow for their health. Hopefully, community herbalists will be able to establish herb gardens in schools so kids can learn from an early age. In England, people can enrol in a four-year herbal program at a university, after which they receive a Bachelor of Science. I envision that being available in BC in the very near future.

If you are interested in becoming a community herbalist, contact Don Ollsin at 1-866-592-7523 or email don@herbalhealingpathway.comwww.herbalhealingpathway.com