Forests part of climate puzzle

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

WE KNOW that global warming is a reality and that we humans are its primary cause. And we know that carbon dioxide emissions, mostly from burning fossil fuels, are a major contributor to global warming. But we still have much to learn about the Earth’s mechanisms when it comes to regulating emissions and warming.

Forests – along with grasslands, soils and other ecosystems – are an important part of the equation, and a new report published in the journal Nature sheds a bit more light on their role. We’ve known for a long time that forests are important carbon sinks. That is, they absorb carbon from the atmosphere, thus preventing it from contributing to global warming.

But the Nature study shows that tropical forests absorb more carbon than we realized. Researchers from a number of institutions, including the University of Toronto, analyzed data from 79 intact forests in Africa from 1968 to 2007, along with similar data from 156 intact forests from 20 non-African countries. They concluded that tropical forests absorb about 4.8 billion tonnes of carbon a year, equivalent to about 18 percent of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere each year by burning fossil fuels. The world’s oceans are the other major carbon sink, absorbing about half the human-produced carbon that doesn’t end up in the atmosphere.

That doesn’t mean we can count on the forests or the oceans to save us from our folly. To start, about 15 billion of the 32 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide that humans produce is not reabsorbed on land or sea and ends up in the atmosphere. And the carbon stored in forests can be released back into the atmosphere with natural disturbances, such as fire or insect outbreaks or if the forest is logged. This is because when trees are cut down, die and decay naturally or burn, some of the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere. And many wood and pulp and paper products are discarded and destroyed in a much shorter time period than the life of an old-growth forest. This means that the carbon is released earlier than it would have been if the forests were left intact.

We humans have upset the balance of nature in more ways than we understand. The scientists haven’t figured out why the tropical trees are growing big enough to absorb more carbon than they release. One theory is that global warming and the extra carbon in the atmosphere are actually fertilizing the trees.

One thing we do know is that we cannot rely on tropical forests to prevent dangerous levels of climate change. But the amount of carbon they store is a compelling argument for protecting them: – they may at least provide a buffer while we work on other solutions, such as reducing our energy consumption and switching to renewable sources of energy.

Clearly, it’s not the only reason to protect forests. The ability of forests to absorb carbon shows us that they have economic value beyond providing lumber. Forests are a source of medicine, food and clean drinking water and are habitat for over half of all land based plants and animals on the planet. Forests also provide spiritual, aesthetic and recreational opportunities for millions of people.

Forest degradation is also contributing to another ecological crisis, a biodiversity crisis on par with earlier mass extinctions. Scientists estimate that 16,000 species are now threatened with extinction, including 12 percent of birds, 23 percent of mammals and 32 percent of amphibians. Habitat destruction is partly responsible for this crisis and climate change is exacerbating it. And although most of our carbon emissions are from burning fossil fuels, one quarter is from deforestation.

This shows how everything in nature is interconnected and how our planet works to find equilibrium. We can’t confront the problems we have created on a piecemeal basis. We must look at them together. Conserving the world’s forests – which can include sustainable forestry practices – is one obvious place to start dealing with some of the most imminent crises.

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A time of wonders

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

THIS IS a time of wonders. That statement may seem totally counter-intuitive and blind to the enormous troubles ahead, but I can’t ignore the perpetual voice that sings within me of the incredible possibilities at our fingertips.

If I look one way, I can see that we are racing towards the greatest ecological meltdown since the last great extinction event – the cretacean – that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Time moves slowly and a human lifetime is long and yet we are so close to winning the collective Darwin Award, given every year to those individuals who do such stupid things that they do us the favour of removing their genes from the gene pool. I write these words on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, who I am sure would never have contemplated the possibility of the entire human race winning such an award one day.

Yet, if I look the other way, I see the road to the solar age, shining with promise and hope. I see the successful elimination of fossil fuels, children learning ecological literacy in every school, Earth’s cities becoming urban paradises. I see farms the world over adopting organic, butterfly-loving methods of cultivation and Earth’s working forests being treated like the temples they are, with reverence and love.

I have held this vision for more than 40 years and yet I have never felt it so close, so totally within our reach. My hopefulness does not stem from any recent intimacy with BC bud, but from my knowledge of communities around the world that are making it happen. It stems from Copenhagen where 36 percent of commuter trips are by bicycle; from San Francisco, well on the way to achieving 100 percent zero waste by 2020; from the small town of Güssing, in eastern Austria, whose people have eliminated 93 percent of their carbon footprint by building a variety of solar, biomass and other energy systems. I have just finished writing my new book on global climate solutions and I can feel the vibrancy of so much innovation and effort all around the world.

So what do we need to turn away from the dark path of cynicism, negativity and defeat and embrace instead the brilliance of hope? We need three things and they are all within our grasp.

The first is the willingness to act. By acting, we switch on our motivation, which releases a cascade of possibilities. One phone call asking, “How can I help?” is enough – perhaps to a local non-profit society; perhaps to the BC-STV campaign office (campaigning for the Single Transferable Vote in the May 12 referendum); perhaps to the office of the greenest, local candidate in the forthcoming provincial election.

The second is the willingness to persist. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Nothing of any worth was achieved without persistence. Persistence means learning, training, practising. You may have a vision that takes five or 10 years to fulfill, such as turning the street where you live into a community of sharing people, growing food, installing solar panels and planting trees. Alternatively, it might be kick-started with one rousing street party, organized with neighbours with a few weeks’ notice.

The third is the determination to stay positive and not be defeated by the apparent hopelessness of larger problems, such as the need to transform global capitalism, the domination of the US military industrial complex or the ecological collapse of the world’s oceans. Millions share your hopes, confident that success is possible.

What we need is faith at a deeper level, which does not require evidence at every step. Faith that humans have the ability to succeed in this challenge, just as we succeeded in ending slavery, winning the right of working people to form a labour union, defeating fascism and so much more.

The love that so many people feel for our troubled planet comes from that same deep place and it’s not going away. Our task is to hold onto it and act on it – now.

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.

Google maps the oceans

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

WE HUMANS are air-breathing landlubbers and that shapes the way we see and treat the world. We don’t think much about what’s underwater or underground. So we’ve been dumping garbage into the oceans and taking what we want from them for years without considering the consequences. We’ve never had to look at any of it – until now.

We’re starting to see what lies below the surface and it’s not always a pretty picture. We see massive islands of plastic and other debris swirling in gyres around the world. We see 9,000-year-old, glass sponge reefs off the coast of BC that, until recently, were torn apart by trawl nets dragged across the ocean floor. We see the effects of climate change on Arctic sea ice and on the animals that live under the sea.

We’ll be able to see even more, thanks to a recent initiative by Google, along with National Geographic, the BBC and scientists and other partners from around the world. Google is adding the world’s oceans to its extensive Earth mapping. In a phone conversation with David Suzuki Foundation staff, John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Maps, admitted, “We had really overlooked two thirds of the planet.” Partly because of prodding from oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the company has embarked on a massive project as part of Google Earth 5.0 to map the oceans using sonar imaging, high-resolution and 3-D photography, video and a variety of other techniques and content.

Although the emerging picture is sometimes bleak, there’s a positive side. “If we can just see enough soon enough to pull back and give these areas a chance to recover, that’s my greatest hope,” Dr. Earle told us.

Mr. Hanke and Dr. Earle, who is explorer in residence at National Geographic and the founder of the Deep Search Foundation, said the project will allow us to learn more about human impacts on the Earth’s oceans. Dr. Earle noted that we have explored only about five percent of the ocean’s depths and protected less than one percent, yet the oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.

“Some of these treasures are being destroyed before we even know what’s there,” Dr. Earle said, adding that often as soon as people find out about an ocean resource, they exploit it. Part of the idea behind Ocean in Google Earth is to show people what we have and what we stand to lose if we don’t smarten up. “People will be aware of not only what’s there but what’s been lost,” Dr. Earle said. “People don’t seem to widely appreciate how important it is to protect the systems that give us life.”

And the oceans do give us life. Half of the world’s oxygen comes from the ocean. In the process of photosynthesis, phytoplankton release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to global warming. And when phytoplankton die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean… The phytoplankton are also an important food source for ocean animals ranging from small fish to giant whales, which, in turn, feed other animals up the food chain, including humans.

That’s just one example of how important our oceans are and of how everything in nature is interconnected.

We can only hope this new endeavour will lead to more concern for the state of the oceans and of the need to protect them. The glass sponge reefs, for example, are being considered for formal protection, and public support could make the difference. As Dr. Earle noted, “You can’t care if you don’t know and this a new way of knowing.”

Part of what makes it exciting is that it’s not just a tool for scientists and academics. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for adults and kids to learn about the oceans,” Mr. Hanke said, noting that the free program, which includes multiple layers of content and information, will continue to expand as more data from scientists, explorers and others is added.

We can no longer afford to be blind to the state of our oceans. Let’s hope this will open our eyes before there’s nothing left to see but destruction.

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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.

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.

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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 or call 604-436-2152.

The chi chickens

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

We keep chickens – five mature females and two youngsters – who we think are roosters. That spells possible trouble ahead, since the roosters may fight once they mature, but right now they are total buddies, scouting the garden for bugs, seeds, worms and anything else that pleases a young chicken’s palate.

These are some happy chickens. They have a custom-made home I made using a plan from a 1948 British gardening book, with cozy roosting boxes and a shaded space where they can shelter from the rain. For much of the year, however, we open the gate, giving them an acre of rural land to wander.

I never thought much about chickens before we had them. To see them in their free state has been a revelation. Every day they explore the garden, clean up fallen birdseed and scratch for bugs everywhere. In summer they jump for the lowest-hanging raspberries. These are wild birds that humans have domesticated; they are the closest living relatives of the dinosaur.

After a morning of hunting and gathering, they look for a quiet place with whatever sun they can find to lie in; our dog and cats don’t bother them.

Their chi – their life energy – is healthy and alive. It is so satisfying to see how they enjoy their daily explorations, how they bond together and how they play their little pecking order games, just as humans do. How they rush to hide a tasty morsel of food, trying their best to eat it in private. How they clearly enjoy their lives. And how they chatter – chickens make up to 200 different sounds, using 30 different phrases.

When dusk falls, they slowly make their way back to the henhouse; there’s always one who lingers for the last bug. One of our young cockerels has decided he prefers to roost in a tree so he makes an effortful jump-fly into the branches of the maple that overhangs the coop.

We’re vegetarian so we keep our chickens for their eggs, which they announce with a squawk. When they stop laying, we keep them till they die – or are killed, alas. We live in the country where mink, eagles, hawks and raccoons all fancy a tasty chicken, if they can catch one.

Contrast this with the life of a captive chicken, forced, if it’s laying, to spend its whole short life in a cage the size of a piece of paper, stacked on high with 30,000 other birds. If it’s a broiler, raised for its meat, it is crammed in a space so crowded that each fellow chicken has an average of just 550 square centimetres (9 inches by 9 inches) in which to live out its entire life. Being crammed so tightly, they peck each other. To prohibit them, the ends of their upper and lower beaks are forcibly cut off, using an electrically heated blade.

In Britain, during the run of celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV series, Hugh’s Chicken Run, residents of the Devon town of Axminster were invited to see free-range and intensive systems alongside each other in a shed. Many people left in tears and half of the four million viewers who saw the shows said they would only buy free-range chicken.

This is our doing, driven by profit and the desire for a cheap chicken wing, regardless of the pain it causes. We cause the birds’ suffering and we can end it, if we choose.

Sweden banned battery cages in 1995, Austria in 2004, Germany in 2007 and all of Europe will do so in 2012. In California, voters in November’s elections approved a motion to end the use of battery cages, as well as cramming veal calves and breeding pigs into cages and crates so small that the animals cannot turn around or fully extend their limbs.

What about Canada? Which of our politicians will speak up for the chickens? They are awaiting our choice to set them free.

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.

If I had a trillion dollars

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Many of you are working to recycle, reduce energy consumption and improve the world for your families and neighbours. The collective impact of these many small efforts is making a big difference.

Just think what you could do with $4.1 trillion.

That’s how much the US and 17 European countries are spending to bail out financial institutions involved in a crisis that began in the US and now reverberates around the world. The final amount will likely be a lot more. It’s difficult to fathom such a large number, but consider that one trillion seconds is about 32,000 years. To top it off, most of the details are secret; we don’t really know what the money is being used for, although it probably hasn’t stopped your retirement savings funds from plummeting.

The effect on people in developing nations is even worse. Most of them didn’t have savings to begin with; now, the economic crisis, coupled with the effects of the climate crisis, including drought and food shortages, is causing more of our human family to suffer from extreme poverty and joblessness.

Just think what they could do with $4.1 trillion.

A report from the Institute for Policy Studies, Skewed Priorities: How the Bailouts Dwarf Other Global Crisis Spending, points out that the amount is 40 times what the US and Europe are spending in developing nations on programs to deal with poverty ($90.7 billion) and climate change ($13.1 billion, none of it from the US). In fact, the US spent far more to bail out insurance firm AIG ($152.5 billion) than all the countries together spent on developmental aid last year.

And what did the AIG executives do after getting the taxpayer-funded bailout? They celebrated with a $440,000 trip to a luxury spa resort. The cost of the trip is about what the US spent on food aid last year to Lebanon, “a country struggling to recover from conflict,” according to the IPS.

If we think we needn’t worry about what happens to developing nations because it isn’t affecting us, we should remind ourselves that just as everything in nature is connected, so is everything in our global economic and political systems. Increased international job competition and reduced export opportunities are just two of the smaller impacts mentioned in the IPS report.

But the worst meltdown isn’t the global economy. Another report, Climate Safety, from the Public Interest Research Centre, shows that the Arctic’s late-summer ice is melting much faster than scientists predicted and may disappear within three to seven years. The cascading consequences of such an event could be catastrophic.

Just think what we could do with $4.1 trillion.

Instead of giving companies these huge sums of money so they can continue bbuying and selling, merging and paying their executives obscene salaries and bonuses, we could put it toward renewable energy, sustainable urban planning, and research into ways to lessen the impact of climate change – things that really would stimulate economies.

Canada has continued to bolster its reputation as a country lacking in imagination and concern for the planet. Environment minister Jim Prentice told Alberta business leaders recently, “We will not aggravate an already weakening economy in the name of environmental progress.” His job is to protect the environment yet he sounds like the minister of finance.

But if Canada is hindering progress other nations are showing more enlightened leadership. French president Nicolas Sarkozy said before heading to Poland [for the United Climate Change Conference in December] that nations must keep their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: “Climate change is so important that we cannot use the financial and economic crisis as a pretext for dropping it.”

As citizens, we can and must do everything possible to keep our finite world alive and healthy. Along with changes we are making in our own lives, we must also call on our leaders to stop downplaying the unequivocal science that tells us failing to quickly address the climate crisis will make the economic crisis seem like a minor blip in history.

We could tell them where to put that $4.1 trillion.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at

Environmentalist Thelma MacAdam passes peacefully

by Lorna Hancock

Thelma MacAdam, a well-loved and respected environmentalist, passed away in her sleep on December 19. She was bright and active right up until her last day. I am one of thousands of people who are honoured to have known her, and will miss her greatly.

Thelma MacAdam

As Chair of the Environmental Committee for Burnaby-based Health Action Network Society for 25 years, Thelma provided good, solid, scientific arguments against chloramines, chlorine, fluoride, incineration, food irradiation, pesticides, herbicides, mercury amalgam and many other topics. This modest, but determined, Port Coquitlam grandmother and environmental activist won recognition across Canada. Her name Thelma means will and volition in Greek, qualities she certainly embodied.

The following is a partial list of her achievements: 

  • 1989 – Homemakers Magazine’s top 10 women Making a Difference.
  • 1999 – BC Environmental Network honour for outstanding community service on behalf of the environment.
  • 1999 – Featured internationally in the book Sweeping the Earth,Women Taking Action for a Healthy Planet.
  • 2000 – Environmental Awareness Award at the Spirit of Community Awards, Tri-Cities Society for Community Development.
  • 2002 – City of Burnaby Environment Award in Communications

Thelma was quoted in major Canadian media and she was a frequent talk show guest. Rafe Mair said, “I admired Thelma enormously. The community was a much better place for her fighting the fight for our atmosphere long before it was fashionable to do so. She did indeed make a difference.”

Lorna Hancock is executive director of HANS Health Action Network Society –

This is your moment

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

We live in exciting times. We don’t need to pray for the day when real change will start rolling. It’s rolling now so don’t pass this one up! Things may seem sleepy in Canada, but don’t kid yourself. Just because the government in Ottawa is stuck in the 1950s, it doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be.

What does it mean to wake up and join in? The answer to this question is unique to you, whether you are reading this in a café, on the bus, in the bath or over the breakfast table. I may be writing for a quarter-million Common Groundreaders, but, in reality, I’m writing for just one person – and that’s you.

Story #1. In 1995, Josep Puig, a Green Party city councillor in Barcelona, Spain, worked with the city staff to install solar hot water panels at City Hall. He then worked with local builders and the city to craft a bylaw that required all large new buildings in the city to install solar hot water. The bylaw was copied by other towns in Catalonia, then by Madrid, and in 2006 solar hot water panels were made compulsory for new and renovated buildings throughout Spain. One man, supported by good partners, kick-started Spain’s solar revolution.

Story #2. In 2002, Felix Kramer, an entrepreneur and market strategist in Palo Alto, California, founded a group called CalCars with the goal of bringing clean, advanced vehicles to market much faster than the major car companies. In September 2004, the group converted a Toyota Prius into a plug-in, hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) that could run on batteries for the first 60 to 80 miles. They then showed people what they had done. By 2007, Ford, Toyota and GM were all planning to have PHEVs on the road by 2010, and in October 2008, $1 billion was assigned to advance the development of PHEVs in the $700 billion bank bail-out. One man, supported by a group of very geeky software engineers, is changing the automobile industry globally. See

Story #3. In September 2003, Cindi Seddon, principal of Pitt River Middle School in Coquitlam, BC, decided to ditch the junk food that KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut were serving in the school cafeteria, replacing it with real food for her students. She also turfed junk food out of the vending machines. She had solid support from her parent committees and staff, but the Coquitlam School Board thought otherwise and ordered the junk food back on the menu, claiming it had that authority and she did not. Cindi’s actions triggered a media storm and a public debate and, as a result, in 2007, the province banned highly processed foods and foods with large amounts of sweetener, salt, fat and calories from school cafeterias and vending machines. If Cindi had not decided enough was enough, our kids would still be eating junk food in BC schools today.

Somewhere in your unfolding life there may be a story like this that will be your story. It may begin with someone knocking on your door, asking, “Can you help us?” Or it may come from within as a quiet idea and a sprig of determination.

You don’t need to know how you’re going to achieve your idea. You can learn as you go along. You need just three things: 1) A clear image in your mind of what the end result will be. 2) The skills to pull it off, which probably include people skills and partnership-building skills. 3) The willingness to put one foot in front of the other and to keep going when you meet obstacles, seeking help and advice from your partners. If your first thought is “I don’t have the skills,” go out and get them. You won’t regret it.

Do you have a small voice, saying, “I really want to contribute to a better world, and I’ve got this idea…?”

If you do, don’t pass it up. This is your moment.

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.