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.


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

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