Canada's Energy Problem: Part 1 - Reality Check

Although I wish to see solar/wind/thermal energy thrive to the point where we no longer have to rely on fossil fuels I am not blind to the fact that humans need more energy than those technologies can currently provide. Our options at this point are limited, as these new innovations are being fostered and tested for large-scale use. What do we do in the meantime? Canada's government has proposed conservation, demand management, higher efficiency standards, fuel switching to natural gas, diversified energy sources as well as increased usage of renewable technologies. Is this enough? I'm not sure. Personally I think it is a step on the road towards a possible energy reform in this country that can hopefully meet Canada's voracious energy needs.

I realize I can post wonderful articles about the most amazing alternative energy technologies but unless they can be put in place within the next few years, it is impractical to look at them as the answer to all our current energy needs. In the documentary I posted in the popular Jarvis Street article, the future described by experts was bleak, particularly for the "American Dream" (I use the term loosely) of the suburban home and nuclear family as we know it. The idea of the suburbs becoming the ghettos of the future is alarming, a stark contrast to their current vaunted status, but if we are truly at peak oil, we must act now to preserve our future. 

Not all my fellow citizens share the same beliefs as me on many issues, particularly the environment, energy and government. I think the average Canadian is more worried about their families, their jobs, their mortgages, the economy, the recession...everything except the environment. With money scarce and energy demands still high, investing in solar or wind energy is, at the moment, probably unwise for the average Canadian household. So what can we do now? I hope to explore these options in an ongoing series of blogs on "Green Me Up, Scotty!".

As always comments and questions are very welcome! 


The Trial Against Shell Oil for their Crimes in Nigeria

I feel it is necessary to bring this issue to your attention dear readers. The following is a choice quote from the video:

"Shell partnered with the brutal Nigerian military government to suppress the popular movement of the Ogoni people. On multiple occasions, Shell paid the Nigerian military, they requested the Nigerian military, knowing that it was a brutal force and that force committed horrific acts of violence against civilians who were peacefully protesting."
- Marco Simons, Plaintiffs' Attorney, EarthRights International

This video was taken from HanShan's article on Alternet.org, "The Video Shell Oil Desperately Doesn't Want You to See". I really feel it sums up the trial better than I could. The casualties and deaths of the Nigerian people at the hands of soldiers hired by Shell cannot be ignored by the West, and halfhearted boycotts will not induce Shell to atone for its crimes against the Nigerian people. I hope to see that both this video and trial come to the attention of all, considering how Shell does not want anyone to see it. Think twice when you're at the gas pump, and consider what sort of impact you're really having on the Earth as well as your fellow human beings.


$6 Million Project to Make Jarvis Street More Bike-Friendly Approved

Just found this article on Spacing about what took place in the council chambers during the session to vote for the approval of the $6 million *takes a deep breath* "Jarvis Streetscape Improvement Environmental Assessment Bloor Street East to Queen Street East" project. Although only $50k~$100k will be devoted to the conversion of one of the lanes on Jarvis Street into a dedicated bike lane, the majority of the discussion (and controversy) was devoted to this.

Long story short, it's been approved, however I can't help but notice councillor Rob Ford adding his poorly worded opinion to the discussion. I am all for honest discourse but with real arguments. Please, if you are a constituent of Rob Ford in Etobicoke, write to him and let him know acting like a petulant child will not get your needs (as well as those of the rest of Toronto) across to the council. Personally I wouldn't want to be represented by him, come next election would you?

I cannot help but think that certain councillors really enjoy bogging everything down with minor details and miss the point of these important projects. I understand that it may be a hassle for commuters but I often fear for the safety of bikers downtown. This bike lane is great news for anyone who wants to bike to work but takes one look at the traffic and changes their mind. I feel that if bikers had their own bike lane, drivers will respect their space and pedestrians don't have to worry about dodging a bike on the sidewalk (Big no-no!).

Moving on, the plans for wider sidewalks, historical plaques and other beautification methods (with lots of trees, flowers and shrubs alike I'm sure) is definitely a great move for a better neighbourhood. A city with walkable and bike-friendly streets is a safer, happier and healthier place. Have you heard of the wonderful suburb of Vauban located in Germany?

 Click the image to be taken to the New York Times Article: "In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars"

This is probably one of the most sustainable suburbs currently in development (*ahem* Vaughan you should pay attention!) and a real life example of why projects like...like the one council just approved are important to all constituents, whether they walk, drive or bike. Without roads dedicated to cars, the community is safer for children, allowing them to move about and play. As a mixed-use community, retail areas are littered around the neighbourhood encouraging residents to walk or bike more to reach their destinations, a healthier option for everyone (I'm certain that North American waistlines would benefit from this). Another great benefit is how the constant din of the highway, screaming sirens and general noise pollution caused by vehicles has disappeared with the roads. Here's a quote from one of the community's residents:

“When I had a car I was always tense. I’m much happier this way,” said Heidrun Walter, a media trainer and mother of two, as she walked verdant streets where the swish of bicycles and the chatter of wandering children drown out the occasional distant motor.

Any residents that wish to own their own vehicle must purchase a parking space for $40,000 in one of the two nearby municipal garages. These garages also offer a car-sharing service for residents that wish to use an automobile but don't simply don't require a car on a day-to-day basis. I feel the requirement of purchasing a parking spot is another demonstration of the true cost of the land we devote to our vehicles. 

What I would love to see in Canada (and Toronto) would be policies that restrict commercial and residential development that lack connections to public transportation. Also, changing policies concerning residential zoning to allow areas to become mixed-use spaces that are more walkable. It doesn't just make sense environmentally, it makes sense economically. How else can all those suburban home owners that have lost their jobs (many of which have been laid off from nearby manufacturing plants) pay their mortgages? Retrofitting homes to become mixed use residential and commercial spaces will benefit the local economy and perhaps even improve the safety of suburban streets. What pair of eyes are more watchful on the street than that of a street vendor or store owner? It is in their interests to be alert to the happenings of the neighborhood, as well as to respect and offer a service to their neighbors. There are so many ways we can change Toronto (and Canada for that matter) for the better. Many are not aware of it, but the suburb is going the way of the dinosaur. In the future, the North American dream of a suburban home will be a distant memory. Here is a shocking documentary called "The End of Suburbia", describing exactly why:

While I believe the views of this documentary are often somewhat extremist, I feel there are several steps we can take in order to avoid this fate. Hopefully we are not too far gone.

Pardon this Interruption: Attention Readers!

Good morning everyone! I'm just taking the time to let you all know I am aware my entries have been very harsh for the past few months. I've been studying a lot about sustainability, government ineptitude and peak oil...I must say it has affected me. I feel I must return to being a hopeful and earnest voice demanding change and bringing to you possible solutions. Thank you for your readership, we now resume our usual blogging schedule. =)


Bring Us Bixi!

So my good friend Jeff over at Keep Your Coins I Want Change just brought this to my attention, and I felt it deserved a mention here at Environmilitant, as well as everywhere else we can possibly talk about it.

Recently the French government implemented a fantastic new green transit innovation in some of their major cities, including Paris. You ready for this? May we introduce the novel concept of BICYCLES:

Or, more specifically, specialized bicycles called "Bixis" that are provided to the community in the same way ZipCars are here in Toronto. For those of us not in the know, the ZipCar is a communal vehicle you can "rent" on a day-to-day basis for a yearly signup fee. Great idea, especially for friends of mine who are musicians requiring cargo space to move gear to and from gigs, but there's still the whole carbon emission issue. Bixi is basically the same idea, except in bicycle form. Fantastic idea, right?

Right, and Toronto tried it once before under the name Yellow Bike Share Program, which initially met with rave reviews and then promptly folded due to lack of funding. Instead, the city is transferring all sorts of funds to the TTC to build a light rail system including (wait for it) a subway extension to York University (because we haven't been hearing about that dog-and-pony show for the last thirty years). Frankly, I think our city would be better served picking up this Bixi idea at least in the interim, because we know good and damn well that the TTC will drag its feet on "Transit City" for the next few forseeable decades. I mean, even Washington has picked up the idea, and we all know their prevailing feelings on the French (anybody remember Freedom Fries? I do!)

Yet another good idea that's going to get trumped unless we do something about it. Email your local member of provincial parliament and demand Bixi. We want our bicycles and we want them now!


Raise your hand if you see this one coming...

You know, apart from the issues I already have with drilling for oil, somehow I feel like there may be even more concerns with this particular project:

What you're looking at are the Siberian wetlands (didn't know they had those in Siberia, actually) with a precariously-perched oil rig in the middle of it.

Okay, there are two problems with this. The first should be obvious: they're WETLANDS. You know, home to thousands of species of birds, fish, amphibians and whatever else lives in wetlands. I can't imagine the existence of an oil rig in this area is going to do much for the natural real estate. The second should also be obvious: sooner or later, something terrible is going to happen to that oil rig. You can imagine the scene playing out like some Monty Python routine.

Russian Oil Expert:
Listen, comrades.  I've built this oil company up from nothing.  When I started here, all there
was was wetland. All the other oil magnates said I was daft to build a castle in the wetlands,
but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the wetland. So, I built a second one.
That sank into the wetland. So I built a third one. That burned down,
fell over, then sank into
the wetland. But the fourth one stayed up. An' that's what
you're gonna get, comrades -- the
strongest oil rig in these wetlands.

Nothing good is going to come of this, I promise you that.


Take A Good Idea, Then Squash It

I've always been a fan of the idea of guerrilla gardening. For those of you who don't know, the concept is relatively straightforward: greenheads like myself essentially take over an abandoned piece of land not being used for any constructive purpose, and use it to grow crops and gardens and all sorts of other good stuff. I figure it's a great idea – I mean, it's certainly not hurting anybody; in fact, it kind of helps out the community. And it's pretty. But apparently not everybody shares my respect for this practice.

In February of this year, a British activist going by the name Nick Revolving took over Raven's Ait (a small island located in the Thames River) when he realized it was being totally neglected by the county as a result of the global economic recession. He and his friends built a treehouse, planted permaculture gardens, and have been squatting there in a totally self-sufficient commune. But they aren't doing this for selfish purposes – their goal is to turn the island into an “eco conference center” to raise awareness about sustainability and green alternatives. And since the government isn't doing anything with the land anyway, you'd assume they would be totally on board with that initiative, right?


The group is being evicted from the island, because apparently there are companies interested in doing something with the land – someday (the island has been vacant since November). The local council won't even bargain with the group unless they leave the island.

To me that rings of a small child who isn't playing with his toy train, but won't let any of the other children play with it in case he wants it at some indeterminate point in the future.

They say that ownership is 9/10 of the law; if that's the case, the law – and the concept of ownership itself – is terminally f*cked. Who made us in charge? Why is it that we get to decide who lives where, how, and in what capacity?

I am urging any and all readers to visit the group's website – read up on their plans and show your support. My good friend Lissa over at Living Lime notified me about this issue and is assisting in a project to raise £1.5 million in order to help save this piece of land and turn it into what Nick Revolving and his friends want it to be. I'm signing up – you should too.

Check out the original article here.


The Big Picture

Every so often I venture into the heart of this great city I love to call my home, and every time I do I find something new and wonderful about it. Sunday afternoon I took a very long walk through Queen's Park (hooray for inner-city greenery!) and took a trip down Queen Street West because it's been years since I delved into Toronto culture.

There used to be a ton of fun little shops along there that catered to green livers like myself: for example, I'm not into pot myself, but the Friendly Stranger sells a lot of hemp products outside smoking gear that I am really into – hemp clothes and all-natural soaps and the like. Lush is good for that too – I don't really dig a lot of chemicals in my soaps and moisturizers, not just because it's terrible for the environment but it's also terrible for my skin (being Scottish, I am very pale and my skin is extremely delicate).

I was sad to see so many of the cool old stores replaced with high-end haute couture boutiques, but I guess that's progress. Rode the streetcar for the first time in a long time (normally I bike everywhere) and all I can say is I can't wait for Toronto to institute their new light-rail system: it'll be more environmentally friendly and with any luck there will be a little more room!

There's good and bad about every city, I guess, but being somewhat well-traveled I think Toronto is one of the better ones out there. Sometimes I forget just how green this city actually is until I get up high enough to see the big picture. Sunday evening, just as the sun was setting, I was sitting on the patio of the Spoke Club on King Street (one of the best views in that area), enjoying a quiet beer and looking out over the downtown core, and it was genuinely beautiful. Sure, there are lots of urban developments going on in the area (there always are) but the city planners really work hard to ensure that a lot of trees and parks are threaded through the condos and block stores. It's heartening.

Okay, this was a little bit touchy-feely for an angry environmental blog; I think I'm just happy that spring has finally, finally arrived. In fact, I think I'm going to take another walk after work today, hit up the Spoke patio again, and take in the big picture.



Normally I don't post these, but I couldn't pass this up. In the parlance of our times, Epic Fail: