I got it.

In light of the amazing protest that went down in Washington over the weekend, where 12,000 people came from all over the country to link hands together in a giant circle of love and solidarity around the Whitehouse, urging President Obama to get serious about climate change by blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, I thought I would share some thoughts on the issue in Alberta, where I live.

Here in Alberta, at the very heart of the debate, the very place where that oil will be pulled from the sand if that pipeline gets built – news of these protests is stirring media and politicians into action. Here is what I saw and heard yesterday:

 

Walking to the bus stop in the morning, listening to CBC radio on my iPod.

A business panel is questioned on the impact to Alberta if Keystone XL is blocked.

The panel agrees – if it is blocked Alberta will push for the Northern Gateway pipeline, the one to the Pacific, the one that will put the oil on boats to Asia.

Conceding that there is also immense opposition to that pipeline, one of the panel guests states that only people who live along that pipeline should have a say.

A national pipeline that ships to international markets,  creating global harm through climate change, and only a small set of people should have a say?

I don’t get it.

 

Walking to the library at lunchtime, listening to CBC radio on my iPod.

They have a guest who has just been appointed as Alberta’s ambassador to Washington.

He is going there with the Premier on Monday to advocate for Alberta’s oil sands and Keystone XL.

He keeps calling it safe, secure and sustainable. He doesn’t mention climate change.

I don’t get it.

 

Sitting in a café at lunchtime, reading the paper. The headline reads:

World needs oil sands: report

The article describes how environmental worries are set to clash with growing global demand.  The International Energy Association predicts that using carbon intensive oil will lead to a 3.5 C rise in temperatures, which is above the maximum of 2 C that will stave off the worst effects of climate change.

Ironically, the next headline right below reads:

Snowless season drifts into record books

I guess it we have always had snow in Edmonton by this time of year, for over a hundred years, since they started keeping records, since Edmonton even existed.  Snow.  By now.

I guess the warmer temperatures are starting to catch up.

I don’t get it.

 

Out walking at lunchtime, I notice a cool little building called the Reuse Centre.

I walk inside. There are bins everywhere, filled with stuff.

Paper, ribbons, binders, picture frames.

Ice cream pails, maps, greeting cards, buttons.

Books, DVDs, pine cones. Scissors, seashells, carpet.

I walk up to the guy at the desk. “How does this work?” I ask.

“You pay $5 and then take as much as you want”, he answers.

“Is this run by the City?”

“Yes, it is part of the Waste Management Branch”.

So cool.

I get it.

 

So the debate rages on, and we are all left wondering what will happen. Will America hook up to Alberta’s oil, and put it into the sky? Will Asia?

How will we get out of this mess?

Well, never underestimate the power of people. People are making changes, people are going to places like the Reuse Centre, people are thinking about eating locally, people are Occupying their cities and questioning the wisdom of letting corporations influence so much government policy.  People are talking.  Issues are being brought to light. Some people are starting to scratch their heads. Why are we doing what we are doing?

As long as that continues, we will get out. We are on our way. We are starting to wake up. We need to keep talking about it so that others wake up too.

Okay.  I got it.

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Occupy Wall Street

All I can say is WOW.

In a previous post, I wondered and hoped, if the kind of uprising that we saw last spring in Egypt would ever come here, in the name of climate change. When would people draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough? When would they get off the couch, turn off the TV, and take an active role in their democracy? When would the companies and governments of the world stop for a minute – and listen to the people?

The Occupy Wall Street movement is not about climate change, not really. It is about standing up to corporations who seem to have a relationship that is just a bit too cosy with the government. The government should not be looking out for the best interests of corporations. The government is for the people, it is supposed to represent the people. It is supposed to keep the people safe, by ensuring there are regulations on products and work practices and environmental destruction. It is supposed to protect and maintain the basic infrastructure of our society – roads, bridges, education, phone service, internet, electricity, and yes, banks. It is supposed to do things that are in the best interests of the people. It is not supposed to put corporations first.

Along the way, somehow our capitalism has got mixed up with democracy. Democracy should always be the most important thing. The people, not corporations, must decide what is in their best interests. The people must decide what are the best policies for them. They must decide what regulations protect them the best. It is should be by the people, for the people.

But somehow we have gotten to a place where capitalism is the most important thing. Democracy has been demoted. Now the economy rules supreme. And who runs the economy? Corporations. So what does the government do? It tries to create an environment where companies can thrive. It reduces business taxes, putting more of the tax burden on the middle class. It keeps minimum wage pretty low. It has regulations that are relaxed over time, in the name of competition (look at America’s banking system and how that turned out). It keeps environmental regulations pretty lax.  It disregards what 97% of climate scientists are telling us about climate change.

But is this a race to the bottom?  To have lower minimum wages, lower standards, lower business taxes, and a blatant disregard for climate change?  Are all these things the best thing for people?

Here in Alberta it is about oil. The oil royalties in Alberta are some of the lowest in the world – this is good for corporations, as they can take it out the ground and not have to pay as much to the government for it. This royalty regime has caused rapid development of the oil sands, and so the companies are up there, pulling it out, faster than the environmental agencies can determine the long-term effects, faster than the town of Fort McMurray can grow, and faster than the Woodland Caribou can adapt to their reduced habitat, putting them on the endangered list. Why so fast? There is so much development in Alberta that workers are coming in from other provinces, and foreign workers are streaming in. So why so fast? For the people of Alberta? I don’t think so. To please the oil companies so they keep growing the economy quickly? Now maybe we are on to something…

So how does the Alberta government score on environmental monitoring? Well, for starters, it uses an agency that is self-funded by the oil companies to do the monitoring. Independent scientists like Dr. Schindler’s team have said the monitoring is sorely lacking.  The formal federal environment minister, as well as Canada’s environmental commissioner, have even said it is lacking. So it is definitely lacking. Why? Well tighter regulations make it harder on companies and then the economy doesn’t grow at such a high clip. But the economy is for the people of Alberta, who already have enough jobs. And the people of Alberta, are sick of being the world’s peddlers of dirty oil.

So yeah, you can say that the Occupation Wall Street movement has really got to me. I now can see change more clearly on the horizon.  People are standing up for democracy, putting it ahead of capitalism. They are standing up for each other, for me and for you and for our shared lot in this world.  This is so inspiring and amazing.  It is exciting how fast this has grown. I can’t help but wonder how it will all unfold.

Tomorrow it starts in Canada, in 15 cities. In my own city of Edmonton, they are meeting at noon at Churchill square to march and then settle in for a longer term encampment. Can you believe it? Occupy Edmonton. It is amazing to me really. Camping here is no small feat, with temperatures dipping below freezing at night, and winter quickly upon us. It will be interesting to see how long they can last.

Occupy Wall Street is occupying my mind. As those occupiers chant, all over this continent:

We are the 99%.

We the people will never be defeated.

…I think of them with love, hope, and optimism.  Indeed.

Alberta’s Election & Keystone XL

For those of you who are unaware, Alberta has been governed by the Progressive Conservative party for 40 years. So same government, since before I was born.

The hard truth is that if you want to have an impact on who is elected premier in Alberta, you have to become a member of the party and vote for their leader. The first ballot was last Saturday, and I signed up and voted for Alison Redford, the most progressive of the bunch. She is the only one that says anything about sustainability, and she is the only one that agrees that we need to get more teachers back in schools (with my son’s kindergarten class at 27 kids, I agree).

In party leadership elections, if one candidate does not get over 50% of the vote in the first ballot, then the top three contenders move to a second ballot. So Alison Redford came in second, and we vote again this Saturday, October 1st.

So who came in first? Gary Mar. He is the least progressive of the bunch, but the name that most people recognize, as he has been in government for a long time.  I heard comments he made on the radio about the Keystone XL project and Alberta’s oil sands, so I decided to write him a letter:

Dear Gary Mar,

I heard your recent comments on CBC radio about the protests over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. These particular protesters (as there are many) are Albertans who feel that we should not be shipping our raw bitumen to Texas for refining, that we should be refining it here in Alberta instead, to create jobs for Albertans. Your comment was that it was not an “either/or” scenario; that we can ship the raw bitumen to Texas and refine it here in Alberta as long as we continue to increase the development of the oil sands.

I believe that this situation is an “either/or” scenario (or better, a “neither/nor” scenario), for the following reasons:

  1. The pace of development of the oil sands has already happened too quickly. Habitats are being destroyed. Certain animal populations, such as Woodland Caribou, have been put into endangered status due habitat loss directly attributable to oil sands development. We think that Alberta’s wilderness is vast and resilient. The fact is, it is not.

  2. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Fort McMurray cannot keep up with the required growth in homes, roads and schools. Communities there are fragmented with transient workers who never intend to put down roots, urban work camps are everywhere, 20% of the residents have no fixed address, and alcohol and drug addictions remain high. Will this community pay the price?

  3. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Proper water monitoring procedures and programs have not been put into place. Dr. Schindler of the University of Alberta conducted the most extensive study ever conducted in the area, and his results revealed that the current program is hugely lacking. Even former federal Environment Minister Prentice agreed that a better system is required to properly monitor the water pollution in the area.

  4. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Forests are being peeled back, faster than they can be reclaimed. Habitats are being lost forever. An ecosystem is very delicate, once you destroy it; it is unlikely to return with the same vigor. The amount of reclaimed land is a tiny percentage of the total land used by the project.

  5. The pace of development has happened too quickly. The water and air pollution are directly impacting the health of people who live downstream from the oil sands. The residents of Fort Chipewyan have abnormally high rates of cancer, cancers that are specifically linked to petrochemical exposure. Why has development charged ahead without full consideration to the lives of these people?

  6. The pace of development has happened too quickly. Tailings ponds are growing larger and larger. New technology to replace the 30 year old technology of tailings ponds is not being widely used. Tailings ponds are leaking into the river and water systems, as evidenced by Dr. Schindler’s important study. What if tailings ponds broke their containment, unleashing rivers of pollution? What is the plan for that?

  7. The pace of development has happened too quickly. The oil sands are already emitting more carbon emissions than the entire country of Switzerland. Why are we rushing to emit more? In a world where the countries of this planet are looking for cleaner and greener ways of producing energy, why is Alberta banking their future on being the supplier of the world’s dirtiest oil? What if we wake up one day and the world has moved on? Why would we put all our eggs in one dirty basket?

  8. The pace of development has happened too quickly. There are already 392 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the sky. Climate scientists agree that we need to reduce this to 350 parts per million to keep the warming at only 2 degrees. If we don’t change course, we are headed for a planetary warming of 6 degrees, which would be catastrophic for life on Earth. 97% of scientists agree that carbon must be reduced to avoid the disastrous effects of climate change. If we pump all that oil out of Alberta’s sand, and put it up into the sky, we will most certainly warm the planet past 2 degrees. We most certainly will put future generations in a dangerous position. Imagine, years from now, the world putting partial blame on Alberta, for its reckless plundering of oil sand. What will our children’s children think of us, when they inherit a hot planet?

Further, Alberta does not need more jobs. Even as the economies of the world are crumbling down around us, Alberta has jobs. We have more jobs than people. So much so that you are campaigning to change foreign worker laws to enable the oil companies to grow larger, faster. You have missed the key point. The economy is there to serve the people of Alberta, not the other way around. If we are charging ahead with growth in the oil sands, reckless in the face of the wildlife, human, community, water, ecosystem and carbon emission damage that it is causing, most surely we would not do it over and above Alberta’s need for jobs. Where is the common sense? Do you have the best interest of the people or the oil companies, at heart?

There are a growing number of Albertans, who no longer agree with being the peddler of dirty oil. There are many Albertans who want to be part of the solution to climate change, not the cause of it. There are many Albertans, regular hardworking people, who disagree that Alberta’s future must be in oil sand to be successful.

If you are elected Premier, I hope you will look into the eyes of your children, and do what is best for their future. We must think long term, for their sake. We need to invest in a better world, a cleaner and greener world, where the threat of climate change remains a threat and not a reality.

For the sake of my two young children and children everywhere, I hope you choose life and sustainability over climate change. Oil revenues are just not worth it.

Sincerely,

Sherry

Edmonton, Alberta
Wife and mother to 2 young Albertan children

 

Live in Alberta? Want to vote for Premier on October 1st? Just show up your polling station with $5 and you are good to go.

Goodbye Jack Layton

I feel really sad.  Canada has lost an inspiring leader and visionary.

When I first learned of Jack Layton’s death, I was shocked. Then I read his letter, the letter he wrote to all Canadians two days before he died.  In those last few precious hours of life, when most would be cherishing every moment with family and friends, he was thinking about us, about Canadians. It really struck a chord with me, especially the last part.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Inspired, I logged onto facebook to post this as my status. Then I saw it, this same quote, everywhere. All over Canada, people were inspired to post it too.

Then this morning the quote was on the front pages of newspapers, it was all over the news. People were making t-shirts with that quote; people were writing that quote with sidewalk chalk in public places; people were replacing profile pictures with that quote.

What is it about Jack Layton that has touched everyone? His unfailing optimism? His can-do attitude? His ability to include all sorts of people in the conversation, from Canada’s youth, to Quebecers, to Albertan moms like me? His sincere hopes and dreams for a better Canada?

As I do, he believed that young people will lead the way to change, that they will take charge of their future. In his letter he specifically spoke to Canada’s youth, saying:

“To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. … As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.”

I voted for Jack Layton in the last election because of his commitment to do something about climate change, and to start the transition to a green, clean economy. Plain and simple, that is why I voted for him. But during the election I got caught up in something else. Here was a guy that stood up for struggling families, for everyday Canadians, for seniors and for the homeless. Who else was standing up for the underdogs?

Listening to him speak, I started to believe that a country is not just a place where we need to grow the strongest economy or export the most oil or build the most automotive parts. A country is a place where we need to look after each other first, for those less fortunate, where we band together as a community of people and say that our collective quality of life is what matters, that is really what counts. It is about families feeling the embrace of their community around them, it is about helping each other, it is about remembering to speak out for those people who don’t have a voice. Jack stood for all that. The economy matters, yes. But it is there to serve us, not the other way around. The people must come first, and our environment must also be cherished so that it will continue to sustain us.

In his last letter to Canadians, he closed in saying:

“And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world.”

We can and we must, do every one of those things. The hope lives on Jack. You have inspired so many, and have definitely done your part to change the world. I will try and do my part too. Thank you for being such an important part of Canada, and for opening our eyes to what is possible. I really hope your dream for Canada really does come true.

The Way We Green

This is a panorama of the downtown Edmonton Sk...

Edmonton Skyline, image by Steven Mackaay

I wrote before, about the green developments going on in my city. One of the most important and exciting items is an environmental strategic plan for the city, called the Way We Green. It is a very important vision for the future, and a vital step toward sustainability. I was so excited when I read it, and have been following its developments closely.

It is not approved yet by city council. Last week there was council discussion on it, which was open to the public. Not surprisingly, new home developers came in droves to speak out against it, and one local paper ran a front page story with the caption “Green Plan Hammered” and a picture of a hammer on the cover. Yes, I know, really original, read the story here.

Edmonton is a sprawling city. Spraaawwwwling. Of course the developers don’t want the city to give up its sprawl, it is to be expected. So we grow straight out, unchecked, instead of developing our communities from the inside. Everyone puts up a big fuss when the odd apartment building is erected outside the downtown core. Not surprisingly, taxes climb higher as the city struggles to maintain the vast network of roads and the related snow removal and pothole fixes that go along with it. Utility distribution fees are also higher, as more gas lines, electrical lines, water lines, cable lines and phone lines are built. Indefinite sprawl is irresponsible to the taxpayer and the ratepayer, let alone the environment.

The Way We Green strategy is going to be presented again tomorrow to Council. Scared that it actually might not be passed, I decided to fire out a quick email to my council representative, Ben Henderson. I voted for him last fall, had his sign on my lawn and talked to him on my door step. It was worth a try:

Hi Ben,

I emailed you a couple months ago about the gravel pit in the river valley. Thanks so much for your reply. I have another concern regarding The Way We Green.

I really believe in this strategy for Edmonton. Several major Canadian cities are implementing similar strategies, as you are probably aware. Vancouver wants to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. Calgary is making strides. Toronto has some great things going, with zipcars and bixi bikes available everywhere, as well as a vibrant local food plus program that verifies and labels local food in the grocery store. Many municipalities around the world are stepping up to the plate when their provincial and state and national governments are not.

Climate change is an issue that I worry about a lot. What kind of world are we leaving to my two young children? I know that most scientists agree that we have to act now, we have to act soon, and that there is no more time to mess around. Bringing in a progressive strategy like the Way We Green is a very, very important building block for our city. The climate change problem is a global problem, but requires local governments and local communities to solve it. The way we build homes, the way we plan communities, the way we get around, the way we produce our food – these are all local issues and need the leadership of the local government for solutions.

Urban sprawl cannot continue indefinitely, it is irresponsible to both the taxpayer and the environment. I think you agree with me on this one, as we had this conversation during the election campaign on my doorstep! We need to look at new ways of growing our city, perhaps up and in, as opposed to out, out, out. In the meantime we might get to know each other better, build our communities and feel like we are part of something great. We need to support our local food systems for food security in the long term, and this cannot happen when we continue to pave over our precious arable land with more suburbs.

The Way We Green is so very important, I really hope that Council will see it and continue with their vision of a bright future for Edmonton and Alberta. I understand that the document is going before Council again tomorrow, and I just wanted to let you know that I wholeheartedly support it, and would ask you to support it as well.

Sincerely,

Sherry

Green Canada?

The landscape of Canadian politics changed last night.

For me, the results are mixed.  As I have said before, my number one issue is the environment, and most specifically – action on climate change.  We have such a limited window of time to reduce our emissions, we have to act now.  We don’t have the luxury of decades to wait, to finish up our squabbling and arguing, we have to get going on this right here right now, today, within the next few years for sure.  Every moment counts.  Every country must participate. Canada is no longer immune.

So far, action on climate change in Canada has been slow, and some might say – nonexistent.  As a result, some municipalities and provinces are taking the bull by the horns and implementing policies and programs on their own.  However, there is no national leadership, no national plan, no national will to act.

In this context, I watched the election results roll in with hope and optimism and anxiety.

First the good news –Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, was elected in her riding on Vancouver Island.  This is a historic achievement for the Green Party, as they will now have a voice in parliament.  It may only be one voice out of 308 seats, but a voice for change and a voice for action on climate change it will be.  I hope that this small foothold will grow, and that more and more people will consider the Green Party as a voice they want to send to parliament.  Change is possible!

Second piece of good news – the candidate in my riding, Linda Duncan of the NDP, won her seat.  Linda is the environmental critic for the NDP, and is a long time defender of the environment.  I know she will work hard, so I voted for her, and even had her sign on my lawn.  She was the only NDP elected in Alberta, amongst a sea of Conservatives.

Thirdly – the NDP won over 100 seats, giving them the title of official opposition, a historical first for the party.  The NDP is the only party other than the Green Party that had a strong position on climate change and transitioning to a clean, green economy.  This boost in seats will give them a bigger base on which to carry out their message.  Hopefully the governing party will listen.

This leads me to the not so great news for the environment.  The Conservatives won their long-coveted majority government.  They have been operating as a minority government for years now, and have often complained that a minority situation makes it difficult to get things done.  With a minority, they have to co-operate with the other parties to get things passed, they have to make concessions.  It is a longer process, and perhaps not as efficient, but at least with a minority, the voices of the other parties are part of the discussion.  They have input into policies and programs, compromises are made. 

With a majority, the voices of the other parties are not worked into new legislation. The governing party can pass every bill it wants, no adjustments are necessary.  It is more efficient, yes.

But it is also scarier.  Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have never had this much power before.  What will they do?  What will they cut? 

By far my biggest concern though, is that it will be 4 long years before there is any hope of action climate change.  We know Stephen Harper’s stance to date – do nothing and hope that the rest of the world does not notice.  How can we expect any change, especially if he does not need to consider the opinions of the other parties, who have a much more reasonable stance on climate change?

All this had me feeling very worried last night.  Worried for the future of my children, worried for our world, worried that nothing will change and nothing will get done, despite the efforts of so many.  I felt deflated.  I felt frustrated.  Everyday I live my life with the hope on reducing my footprint, the hope of inspiring others, the hope that we are moving in the right direction.  This is not just some dream, it is a desperate requirement.  Climate change is coming, it is marching towards us, and we are just standing around picking flowers.  How will we ever wakeup from this ignorant bliss, if climate change is not even an election issue in Canada? 

The situation seems more desperate than ever.  It seems even less likely now, with a Conservative majority that any action on climate change will happen.  I hope that the NDP will have some influence, I hope Elizabeth May’s Green Party voice will be heard.  But I am not sure.

Instead of give up hope, I must press on.  Without hope, we have already lost.  I cannot give up on a bright future for my children; I cannot give up on a sustainable future for the children of this world.  It is so big, so seemingly insurmountable, and I am but one small voice.  Yet I must try.  To look up at this massive problem and do nothing – that would be a greater failure.  I want to be able to look my kids in the eyes one day and say that I tried my best.

And so – the letter writing will continue.  The blog writing will continue.  The eating locally and the growing of vegetables in my own garden will continue.  The measured use of electricity and fuel will continue.  The reduction of the consumption of needless stuff will continue.

I must hold on to hope, for my babies.

Letters to Leaders: Green Party Debate

Pic for WikiProject Political parties and poli...

Image via Wikipedia

So, for those that don’t know, there is a federal election underway here in Canada.

About 5 years ago, I decided that I would vote based on my number one issue of concern – the environment. I knew that other issues were important (healthcare, education, economy) but were not in as dire a state of mismanagement. We depend on the environment for our very life, yet we are not acting as responsible stewards. Something has to be done about climate change; there is no way around it. Why doesn’t this issue dominate election coverage? It just doesn’t, and I don’t get it.

So in every type of election for the last 5 years or so, I put my voice and my vote down for the environment. Most of the time, this means voting for the Green Party. In most (all) cases, I knew that the person I voted for did not have a chance to win, but I wanted my vote to count towards this issue. I wanted the people in power to take note of the percentage of votes they are losing to the Green Party and to the issue of the environment.

In the last federal election I voted for a party that I had never voted for before – the NDP. The candidate was by far, the best representative towards my number one issue – the environment. She had a good chance to win. She had experience in environmental law and protection, ran her platform as a defender of the environment, and offered up a voice of opposition against the pollution from the oil sands. So, I voted for Linda Duncan and she won, and is currently the only Member of Parliament in Alberta that is not Conservative. She has been very active in defending the environment over the last 3 years.

So here we are again – election time. There are candidate signs popping up in my neighbourhood. Election ads are underway, election coverage dominates the news. Who do I vote for, how do I get involved and how can I further my number one goal – action on climate change?

I will be voting for Linda Duncan again, and she has a reasonable shot to win. I want to support her, and really believe in her message of transitioning to a clean economy, cleaning up the oil sands and ending fossil fuel subsidies. My hope is that she can continue to pressure the government on issues that they would otherwise not consider, and that this will result in more action on climate change.

I also support the Green Party though, and was dismayed to hear that the leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, will not be allowed to take part in the Leader’s Debate on April 12. She participated in the debate in the last election, and received almost 1 million votes. Polls indicate that she currently holds between 8-10% of votes today.

Therefore, as part of my Letters to Leaders series, I emailed the three main networks in Canada – CBC, CTV and Global – indicating my disappointment that she is not allowed to take part:

April 4, 2011

To whom it may concern:

I am disappointed that Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, will not be allowed to take part in the upcoming leaders debate. I think that this is the wrong decision, and that it would be in your network’s best interests to allow her to debate for the following reasons:

1) She represents over 1 million Canadians who voted for her in the last election. Based on the percentage of Canadians who actually vote, this is a significant percentage. Excluding her excludes the voices of all of these Canadians. This is not democratic.

2) She brings a fresh, new perspective that an increasing number of Canadians identify with – environmental stewardship and protection. Few can argue that the environment is the root of all life, from which everything else is possible. It is imperative that the voices of Canadians who speak up for the environment are heard.

3) She represents the future. The future that my children and future grandchildren will inherit must certainly include a clean, green economy. Action of on climate change is required now, to avoid a catastrophe for future generations. Excluding Elizabeth May excludes the voices of Canada’s children, Canada’s future.

Many Canadians who do not identify with Elizabeth May’s message still agree that she should be allowed to debate. Most agree that her inclusion would make for a more interesting, livelier debate. In addition, she will be the only woman in the debate, offering a different perspective than the four other men.

Please switch your position and invite Elizabeth May to the debate. Please recognize that she represents a large number of Canadians, as well as future generations of Canadians. Please keep democracy alive in Canada.

Sincerely,

Sherry

If you would like to add your voice to allow Elizabeth May to debate, you can:

  1. Email CBC (ombudsman@cbc.ca), CTV (programming@ctv.ca), Global (viewercontact.globalnational@globaltv.com) and CBC Radio (ombudsman@radio-canada.ca) and voice your concern
  2. Participate in this poll by CBC
  3. Go to http://demanddemocraticdebates.ca to sign the petition
  4. Go here for even more good ideas

It is a great feeling, participating in democracy in a bigger way than just stepping up to the ballot box. It feels good to have a voice!

Letters to Leaders: Environment Minister Kent

The Centre Block on Parliament Hill, containin...

Image via Wikipedia

One of my new year’s resolutions was to write a Letter to Leaders series. I wanted to ramp up my political power to more than just a tick in the ballot box every 3-4 years. I wanted to write to political leaders and voice my concerns. I wanted to write to corporate leaders as well, given the high degree of influence and power they have on our society. I wanted to see if anything would happen. I needed to try.

I have many ideas on who I want to send these letters to and what I want to write about. I don’t want to simply complain. I want to offer up new ideas, open up hearts and minds. I don’t want to put down, I want to raise up. I want offer encouragement to do better, to go greener, to be more sustainable.

I also want to offer support and praise and gratitude, to those leaders that are doing good works, those that are working towards a new sustainable future, those that are ahead of the curve. I know how inspiring and motivating it can be to have acknowledgement and support, so I wanted to write letters to these types of people as well.

So I hummed and hawed on who would receive my very first letter. Should I start small and work up? Should I have an overall strategy on the content of my letters? Should I write the positive letters first?

After much deliberation, I decided to go right to the top and start with my biggest, broadest concern. So I wrote my first letter to the Environment Minister of Canada, Peter Kent.  I just sent this letter off moments ago, and am giddy with excitement! 

My approach was this – open the letter from a place of respect and congratulate him on his recent appointment, then establish that I was a average, rational person representing an average, rational voter (not some eco-nut), and then share some common ground, such as my previous voting patterns. After establishing all that, only then would I get into my concerns about the environment and climate change. I have worries, I have children…

Well… I will just let you read it:

 

February 13, 2011

The Honourable Peter Kent
Minister of the Environment
10 Wellington Street, 28th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec
K1A 0H3

Dear Honourable Minister Kent,

First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your recent appointment to Environment Minister. Some think that this is the most important cabinet position of all, since our environment is the root of all life, from which everything else is possible.

I am a 35 year-old wife and mother, living in Alberta. I got a degree in Business from the University of Alberta am now an accountant. I am well versed in economics, and believe that in most cases, the free market is able to sort out the best and most efficient way of doing things. As a young adult I voted Conservative. I agree with fiscal conservatism, and spending tax dollars carefully and responsibly.

However, a few years ago I started getting concerned about the environment and climate change. We were all told that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are warming the planet. New information has now come out that indicates we are on the worst case trajectory for climate change, and that we could be facing the point of no return within 20 years. It turns out that our planet is very sensitive to even the smallest changes in average temperature, and warming more than 2°C will lead to catastrophic changes to sea level and weather patterns. This could create hundreds of millions of environmental refugees, cause the extinction of up to a quarter of the animal species on Earth, and leave some of our most precious food growing areas as deserts. Food shortages could become a reality, even here in Canada.

I have children. I have little boy who is 5 years old who likes comic books and cuddling his stuffed puppy at night. I have a little girl who is two years old who likes pretty bracelets and baby dolls. I worry about their future, even living here in Canada. I worry about their food supply. When my daughter is my age, will she worry about how feed her children, my grandchildren? Will she watch in horror as millions of people die or go hungry due to rising waters? Will she look at me and ask what I did to act when we still had the chance?

I know that you support the oil sands in Alberta, and believe that our oil is more ethical than that from the Middle East. I believe that this is like comparing apples to oranges, as surely there must be an ethical consideration for the extremely high environmental cost. The oil sands are very polluting, we all know that. The air, the water, the forests, the fish and the animals suffer. Sadly, the residents of Fort Chipewyan suffer as well, and are dying of rare cancers linked to petrochemicals. As an Albertan, I feel for these people and want to help them somehow.

However despite all the controversy, you must see for the sake of your family and for humanity that the world must eventually phase out oil. If we take all that oil out of the sand in Alberta, and put it into the air, we will have surely written off the future for my children. The world will most certainly warm past 2 degrees. We most certainly will find ourselves in a very scary and dangerous position.

I know that there are no easy answers. However, we must take the long term view to save our future generations from certain hardship. We must reduce emissions drastically, to avoid a warming of 2 degrees. We must put a price on carbon to allow the free market of renewable energies to flourish. We must do a better job of monitoring the water pollution of the oil sands and we must reduce the rate of their development. We must cut subsidies to the oil and gas sector and give more support to renewable energies. We must improve and support local food production.

We must do these things, and quickly. I know you are torn in many directions as a politician. However, we have a very unique opportunity to be a leader in these areas. I beg of you, as Minister of the Environment, to please take the higher ground – one that caters to life, to sustainability, and to the environment. Canada’s children are depending on you.

 Sincerely,


Sherry
Albertan, wife, and mother of two Canadian children

Egypt for Change

I am watching what is going on in Egypt right now with amazement.  People are rising up and want Mubarak out, now.  The youth of Egypt have been inspired to add their voice and their energy to the protests.  Women are playing an active role; it is not just the young men.  In fact, some young women are leading the charge. 

 In this process these people have discovered the love they have for their country.  It is worth fighting for.  The world watches.  What will happen?

In all through history, great change has always been brought about by the efforts of people. People are what are required, people are the agents.  Nothing can get done without people.  History is full of revolutions – French, American, Soviet…  Now history is repeating itself again, this time in Egypt.

This gives me hope for the future.  Young people these days are so equipped to take up the challenges of this world.  The social media tools now available means that change can be organized faster than ever before.  People are demanding change because they know we can do better.  I cannot help but apply these same concepts to the environmental movement.  Will we ever see these kinds of demonstrations for action on climate change?  Will the whole world watch?  Will the governments of the world finally concede?

 I believe that one day, this will happen.  I am sure it will be the young people leading the way!

Oil Sands over Breakfast

Today I went to a session on the Alberta oil sands.  It was a breakfast meeting, and the audience was other financial professionals like me.  The speaker was from industry, and he was there to give the industry’s side of the oil sands story.

After the session I went to work, and a younger guy I work with asked me about it.  This particular guy used to work on an oil rig.  He found the work so physically demanding and dangerous, he decided to pack it in and become an accountant like me!  He told me that he felt that talking about the oil sands in social situations was akin to talking about politics and religion.  Everyone has a different opinion, and people get offended easily if your opinion does not match theirs.  I thought that was so interesting.

Talking about the oil sands is now taboo?

I can totally see his point though.

I first learned details about the Alberta oil sands about 4 years ago.  I attended a luncheon, put on by the same financial association actually.  An expert from industry told us that the total oil deposits in Alberta are second only to Saudi Arabia.  We were told that it was an economic engine for Alberta, for Canada.  We were told that it will stream royalties into provincial coffers, which will help keep Alberta income taxes low.  We felt proud to live here, with all this wealth, this jewel.  I remember walking out that meeting feeling impressed, feeling lucky that Alberta had such a treasure.

Then slowly over time I learned more snippets of information.  I heard it takes 3 barrels of water to make one barrel of oil.  Then I heard that it takes 8 barrels of water – which was it?  Then we heard about the 1,600 ducks that had landed on Sycrude’s tailing pond, and all died.  Hmmm.  That is not so good.  Then more news stories started coming out.  There were several billboards put up in several US states, telling Americans to boycott travel to Alberta, to protest dirty oil.  Now the Alberta tourism industry, an innocent bystander, was being dragged into this mess.  Oh oh.  Then we heard that Walgreens was boycotting Alberta oil.  Then Dr. Schindler from the University of Alberta came out and said that the oil sands were polluting the Athabasca River and showed images of deformed fish.  Alberta Environment said the pollutants were from naturally occurring sources.  Environment Canada decided to dispatch 6 independent scientists, just to make sure.  Then James Cameron (director of Avatar) came to tour the Alberta oil sands and the media was all in a tizzy.  What would he say?  Well after receiving tours by both industry and by native aboriginals, he said that the oil sands will be a curse on Canada if not managed properly.  Hmm.  A curse?  Then another two hundred ducks landed on more tailings ponds and died.  Then LUSH cosmetics and Concord Transportation boycotted.   Then just last week Avon said they were boycotting.

Now I don’t feel so proud.  People think our oil is dirty.  Some people say that the oil sands are a stain on Canada’s environmental record.  Stain? 

There seem to be two main problems.  One is the water – pollution from the tailings ponds and pollution in the river.  The other is the C02 – they need to burn energy (natural gas) to get the oil.  So they are burning a fossil fuel to get a fossil fuel, which we will then in turn, burn.

But oil is oil and we all use it when we drive our cars and purchase our products.  We are the reason the oil sands exist.  If there was no demand, they would not be pulling it out of the ground.  The companies are only doing what we demand.

One response to this problem is to reduce our dependence on oil by cutting back on how much we drive our cars and how many goods we purchase.  We the people, can make this conscious decision.  It is hard, I know.  People love their cars and so many of our North American cities have been built around the automobile, so nothing is in walking distance and transit is not very good.  There are exceptions to this, however.

The other response is to look to government to help us.  Can they regulate these oil companies to leave a lighter foot print?  Pollute less water?  Use smaller tailings ponds?  Use a portion of renewable energy to pull the stuff out of the ground?  Cut emissions?

I think we need all of these things.

During the breakfast meeting this morning I walked in thinking that I should ask a question.  I felt it was my environmental duty to pose a well thought out, rational and polite question.  So I did:

Sherry:  How many barrels of water are actually used?  Is it 3?  Is it 8?  We hear conflicting numbers in the media.

Oil Sands guy:  Our company uses 2 barrels of fresh water from the Athabasca river and 8 barrels of brackish water from underground aquifers.  The brackish water is saline and not drinkable.  We recycle 87% of the water used.

I was on a role and gaining courage, so I asked another one:

Sherry:  Given the international image of the oil sands that you are trying to repair, has your company ever thought about the use of renewable energy to get the oil out of the ground, such as wind, solar or geothermal?  I know it would cost more, but may provide a better image to the world.

Oil Sands guy:  Yes we have thought of that actually. The problem is that the contribution of energy of renewable sources would be negligible, and is very expensive.

Just. One. More.

Sherry:  We heard on the news that Dr. Schindler from the University of Alberta found that there was pollution in the Athabasca river downstream from the oil sands.  Then we heard Alberta Environment report that he was wrong, there was no man-made pollution.  Then Environment Canada sent 6 independent scientists to check it out.  Again – conflicting stories in the media.  Who should we believe?

Oil Sands guy:  Dr. Schindler is a very smart guy, but my understanding is that his study might not have been long enough to provide an accurate picture.  There is also the issue of naturally occurring oil sand that cuts into the river – it is difficult to separate out the naturally occurring pollutants from the man-made ones.

So there you have it.  I put forward my voice in a room full of professionals.  In the past I would have remained silent, and kept my thoughts to myself.  But new found environmental leaf makes me feel like I must speak.  Perhaps my words got someone else thinking.  So let’s talk this thing out.  Let’s have a dialogue. 

Back at work, I was talking about the session with the one younger co-worker that had asked me about it (the one who used to work on an oil rig), and other co-workers overheard us and joined in.  By the end there were 7 of us talking about it.  It seemed to be a topic we were all interested in.  I realized by the end that we are all rational people (being accountants, and all) and we all kind of thought the same thing:

We can’t keep on just waiting – waiting on the world to change.