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

Greeny Blues

Do you ever feel like being green makes you blue?

When I first started out on this green journey 7 months ago, I felt powerless and alone. What a massive problem – what can my tiny voice do? I am just a regular mom. How is changing my actions going to affect anything? I am just one person among billions.

Then I found a community of like minded people, first with fellow bloggers, then among family and friends. I needed to try, to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I committed to change my ways.

This propelled me for several months. It was exciting! I was changing my lifestyle left, right and centre. Lights off, laundry hung up to dry, heat turned down, no more plastic bags, no more food in boxes, more bus rides, less mall shopping, more local shopping, more farmer’s markets, no new clothes, more gently used clothes, no more Styrofoam, no more paper napkins, way less food waste…

And then finally – I built myself a real vegetable garden to call my own.

It was fun. I did things one way for a decade, then bam I changed it all up. It threw my husband for a loop – why all the change?  He thought I was crazy. But for me it felt really good, I was doing something about this problem called climate change. I didn’t feel powerless anymore. I had a purpose. I had a reason for my actions. This was incredibly fulfilling.

However along the way I also learned a lot more about the state of our little planet Earth, this small marble of life in a Universe so vast…

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

Image via Wikipedia

I learned that we need to be really scared about the future. I learned that there are great political, social and economic forces against the reduction of CO2, forces so strong, and so well-funded, and so engrained in our very culture. These forces happen to be also very good at spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about the science of climate change.

I also learned that we don’t have much more time. I learned that our window for turning things around is not measured in decades, but in mere years.

We only have a few years to change.

On one hand I am defiantly hopeful, that there will be enough of us on the good side, on the side that chooses life and sustainability, over convenience and consumerism. That more and more people will figure out what I figured out 7 months ago, and make changes, and inspire others to make changes, who will inspire others, and this whole thing will tip, so that more of us want to do something about it than don’t want to do something, that more of us will look beyond the borders of our little lives and realize that we are part of something bigger, something magnificent and fantastic and we will collectively realize the power we have to change. We will act for each other, for our children and our children’s children. We will act for humanity itself.

On the other hand I am scared. What if enough people don’t join in? What if the governments of the world take just a bit too long to act? What if we keep burning and burning oil, putting more C02 into the sky, and don’t stop before it is too late? We all know that the oil is going to run out one day, and we will have to transition to something else. What if we don’t make that transition when there is still a world worth saving?

Hence, the blues.

Have you ever just cried … for the world? Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed about it all, and it saddens me so deeply and greatly, that I just cry. I cry for the children. I cry for their future.

Am I crazy?

I want to do more, I resolve to do more, I have long lists of things that I want to accomplish, letters to write, actions to take, committees to join. But I struggle. Being a busy working mom, there is just not enough time in each day to do all that I want to do. My minutes feel like tiny raindrops of gold, so precious, so few, so easily lost.

How will I live this life? How will I make a difference? How will I contribute to this groundswell of people now growing steadily, of those committed to living green, spreading green and building a sustainable world for our children? Imagine being a part of something so amazing and magnificent? Imagine being part of the movement that ushered in the solution, in the face of the greatest problem to ever face humanity? I know the stakes are high and the hour is late, I just need to find time between doing the laundry and doing the dishes to pitch in.

Plus I look around me, and everywhere I go, there are constant reminders of how far we need to go to turn this thing around. Pick a category: Food. Transport. Consumerism. Energy. Economy. It all has to change – radically.

We will get there. We have to. The enormity of it all though, has this greenie feelin’ a bit blue.

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: 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!

Alberta Oil Sands

I am feeling down today. Last night I watched the documentary “Tipping Point” by David Suzuki on the oil sands mega project in Alberta, and the impact it is having on downstream aboriginal communities (watch it here). It confirmed my worst fears. The oil sands are polluting the waters, creating high rates of rare cancer among the aboriginal people, contaminating the animals, and now deformed fish swim in the river. On top of all that, the oil sands emissions are equal to that of Switzerland. How is that even possible? Massive amounts of water are used; huge lakes of toxic waste are created. The video footage of the area was devastating. It is a complete dead zone. Forests are peeled back, the earth mined for oil sand, and nothing lives except for the human workers that operate the cranes and trucks. You can see the extent of the devastation from space:

I am so sad. This is my home. Canada is such a beautiful country, with vast areas of wild forests. Yet hidden up north, this exists. It exists in my own backyard, only 450 kilometers (280 miles) from where I live. My city directly benefits from the economic spinoffs of this mega project. But it feels so wrong. Every fiber of my being tells me that this is wrong.

Canada doesn’t want to commit to reducing emissions because of the oil sands. It is the economic heart of Alberta, the country even. Cut emissions, and you may have to shut the oil sands down. So we stall, we coast. We receive some international pressure, win the fossil of the year award, but do nothing.

It makes me so sad and mad and fearful at the same time. Why are we doing this? I know the world needs oil, but at what cost? Why are we the dealer peddling this drug? Why can’t we be peddling something better, something beautiful, something green? Why can’t we be promoting the best of ourselves, the best we can offer, of innovation and perseverance and hard work? Why does it have to be dirty oil?

There are rumours of a provincial election these days, rumours of a leadership race. What scares me is the thought of getting a new government even more bent on promoting the oil sands, even more gung-ho to get all that oil out of the ground, to sell it to the highest bidder, to burn it all up and put it into the sky…

Is there any hope? What can I do to stop it? What can I do to help those people dying of cancer? How can we get off oil?

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what to do. I feel restless, anxious, on the verge of tears. I love my country, my province. But I feel like they are letting us down.

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
                                                                                     – ancient Aboriginal proverb

Let’s not let our children down.